Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Month: January 2019 Page 1 of 2

Is a realistic level of diversity too much to ask?

I’ve recently had an opportunity to read and enjoy two mysteries and an urban fantasy mystery, all within the span of about two weeks. But an odd thing struck me as I was reading them.

In two of the three, there was a stunning lack of diversity.

Not a single, discernible person of color. The only ethnicities identified were second-or-later-generation Irish-American, or longtime small-town residents of Appalachian Scots-Irish ancestry. Everyone else in those two books seemed to be thoroughly-assimilated European-Americans, although that wasn’t spelled out. 

Not just white, but heterosexual–or at least, from the way relationships between characters were handled, everyone was assumed to be not only white, but straight

Here’s a gorgeous spring morning in North Carolina’s part of Great Smoky Mountain National Park, photographed by Dave Allen. It’s certainly not impossible that a small town in the mountains could be an ethnic monoculture.

Now, I’ll grant that the population of a small town in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina might not have too many outsiders living there. I grew up in a small, semi-rural town in Southwest Missouri that had (at the time) only white folk living there, so I know it’s possible, although even my formerly-“lily-white” home town now has in the last 30 years become significantly more integrated

But we sure did have gay people (oppressed, closeted gay people, I’m sorry to say. But they lived among us, a naturally-occurring segment of the population).

Yes, maybe there are pockets of white monoculture in isolated towns, where “polite society” still doesn’t recognize “the gays.” But in New York City? In Queens? I’m sorry, but for a group of NYPD cops not to encounter a single ethnic face or meet a single LGBTQIA person or person of color in the entire book just strikes me as weird. Worse, it threatens my suspension of disbelief.

Detail of a street scene in Flushing, New York by Ben ParkerHere’s a colorblindness test: do you see an ethnic mix?

“But that’s not part of my concept,” the author might say. “It’s my art, and I’ll write it as I please.”

Okay. It certainly is true that the First Amendment says they have a perfect right to write a book with only white or “default-race” heterosexual characters in it if they want to. I will stop to note that one classic hallmark of white privilege is a lack of consciousness that pink skin and European ancestry isn’t really a “default” setting

For a writer, however, there’s also another, very practical problem with that “it’s not my concept” conceit, and it hasn’t got the slightest thing to do with “political correctness.”

Not everybody out there in the reading population is whiteNot everybody is straight or cisgender. And the everybody-else-from-everywhere readers also enjoy seeing people like them showing up in a book every once in a while, as an ordinary person (not a stereotype). 

Depending on how you define “white,” there are a range of possible futures for the “white majority.”  The Census Bureau’s prediction that the US population will become “majority-minority” in 2044 has been disputed. But the likelihood is that, depending on immigration patterns and birth rates, at some point in the mid-21st Century there won’t be a “white majority” in the US anymore

But we already live in a world where LGBTQIA individuals exist–as they always have existed–in our midst. If at least a small percentage of your characters aren’t LGBTQIA, you’re misrepresenting reality (or you’re clueless)

Documented evidence that there ARE gay people in New York City: a recent Pride March, photographed by Filip Wolak.

Recent estimates that seek to control for bias indicate that up to 20% of the population “may be attracted to their own sex.” Others dispute both polls and perceptions. Numbers on transgender individuals are even more fuzzy. 

My experience suggests that the 1-in-5 or 6 guesstimate is probably not too far off, and that transgender folk also are seriously under-reported. I don’t get out that much, and I know at least three of the latter. All of them are much happier, now that they can look and act like their real selves. And they’d probably like to see characters like them, fairly represented, from time to time in their fiction options.

Authors who’d rather not look like some kind of strange, historical relic within another decade or so might want to keep all of this in mind, when they begin concept work on their next stories.

IMAGES: Many, many thanks to Dave Allen and Pixels, via Pinterest, for the gorgeous view from Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If you like the photo, you can get it printed on lots of things at Pixels. I also deeply appreciate the New York Sun and photographer Ben Parker, for the street scene from Flushing, Queens, New York. I also greatly appreciate Standing Up for Racial Justice, for its self-demonstrating example of white privilege in action, and I also very much thank Time Out New York for its article on the 2018 Gay Pride March in NYC, as well as Filip Wolak, who captured an evocative photograph of the event. This post just wouldn’t be the same without these images and their creators. Many thanks!

Faith, meet challenges!

The Artdog Quote of the Week

Against a backdrop of a wave seen from underwater are the words of a quote from Muhammad Ali. He said, "It's lack of faith that makes people afraid of meeting challenges, and I believed in myself."

Creativity requires a certain measure of boldness. Any time you put your original creation out there in the world, you put a part of yourself on the line. 

Doesn’t matter whether it’s a thought, a dance, a story, a piece of artwork, an invention, your own performance skill, or what. That takes courage. It takes faith. It takes believing in yourself, and being willing to publicly fail. 

Publicly failing sucks. It hurts. But it doesn’t inevitably happen. You take a risk. And when it doesn’t fail–when it succeeds, and you succeed, and the world is a better place because of your creative vision–that’s about as sweet as it gets.

IMAGE: Many thanks to Brainy Quote for the image combined with the quote by Muhammad Ali.

What’s your style?

The Artdog Image of Interest

Bryant Arnold’s cartoon creates a great picture of how functions of the left and right sides of the human brain have been understood.

When I was a beginning artist and art teacher, theories about brain-sidedness had just begun to be popularized. I remember reading the first edition of Betty Edwards’ book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain (now in its 4th edition), and having my mind completely blown (as we used to say). Yes, I’ve already admitted I’m older than dirt in earlier posts. I stand by it.

Thoughts about brain-sidedness have shifted since then. There is not as clear a dichotomy as this image suggests, humans being humans, and cognitive processes being notoriously hard to pin down.

And yet.

As a teacher, I’ve no doubt whatsoever that different people learn in different ways. Interpretations of multiple intelligences or different styles of learning vary by theorist (or by who’s putting together a new book and needs a new angle). But the fact remains that not everyone learns in the same way.

Whatever your style of learning, graduating from school doesn’t make your learning style change or go away. The more you can learn about yourself and how you relate to the world, the more creative you’ll be empowered to be!

IMAGE: Many thanks to Bryant Arnold, of Cartoon A Day, for the use of this image he created in 2012.

Why unplanned sketching is important

Unplanned sketching. It’s a thing.

It’s an important thing

The illustration shows a sketchbook page by Leonardo da Vinci, made when he was planning an equestrian monument. There are variations drawn to the base, one of the horses has three half-drawn back legs in a range of positions, and the rider's nearer leg looks transparent, because you can see the horse's back through it.
Leonardo da Vinci used sketches to think things through. Yes, he was very good, and his sketches look “professional.”But he wasn’t afraid to make “wrong lines.” The top horse has three back legs, and the rider’s leg is transparent.

It can be a fundamental part of thinking through a problem, or a fun avenue of exploration just for the sake of exploring

But not everyone sees it that way, it seems. Last week, for my post of divergent thinking, I wrote, about brainstorming, “The process has kinship to quick, unplanned sketches for artists,” and compared it to improv for actors or “pantsing” for writers. As usual, I looked for a link to illustrate or expand on my point.

But when I looked, I found tutorials on how to make “beautiful doodle art” or lists of “ideas of things to sketch.” Almost nothing I found admitted that not all doodles are pretty, and not all sketches turn out well.

Like I couldn’t think up my own things to sketch? Like doodles now have to be beautiful? Like there are performance standards?

This makes me crazy.

Sure, it’s nice to be able to come up with a good one, and it’s lovely if your sketches turn out well-proportioned and exquisite. But not all doodles are pretty. Not all sketches turn out well. The very idea of a “sketch” means a rough, freehand, sometimes unfinished drawing. Usually it’s done to explore or capture an idea, or for practice. It’s not meant to be finished art. If your sketches must be planned and your doodles must be beautiful, you’re doing it wrong!

From an article titled, "40 Beautiful Doodle Art Ideas," here's a page with patterns and stylized images laid out in a grid. They're pretty, but using someone else's pre-designed images does not require much creativity.
If all your doodles must be beautiful, you’re missing the point!

And yes, I’m aware there’s irony in that, because of the whole “there is no ‘wrong way’ when you’re brainstorming” precept. But pre-planned sketches are not brainstorming. If your doodles must be beautiful, that also means there can’t be any awkward lines, or any bits that didn’t work out right. It smacks of having to be perfect, of fearing to make a mistake (or an ugly line).

Well, my friend, ugly lines are how we get to beautiful ones on our own.

Mistakes are how we learn new things.

And it’s only possible to grow and explore and expand if you’re not already perfect. So go ahead. I dare you. Scribble over the line. You never know what you’ll discover when you do.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Wikipedia, for the “three draft images of an equestrian monument” from the sketchbooks of Leonardo da Vinci, and to “40 Beautiful Doodle Art Ideas,” for the page of beautiful doodles.

Creatively persisting for justice, in faith

The Artdog Quote(s) of the Week

We live in an era when persons of conscience and integrity (and I hope that includes you and me) must stand up for what we value, for public and private virtue, for compassion, and for the rule of law.

It takes strength, but more than that it takes faith

Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the staircase. --Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

We must have faith that even when the odds look long in favor of chaos and corruption, we can make a difference. We can build toward the light. We can call, and call, and call for justice, even in the face of injustice.

It’s an important thing, this standing up, this speaking out, this taking of a moral position. How we act toward others in a time of fear and suspicion is the true measure of our character.

Today, as we remember and honor the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., let us also remember and honor and live by the guidance he gave.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Troy Theodore Wruck, via LinkedIn, for the Martin Luther King, Jr. quote image about faith; to Ted Coiné’s @tedcoine Twitter feed for the MLK “arc of the moral universe” quote image; and to the New Mexico Black History Organizing Committee for the quote image for his words about justice and injustice. Many thanks to all!

No flash in the pan, this!

The Artdog Image of Interest

If you’re trying out new creative challenges this month, and you’ve never tried flash fiction before, perhaps now’s a good time. If you’ve tried it in the past–or if you’re proficient–have you done any lately?

What is flash fiction? The usual definition is fiction shorter than 2,000 words. But in that category, believe it or not, there are shorter-length challenges, too. Try 300 words.  One hundred words. Even two sentences, like the Two-sentence Horror Stories I reblogged a few Octobers ago. How short can you go?

IMAGE: Many thanks to the ever-creative Debbie Ridpath Ohi, via Wendy Burke’s @WendyBurke101 Twitter profile, for this cartoon!

Why unleash divergent thinking on the world?

My guiding theme this month is activating and expanding our creativity. Certainly there are many ways to do this, and what’s ideal for one creative mind won’t be timed well or presented effectively for another and their stage of growth. With creativity, it’s far more a matter of guidelines than rules.

But however you slice it, play it, or try to sneak up on it, creativity generally involves divergent thinking. in a divergent thinking process, you don’t follow a single logic chain, you come up with a bunch of different possible answers to the question you started with. 

If this sounds like brainstorming to you, there’s a good reason. The whole point of brainstorming is to bypass the convention-bound internal editor or censor we all carry around with us in our minds, and free up divergent ideas. That’s why “there are no wrong answers” and “there are no stupid ideas” when you’re brainstorming.

The process has kinship to quick, unplanned sketches for artistsimprov for actors, or writing first drafts for writers (especially those who identify as “pantsers“).

Why unleash divergent thinking on the world? Because you never know what you’ll think of next. Or what some other divergent thinker, in any blend of disciplines under the sun, might think of next. Or how it might be applied. As John Spencer points out in this video on inspiring students to be innovators, the possibilities are endless.

Let’s just please try to use our creative powers of divergent thinking for good, okay?

IMAGES: Many thanks to Benjamin Riollet’s “Wit & Delight” Tumblr for the “answer with this abstract shape” image, and John Spencer’s YouTube Channel for the “I want to see students become innovators” video. I appreciate you both!

Not just a place, but a process

The Artdog Quote of the Week

Probably the biggest insight is that happiness is not just a place, but also a process. Happiness is an ongoing process of fresh challenges, and it takes the right attitudes and activities to continue to be happy." By Ed Diener.

How do you conceive your goals? What are the attitudes and activities that will make you happiest? What is the meaning of your life?

IMAGE: Many thanks to Positive Psychology for this week’s quote by Ed Diener.

Participating in the Arts

The Artdog Image of Interest

There are lots of ways to participate in the arts. What are your favorite ways?

The best way I know to activate one’s creativity is to actually do an art. You don’t have to actually be good or “go professional” to enjoy performing or making things.

Did you take arts classes in school? What interested you the most? Have you attended a live performance or art show in the past 12 months? Taken classes? Participated by doing?

What art forms are a regular part of your life today?

IMAGE: Many thanks to the National Endowment for the Arts, for the infographic on the ways that Americans participate in the arts.

What caught your eye?

It’s the turn of the year, and I’m hip-deep in reflections on the past year. Among all the other data, I looked at are some metrics for my website. What images did my readers click on most in 2018? Perhaps you’ll be interested, too. Here are this blog’s Top Five most-clicked images of 2018.

The most popular image of the year on this blog is this one. I first posted this quote image on January 29, 2018.
One of the two second-most-popular images was this all-time classic from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It was featured in my post for Martin Luther King Day last year, on January 15.
Tied for second with Dr. King’s quote is another black-and-white image, this one featuring the words of Samuel Gompers, a labor movement pioneer active in the late 19th Century. You saw it here first on September 19, way back in 2016. Still popular two years later.
The next-most-popular image was another quote about the future, this one by Eckhart Tolle, from that same January 29, 2018 post where people found the top image.
This quote from Shanti is illustrated by a picture of a cute little girl of about six, running barefoot through the grass. The quote says, "And at the end of the day, your feet should be dirty, your hair messy and your eyes sparkling."
Rounding out the Top Five most popular images of 2018 on this blog is this one, featuring the words of Shanti, and a photo that apparently never fails to charm. This originally appeared in a May 14, 2017 post about the importance of taking children outdoors.

Was your favorite in the top five? Maybe, maybe not–I post a lot of images on this blog. But I hope you found these quote-images interesting, thought provoking, and maybe even inspiring. And THANK YOU very much for reading my blog!

IMAGES: Many thanks, once again, to all the sources where I originally found these quote-images. To QuotesHunter‘s great post of “20 Inspirational Quotes About the Future,” for the first one; to LoveOfLifeQuotes, via Addicted2Success’s “88 Iconic Martin Luther King, Jr. Quotes,” for the MLK quote image; for the Samuel Gompers quote to IZQuotes, via Quotesgram. I also deeply appreciate  Double Quotes for the Eckhart Tolle quote image, and The Children and Nature Network’s Facebook page for the Shanti quote-image. You helped make it a great year!

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