Sunday, May 26, 2013

I'm not sure when I got interested in design; I think I was always interested in design. My father was a photographer, and I got from him the general tendency to see things in frames, to look at color combinations, to imagine what things looked like in photographs. But I made my own posters, too. And I enjoyed it, even though I wasn't all that talented. After a while, I did it because I liked making a good poster, working on the lettering and the design, etc.

I was photography editor of the high school yearbook, but I was so miserable in high school that there was almost no way I could succeed at that. I found myself hiding in the darkroom, rather than cranking out good photographs, and I had trouble at football games aiming the camera at football players who were heading my way. I carried a fairly nice camera around with me through 48 states, Guatemala, Mexico, Canada and Alaska, but I rarely ever used it and it gathered some sand at the bottom of my pack; still, I got one roll of slides from Guatemala and another from New Orleans; eventually I gave up as I felt a bit like I was competing with my father and couldn't win.

Xerox art, however, was a kind of liberation. Enlarging, shrinking, cutting and pasting, and making collage postcards, this I liked. Another thing that set me free was the digital camera, and the cell phone, which made photography guilt-free (not wasting a ton of chemicals for possibly bad results or at the very least indulgent results) - then, when I noticed that you could posterize easily online, I was off and running again, doing pop art. Today I'm more interested in my own pop art, posterization; some were very good photographs, but the true photographers would turn up their noses at the saturated, exaggerated color which actually makes a good photo less clear. I like it. I'm actually an admirer of Andy Warhol, and I went in this direction probably for the specific reason that there was no sense competing in pure photography. For one thing, I don't think I should be trusted with a high-quality camera. For another, pop reduces things to impressions, images, pure shapes, and I like that. I would rather see the colors up against each other, than the more precise detail.

I made a string of calendars, mostly for my family; I've done it now for maybe twenty years. Some of these were pop; others were xerox art or some other kind of creative construction. For many of these years it was my main creative visual-arts output, since I stopped making postcards, and didn't have pop galleries online or anywhere else. Once a year, I'd try to come up with a dozen good images and put them on a vertical calendar that would hang on my relatives' walls. Some of these are probably still around, but they rarely have my name on them, in fact never; also, they don't have the year; and, usually, they don't even have the S/M/T/W/TH/F/S day markings. I think someone who encountered one of these (for example, in one of my brothers' attics) might wonder who the heck made one of these, where did they come from? I never gave many clues. Some years I got some dates wrong, too. I always had to decide which holidays were more important. Some years I had trouble getting them to people by Christmas.

Then I had this problem: CESL or SIUC would delete their entire web, or places where I had my pop. Free web storage places would go bust and I'd lose everything. Nothing was safe online, except really the weblogs, which have lasted the test of time, though weblogs store photos rather poorly and you lose a lot of photographic quality. Another reason to stick with pop: in a world of constantly changing free web-sites, you can't rely on anyone to store your photos, and I never really did well keeping them on discs either. I'm proud of this stuff, now, as I look back on it, but I've also lost a lot of it; I've been unable to move it out of computers before they crashed, or put them on some site that crashed, or even trusted SIUC to keep a site that it didn't, or wouldn't, keep. SIUC was worried about people stealing its pictures, or misusing them, or someone suing them. I guess, in an era of google images, that's always an issue. To me it was something I always wanted to share.

I had a strong streak of wanting to share everything. This was leftover from my travel days. So many people were so nice to me for so long, that I always wanted to just give away cool stuff, part of almost every day. One thing I chose to give away was pop. Blogs and blogging allowed me to give away writing and poetry, but it also allowed me to give away pop. I'm not sure if people actually like my pop; I don't check with them much; I do it for myself, really, and I've never had the intention to sell any of it. Andy Warhol somehow made himself the bellwether of the art world; his Marilyn pop art was the most recognized, thus most famous, work of art in the twentieth century. He did this partly by a strategy of blanketing the world with his stuff. I was never quite up to that, but I was always ok with letting people just have it or use it. I never saw it as a path to fame. I envisioned t-shirts, sure, or maybe an exhibit or two. The eighteen years I was in Faner, I got quite a collection of Faner pop art; this focused on the drab angles of Faner in the background, bright or blooming trees in front of them. One thing I liked was the contrast between man-made angles and nature's soft curves; this set off Faner and made it all the more remarkable. I always thought I should have a Faner exhibit, or an exhibit of some of the things I'd documented over the years. But, unlike Warhol, I rarely bothered to push the art in any way. It was perhaps because I didn't value it so much myself, that others around me also didn't value it much. Maybe giving it away free all the time was not such a great idea after all; it was, in the end, impulsive. But it was a way of keeping that traveler inside me, alive, every minute. I hadn't taken many pictures on my journey, but now, going on the same paths every day, to the pool or to the student center for coffee, I'd take my phone, and shoot stuff if I saw it, and bring it home and use the photo programs. Picnik was one that I liked, until it went bust. Instagram was good when it came along, but lately I've had trouble with it. There are all kinds of ways to make pop online. Pop may in fact be more useful with online advertising, but I'm just starting with that, and I don't totally believe in it; I'm not sure people really click on those things, or if I want to get involved in luring them into it. My life has always had this tension between wanting things to be good, masterful artwork, for example, or a well-written novel, but then, being somewhat leery of fame, and not trusting myself with it, also undervaluing it, or somehow preventing myself from ever making it what it could be. But that's not the entire reason I continue with basically four media (I play music, I make pop art, I write stories, and I write poetry; other things, like movies or the novel, are either incomplete or too poorly developed to mention); I push all the ways that I'm inclined, and I push myself to be better, yet at the same time I try to be unattached, and do it mostly for myself.

A lot of the pop art came as essentially a break from grading writing papers. Sometimes two, three, four hours a day would be slogging through bad grammar and trying to make sense of what someone was saying. But I'd be sitting there by a mac, and it would have a good camera on it, and lo and behold they even built in the capability of making an Andy-Warhol style, four-square pop icon; I could do it with my own image, first, but then I'd do it with an Iowa map, or Chomsky's diagrammed sentences, or a picture of Kennedy. Though most people never thought about what Warhol was saying with his famous Marilyn Monroe pop art, I knew what he was saying, and felt I could be saying similar things. But it still amazes me; people don't think much about art; they don't want to. Most of the time, it's just a picture on the wall. It might draw your attention, or it might not. Or it might draw it, but only for a few seconds, which would be an abomination, if you really took it seriously. I don't want to take it that seriously. Rather, I'll learn from the greats, and keep it simple, go for the bold, and not worry whether they get the message or not.


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