24 February 2006

more random thoughts on the matter

after talking to mr. j. barabas last night, i realized that maybe i should clarify my argument. i'm not saying that there should be an absence of theory... i'm more saying that there should be less of an emphasis on it. and i feel that this has been said over and over again by various people. there should be theory with method. no just method. no just theory. and people should stop being told that one is more valuable than the other... that you're "smarter" if you're all theory.

action! it's all about action. experience your experiences... don't just listen to other people talk about their experience, or worse yet... listening to other people theorize about experiences they didn't even have.

coming back to my own experiences...

i really hate it when i hear people saying "oh... you must be talented" after seeing my drawings or my art. no no NO! i've been devoting a large portion of my life to doing this since i decisively made a choice to do so when i was around 4 or 5 years old. everyone has the potential to do it. the only way you get good is by actually doing it. i do it because i care about it. i do it because i can't live without doing it. i'm only (somewhat) good at it because i do it.

so stop thinking that you can't do things.
go out and do them
everyone sucks at the beginning
it's just easier to get away with sucking at things if you're a kid.

sometimes i think that the smartest people of all are the ones who just shut up and get done what needs to get done. the people who always have a knack for figuring out the right thing to do. maybe it's all just a matter of listening.

23 February 2006


so my coffee mug is sitting here perilously close to my laptop, but i'm attempting to have faith that my desk isn't as messy as it really is and that i'm not a complete klutz. maybe these are bad things to have faith in.

either way, i've realized that i should write in this more (instead of only writing it down and never showing anyone). hm. so here it goes -- several days' worth of me writing in my notebook.


"information is semantic in nature" -- thing knowledge (p. 68)

*semantic - of or relating to meaning (esp. language)
*epistemic - of or relating to knowledge

so where does this go? i'm not sure. i've been trying to grasp the whole connotation of semantics and epistemics and the ologies of them both. coming at theory from a hands-on standpoint is hard, but doable, i think.

i've discovered that i really like reading about art history and the theory of art and aesthetics. and when i say reading, i don't mean lazily flipping the pages, staring at pictures. no no. it's more reading, as in arguing my own view along the way and sometimes changing stance in lieu of new information or a new way of thinking of things. (and i definitely don't think reading about art is a waste of time if you're an engineer... but maybe that is a different argument altogether and should be saved for a different day)

anyway. i was reading this book about kandinsky (the "inventor" of abstract painting) (ISBN 0-517-64793-1, in case you were wondering) the other day and ran across this quote:
"like many another artist at the turn of the century, kandinsky was a prolific writer." and that's the beginning of all of this. a nucleation point, if you will, of things that have been floating around in my head for a few weeks.

"poets, philosophers, academicians, scholars, and critics routinely issued their analyses and pronouncements on the contemporary artistic scene, but always from the perspective of someone not himself directly involved in the pictoral process."

in other words, writers of criticism/critique wrote about the works of others. producer of media and theoretician of media are separate.

"for the artist, understandably, the effect was to make him wish to resume control of his own destiny, so that he felt an increasing obligation to take responsibility not only for his creative activities but also for the reception of his work by the public. he was forced into the position of becoming a writer himself."

the artist feels a loss of control over how his works are viewed because the artist isn't the one writing about his own experience -- an experience that takes place in a space that may or may not originally be thought out in words.

"[...] it became difficult, if not actually impossible, for the artist to explain himself through a third party. if he were not to be misunderstood -- or willfully misrepresented -- he had to take the risk of entering the lists as a theoretician on his own behalf. for kandinsky, the forming of images had to work hand in hand with the formulation of ideas."

kandinsky's action to take responsibility for his own theories says something important. he realized that art and words (mostly) exist in two different worlds; art cannot stand on its own -- at least because people don't know how to read it. if we were trained in reading art -- something that i think comes in part from producing some form of art -- then it's easier to interpret (to a closer extent) what someone else is trying to accomplish. this is simply things vs. words.

"necessary allies, the two processes [writing and painting] complement each other in pursuit of greater clarity."

"yet they are far from being interchangeable. the words do not provide a key to the images, nor do they set out a programme which the images proceed to illustrate"

the object -- in this case kandinsky's art -- "says" things that theory alone cannot. they must exist together. the paintings have some knowledge inherent to them that's more than theory -- something wordless and immeasurable. something that can only be grasped through seeing the work. from this, i would venture to say that kandinsky realized that there are things in art that are inherently wordless. also, that during the production of a work of art, most of the communication between creator and medium happens in this wordless place. because kandinsky knew that the grammar of art was not enough to describe his goals, he tried to use the language of music to describe his work.

"'music has a grammar,' he wrote, 'a grammar which, like any living thing, changes over long periods of time, and yet can always usefully be referred to, much in the way you consult a dictionary ...'"

i say that a lot of music's grammar is determined by the materials -- instruments and performers -- involved. and that the act of performing a piece changes the way subsequent pieces are produced and performed. because materials and people change over time, music and the grammar of music has changed.

"kandinsky was first and foremost a painter, and one cannot look at what he wrote without bearing that in mind. the theoretician cannot be regarded in isolation from the artist. in the last analysis, the writing is only a secondary response to the primary matter of painting. kandinsky's texts must be read, therefore, as attempted rationalizations, both as tentative and as contradictory as the progress of the work itself, valuable only in so far as they ar a record of his determination to spell out a truth about painting."

yes! the painting exists before any concrete thoughts about the recently produced painting are formed. material precedes theory. practice precedes theory. writing is secondary to the work. this lends credence to the thought that there is a knowledge that can be gained only through the experience of producing something, and that although we (as a culture) put a higher value on theory, theory cannot exist without these objects coming first. thus, through theory and words, we are only verbalizing what was already inherently present in the material and our production of an object. or maybe it's more that hte object is a manifestation of the change that has taken place through the experience of ecreation, and that this change -- of materials and of the creator -- is something that has taken place outside of words. it's a silent understanding between material and creator ... a compromise and a conversation.

this is what i mean when i say that a creator has to listen to the materials. there's an understanding -- a physical understanding -- that's transferred without words: the feel of the pen on the paper, the strength of the material, the flow of water and paint on a canvas, the feel of metal bending into shape ... it all adds up to a whole greater than the creator's original vision.

"he [kandinsky] was already losing interest in reality and the natural world, which made so little impression on him that his whole concentration was focused on the surprising forms assumed by the thick pigments, modelled under the broad strokes of his palette knife."

i would argue that kandinsky discovered the wordless communication of the medium (in his case, paint) and became enamored with it... wanted to explore it, and it alone. that in forgoing the attempt of representing the "real world," he discovered communicating the process of creating -- communicating the subjectivity of creation... the state of mind whilst painting, the paint under his palette knife moving in its own way according to laws of physics that are still only somewhat understood, etc. and he felt that since he alone was there for the entire experience of creation, he was the only one who was able to truly attempt to put this experience into words -- hence, his writing and theoretizing about his own work. he felt the quiet mystery of wordless communication in creation and sought to vocalize and rationalize it. but his writing still cannot stand separate from his work. so much is communicated in this wordless world that it's impossible to communicate everything with words. this is one reason that i think the only way to truly understand something is to do it yourself.

the conversation between creator and materials is then embodied physically in the creator and the material -- both have changed after this process. i think sartre agrees with this in some respect :

"when we speak of a canvas of picasso, we never say that it is arbitrary; we understand quite wll that he was making himself what he is at the very time he was painting, that the ensemble of his work is embodied in his life" (sartre, jean-paul. existentialism and human emotions. 1987. p43).

this speaks to the change of the creator and, i think, ties to how this change is also embodied in the work. the works are relics of constant change. i would also propose to argue that even though kandinsky forewent depicting "real life" that his creations depict reality -- but in his case, the reality of the materials and the reality of subjectivity and experience. the reality of the creator without words instead of the readily observable reality.

and i think it's this point that draws contention. people are wont to believe in what can be measured and observed. moreover, people want to disbelieve and discredit the subjective, even though (i believe) most of our thoughts are composed from wordless knowledge and not theorized words. but the subjective is real; people just want to be able to ascribe predictability and rules to all things. anything that cannot be given rules and put aside in a little marked bin is "not scientific" or "not rational." if this is their argument, then their "rationality" is flawed.

if experience could be transferred completely with words, then there would be no need to distinguish who does what work. reading a book on something would make anyone an expert. but reading a book on someone does not make you an expert. no one will argue with this. if all knowledge could be transferred in words or in images, then there would be no use for experience. but our world is experience driven. experience has a marketable value. therefore, we shouldn't try to substitute theory for experience. experience has no substitute.

gundela (one of my housemates) says i should clarify a few of my points. the main one being, how much the creator's original vision comes into play when designing something.

it would be wrong to say that it's one way or another -- process or goal. more likely, it's a continuous spectrum. i would also venture to say that no design process is completely goal driven. maybe in the simplest and most abstract form... yes... but not in how the design is carried out. something can only be 100% goal driven if the designer/creator completely understands the materials and the method, and even then, there are so many possibilities, that something will be different than planned. so 100% goal-driven is not a possibility. likewise, 100% process is also unrealistic. something had to set you about making something. even if that goal is to explore the process, it's still a goal.

so i would say that there's a spectrum from pure process to pure goal with the ends being theoretic limits. the majority would lie somewhere in the middle. abstract art on the process side, and engineering design more on the goal side.

so what does all this mean? well... first, that i think people who identify as artists are more likely to understand how the material has a play in design -- particulary sculptors and wood workers. and i think that the more experience someone has with materials, the more able they are to choose which materials/media should be used to get done what they need to get done (if they have a goal). from this, i would say that engineers should also understand materials. engineers who are familiar with materials are more able to design a stable and useful (if useful is what is wanted) structure/mechanism/etc.

so i think it's imperative that all people understand materials, because materials surround us. and i believe that the only way to do this is to work with a variety of materials that are readily available.

i once read somewhere that "engineering is making what you want with what you have," and i think that this statement holds a lot of truth. to me, this means that an engineer needs to understand the materials in order to arrive at a design that satisfies the design constraints while also satisfying material constraints. the engineer should understand the material enough to use the materials properties (both strengths and "weaknesses") in positive ways. like i mentioned before -- using the wire's flexibility as a way to make it stronger for larger structures.

i also think that it speaks to the fact that engineers -- people in general, really -- would create better, more locally customized and sustainable design if they understood the materials surrounding them. and everyone would benefit. maybe this is overly idealistic. but, really, people should explore their worlds and should feel comfortable taking everything that's around them and using it for their own means. appropriation. it's all about appropriation. and somehow, i think, appropriation is all about confidence and comfort.

18 February 2006

09 February 2006

really, i'm not a crazy engineer.

so it's thursday. classes have started, and i'm so happy to be going to them. i think they'll be very good for me this term. i almost feel like i've become a real and somewhat (more) responsible person.

class 1: special topics in cinematic storytelling with glorianna davenport. first day of class, we got to tell a story. the reading list is good. the people in the class are a nice mix. and glorianna looks so happy to teach. it's her last time, she says. so i guess it's good that i get a chance to take this.

class 2: media theories and methods II with henry jenkins. henry is awesome. the class dynamic is strong. there are lots of good discussions that go on. the reading list is also awesome.


"The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth -- it is the truth which conceals that there is none. The simulacrum is true." -- from Jean Baudrillard, Selected Writings, ed. Mark Poster (Stanford; Stanford University Press, 1988).

first week of class, and i'm sure i have some thoughts to go along with it. i've been reading about fair use and american copyright law and i keep getting angrier about the state of things. i'm tempted to agree with baudrillard's argument of the simulation of freedom... the simulacrum. i also started reading "thing knowledge." am gonna read some foucault and some more dewey. maybe i've discovered my hidden love for philosophy. maybe i've discovered that i actually care about the state of things than i thought i did. maybe i'm getting over my skepticism and cynicism and am actually trying to do something about it, because anyone can sit around and wank about how things suck and about how they used to be so much better back in the day. words are cheap and thoughtful actions are rare.

maybe sometimes it's better to start doing something and to try and remain confident that you can figure things out along the way. it's better to be confident in your abilities than to be confident in your ability to predict the future.

anyway. back to that whole doing stuff thing.

i started building some dancing flowers. simple. made out of scraps of stuff i had around as an exercise in mechanisms and building stuff with wire. i don't think there's much better of a way for me to do this other than me doing this. it feels like working with the material speaks so much more than i could ever theorize. in some way, it's nice to give up control in favor of something that would work better with the material. i don't know if that statement made any sense. basically... i can only plan so much before building something. after that, everything has to come from experience. i'm not old enough to have the design experience of a mature engineer, but i'm flexible enough to admit that i don't. and i'm flexible enough to admit that sometimes the material knows (in a sense) more than i do.

maybe i sound crazy when i say this, but i think it's an engineer's job to listen to the materials and the situation and to be willing to admit that their planning is sometimes not enough. it's not an engineer's job to forcefully work out a situation. there has to be elegance and grace. in particular when working with nature or trying to create a certain motion.

does that make sense? i realize that sometimes i ramble and that sometimes things make sense to me when in reality i'm leaving out a bunch of explaining.

maybe i should expand on that.

too long, engineers and industry in general has tried to forceably make what they want to have happen instead of finding the best solution with the materials available. this leads to excess and over engineering and a whole host of other things. i can't see technology without any sort of philosophy or ethics or art, and i don't know why it's not taught as being inextricably tied together. i also hate the way people put themselves above nature. the world was here before us and the world will be here after us. it's prideful and foolish to even pretend that we can predict and control things. what we CAN do, though, is listen to the situations... to the materials involved. instead of trying to find the best materials from the farthest away to create the "perfect" model of something, we can find local materials and create the most effective local model.

for me right now, i have a lot of wire around.
its strength is its flexibility
its strength is also its weakness... i.e. it's hard to build larger structures out of it
but if you use its strength as a solution to its weakness (by wrapping lots of wire together in certain manners and soldering/welding in key spots), you can end up with a pretty stable structure.

this solution comes from simply listening to the material and using its strength.
likewise, the same should be done for other materials.