Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Month: November 2018 Page 1 of 2

Desert- and Swamp-busters: Community Gardens

The Artdog Image of Interest

Last week’s Image of Interest focused on the problem of food deserts and food swamps. This week, I’d like to focus on one of the solutions that can be used to combat them: the growing movement to create and cultivate–in ALL senses of the word–community gardens.

Community gardens are becoming increasingly popular for more very good reasons. Beyond helping lower-income communities stretch their food budgets and gain access to healthy food, which would be enough in itself, they:

Make good use of previously-vacant (often trash-plagued) plots of land. This is efficient, fights blight, and discourages crime.

Teach people of all ages practical skills they can use to improve their lives. This is why they’re an outstanding project for schools.

Bring communities together, because there’s nothing like gardening side-by-side to promote people talking with each other, creating friendships, and sharing ideas or skills.

Yes, I know it’s getting on toward winter in the Northern Hemisphere. But winter is the time to PLAN gardens. The infographic below, which promotes the annual Project Orange Thumb, sponsored by Fiskars, offers good starter tips. If you think you’d like to apply for Project Orange Thumb, the next call for applications probably will go out in January.

Plant a Community Garden

IMAGES: Many thanks to Suburban Stone Age, via Pinterest, for the image-with-quote about tomatoes, and to Fiskars’ Project Orange Thumb, for the infographic about community gardening. 

In this photo from the original Star Trek series, Leonard Nimoy as “Mr. Spock” sits at the console of what looked in the mid-1960s like a very futuristic computer array. The console has a black frame with readout windows that shows many different-colored, glowing rectangles above a console covered with buttons and toggle-switches. Nimoy’s costume consisted of a blue velour tunic with a black collar and a Starfleet badge. His character’s black hair has straight-line-cut bangs and the pointy ears that became iconic. Photo courtesy of “Subspace Communicator” blog, collected in 2018.

Design fiction and science fiction

Have you ever heard of design fiction? WALDENLABS’ John Robb explains it this way: “Design fiction is a way for designers and artists to visually depict the future in inspiring ways. Typically, design fiction is associated with how technology will change our future.” But in my opinion he misses an important aspect of design fiction with this definition.

What is “design fiction”?

Robb offers examples of companies that are developing products they want to promote. To do that, they’ve put together videos to show how those products might be used in the future. He suggested that one by Corning, “A Day Made of Glass,” is an excellent example (see above).

It was made in 2011, but it still looks pretty futuristic . . . except in a few of the ways that women are portrayed. Did you catch them? Some are subtle, others quite blatant. What struck me most forcibly however, was how old that “art form” of design fiction by companies making products really is, and how it actually misses the mark if you want to think of it as “art.”

In my opinion, Robb conflates corporate design fiction with science fiction wrongly. He points to Star Trek‘s best-known innovations. That show’s  communicators inspired the development of cell phones. Their glass computers later came into reality as touchscreens. Science fiction readers need not look far to point out other innovations first portrayed in sf. But they were made for a different purpose.

In this photo from the original Star Trek series, Leonard Nimoy as “Mr. Spock” sits at the console of what looked in the mid-1960s like a very futuristic computer array. The console has a black frame with readout windows that shows many different-colored, glowing rectangles above a console covered with buttons and toggle-switches. Nimoy’s costume consisted of a blue velour tunic with a black collar and a Starfleet badge. His character’s black hair has straight-line-cut bangs and the pointy ears that became iconic. Photo courtesy of “Subspace Communicator” blog, collected in 2018.
Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and his shipmates used an inspiring computer unlike anything the 1960s had seen before. But Star Trek wasn’t “design fiction.” That is, it was created to tell engaging stories, not sell computers.

The difference between design fiction and science fiction

Note that corporate design fiction is created for different reasons than science fiction. At recent sf conventions, I participated in programming that showed examples of corporate design fiction from the 1930s, ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s.

Those visions focused on kitchens, cars, and houses. They presented fascinating glimpses, but they were made primarily as marketing tools. Companies developed them to create brand identity and to sell the companies’ products of that day. The design fiction imagery associated their products with futuristic visions. It was a way to say “we’re advanced!”

Here’s an example of futuristic design fiction from 1956.

Doesn’t sf have an agenda, too?

Science fiction offers a viewpoint, of course. But each individual science fiction writer develops their own unique viewpoint. An author may represent more than one viewpoint, over a lifetime of work. But science fiction is not primarily designed to preach, teach, or sell products.

Our wheelhouse is different. We shine a light on new thoughts, ideas, and potential problems . . . and also always to entertain, beguile, and if possible, enrich our readers’ lives. If those technological wonders we invent in the course of doing that become real someday, well, that’s icing on the cake.

About the Author

I’m Jan S. Gephardt, and I’ve been writing this blog since 2009. As you might guess from this topic, I write science fiction, as well as make paper sculpture. Learn more about my XK9 series from my publishing company, Weird Sisters Publishing. I originally wrote this post in 2018 and updated it in 2024.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to Corning via YouTube, for the “A Day Made of Glass” video. Thank you, CBS Sunday Morning, for the 1956 GM vision of the “car of the future.” And I’m grateful to Subspace Communique for the photo of Mr. Spock and his computer.

Mindfulness is key

The Artdog Quote of the Week

If ever there was a good argument for staying alert and practicing mindfulness, this is a great one. Whyte has focused a spotlight on an important principle of the human experience.

My Quotes of the Week during the past three Mondays have focused on maintaining an attitude of hope and gratitude in the face of adversity. It’s hard to do, but it’s important work, both in our personal lives and in the public discourse. I’m confident that, unfortunately, we’ll get plenty more practice as time goes forward.

IMAGE: Many thanks to Flowing Free for this quote from David Whyte

Deserts and Swamps: a closer look at food insecurity

The Artdog Image of Interest

Do you know what a food desert is? What about a food swamp? Do you live near one?

They exist in all kinds of places, including rural areas, where you really wouldn’t expect them–but viewing an area in terms of food deserts and food swamps is a way to key in on some root causes of food insecurity.

We can join in the effort to fight this trend. First, support community gardens, and efforts to bring farmers markets to low-income areas near you. A quick Internet-search should offer local options.

Also, pay attention to how poverty-stricken communities in your area are treated. I really hope you’ll encourage your civic leaders to remember that poor people are people. People with rights, like everyone else. It’s a myth that most are lazy or poor because they made bad choices. Most people who are born into poverty must overcome huge obstacles to climb out of it.

Another good way to fight food deserts and swamps is to advocate for programs such as SNAP, the US government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which is part of the Farm Bill, renewed every five years (including now!).

And in the meantime, contribute to local food banks. Again, they’re only an Internet search away.

This infographic may be focused on a particular region, but it’s instructive as an example in a broader sense, offering a snapshot of the problem’s impact.

IMAGES: Many thanks to AZ Quotes for the quote image featuring author Michael Pollan, and to Brown is the New Pink blog, for passing along the infographic on food deserts and swamps.

In search of Thanksgiving peace

That’s the point of Thanksgiving, isn’t it? To break bread together, to join with each other over a table of plenty (or at least, we hope, “enough”), to mend fences, to heal wounds, and to come together.

But we live in a rough time. Post-election, wounds are still raw. Gains and losses are still bitter. And many peoples’ Thanksgivings will be times of strife, if we’re not careful. So, then, what to do?

I’d hope that we’ll seek the more excellent way (I Corinthians 12:31), or in other words, the way of love. I started this month with All Saints and All Souls Day references to honoring our ancestors. Yet for many younger people the necessity of dealing with still-living ancestors and/or elders can become quite a trial.

The reverse quite often is true, too. Older people may have little patience with the things their younger family members value. This is mostly because they don’t understand them, and may even be afraid of them. But they, too, need to remember the way of love.

Both sides seem all too short on respect for the other, too much of the time. But the way of love is a way of respect. It’s an attitude that sets aside the assumptions of failings and seeks out, then abides in the places of agreement. A good start is simply to listen. To seek to hear, more than to be heard.

Only by setting part of our pride, our sense of controlling the situation, and our drive to force others to agree with us, do we find a place of mutual acceptance and peace. It behooves us to remember Wayne Dyer’s thought.

Only when we’re willing to step back from conflict can we truly be at peace with each other. Unfortunately, the hosts too often have to intervene with “rules of conduct in our house.” One of my Beloved’s elders banished all talk of religion and politics from her household on Thanksgiving. It worked, because they all respected Grandma.

But however we do it, we must remember and honor the soul-work of the table, the giving work of the cook(s), and the purpose of this day.

All of us have more to be thankful for than we have reasons to despise each other. Let us strive to remember that, and to act on it.

IMAGES: Many thanks to The Way International for the “Breaking Bread Together” graphic; to Oprah’s Pinterest page, for the quote-image from Iyanla Vanzant; to Quotemaster, for both the quotes from Gertrude Stein and from Gloria Steinem; to QuotePixel for the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi; to Brainy Quote for the wisdom from Wayne Dyer; and to the World Food Program USA on Pinterest, via World Vision and its HungerFree initiative for the Laurie Colwin quote. Many thanks to all of them!

Where is your focus?

The Artdog Quote of the Week

It’s been shown that optimists tend to be healthier and live longer than pessimists. But are optimists born, or do they cultivate their attitude? If one is a pessimist “by nature,” is that person doomed?

No, in fact. Resistance to pessimistic thoughts is not futile. Resiliency can be learned. It doesn’t matter how horrible you think things are, bright spots exist. Look for them. Cultivate them. Foster positive things. Where life persists, hope is possible, but it depends on all of us and our choices.

It ultimately comes down to a basic choice: hope or despair. Where would you rather focus? Which would you rather pursue?

IMAGES: Many thanks to Kush and Wizdom’s Tumblr, for this quote image.

Banned! Too political, they said.

The Artdog Image of Interest

Normally when we think of a banned book or other communication, we assume it’s considered pornographic or inflammatoryAnd of course we immediately become curious, if we’re most people.

But . . . they banned a supermarket chain’s Christmas ad, designed for children, as “too political” to broadcast in the UK.

Say what?

This week’s Image of Interest is a video whose story kind of begs for me to pass it on. Yes, it’s designed for kids, and yes, it does make a strong point. Whether or not that point is a dangerous or political point, I’ll let you decide. It just might be the most adorable banned video you’ll ever see.

You see, the point isn’t about a political party or a politician. It doesn’t consist of hate speech, and it’s not inciting anyone to rise up in rebellion against the government. It’s not attempting to inhibit any unalienable human rights.

It’s about deforestation and habitat loss due to palm oil cultivation and production, and it’s also about orangutanstopics I’ve addressed on this blog within recent months. What it does have the audacity to do is point out a problem that is widely acknowledged in scientific and environmental circles, and largely ignored or unknown by the general public.

I consider it my honor and privilege to spread this message as far as my humble little blog can spread itIt appears that lots of others feel the same way I didThe world’s caring people need to learn about, and pay more attention to this problem, before all the Pongo Faces are gone forever.

IMAGE/VIDEO: Many thanks to Iceland FoodsGreenpeaceAustralia’s The New Dailyand YouTube, for access to this banned video.

Influences: the quilts and quilters of Gee’s Bend

I remember when my sister, the quilter in the family, first showed me pictures of several quilts from Gee’s Bend at some point in the mid-2000s. They were strikingly beautiful, and unlike anything I’d seen before. Lots of other people thought so, too, when they were first exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2002.

Many people were astounded and delighted when they got their first looks at the now-famous Gee’s Bend quilts. In 2006 they were featured on United States postage stamps.

Like many people, I was fascinated by the dynamic asymmetry of these designs, such a different approach to the formal balance found in most traditional quilt patterns.

If you’ve grown up with quilts as I have, the first thing that leaps to mind when someone says “patchwork quilt” is the formal balance of traditional patterns such as the Six-Pointed Star Medallion Quilt (2017) from Catbird Quilts at left, or the Hoedown grid quilt by Codysnana, from The Spruce Crafts at right.

We artists and art lovers seek and create bridges to meaning by linking what we know to things we have not previously seen. Thus, I understand the comparisons to the work of Color Field artists such as Barnett Newmanor artists associated with Geometric Abstraction, such as Frank Stella or Josef Albers, by art critics commenting on the earliest shows. They had few other points of reference in their universe (not being conversant with West African textiles, apparently).

They could’ve Googled it: this screen grab shows the results of a Google Image Search for “West African Textiles.”

Of course, an argument can be and has been made that, particularly in the white-male-dominated world of the New York art scene in the early “uh-ohs” (well pre-#MeToo) there were more than a few people flabbergasted that impoverished, isolated black women could actually come up with such stunning and masterful designs, all by themselves.

Well, suck it up, guys. White men didn’t invent ALL the good things after all. (Truth be told, there are those who will point out that they actually didn’t even invent as many of those good things as they claim . . . but that’s a whole ‘nother blog post).

Bottom line: the women of Gee’s Bend are the real deal, even if they didn’t go to art school or study “the masters.” But it’s also true that they didn’t get into the Whitney, and thereby onto the world stage, all by themselves.

They got there through the efforts of a white man from Atlanta, named William “Bill” Arnett, and as with all help from white men, the longer one looks at his work and treatment of the outsider artists he discovered, the more questions arise. There are those who intimate or outright claim exploitation. Certainly, the licensing of those images for postage stamps didn’t filter back to Gee’s Bendfor one example among many.

Bill Arnett, of course, has his own version of events. And you certainly can’t say he didn’t have a nose for talent. Not only did he discover and share the Gee’s Bend quilts with the world, but lightning struck at least twice. He’s also the man who discovered Thornton Dial and mentored him into world-class artist scene. Arnett continues to champion the cause of African art, with his Souls Grown Deep Foundation.

No matter who paid for what, licensed what, or what settlements were reached in the aftermath, one thing we must say is that, whatever their influences, the quilters of Gee’s Bend have become influential in their own right. They only came to the attention of the world in 2002, so we still don’t even yet know how or what or where their influence will go, but already they’ve become established deep in the aesthetic consciousness of contemporary African American art. Younger African American artists know Gee’s Bend is a place where their roots run deep.

Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama, 2018, the official portrait of the former First Lady, by Amy Sherald.
At left, the “Runway version” of the Milly dress by Michelle Smith; at right, a variety of Gee’s Bend quilt designs.

For one example, a younger Amy Sheraldwhose work I profiled last spring, and who was recently chosen to create the official portrait of Michelle Obama for the National Portrait Gallery, attended that 2002 Whitney show. Sherald says part of the reason she chose to use the Michelle Smith-designed Milly dress for the portrait was the way it reminded her of the Gee’s Bend quilts.

I predict that the echoes of influence aren’t finished reverberating through generations (and artworks) to come.

IMAGES: Many thanks to The Textile Research Centre of Leiden, for the montage of Gee’s Bend quilt postage stamp designs; to Catbird Quilts, via Pinterest, for the gorgeous Six-Pointed Star Medallion Quilt, and to The Spruce Crafts by Codysnana, via Pinterest, for the photo of the very striking Hoedown pattern grid quilt. The screen grab of West African Textile Patterns is from a Google Image Search. I want to thank the New York Times for the almost-15-minute video “While I Yet Live,” which includes comments from the quilters about their history, and lots of images of their wonderful quilts. Finally, I am indebted to Decor Arts Now, for the photo of the Michelle Obama portrait, the Milly dress, and several suggestive quilt patterns. I also want to thank Decor Arts for the photos of the Michelle Obama portrait, as well as the photos regarding the “influence elements” of the Milly dress and a collection of representative Gee’s Bend quilt designs.

Don’t forget your umbrella!

The Artdog Quote of the Week 

I’d describe this past week as one heck of a storm–especially in southern California (with Thousand Oaks in the center of the bullseye). If ever we needed an umbrella against the disaster-storm, it’s now.

But, gratitude? Really? 

That’s a pretty hard ask, in a country that’s seen raging weather but continued denial of climate change, ever-deepening political divides, and seemingly more gun violence every day. This may be the season of Thanksgiving, but it’s often hard to find solid reasons for hope.

Well, we all need to suck it up. We can never afford to give in to apathy–not if we ever want things to get better. There are bright spots in the darkest places. It’s our job to shelter and foster those little flames of hope so they can grow.

So look around, be positive and think creatively. Let’s explore all the ways that we can improve our world.

IMAGE: Many thanks to Emotionally Resilient Living for this evocative image. It comes from a a whole page of great strategies for building and keeping a positive attitude. 

100 years since the War to End all Wars

Unfortunately, it didn’t end all wars. It barely paused them, as we know too well today. But let us stop for a moment today to consider all of those who have died to defend our freedoms, and all the decisions–both foolish and wise–that have been taken in regard to war and its waging, since that day.

I live in the metro area that’s home to the National World War I Museum and Memorial (they don’t all have to be in Washington, DC!), where they’ve been rolling out a massive retrospective and display after display as the 100-year anniversaries of various battles and other events from that war unfold. Now we’ve come to the centennial of the end of that war. Yes, it’s a big deal.

The National World War I Museum and Memorial’s celebration of the centennial of the Armistice currently includes a projection of several images, including the striking poppies, on the Memorial obelisk at night.

One hundred years ago today . . . what was it like? Here’s a gallery of images from that day.

The signing ceremony that sealed the Armistice: Image by Maurice Pillard Verneuil – Maurice Pillard Verneuil, Kamu Malı,
American soldiers in the field (64th Regiment of the 7th Division) celebrate news of the Armistice. This photo is from the U.S. Army – U.S. National Archive, Public Domain.
Celebrants riding a bus in London, while waving arms and flags.
Jubilant women show their delight in Sydney, Australia on Armistice Day.
People turned out in a somewhat impromptu but clearly delighted crowd in Vincennes, France once they heard the news.
Americans back home also turned out in force to march, wave flags, and generally spread their joy.

There are many more such photos to be seen and enjoyed online. I particularly appreciated Mashable’s collection (which includes some of the images I chose, but has a lot more, too).

It may seem simple-minded to say this, but war is bad. It’s terrible for the fighters, the civilians caught in the middle, and the environment, too. Unfortunately, it also can be good for some types of industries, companies, leaders, and governments, so we can never allow our vigilance to wane.

It’s especially hard to remember how awful war is, when you’ve been at peace for a while. I hope you’ll look back, enjoy these photos from a different time, and pay particular attention to the joy and intense relief in the people’s facesEnding this war was good for all of them, because war is humankind’s worst invention, and they’d just had a long, ugly taste of it.

Celebrate, yes. Thank a veteran, certainly! But then get involved in efforts to keep the local, national, and international focus on working for peace.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Minnesota Mom’s blog, via Pinterest, for the illustrated quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, and to The National and the AP, via Pinterest, for the photo of the poppy projections at the National World War I Museum and Memorial. For the vintage images in the Armistice Gallery, I’d like to thank Wikimedia for the Maurice Pillard Verneuil image of the signing of the Armistice; Wikimedia again, along with the US Army and the US National Archive, for the photo of the celebrating 64th; to Great War London for the celebration-on-the-bus photo from London; to Anzac Portal’s “Australians on the Western Front” image gallery for the photo of the delighted women in Sydney; to the FranceArchives page, “Proclamation de l’armistice de 1918” for the photo of the happy crowd in Vincennes, France; and to Mashable, via the Hulton Archive/Getty Images, for the photo of the parade in the US. And happy Veterans Day to all.

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