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A Moment of Reflection: On the Paradox of Individual Creative Work

10 de juliol, per  Jason Kottke[ —]

After producing over 220 art history videos in 6 years, YouTube channel The Art Assignment is going to take an extended break to “reassess what educational art content should look like in 2020 and beyond”. In the video above, creator Sarah Urist Green reflects on her experience so far and what’s happening next. I’m always interested in what people have to say about their projects at inflection points like this, but I was blindsided by the almost total resonance of Green’s remarks with my own thoughts about the advantages & limitations of how I’ve chosen to work here at kottke.org. Here’s an extended quote from the transcript of the particularly resonant bit:

I don’t actually enjoy being on camera, but individual authentic voices have always been at the core of what makes YouTube great. And I’ve been glad to be able to lend my own voice in the hopes of making art and art history more accessible.

Over time I’ve learned to appreciate the specificity of my own point of view — but also its limitations. I’m a person who’s more interested in art from the 1960s than the 1560s. I have a deeper background in art from North America than South America.

Making this channel has been a hugely rewarding way to stretch beyond my formal education and natural inclinations. But any channel on YouTube, and indeed any experience, is shaped by bias and perspective — both the content itself and the way that each of us interprets and responds to it. The fact that my voice sounds grating to some and comforting to others is a reminder of that.

I’ve also learned that these biases are often reinforced by the recommendation algorithms that govern the platforms we frequent. Whether we want to or not, we citizens of the internet work in collaboration with these algorithms to curate information feeds for ourselves. And even if our feeds feel objective, they never are.

The Art Assignment isn’t, and has never been, the history of art or an introduction to the art world. It’s always been my history of art and a glimpse into my art world. I hope that’s been part of what makes it good, but it’s also part of what makes it limited, subjective, and necessarily incomplete.

The more videos we make, the more aware I am of the vast amount we haven’t covered. Trying to make content on this platform that is both educational and also clickable can be a challenging task with many pitfalls.

We’ve used what I think of as a buckshot technique — making a huge variety of kinds and formats of episodes to see what might possibly stick.

In doing so, we’ve discovered that more people click on names of art movements they’ve already heard of, artworks they’ve seen before, and already famous artists (mostly male).

More people watch when I do a hot take about those rare moments when art hits the wider news, like a Banksy stunt or a banana duct-taped to a wall.

I’ve also learned what YouTube viewers are less likely to click on, which is artists they’ve never heard of, artworks they haven’t seen before, and topics that don’t court controversy or outrage. This says something about the YouTube algorithm, but it also says something about what kinds of information we’re all drawn to online. Who wants to watch an educational video when you can watch The Try Guys eat 400 dumplings? (Seriously, I just watched it, it’s great.)

But because I know what tends to get clicked on more and watched for longer stretches, I’ve been more likely to try to serve that to you. Not all the time of course, but even when served in moderation that’s not really good for art history. It reinforces dominant narratives and offers up the same boring old menu of famous artists again and again.

However, I’ve also learned that you all are willing to dive down lesser-known and unexpected rabbit holes of research and bear with me as I simultaneously cook poorly and attempt to understand the eating and cooking lives of artists. You’ve taught me you’re willing to reconsider art and artists you didn’t think you liked, and you’ve tried approaches to art that are far outside of your comfort zones and made beautiful and vulnerable work in response. You’ve tackled really difficult questions with me and been willing to linger in grey zones and leave questions unanswered. I mean we’ve never even established a definition of art on this channel.

Because of your capacity for the abstract and lesser-known, we’ve been able to keep going all these years. And, with the incomparable backing of PBS, we’ve been able to make content not just for the most people, but for an open-minded and discerning audience like you.

I can’t adequately relate to you how unnerving it was for me to hear her say all that — change a few specific references and I very easily could have written it (but not as well). Doing kottke.org is this constant battle with myself: staying in my comfort zone vs. finding opportunities for growth, posting what I like or find interesting vs. attempting to suss out what “the reader” might want, celebrating the popular vs. highlighting the obscure, balancing the desire to define what it is I do here vs. appreciating that no one really knows (myself included), posting clickable things vs. important things I know will be unpopular, protecting myself against criticism vs. accepting it as a gift, deciding when to provoke & challenge vs. when to comfort & entertain, feeling like this is frivolous vs. knowing this site is important to me & others, being right vs. accepting I’ll make mistakes, and saying something vs. letting the content and its creators speak for themselves.

I know that all sounds super dramatic — I don’t intensely feel all of that when I’m working, but that video made me reflect on it hard. And I suspect that many people who do creative work in public struggle in similar ways. Like Green with respect to PBS, I am grateful to kottke.org’s members (“an open-minded and discerning audience” if there ever was one) for their support of my work and trust in the limited & imperfect human who does it.

Tags: art   Jason Kottke   kottke.org   Sarah Urist Green   video

ISO Isolation

10 de juliol, per  Jason Kottke[ —]

Felicia Chiao

Felicia Chiao

Felicia Chiao

Felicia Chiao’s illustrations depicting isolation, dissociation, and loneliness have taken on an added resonance during the pandemic. In a caption for one of her illustrations, she explains where the drawings come from:

I dissociate a lot. I like to think of my brain as a series of rooms. On good days I’m up front engaging with the world, and on bad days I’m waaay in the back. I can still kind of see and hear what’s going on outside but it’s far away and I don’t feel a part of it. It’s not unpleasant but time moves weird and I feel everything and nothing. A lot of you are connecting with my work because you’re literally stuck inside and probably a little depressed too so…Welcome to my rooms! Please take your shoes off and be nice.

Prints (and more) of Chiao’s work are available. (via colossal)

Tags: art   Felicia Chiao

Feeling Loved From a Distance

10 de juliol, per  Jason Kottke[ —]

This is a great interview with Jia Tolentino in Interview magazine. Take for instance her answer to the question “What has this pandemic confirmed or reinforced about your view of society?”:

That capitalist individualism has turned into a death cult; that the internet is a weak substitute for physical presence; that this country criminally undervalues its most important people and its most important forms of labor; that we’re incentivized through online mechanisms to value the representation of something (like justice) over the thing itself; that most of us hold more unknown potential, more negative capability, than we’re accustomed to accessing; that the material conditions of life in America are constructed and maintained by those best set up to exploit them; and that the way we live is not inevitable at all.

From later in the interview:1

I think the American obsession with symbolic freedom has to be traded for a desire for actual freedom: the freedom to get sick without knowing it could bankrupt you, the freedom for your peers to live life without fearing they’ll be killed by police. The dream of collective well-being has to outweigh, day-to-day, the dream of individual success.

And I’m struggling with quarantine in this way as well:

In quarantine I’ve been aware of the intellectual stagnation that comes when you stop physically seeking out and experiencing new things. There’s a loss that comes from not meeting strangers, not doing things just for the hell of doing them, not having everyday avenues of discovery and surprise.

Ok, one more thing and then I’ll just let you read the rest of it in peace:

People ought to seek out the genuine pleasure of decentering themselves, and read fiction and history alongside these popular anti-racist manuals, and not feel like they need to calibrate their precise degree of guilt and goodness all the time.

“The genuine pleasure of decentering themselves”. Yep.

  1. See also Pete Buttigieg’s progressive definition of freedom.

Tags: interviews   Jia Tolentino

The Sculptor Tasked with Completing Gaudí’s Sagrada Família

9 de juliol, per  Jason Kottke[ —]

In this meditative short film, Etsuro Sotoo talks about what made him want to spend 41 years working as a sculptor in an attempt to finish Antoni Gaudí’s Sagrada Família basilica in Barcelona. From a website dedicated to Sotoo:

In 1978 Etsuro Sotoo arrived in Barcelona. He had just graduated in Fine Arts, he had just one year of experience as an Art teacher. When impressed by the unfinished temple: “It was the most fabulous pile of stones I had ever seen” …He asked for a job as a stonecutter. He wanted to continue the Nativity façade (the only façade that, thanks to his work, would be declared by Unesco World Heritage). He did a test and they gave him the position. Since then, he has completed what Gaudí did not even have time to think about. When he finished with the gaps, he started with the architect’s notes. When the tracks are over, it’s up to him to make decisions.

According to the video, Sotoo even converted to Catholicism as a way for him “to know Gaudí”. (via craig mod)

Tags: Antoni Gaudi   architecture   art   Etsuro Sotoo   video

The 2020 Audubon Photography Award Winners

9 de juliol, per  Jason Kottke[ —]

Audubon 2020 Contest

Audubon 2020 Contest

From more than 6000 submissions, the National Audubon Society has selected the winners of The 2020 Audubon Photography Awards, featuring some of the best bird photography of the year. The top photo, of a cormorant diving for dinner, is by Joanna Lentini and the second photo, of a thirsty hummingbird, was taken by Bibek Ghosh.

Tags: best of   best of 2020   Bibek Ghosh   birds   Joanna Lentini   lists   photography

The New Normal

9 de juliol, per  Jason Kottke[ —]

This Is Fine

For Vox, David Roberts writes about how “shifting baselines” affect our thinking and how easily overwhelmingly large issues like climate change or a pandemic can become normalized.

Maybe climate chaos, a rising chorus of alarm signals from around the world, will simply become our new normal. Hell, maybe income inequality, political dysfunction, and successive waves of a deadly virus will become our new normal. Maybe we’ll just get used to [waves hands] all this.

Humans often don’t remember what we’ve lost or demand that it be restored. Rather, we adjust to what we’ve got.

The concept of shifting baselines was introduced in a 1995 paper by Daniel Pauly. Roberts explains:

So what are shifting baselines? Consider a species of fish that is fished to extinction in a region over, say, 100 years. A given generation of fishers becomes conscious of the fish at a particular level of abundance. When those fishers retire, the level is lower. To the generation that enters after them, that diminished level is the new normal, the new baseline. They rarely know the baseline used by the previous generation; it holds little emotional salience relative to their personal experience.

And so it goes, each new generation shifting the baseline downward. By the end, the fishers are operating in a radically degraded ecosystem, but it does not seem that way to them, because their baselines were set at an already low level.

Over time, the fish goes extinct — an enormous, tragic loss — but no fisher experiences the full transition from abundance to desolation. No generation experiences the totality of the loss. It is doled out in portions, over time, no portion quite large enough to spur preventative action. By the time the fish go extinct, the fishers barely notice, because they no longer valued the fish anyway.

And it’s not just groups of people that do this over generations:

It turns out that, over the course of their lives, individuals do just what generations do — periodically reset and readjust to new baselines.

“There is a tremendous amount of research showing that we tend to adapt to circumstances if they are constant over time, even if they are gradually worsening,” says George Loewenstein, a professor of economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon. He cites the London Blitz (during World War II, when bombs were falling on London for months on end) and the intifada (the Palestinian terror campaign in Israel), during which people slowly adjusted to unthinkable circumstances.

“Fear tends to diminish over time when a risk remains constant,” he says, “You can only respond for so long. After a while, it recedes to the background, seemingly no matter how bad it is.”

Ok, I’ll let you just read the rest of it, but it’s not difficult to see how shifting baselines apply to all sorts of challenges facing the world today. I mean the lines “You can only respond for so long. After a while, it recedes to the background, seemingly no matter how bad it is.” seem like they were written specifically about the pandemic.

Tags: COVID-19   Daniel Pauly   David Roberts   global warming   science

Acceptable Risk

9 de juliol, per  Jason Kottke[ —]

Acceptable Risk

Some Americans obviously aren’t troubling themselves with this but many of us are constantly running risk calculations in our heads for every little thing we do and don’t do during the course of the week during the pandemic.

Is it ok to visit the grocery store more than once this week? Can my kid have a playdate with her friend? Has her friend’s family been careful about seeing other people and how do I even ask them about it without sounding judgmental? Should I order that thing online or go to the store for it? Is it safe to take a roadtrip to a neighboring state? (Where the hell are we supposed to stop to use the bathroom?) Can I get a haircut? Do I need to order that thing online or do I just want it? Should schools reopen in the fall? And if they do, should I send my kids? Is eating at a restaurant safe for the staff? Can a friend come over for dinner? Can my son safely play in a baseball league? Will there be too many people not wearing masks in the store that I need to visit to get this one thing? Should I keep going to my favorite coffee shop when the barista just can’t seem to keep his mask up over his nose?

It goes on and on and on and IT’S EXHAUSTING. Comic from XKCD.

Tags: COVID-19   XKCD

A History of Policing in America

9 de juliol, per  Jason Kottke[ —]

This video provides a quick overview of the history of policing in America through the lens of race, from the slave patrols in the South to the violent and discriminatory policing of Black migrants in the North in the midst the Great Migration. At its conclusion, historian Khalil Gibran Muhammad, author of The Condemnation of Blackness, asks a very direct question:

And so the question that has to be asked in the wake of George Floyd — and I think this question is being asked and answered by more white people than I’ve seen in my lifetime is — do white people in America still want the police to protect their interests over the rights and dignity and lives of Black and, in too many cases, brown, Indigenous, and Asian populations in this country?

This video is a snippet from an hour-long podcast episode of NPR’s Throughline called American Police (transcript here). (via @GeeDee215)

Tags: books   Khalil Gibran Muhammad   policing   racism   The Condemnation of Blackness   USA   video

A Time Lapse World Map of Every Covid-19 Death

8 de juliol, per  Jason Kottke[ —]

From January to the end of June, over 500,000 people died of confirmed cases of Covid-19. In order to demonstrate the magnitude of the pandemic, James Beckwith made a time lapse map of each Covid-19 death.

Each country is represented by a tone and an expanding blip on the map when a death from Covid-19 is recorded. Each day is 4 seconds long, and at the top of the screen is the date and a counter showing the total numbers of deaths. Every country that has had a fatality is included.

As was the case with the pandemic, the video starts slow but soon enough the individual sounds and blips build to a crescendo, a cacophony of death. The only way this could be made more ominous & upsetting is by including the first song off of Cliff Martinez’s Contagion soundtrack as a backing track. As Beckwith notes in the description: “It is likely a sequel will need to be made.” (via open culture)

Tags: COVID-19   death   infoviz   James Beckwith   maps   time lapse   video

The Ideology of American Policing

8 de juliol, per  Jason Kottke[ —]

For What the police really believe, Vox’s Zack Beauchamp interviewed several former police officers and policing experts to find out how police think of themselves, their jobs, and the communities they are supposed to be protecting and serving.

Police officers across America have adopted a set of beliefs about their work and its role in our society. The tenets of police ideology are not codified or written down, but are nonetheless widely shared in departments around the country.

The ideology holds that the world is a profoundly dangerous place: Officers are conditioned to see themselves as constantly in danger and that the only way to guarantee survival is to dominate the citizens they’re supposed to protect. The police believe they’re alone in this fight; police ideology holds that officers are under siege by criminals and are not understood or respected by the broader citizenry. These beliefs, combined with widely held racial stereotypes, push officers toward violent and racist behavior during intense and stressful street interactions.

Tags: crime   policing   racism   USA

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