The Scariest Book Yet?

I remember hating Peter Rabbit when I was young. I couldn’t pinpoint why, but all I knew was that something about the story made me feel off, a little uncomfortable. No matter how much my dad pushed the story on me (it’s his favorite book), I would refuse to listen when he read the story to my brother and sister.

A kid feeling scared of Peter Rabbit? It just didn’t make sense to my parents, especially when that kid loved Tim Burton movies, and wore a choker every day pretending to be the girl with the green ribbon from In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories.

It’s interesting rereading Peter Rabbit as an adult. I still don’t feel very comfortable with the story, but unlike when I was in preschool, I know think I can explain why.

I’ll begin with a comparison to explain – the images from Edward Gorey’s Amphigorey are the types of images that should inspire fear in the reader. But, because their are no images of clear pain, no detailed facial expressions of pain or fear from the characters, I sympathize less. These are characters. They don’t have feelings. I can accept the stories as they are – just stories.

But now, looking at Peter Rabbit, there are moments when we get a detailed look at Peter – his fear, turmoil, and loss of hope. You can see tears in his eyes. Birds seemingly laugh at his struggle and pain. I understand Peter’s pain, more than I can understand the pain of the character’s in Amphigorey because I feel like I have been in a similar situation. Peter’s pain feels real and I hate seeing him in distress.

Ironically, when looking at all the books we have analyzed this semester, Peter Rabbit is the “scariest” book yet. Even though the book has no aspects of horror (like that in Gorey’s stories), even though the book is intended as a bedtime story for young children, I find the book disturbing because no one, not one person or animal, comes to Peter’s rescue. In my opinion, Peter Rabbit paints an uncaring and unloving world that we must learn to navigate because, when push comes to shove, no one will be there to offer support in times of trouble.

Is it play if you’re not having fun?

Okay, I’m about to say something provocative: I was not a fan of today’s photoshop experimentation. I couldn’t figure out the buttons. I couldn’t find the colors I needed. I couldn’t add, erase, or draw the things I wanted, where I wanted. To summarize, today’s class was a frustrating one.

I think a lot of this has to do with my background as a painter. I want to reach out and touch the page. I want to move things around with my own hands, not with a curser. “Playing” around on photoshop felt like trying to use chopsticks with mittens on. Why use photoshop when we could use real, 3D objects?

Yeah, maybe I’m being stubborn. Technology has never really been my friend and it’s probably a bad outlook of mine to just ignore all things computer. But why bother if it makes you frustrated? I don’t think it’s fun, so why bring about the headache?

While photoshop may feel like play to some, it feels like work to me.

Julia Jacquette: Admiring Ads, not Critiquing

Walking through Julia Jacquette’s exhibit in the Wellin Museum, it’s almost impossible to miss the artist’s fascination with contemporary advertisement.

One mural in particular, a pop art-esque of reflective pool water, caught my attention.

That’s from the JCrew article. I thought as I looked up,  a little embarrassed that I was able recognized the inspiration so quickly. And the Jcrew catalogue picture wasn’t the only one I recognized. There were bits and piece, close-ups of an ad featuring Matthew McConaughey and another painting pulled from a Dior perfume commercial.

I asked Jacquette what it was about advertisements that captured her attention with an answer already predicted in my mind…. “I’m attempting to critique advertisements, the unrealistic expectations of the glamour, and to deconstruct an image by focusing in on some specific detail.” I thought Jacquette would talk about critique. Her paintings were a way for her to point out how advertisements distort our perception of reality.

But my prediction was wrong. I was surprised when Jacquette responded that she falls prone to the swaying power of advertisements. She wants to travel to the couple’s resort. She wants to be as glamorous as the model in the Dior ad. Jacquette went on to explain that she admires ads and their fanaticism. Her art is not necessarily a critique but an homage.

I really liked the honesty of Jacquette’s answer. Sometime I find myself rolling my eyes at artists who are attempting to make a large critique on the ways of our current society. For me, it was refreshing to see that a talented artists can still appreciate what some may consider “low end” art such as catalogue ads. Jacquette is human just like us! I enjoyed hearing that she too can fall for improbable, such as perfume transforming the wearer into an image of elegance.

Nationality Confusion

Throughout are entire section on Gorey, a question stayed stuck in the back of my mind: why did he insist on making his stories so British?

Yes, I understand that Gorey is attempting to evoke the Victorian Gothic, but why not do so with an American lens?

Was anyone else a little frustrated by the little ploy Gorey was trying to play? Anyone else  feel a little slighted by Gorey’s attempt to be British? Or was that only me?

When you think to some of the greatest examples of children’s literature, so many of them are written by British authors. Peter Pan, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Winnie the Pooh, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe etc. etc. Is this why Gorey wanted to give his books a British flavor?

For me, my frustration stems from the fact that I want Gorey to be understood as one of the great American authors of the children’s genre, and I’m afraid because of his British language and themes, that will not be so.

Appropriate for Children?

Une Semaine de Bonté… It’s taken me a long while to decide what to blog about this week because of the question mark that is this book by Max Ernst (if it should even be considered a book?).

As a kid, I always gravitated towards darker stories, ones with black and white illustrations and not so friendly looking faces (think Stories to Tell in the Dark and The Series of Unfortunate Events). If I were to lump Une Semaine de Bonté into a category, I would lump it with what I like to call my “creepy books meant for kids.” However, I doubt Ernst had children in mind when he created his five part collection.

So with that I ask my main question, the theme of this blog post: could Une Semaine de Bonté be read by children?

My answer (and I’d love to hear yours too… whether you agree or disagree) is yes. I’ll even go further: I believe this book would be even better in the mind of a child.

Let me explain. When I first starting flipping through Une Semaine de Bonté, before we got any background information from class, I had no clue what was going on. I concluded that this book was simply a collection of dark collages representing nightmares. No overarching story, just pictures of the same theme. In no way would I have been able to understand that the figures in the pictures were recurring figures. I never would have guessed that each day had a protagonist. Yes, there was a man who always had some sort of mammal for a head, but how was I to know that this mammal-headed human was the same person throughout?

As an adult reader, I have enough knowledge to discern one animal print from another. My ability to distinguish between to images of animals is something learned. However, I believe that a child, someone younger who maybe is not as well trained at distinguishing the different details between mammal-headed figures, would see the mammal-human as the same character. If that person has an animal head, whether it be a bear or a lion or a cat, it must be the same character.

As we age, we lose our sense of imagination and grow more and more logical. It is hard to except these strange images and connect them into a coherent story. But a child, I think would be able to come up with connecting dots to make the seemingly disconnected images of Une Semaine de Bonte whole.

Post-Grad Dreams

Confession: my favorite type of shopping is stationary shopping. I am obsessed with Rifle Paper Co., Papyrus and PaperSource. I just love paper and print! However, even though I am a frequent visitor of these stores, I very rarely buy anything because of the prices.

$12 for a Valentine’s Day card! That’s crazy.

But after spending two days at the letterpress, I now understand why. These prints are work! I guess it never registered to me that all the pretty cards that are displayed on the walls of my favorite stationary stores were hand printed, not digital. Those cards don’t just roll through a printer in hundred; they must be wheeled through a press one by one.

Another confession: over winter break, I applied to multiple printing presses – Steel Petal Press, The Found, Printventory, Snow and Graham… all those expensive cards (but also the ones that look the prettiest!) Now I feel silly for applying because I really didn’t understand all the labor that goes into their products. I really thought it was more about the art and the words. Then run it through a computer and then BAM product ready to sell. But no, this is more art than corporate. I now realize I’m probably not qualified for these companies because of my modest art background but hey, now that I have a little bit of experience with a printing press, maybe I’ll be a little bit more desirable.

Judging A Book By Its Cover

Yesterday in class we were asked to look at different book covers of Cervantes’ Don Quixote de la Mancha. On one particular slide, we were presented with two covers side by side – a white cover with a giant Q and a black cover with a small square painting above white print. Nearly everyone in class agreed that the one on the right (the black) looked like a book you’d be asked to purchase for a literature class. The book looked academic to us because of it’s plain, straight-forward, no frills font and the serious, dark-hued painting. I grew bored just looking at the cover.

I’d like to think that I’m the type of person who doesn’t judge a book by its cover. Who cares if I buy the academic looking book or the version featuring a more artistic cover? No matter what the cover looks like, the content is still the same. But I must admit that I am the type of person who judges a book by its cover. In fact, there have been times when I buy a version of a book for more money just because I like the way that cover looks more than I like another cover.

I guess the big question here is why? Why do I care what the cover looks like? The answer: the cover of a book does not only suggest the content of the book, but the cover also reflects my personality and my tastes. Choosing a book based off of its cover is a practice of self-identification.

For example, I would never NEVER purchase, say The Kite Runner, with a cover featuring an image from the film adaption. I don’t want people to think that I am only reading the book because I saw the film. I read books because I like books, not because I like movies.

Or take for example, an experience I had in high school. My mother had given me Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, a respected novel that has been in print since its publication in the 1930s. But to my dismay, the book was dressed in a bright red cover with raised gold lettering written in gaudy cursive. It looked like a cheap romance novel you would pick up at CVS. I remember reading this version of Rebecca in the hallway before going into my US history class.

“What are you reading?” my teacher asked me with raised eyebrows.

“It’s a classic book I swear!” I quickly blurted out trying to correct the false impression my teacher had just gained of me. I didn’t want my teacher to think I was the type of person who would willingly consume trashy literature.

That very afternoon I went to Barnes and Nobles and bought a new Rebecca one with a cover I felt better fit my personality. Yes, a ridiculous course of action. I already had the book. Why by a new one?!

It’s amazing to me that publishers bother to produce the same novel with so man different covers. Why can’t we just be satisfied with one version? But it makes sense. Publishers want to reach as wide an audience as they can. Rebecca has innumerable covers – covers that resemble romance novels, covers that resemble crime novels, covers that resemble teen lit, and covers that resemble Jane Austen novels. By having these options, the publishers are able to find consumers with all different reading habits.

The Sane vs. the Insane

Since my senior year of high school, I have studied Don Quixote every single academic year. I have read multiple versions (in both English and Spanish), seen the ballet, listened to Spanish songs, watched movies, read poems, and seen many images that are based off the Spanish classic novel.

When I heard that I was, once again, going to study Don Quixote, and although I enjoy the story immensely, I was a little annoyed simply because I didn’t think we would study any new images. I’d seen the Picasso, I’d seen the Dali, I’d even seen some contemporary images of Don Quixote, Sancho Panza, and the windmills. However, as I often am, I was pleasantly surprised by the images used in the English translation we read for class today.

The above image followed the novel’s sixth chapter. I was struck by the Alice in Wonderland – like quality of the woodcuts featured in this particular translation. The interpretations to not match the images that filter through my imagination while I read, at all. And I liked that! It made me think about Don Quixote in a different way. I’ve always pictured Don Quixote as an old man shuffling around in the world – a character in a rather normal setting. But these images seem to suggest that it is not just Don Quixote that is the strange one. The priest and the barber in the above image look like disturbing dolls (nothing like sane human beings). The room in which the two stand do not have any sense of concrete space. Life-size scissors stand life-like in the corner (most likely there as an illusion to the fact that these men are cutting Don Quixote off from his most treasured possessions, and in turn, cutting him off from his fantasy world of chivalry). To me, this image shows that our actions, even those that seem logical, isn’t too others with a different option. While these men think it is best to destroy the books that Don Quixote loves, to Don Quixote and maybe to the readers too, destroying the books looks like an insane and insensitive action.

Art as Relaxation

“I don’t think I’d make a great miniaturist” I said as I worked on my own historiated letter today in class. “I just don’t have the patience.”

I’ve never been one to take my time, and the more we study the practice of illumination, the more in awe I am at the abilities of the original miniaturists – not necessarily at the miniaturists’ artistic abilities (although this is impressive in itself) but more so at their ability to sit down for hours upon hours working on the tiniest of details.

For those miniaturists the thought of God or Allah is what kept them immersed and focused everyday. The act of art was an act of mediation.

Despite my typical impatience and restless nature, I did find myself getting into the groove…. the tranquil music, the falling snow…. cliche I know, but my mind slowed and I became more mythical in my art.

My new gained focus reminded me of a recent meditation practice called Zentangle. Zentangle is a method of meditation through doodling. My aunt introduced me to the practice when I was in high school and whenever I needed to procrastinate, I would turn to Zentangle.

Illumination is just like Zentangle I thought to myself. Similar to how illumination keeps your mind from wandering and focused on God/Allah, Zentangle also keeps your mind from wandering. Both are forms of mediation.

I find it interesting that, even after all these years, the act of making art still has the same intention – to calm and to encourage focus.

Original vs. Counterfeit – Is one really more valuable than the other?

In the 1966 film How to Steal  A Million, Nicole’s father makes his living selling replications of famous works of art. While I understand the criminality in the practice of claiming art to be created by another, more famous, artist, I never could quite grasp why a counterfeit piece of art was never as valued as its original. Nicole’s father is clearly talented, maybe even more so than the artists he copies because he has the skill to replicate, and to replicate so well he can deceive art experts. Why are these counterfeit artists not celebrated?

This question arose again the other day while looking at Trés Riches. Before the completion of the calendar, the two artists died. Thus, in order to finish the book, another artist was commissioned to create the months of November and December. Maybe it’s because I don’t have that well trained of an eye in regards to illuminations (yet), I would not have been able to tell the difference between November/December and the other ten months of the calendar. It was only when Professor Serrano commented that it was a “shame” to not have the entire calendar completed by the original artists.

Again, I ask why? Why are these two months not as respected as the others? Are they not as well crafted? Or is it simply because they are not the works of the Limbourg brothers?

With this question in mind, it was interesting reading the chapter “I Am a Gold Coin” from Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red. If a replicated painting were animated, I’m sure it would feel just as the gold coin feels – neglected and fearful of being discovered as a fake. The gold coin explains:

“A broker, not recognizing that I’m counterfeit, who has counted out 120 silver coins in exchange for me, will berate himself in fits of anger, sorrow and impatience as soon as he learns he’s been cheated, and these fits won’t subside until he rids himself of me by cheating another” – pg. 104

Despite the fact that the coin is a fake, it has successfully travelled and been exchanged as a valid coin for seven years. However, even though the coin has been used for the same function as a real coin, as soon as it is discovered as a fake, all its value is lost.

I guess my main question is – how do we decide what is valued and what is not, especially when the two objects (whether they be two paintings or two coins) are identical therefore created with the same labor and effort?