Wherein I Act Like Some Sort Of Low-Rent Art Critic

I’ve been spending a lot of time in this blog yammering away about Things Of Seeming Import as if I actually have a meaningful opinion on it.  It’s enjoyable enough, but there’s a strange pressure there.  It’s largely self-imposed, of course.  But while I almost always have that drive to study and synthesize and talk about things, I’m first in line to admit that this doesn’t always overlap with my desire to say things that matter.  Or that even really mean anything.   And while it’s nice to have a place to vent about sociopoliticoecookyriarchical -ism crap when I feel the yen, you could say it gets to be a bit of a drag.

Moreover, whenever I’m particularly stressed out, my brain seems to have a strange desire not to relax and slowly unspool itself, but rather to switch gears and spin them all the faster until the tension’s released.  In college, I was rarely as creative as in those few last caffeinated hours after I’d finished writing an essay, but couldn’t yet sleep.  I’d burn off the last of the energy drink and rapid-unwind my brain by writing something ridiculous – a sketch, an absurd analysis of something from pop-culture, an overly extended metaphor about why some noun – any noun – was symbolic of the human condition.

I think it’s an attempt to reclaim my brain as my own.  I’ve spent hours and hours subsuming myself to the task at hand: I was only the agent by which the work had to be done; I had no right to be concerned about myself at all until and unless the work was done fully and properly.  Still, I could only do what I could do; I wouldn’t know how proper it was until I got the grade back sometime later.  Since I couldn’t leave myself hanging like that, or the stress would never end, I did something else instead, on a surface-similar bent, but which wasn’t at the mercy of anyone but myself, and which was usually outright ridiculous. When I’d finished THAT to my own satisfaction, it seemed to overwrite enough of my other anxiety to let me stop re-reading and fretting and relax.  Sometimes with a whole four hours left to sleep before I had to go to class.

I feel similar now.  I haven’t had the luxury of being able to immerse myself fully in my work, and that’s a huge part of my current stress, but I do feel like writing and evaluating and thinking and DOING, a desire that seems to be fed by my inability to do what I’m supposed to be doing or to be certain that I’ve done it adequately.

So why not analyze the bleeding hell out of something else entirely?  Something that doesn’t actually have any meaning or significance to it whatsoever?  Rather, why not try to analyze meaning INTO something?  It’s always hard to tell whether I’m nurturing a seed found in the work itself, or planting seeds and seeing whether the work will nourish them or not.  So why not play that up?

I don’t want to do such terrible things to anybody else’s anything, however.  I polished up my backgrounds and such on this blog recently, though, so let’s do that.  heh.

First, how it was all made:

The blue pixelated sidebar / background started with randomly generated clouds, courtesy of some GIMP filters. I played around with the hue until I found a particularly pleasing shade of blue, but there seemed to be something… insufficient about it.  It would have been a serviceable background, but… meh. So I slapped a pixelation filter onto it.  For the central writing area, I used the ghostwhite color and a variety of artistic oil and splatter blushes for the edge effects.  The top banner is a mix of Upheaval Pro font and handwriting – originally a little more sloppy, recently redone to be just a little bit better.

And now for the fun part.  Or, just as it says on the tin, Wherein I Act Like Some Sort Of Low-Rent Art Critic.

Starting with clouds implies an affinity for nature and the outdoors, which is emphasized by the greenish-blue color choice, somewhere between the color of leaves and the color of the sky.  This was not the intent of the color choice, however; that will be described later. However, not only are these clouds generated by some mysterious algorithm, they are further obscured by pixelation.   The pixelation is mirrored in the header: as it’s the name that is rendered in a pixel-style font, it suggests that my very identity is forged, in some fashion, by digital interaction.  Together, both could be seen to represent the degree to which a digital life mediates my vision and alters – in some instances supplants – my interactions with the outside world.

However, this is a mediation, but not a dictation: this was not a pre-existing background that I chose for myself, but rather something I generated and manipulated.  The fact that this was digital does not therefore diminish my agency, abilities, or identity, but rather speaks to the fact that it is through these digital means that I feel most capable of expression.

This can be evinced in the “Rants” portion of the header.  Of all the elements, this simple handwriting went through the most revisions, and saw the most significant change.  While the first was less bold, more blurry, and poorly anti-aliased, this new version is brighter in color, cleaner in line, and more representative of my actual handwriting.  The angled brush evokes the angled nib of a calligraphy pen – a craft I’ve dabbled in.  As a result, it is a digital reflection of a very real-world, very hands-on practice.  To put ink to paper is to make an indelible mark, to alter something physical about the world.

Moreover, calligraphy – though it has its guidelines and rules, just to meet aesthetic standards – still allows for creativity and uniqueness.  Handwriting is distinctive; fonts are the same to all viewers.  The ink from a pen flows freely; pixels have no such flow, and are either ON or OFF.

The difficulty I faced with getting the text to look right could be interpreted as a difficulty in channeling that creativity and uniqueness through just a digital channel – but the persistence required to make something successful reflects the fact that even a real-world work of any kind takes just as much revision, patience, and persistence.  That is, it is a reminder that, no matter the means, a job well done is rarely quick or easy.

The fact that I altered it so much from the original represents the fact that these more expressive, creative traits of mine are naturally more mutable, and what’s seen as adequate at one point can be seen as insufficient when approached with different skills or a different goal.  The willingness to change it affirms a desire to improve and to demonstrate that improvement, no matter how arbitrary it might seem.  The shape of an S may be trivial, but headers exist to inform and to give a first impression.  A flaw in any small part can spoil the whole, and can even color how other things are perceived.

The effort put into the header therefore reflects my own concern with impressions and my appearance to others: an awareness of flaws and insufficiencies, a fear of their ability to undermine my credibility, and a fear that by my very focus on them, I’m only drawing further focus onto them, drawing attention away from the writing itself, and elsewise shooting myself in the foot.  This could also be seen in the original header’s use of a white background of the same value as the writing-area background: while this looked seamless enough originally, that monitor’s failure and my resorting to a much smaller CRT caused the layout to look different: the white background of the header protruded into the left sidebar, no longer melding naturally.  This could be seen as a metaphor for the desire to find a place within the wider scope of things, marred by frequent failures to actually comprehend the breadth of my own borders:  the very act of trying to blend in causing me to stand out.  That this was fixed by instead placing both text elements on a transparent texture could be metaphorical as well: indicating that one blends in best when one stops trying to construct an artificial grounding, stops asserting one’s own borders, and stops acknowledging that ones surroundings are borders at all, but rather shows confidence in the ability of one’s actual subject matter to stand out appropriately.  It indicates that the jarring juxtapositions and sharp borders are frequently self-defined, sometimes self-asserted, and that by discarding them one is able to blend and stand out, as appropriate, against almost any backdrop, from almost any perspective.  The fact that this revision was both the largest one (by size) and the last one performed may speak to the difficulty in acknowledging and fixing the behaviors they can be seen to represent.

Furthermore, the use of the artistic oils and splatter brushes to create and edge the writing area is another mimicry of realworld art.  In this, too, I juxtapose the physical and the digital.  The fact that this raw, handmade looking surface overlays the pixelated background might be seen to represent an idea that such raw, physical art supersedes the digital in some fashion.  Moreover, its whiteness, organic appearance, and vague borders evoke the clouds that were almost wholly pixelated away in the background itself: a suggestion that art seeks to mimic, recreate, and control nature.  The very fact that all of this is, itself, digitized makes a mockery of that suggestion, however, much as any painting – no matter how well-made, no matter how verisimilar the trompe l’oeil — is still a human creation, made with tools.

For as many revisions as the text went through, this simple background seemed to go through just as many: to position it properly, to eliminate its seams, and — most of all – to remove the bleedthrough of the background.  For whatever ill-thought reason, this was not made as a simple filled-in rectangle with fancy-brushed borders; instead I ‘painted on’ the whole thing, leaving various gaps that somehow weren’t noticeable until uploaded.  For all the other elements’ emphasis on the digital and the pre-formatted and the simplified and the square, the failure to do this the “obvious” or “easy” way in lieu of a more hand-drawn way may speak to a desire for authenticity.

As much as the cloud-resembling, organic writing area could be seen to supersede the pixelated, digitized background, the fact remains that this writing area exists only to be superseded by writing.  This might be seen to represent a belief that writing is somehow superior to visual arts.  Perhaps  it asserts an idea that writing is more capable of providing a profound or insightful representation of the world than any visual mimicry:  that visual art may represent a moment, or evoke emotions, or may portray another’s mindset or vision with near one-to-one clarity that cannot be evoked in words, but that words somehow transcend what can be seen, or can better express some nuances.  The font used for the text, unlike the handwritten or explicitly pixelated font in the header, lies somewhere between them: the lines are crisp and anti-aliased like the handwritten text, but as rigid and dark as the explicitly pixelated font.  This could be seen as a desire for the words represented by that text to find or forge a similar balance between the rigid and the fluid, the digital and the organic, the predefined and the mutable.  Or, even more broadly, that which exists after being wrought by human actions, and that which exists unto itself.

The pixelation may have another layer of metaphor, as well — it may represent the very act of overanalysis.  In pop culture, especially detective fiction, images and video are frequently zoomed-in and “enhanced” almost infinitely, until some previously-undetectable feature is clearly visible.  In practice this only leads to blurrier and more pixelated images.  This could be seen as a subversion of the tendency of the text itself to overanalyze its subjects, seeking clarity but only seeing bigger, blurrier squares, increasingly indistinct and unidentifiable as a part of a whole, yet each one distinct from the other.  This reflects the experience that deeper analysis may sometimes yield more refinement and more detail, but that. after a point. one can perceive only a few rigidly defined areas of ambiguity.

And yet this itself leads to questions of how such an assortment of ambiguous parts can form a whole.  Two features of an image may appear to have a distinct border, and any two pixels that comprise the image of that border may themselves have a distinct border, but when sufficiently zoomed in, each square is frequently an indistinct jumble, devoid of texture or of anything but raw color, and even then each pixel’s color as an indistinct blend of the colors of either feature.  As such, it reflects the search for identity, both in how one is distinct from others or from one’s surroundings, and in how one’s identity is forged from its components.

To, at last, address the color choice of the handwriting font, there appears no clear symbolism.  While purple is commonly held to symbolize royalty, no content or connotation seems to support such a reading (unless one were to see the desire to seek balance between the natural and the human as some expression that “the king and the land are one.”)  But any “art” interpretation seems to always hinge on some single secret event in the creator’s life – a private symbol, extrapolated into art, but which may or may not be able to be found in the whole.  (This extrapolation and the failed attempts to find it again on closer scrutiny is another instance of the “enhancement” paradox represented by pixelation.)  In this instance, the purple and teal are the author’s (once) private symbol of wonder, the unexpected, and the unknown.

There is an explanation behind that.

However, by having an explanation of the significance behind those colors and their personal meaning, and by mentioning their “translation” but not elucidating it, these colors are now inherently less representative of wonder and the unexplained to me than they are to anyone else who’s reading this.  Being aware of the association, but lacking a reason, creates some measure of wonder and the unknown in others that it can’t generate in me.  And that’s an interesting twist. Moreover, all the other analyses and critical readings were highfalutin, yet fatuous (and still not inherently inaccurate.)  I was creating them out of nothing just now: I had no actual intent behind them at creation.  The color choice for that header, though, was a choice made at creation, and does have a significance and a story – and yet that story is still utterly silly, far moreso than even the most ludicrously lofty thing I’ve put here.

And that, itself, might be symbolic.  A reminder that, for all the deep analysis and studying and interpretation, there is still potency in things as they are, and in things left unsaid and unsay-able.

The strange thing is that, at the end of all of this blather… I feel strangely compelled to try writing poetry again.

Maybe that’s just because I’ve proven myself able to write things that are both florid, arguably meaningful, and also arguably bullshit.

But it is said:  Bullshit makes the flowers grow, and that’s beautiful.

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