Art is a Remix

Do you know about TED talks? They’re wonderful, informative presentations on a wide variety of topics that take about 20 minutes or less to watch. The website recently featured a talk by one of my favorite book artists, Brian Dettmer.

The video is only a little over six minutes long but it’s full of great points to ponder, especially the last half of Dettmer’s talk. While I was watching, the first point that struck me was when he said, “I think of my work as sort of a remix, in a way, because I’m working with somebody else’s material in the same way that a D.J. might be working with somebody else’s music.

When he mentioned the word remix it reminded me of the author Austin Kleon and his book Steal Like an Artist, which covers the idea of remixing, where you selectively “steal” ideas from other artists you admire and combine or remix them. The end product then becomes your work. If you have time watch Austin Kleon’s TEDxKC talk.

By remixing, Brian Dettmer is making something “more new, more contemporary.” He also goes on to say, “I’m thinking also about breaking out of the box of the traditional book and pushing that linear format, and try to push the structure of the book itself so that the book can become fully sculptural.

People learn by copying, then combining and remixing to create their own work. However, once you have been working on something for some time, you begin to evolve and your unique voice/perspective emerges. By pushing boundaries the artist again creates something new.

Old books
I’ve bought or have taken old, unwanted books for the sole purpose of tearing out its pages to make something. However, I haven’t quite “harmed” any of those books yet …

Would you ever destroy/rip/throw away a book? Dettmer explains that people generally are disturbed by the thought of destroying a book because “we think about books as living things, we think about them as a body, and they’re created to relate to our body, as far as scale, but they also have the potential to continue to grow and to continue to become new things. So books really are alive.

I’ve heard of the phrase “words come alive” but I’ve never thought of the book as alive. I’m still ruminating about the book as a living body.

My favorite part of Dettmer’s talk was during the last minute or so:

And I think of my work as almost an archaeology. I’m excavating and I’m trying to maximize the potential and discover as much as I possibly can and exposing it within my own work. But at the same time, I’m thinking about this idea of erasure, and what’s happening now that most of our information is intangible, and this idea of loss, and this idea that not only is the format constantly shifting within computers, but the information itself, now that we don’t have a physical backup, has to be constantly updated in order to not lose it. And I have several dictionaries in my own studio, and I do use a computer every day, and if I need to look up a word, I’ll go on the computer, because I can go directly and instantly to what I’m looking up. I think that the book was never really the right format for nonlinear information, which is why we’re seeing reference books becoming the first to be endangered or extinct.

So I don’t think that the book will ever really die.People think that now that we have digital technology,the book is going to die,and we are seeing things shifting and things evolving. I think that the book will evolve,and just like people said painting would die when photography and printmaking became everyday materials,but what it really allowed painting to do was it allowed painting to quit its day job. It allowed painting to not have to have that everyday chore of telling the story, and painting became free and was allowed to tell its own story,and that’s when we saw Modernism emerge, and we saw painting go into different branches. And I think that’s what’s happening with books now, now that most of our technology, most of our information, most of our personal and cultural records are in digital form, I think it’s really allowing the book to become something new. So I think it’s a very exciting time for an artist like me, and it’s very exciting to see what will happen with the book in the future.

When e-books first appeared I heard/read a lot about how the book may become obsolete. Dettmer’s analogy of what happened with painting after cameras and printmaking were introduced is a hopeful, exciting way of looking at the book’s future.

What do you think about the future of books?

Bonus: Here’s another video featuring a paper engineer and book artists respectively, Matthew Reinhart, Andrea Dezso, and Carole Kunstadt. Also, if you’re interested in seeing more book arts related material online have a peek at my Pinterest board. Thanks for reading!

Art is a Remix

Lynda Barry’s Syllabus and Refuting Plato

Syllabus cover

When I first saw Lynda Barry’s Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor in Barnes & Noble the cover called to my curiosity and I flipped through its contents. Each page felt like a visual bombardment with tons of handwritten text and artwork. However, I’m glad that didn’t deter me from actually sitting down and reading my library copy a few days later.

Syllabus gave an inspiring sense of what a class experience would be like as one of her students. After I finished reading her book last Wednesday I immediately wished I could sign up for one of Professor Lynda’s courses. The book will have to do as a substitute for now (I intend to purchase a copy for my evergrowing bookshelf). Also, Lynda is on twitter and tumblr, where she often gives students their assignment.

This year I’ve been borrowing and reading a lot of books about writing and learning more about an author’s process of creating a story. I’ve started to read 12 Short Stories and Their Making: An Anthology with Interviews edited by Paul Mandelbaum. The first featured author Walter Kirn, who wrote The Hoaxer, gave his opinion of fiction writing at the end of the interview.

Fiction writers have not made a very good argument, and professors haven’t either, for why made-up stories can actually be relevant to real life. And I think we’ve kind of lost that thread as a culture. It’s an increasingly quixotic enterprise to try to enlighten through falsehood. And that’s why people want true stories that they can take away a clear moral from, rather than ambiguous, made-up stories that will somehow … increase their wisdom.

So I think that the father in the story represents some of my own conflicting feelings about writing fiction. I mean, it’s never been an entirely reputable occupation. Plato pretty much said flat out that artists were deceivers and creators of useless, untrue objects, and I don’t think we’ve ever gotten over that as a society. (p. 27)

For other writers out there, do you feel that writing is NOT a reputable occupation? I highly admire writers and other artists for their creativity and persistence. I felt defensive and I wanted to shout that art is not a falsehood. Instead, I would propose that art making and the product/object may bring you closer towards truth (whatever that may mean to an individual). But then that’s the art therapist side of me roaring back.

And I was so grateful to soon read two quotes that contradict Plato’s belief about art/ists in Lynda Barry’s Syllabus her 16th class note on page 171.

The 16th class note
A look at the 16th class note. The rabbit creature appears interested as well.

The arts, I believe have a pivotal role in putting us in touch with the transcendant, with whatever it is that is beyond us. They are core to a civilization, measures of our health, and should be treated as such …” Iain McGilchrist, psychiatrist & writer

Devils come to earth briefly transformed to stop you from being artistic, from becoming artists. And they have a magic question. The magic question is, “WHAT FOR?” — but art is not for anything. Art is the ultimage goal. It saves our souls … ” –Young-Ha Kim, writer

There’s so much more to digest in Syllabus. What do you think about fiction writing? What’s your view on artists?

Lynda Barry’s Syllabus and Refuting Plato

Austin Adventures (April 7th – April 20th)

I didn't find Austin to be a “touristy” town but it seemed like it would be a nice place to live. When I was looking online for things to see in Austin the usual advice was to go visit surrounding areas like San Antonio. Yes, Austin is known for music but Nick is not interested in music whatsoever and I'm a casual listener. The Texas capitol is also known for hosting SXSW (south by soutwest) but we missed it by a few weeks. And then, of course, there are the Congress Bridge bats to see around sunset but I was too tired to stick around to wait for the bats the day we were by the bridge.

Congress Bridge Congress Bridge

So what did we do? One weekend we walked around the capitol building grounds and checked out downtown.

Texas capitol building

Also art city austin was held that weekend (April 14-15) in downtown so we visited the different artists' tents. There were some wonderfully beautiful art work on display but the pieces that I would want were way beyond my budget.

On our walk back to our hotel from downtown I saw these 3 men dressed in vintage fashion. I just had to take a pic (one of my most favorite shots)! I wonder where they were struttin' to/from?

3 men struttin' around downtown

The following day I volunteered to help out at art city austin. I was assigned to the kid's block Colin's Hope: Imprinting Activity tent. The main purpose of the tent was to give out information to parents on water safety and drowning prevention. I helped carve potatoes for printing and enjoyed assisting the kids that stopped by.

At one point all activity stopped and there was a scramble to get underneath the tents because there was a sudden deluge of rain. One juggler, however, was nonchalantly walking around doing what he does best.

The volunteer opportunity gave me a better sense of Austin's community and supporting and promoting the arts in some way was personally satisfying.




Austin Adventures (April 7th – April 20th)

Splendiferous N’awlins (March 24 – April 6)

In New Orleans we stayed at an Airbnb property in the Muses Apartments only a couple of blocks away from the St. Charles streetcar line, which we could take right to the French Quarter (or get there on foot in about a half hour). The one downside to where we were staying was that there was no wi-fi service but thankfully there was Krewe du Brew, a new-ish cafe right on St. Charles Avenue where Nick spent his weekdays for work. Co-owners John and Eugene provides attentive service and friendly conversation. Stop in and say hi if you’re in the neighborhood. I enjoyed their chocolate chip banana bread and drank a lot of raspberry ice tea.

Fleur-de-lis mosaic at Palmer Park

Nick and I both adored New Orleans and would love to return for another visit. It also helped that Nick didn’t suffer allergies the entire time we were there.

A few highlights:

    • Visiting the art galleries of the Warehouse/Art District
Chihuly glass (white)

Chihuly’s white glass series is gorgeous

Michael Pajon, my new favorite artist

Michael Pajon’s collages rock! If I was rich I’d collect his work.

    • Unexpectedly finding this beautiful street art
    • Talking to artists at the Arts Market (held monthly on the last Saturday)

At the market I ran into Yuka Petz, who’s a local book artist I’ve been wanting to meet. I like her play on words and text in her work. I also spoke briefly with printmaker Pippin Frisbie-Calder from whom I got to learn about cypress trees and their knees.

Jimmy Descant
Tao Seeger

Tao Seeger is a great storyteller; I enjoyed hearing about the history of his instruments. One of the stories was about his hundred-year-old banjo!

    • Spending a beautiful day with Nick eating our way through the French Quarter
Cajun Cafe Market
Yummm ... Cafe du Monde's beignets

All the locals who I’ve spoken with says that Cafe du Monde beignets (pronounced “ben-yays”) are the best. We concur!


Additional photos:

New Orleans, LA



Splendiferous N’awlins (March 24 – April 6)