I've been giving Instagram a lot of thought. And I've concluded that I'm exhausted.
I realize that Instagam can turn a small-town lady with a crafty idea into an international business success story, but that's quickly eclipsed by thoughts of more insidious, multinational business antics: top-level consumer marketers who court those Grammars' "Insta-fluence": Nike, Holiday Inn, Burberry. (More at this New York Times article.)
I think about how encouraging it is to have people following you in your creative endeavours, but then I think about the shared similarities among the top social-media savvy "micro-celebrities", our exploding narcissistic culture and the easy-pickins' exploitation for big-brand profit and almost-free fame.
I realize that Instagram can open a door for artists to the big wide sharing world and that by refusing to open that door runs the risk of a lifetime of professional obscurity. Indeed, "Instagram is custom made for the art world," says New York Observer opinion-writer/billionaire financier/art collector Adam Lindemann. But he then adds: "You get a quick flash of an image with virtually no text or explanation. There’s no need to read. It’s perfect for people with zero attention span, zero education and zero interest in learning about anything—perfect, in other words, for the art collectors of today. You could go so far as to say that the successful art of this current generation must be Instagramable to succeed, and if it doesn’t look good on Instagram, it ain’t working in this instant-gratification art world: goldfish have longer attention spans than ‘grammers."
I realize that it's free and with the help of such apps as Latergram, it's possible to keep the phone-pecking at a daily minimum, but I can't help thinking about these guys: the Instagram and Facebook engineers who recently moved all Instagram photos to Facebook's data centre, without any users the wiser, as reported by Wired.
I realize that this is a wee worried whisper in the hell-yeah storm of 200 million mostly female, mostly under-35 Instagrammers. And I realize that I may be overthinking the whole thing. I could be expanding my visual horizons, connecting with artists around the world, but instead I'm fixated on what becomes of the millions of bits of personal information being sucked into that data centre in Forest City, North Carolina (as suggested in the Wired article) every day, and how that data has been used and how it will be, soon enough.
Last year the FBI and the National Security Agency were handed over the ability to suck up people's photos, videos, emails and documents, after the largest businesses online allowed the agencies access to their servers. According to a ground-shaking Washington Post article last year, "The National Security Agency is harvesting hundreds of millions of contact lists from personal e-mail and instant messaging accounts around the world, many of them belonging to Americans, according to senior intelligence officials and top-secret documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden."
I think about Instagram and I think about what's monitored, what's censored (no pubes!), what's the next app to eclipse Instagram's success (Snapchat or Bolt?). I think about how all these social media apps contribute to the time-sucking attention to that little gadget that is now as much a part of the restaurant table as the cutlery and that has turned a busload of riders into something resembling group prayer. I think about how Rogers is a dealer, getting rich on its users' increasing dependency on data, more data.
Am I overthinking Instagram and the rest of the global social re-wiring? Yes, but I might not be thinking about it enough either.
My mind has been buzzing with thoughts of legendary environmentalist-artist Joseph Beuys as I've been hatching an idea for a public artwork that is not so much intrusive as inclusive, especially if you're a native mason bee.
It is the convergence of my love of patterns of circles within circles and my growing understanding of the immense value of the Blue Orchard (aka Osmia) Mason Bee. This non-stinging little guy gets up early in the season, collects nectar and spreads pollen at the same time, and is a workhouse in the pollination business compared to the introduced honey bee.
Like most of us, Blue Mason Bees live on their own but are gregarious except their preferred condo complexes are holes in wood. It turns out they also live quite nicely in paper straws that are closed at the back end.
Artists/gardeners/environmentalists/industrial designers have been innovating ways to boost the population of mason bees in response to colony collapse of the honey bee.
Condo complexes set up in the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris (above) and in the Paris Botanical Garden provide real inspiration, as do the smaller mobile homes, like the one below in Copenhagen.
I've been experimenting with making the straws (see video at bottom) with an emphasis on design, found materials (paper bags and coffee cans). Now for a little colour.
My theory is that bubble tea straws could provide just the right waterproof structure for accommodating all those straws the females pack with cocoons. The straws would be easily removed and the cocoons harvested, cleaned and stored in the fridge for the winter, ready to be set out next spring.
I have no idea whether this will work, but the creative process is one of problem-finding and problem-solving.
The plan uses the colourful clusters of the translucent angled straws because they provide built-in overhangs for each condo while allowing for the necessary south light to hit each doorway.
The clusters-within-cluster design of fiber-optic cables (see below) sets the pattern course in a design that moves from pinky-finger width to something on a grand scale that can be seen from a block away by humans.
It's one of those situations where it will take some doing to get to some knowing.
Everything I need to know I learn on blogs, at least when it comes to making stuff.
Most recently, I needed to display a knitted artwork for an upcoming show this weekend but I did not want a big ol' plastic men's torso crowding up my studio so I googled 'how to make a mannequin.'
Up popped yet another fresh and earnest blog, posted by another fresh and earnest maker. And naturally not only has she posted sequential how-to photos but does the right thing by citing the blog that originally inspired her, which happened to be the Burda patterns website in German and which she re-capped so readers aren't lost in translation. Nobody gets anything out of this deal but a little personal maker pride and a good feeling that they're sharing the love with everyone else who loves doing stuff with our hands.
I appreciate the loosey-goosey instructions that are mostly communicated in pictures, requiring innovating as I go.
And so I did learn how to make a mannequin, and it was good.
In fact, it was a damn fun Saturday afternoon activity, and it worked out just fine.
Step 1: Find a victim of the size you need.
Step 2: Put him/her in an unwanted T-shirt (it will be sacrificed for the cause).
Step 3: Wrap some plastic wrap around the neck and at the bottom edge of the torso.
Step 4: Completely wrap the torso in duct tape. One of you will get dizzy from turning.
Step 5: Cut the T-shirt/tape shell off up the back.
Step 6: Remove from victim and tape the back edges together, then tape across the neck and the armholes.
Step 7: Stuff it with cushion foam chips.
Step 8: Stick the torso on some sort of stand (floor lamp base, dowel in chunk of wood, what-have-you. (I weighted a metal stand I had lying around with a 10kg barbell plate.)
Step 9: (I added this one) Sew up a fitted black microfiber casing.
Step 10: Staple the bottom together and dress (you and the mannequin).
The best part is that once the show's over, I can de-stuff the torso, lose the base and fold away the mannequin shell for future exhibits.
Just doing my tiny part in the hive full of maker bees.
I was told there would be no math.
Turns out there’s nothing but math in making things, and all kinds of math in packaging it all up for clients and justifying it all to Revenue Canada.
I love to build stuff but I am not wired to readily tackle building an Excel spreadsheet, or at least I tend to steer clear of that sort of construction for fear of stirring the ugly, frustrated beast within. So instead of getting myself educated — knowledge is power yada yada — I go into serious procraftination mode. Need a project budget by Monday? Who wants a pair of knitted slippers!
‘There are lots of marketing courses for artists.’
Orrrr… a jewelry-making course, to make tiny silver sculptures! Sign me up.
I am aware that there are marketing resources and income tax tips just for visual artists but my feeble research into online tutorials and tips is quickly sidetracked:
In my defence, it’s better not to try to grapple with the month-end reconciliation reports and annual income projections, because even I don’t have to do the math to know that the numbers are bad. What other kind of a business model has galleries demanding artists pay a submission fee (typically $35-50) just to send images of their work, then, if accepted, exhibit fees to show the work that the artists pay to ship to and from the gallery, with a commission to the gallery if the work is sold? That's before any travel expenses to actually attend the gallery opening. Any accountant would advise switching occupations.
You don't have to crunch those figures to understand that unless you've got a highly marketable 'product', this is no way to make a living.
The fact is, artists are easy-picking. We will do what we must for free, even paying to get it out there to be part of the dialogue. We may not make it as models in business, but at least we're making.
The Crassmas season is one big distraction to me. But once I remind myself that a gift does not have to be a solution to someone's problem but a simple, seasonal gesture, I embrace the chance to make, and make it merry.
The place is a happy mess. Wool strands are stuck to my glue gun nozzle, my slippers are splattered with spraypaint. Black plugs of leather from my new punch tool are lodged in my laptop keyboard and tiny glass beads have rolled into every corner of the apartment.
There is some method in all this mad, frivolous playing and decorating, but I only see the playing with ideas after the fact.
Turns out my spontaneously created (ie. still in pajamas) 'copper pipe' wreath (sliced wrapping paper rolls and copper spraypaint) was a practical exercise in understanding patterns of circles within circles — the focus of a major project next year.
Glass-bead snowflakes, a dark-weeknight distraction, was a lesson in math ( a five-inch-diameter object requires a five-foot strand of beaded wire) and an experiment in creating area and density from line.
Crocheting chunky-wool slipper booties had its own lesson in scale; in this case, what looks cute in a kiddie size looks hideous in an adult version. (Breathe easy, teenagers.)
The gingerbread A-frame cabins involved more industrial design than I anticipated and more geometry than I normally like to endure but was essential for gaining the most area out of four cookie-sheet squares of dough. The possibility that math can be fun is matched by my new-found fascination of some basic chemistry that reveals the power of heat to turn granular sugar into glass, and the power of water as the only solution for pots cemented with rock-hard sugar syrup.
I can't rationalize the pounds of candy and icing sugar I bought for the four kids to decorate the gingerbread camp. That I would ever indulge in that sort of seasonal folly is a freakin' Christmas miracle.
This week's clippings, destined for my over-stuffed sketchbook.
I’m addicted to Google Images and I’m not happy about it.
For the last several decades, most of my ideas have come from markings on wood pulp, specifically newspapers. And even though it’s now becoming almost unconscionable to sacrifice trees for the purpose of disseminating information, we’re missing out on something in the loss of the traditional newspaper format.
We’re missing an element of randomness and surprise that comes from scanning the sheets of a good newspaper full of a wide range of engaging opinion and well-researched, original subject matter. When we're used to flipping through the pages numerically, we come across whole areas of information that we're not looking for.
For most of my adult life this has involved a routine of morning coffee, three or four daily newspapers, the sharing of sections, and a lot of bitching over what’s missing from stories or the paper. It ends with tearing out a few items to share with others or add to my over-stuffed sketchbook, then bringing the stack of papers downstairs to drop on a neighbour’s doormat.
It all sounds so quaint now, and we’re fighting the losing battle to get our content without plunking screens down at the kitchen table. In fact, anecdotal evidence tells me that the rise of new media over tactile media has all but eclipsed the whole breakfast-table routine.
But the research randomness I crave is seductively being serviced by Google Images. Now, thanks to its new aggregating software, any image that I search includes a series of visually related options. No more walking to the newspaper boxes. No more sharing. No waiting.
We used to wait for it
Now we're screaming ‘Sing the chorus again!’
(Click the arrow below to hear the song that says it all)
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