The Optimist/Pollyanna’s Whore – A Poem and Blues Rock Song

Eleanor H. Porter's Pollyanna

Eleanor H. Porter’s Pollyanna

The Talking Blues version performed with acoustic guitar and blues harp can be heard here:

A recitation of the poem can be heard here:

The Optimist/Pollyanna’s Whore 

When Gods of War, angry and sore abound

And septic tongues drip green and heavy bile,

He lingers on to sight and sound, he does

Not lose himself to actions terse and vile.

He drives his lance, the heart of chance, right through

And heaves himself, as pawl and ratchet go,

No labour lost, a moments thought is all,

For in the end he’s Pollyanna’s Whore.

In the end he’s Pollyanna’s Whore,

For in the end he’s Pollyanna’s Whore,

Like so many times before,

For in the end he’s Pollyanna’s Whore.

He rakes his skin, and all within, and runs

His tortured hands through wisps of thinning hair

What’s done is done, it’s had its run, he screams

It’s about the next big thing, that I care!

His life’s a mess, such sweet success he craves,

His madness rails from each and every pore,

Ambitions smeared, by YouTube seers, who preach

and lie – in bed with Pollyanna’s Whore.

Lie in bed with Pollyanna’s Whore,

And lie in bed with Pollyanna’s Whore,

Like so many times before,

For in the end he’s Pollyanna’s Whore.

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How E-Commerce is Reviving Artistic Typography in Advertising

Kitch typography in a snapdeal.com ad

Kitch typography in a snapdeal.com ad

An unlikely category, but I think it’s the shop-window phenomenon that’s responsible.

FlipKart, SnapDeal, Myntra, they’re all selling the same stuff. And saying the same stuff (XX% off, Great Deals). The only way they can differentiate themselves is by typography and colour.

Multiple brands on a YouTube ad for Myntra.com

Multiple brands on a YouTube ad for Myntra.com

The Retro-Typography Revival

There’s no one brand colour or custom typeface (they’re all selling multiple brands), so colour and type can finally strive, unrestrained, to achieve a Commercial Artist’s original purpose, which is to have a party and make stuff look delicious, digging like a child in the drawers of graphic design’s musty cupboard of influences.

Modern renditions of decorative motifs like ribbons

Modern renditions of decorative motifs like ribbons and stylized borders

And given that Art Deco, Commercial Art’s most flamboyant period, was driven by a similar gusto, (they had just shed the stifling ‘simplicity’ baggage of the Bauhaus) and went on to stick it to the Germans with decorative motifs, extreme thick-thin contrasts, and Cassandre’s stylized illustrations, it’s no wonder that Myntra’s ads often draw inspiration from this period in form and spirit.

Big Discounts = Big Beautiful Typography = Happy Designers

The clients want it! There’s finally a point of collusion between the suits and designers, in that the numbers need to be big and beautiful. Finally designers can play those old no.7 tricks they love, contrasting BIG numerals and with a teeny-weeny percentage glyphs and ‘now upto’  and ‘off’.

Old style numerals. Notice the teeny-weeny 'o' with the line under it.

Old style numerals. Notice the teeny-weeny ‘o’ with the line under it.

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Conclusion

Retro revival is a wave taking place in graphic design presently, and it’s driven by various things, a rejection of Apple’s skeuomorphism, HTML 5’s capabilities in rendering type, its responsive capability (necessitating stylised graphics to compensate for the flat colours) and great screen resolutions, among other things.

But to have the revival enter the advertising world, saddled with corporate typefaces? That’s a breath of fresh air.

Enter designers. Finally!

How NOT to go ‘Yeah Whatever’, at the India Art Fair. Simple ways to evaluate what you see.

 

Fountain is a 1917 work by Marcel Duchamp

Fountain is a 1917 work by Marcel Duchamp

The India Art Fair is one at the NSIC grounds from 30th to 2nd February, which means, if you’re a working person you only have the rest of today and tomorrow to catch it.

Here are a few simple ways of evaluating some of the stuff you see, so that you walk out feeling enriched and uplifted and emboldened and a little dizzy, instead of thinking ‘Er…nice. But this art stuff is not for me.’

I understand the intimidation people feel at the sight of outrageous sculptures and abstract art. Even though I loved some of the stuff I saw when I was in school, I didn’t have the vocabulary to describe to myself why I thought it was cool. I used feel the need for some sort of formal initiation, before I ‘really got it‘.

That formal initiation happened at art school, and I realized that great art was doing itself an injustice cowering in galleries, making people feel foolish for walking in without invitations.

Art is for everybody, to be interpreted in any way they want, and therein lies the great thing about Art Fairs. It opens Art up, and gives people access.

So go, and behold, and be enriched.

There’s no ONE way feel about a piece of art. The more it leaves suggested, but not said, the better. You are as much of an artist in interpreting the work.

So here’s the broad and simple initiation I wish someone had given me.

On Sculpture

It doesn’t need to be Michelangelo’s David. Anything that takes up space in any form can be called a sculpture. Look beyond recognizable shapes. Look for juxtapositions of objects, or of materials and what they imply.

Totally hypothetically speaking, a tea set, a symbol of ritual and order, all smashed up on a tray, could be an artists way of demonstrating rebellion.

Or Duchamp’s urinal (the fountain, he called it (above)) , a functional object, simply by being positioned in a gallery as an object of contemplation, makes us look at it differently. Duchamp himself said he wanted to  ‘shift the focus of art from physical craft to intellectual interpretation.’

On installation

Installation art may have some linkages to sculpture but its normally concerned with ‘making a scene’ that communicates something. It could be site specific or the ‘scene’ can be set up in different places.

We did an installation in college in which a pair of headphones were suspended from the ceiling of a room in a really old house. When people put on the headphones they could hear recreated sounds reminiscent of the past. For instance, we included a sound clip of sparrows chirping, because sparrows had long abandoned the grounds of the old house.

Look for what its trying to say. Any meaning you take from it is valid.

On Painting

The visual arts are probably easiest to have a reaction to, because we are in the habit of contemplating beauty. Move away from simplistic definitions of beauty and try and get your head involved. Why the choice of colours? Why the elongated forms?

An artist is often trying to say a lot in the most simple way possible, hence the simplification and abstraction.

Sitting Woman by Picasso

Sitting Woman by Picasso

Time and context of the painting are also important to know. For instance, the cubists made paintings showing multiple perspectives partly because they were trying to depict time in a single frame, competing with the nascent medium of film. The cubist style of painting has its roots in context.

A painting/photograph of white noise, may not be a beautiful painting, but could be saying something about the TV culture we live in.

Conclusion

There’s a lot of different mediums out there. Video art, performance art, photography, and various forms of new media. I’ve only focused on three to keep the post short.

Just keep an open mind and walking through the stalls of the Art Fair will be like reading a vivid book, with humour, poignancy, austerity and other emotions thrown in for good measure.

Art is NOT meant to be esoteric, it’s meant to be personal. For you.

 

Picasso painting from Alaskan Dude on Flickr using Attribution 2.0 Generic license 

On Song Writing – With a Home (like you can hear my sister chopping onions) Recording

woodstock-poster (detail)

I picked up the guitar last evening (after ages!) and strummed and hummed a bit.

The thing is, once you have a blog and four and twenty followers (thank you guys), and are trying to write seriously, ‘na-naaa-na–na’…doesn’t hack it as very lyrical content, however soulful the intonation.

Last night’s song writing process – snatching words out of thin air 

I’ve read that certain artists like Paul McCartney do the melody part first and then stick in the lyrics. Dylan does it the other way around, and writes the words first (he says as much in this great interview, a must watch for any Dylan enthusiast).

I always thought I belonged to the Dylan school, but last night I saw a lot of merit in switching camps.

This is what I wrote last night, and replaced the na–na-naa with:

Ah! if time could go backwards, then we’d see, we were tethered to the weeds, the likes of you and me.

Ah! the pieces of that broken jamboree, knee deep in the givin’ green, lives slippin’ between.

Cold hard livin’, broken songs at seventeen, I have seen.

Cold hard living, dream for me.

Ah! praise for all the kings and the has-beens, ah the things that they have seen, shining through in reams.

And here’s the song, with the lyrics above.

Intelligence, intuition…and good old fashioned luck!

I Just wanted to point out certain groups of words that came about simply because I was trying to be loyal to the meter of the humming.

‘tethered to the weeds’ was one such group, ‘broken jamboree’ was another and so was ‘kings and the has-beens’.

The image of being tethered to weeds, or that of a broken jamboree gave me a kick once I had them down. They seemed vivid and allegorical and I could not have come to them any other way.

When I snatched ‘broken jamboree’ out of thin air (it just happened to pop into my head, no reason) and appended it to the previous line, about ‘lives slipping between’, it took the song in a direction I was not planning, but one that inflamed my brain and gave me a head rush.

When Cat Stevens wrote, ‘When you crack the sky, scrapers fill the air, Will you keep on building higher, till there’s no more room up there?’ from the beautiful ‘Where do the Children Play?’, my feeling (purely conjecture) is he may have arrived at the vivid phrase ‘crack the sky’ this way.

Any artistic process is doing a balancing act between intelligence and intuition says Michael Tilson Thomas in this AMAZING talk on Music and Emotion through Time(below).

I think chance is a very important third component.

 

Featured image photo adapted from dbking on Flickr using CC by 2.0 license 

 

Blog Readings at Lit Fests? A Totally Unbiased Point of View.

Jaipur Literature Festival session on 'Writing the Self' - On Memoir and the Autobiographical Novel  Ru Freeman, Ved Mehta, Joseph O’Neill, and Philip Hensher moderated by William Sutcliffe

Jaipur Literature Festival session on ‘Writing the Self’ – On Memoir and the Autobiographical Novel
Ru Freeman, Ved Mehta, Joseph O’Neill, and Philip Hensher moderated by William Sutcliffe

Forgive the slightly staid title of this post.

I was considering pleasing alliterations like ‘Lit Fest Legit’ or ‘Blogging and Biography’ but the rules of search engine optimization dictate that one should keep titles lucid so that spiders and crawlers can read my article.

Writing for compound eyed creatures has its own challenges (the upside is of course increased readership :)). Spiders are a drab lot, and are more turned on by stuff like Latent Semantic Indexing, than by recursive literary techniques.

Which brings me to the main point of this post, the unique literary tradition of blogging. But first of all…

Is blogging legit literature?

There. I got that alliteration out of my system. 🙂

You tend to write differently when you’re writing a blog, whether it’s considering a crustacean’s sense of humour and pacing up your post for an internet audience, or complimenting your prose with hyperlinks and videos and pictures and smileys.

Yet the quality of writing in the blogosphere is often exquisite, comparable with anything ‘published’ formally or ‘edited’. The motivations are, if anything, purer and simpler, and I can vouch for the fact that the sheer joy of writing is retained in full. And isn’t that the main thing anyway?

Granted a blog is a medium and not a form, like a novel or a short story versus prose, but the medium itself is underrated I feel. You’re sharing a daily account of your life, but it’s not considered biography, you’re sharing a point of view on a topic, but it’s not a formal essay, you can write a goddamn story, but its nothing more than a draft, a way to get readers to read your ‘real’ book, dangling as a thumbnail on the side of the screen.

I was at the Jaipur Literary Festival recently, the biggest in Asia by some accounts, and there wasn’t a mention of blogs or the art of blogging in any of its workshops. Obviously it’s just not deemed to be serious writing!

There are three things that seem to work against blog writing and they are all actually imbricated into the medium itself!

1. Ephemerality 2. Spontaneity and 3. Succinctness.

It’s quite hilarious that these are important aspects of art in themselves.

1. The Curse of Ephemerality 

It seems the ephemerality of a blog post works against it, when, actually writing in the moment,and equally importantly, being read in the moment, should give a piece of work maximum power.

Perhaps because of the nature of ‘posting’ and ‘following’, or perhaps because of the sheer glut of blogs out there, beautiful writing sometimes tends to bear the cross of ‘yesterday’s news’.

I suppose writers like Truman Capote and Hunter Thomson, pillars of the New Journalism movement in the sixties felt that their prowess was similarly thwarted by the ephemerality of journalism, and felt a need to create a whole new genre to assert themselves, and allow people to linger on their work!

Apropos the New Journalism movement, Esquire editor Harold Hayes wrote:

“in the Sixties, events seemed to move too swiftly to allow the osmotic process of art to keep abreast, and when we found a good novelist we immediately sought to seduce him with the sweet mysteries of current events.”

The sweet mysteries of current events…. Sounds like a poetic way to describe a blog.

2. Spontaneity- The power of the rough stuff

And a blogging is poetry. Its impressionistic, off the cuff, sometimes funny, sometimes romantic, sometimes angry, like people, by the people. It has all the evocativeness, verisimilitude and context of formal writing, powered by the fire of immediacy.

Think of blogging as a form of writing where the first person has a greater role to play than in other forms of writing. It’s like reading a performance, sitting across from a person, ‘hearing’ the words of an orator.

The rare power in extempore art is in its lack of artifice. Watching Picasso paint is different from contemplating one of his curated paintings.

Refining a piece of work with continuous edits is of course important, but it also distances the work from reality to some extent, as considerations like technique and structure come into effect. Rough, impulsive posts have a fire that polished, published work cannot capture. I feel this way about my student work at art school versus my professional advertising output.

Blogging, with its grassroot character, immediacy of publishing sans market considerations by editors and publishers reeks of authenticity that is sadly not appreciated. Listen more, festival organisers.

3. Succinctness – A picture (and video and hyperlinks) can tell a thousand words so YOU can keep it pithy. 

And when you consider the hyperlinked, multimedia experience, reading blog content becomes an involved passive-interactive process, and it takes the craft of literature to dimensions it has never been before.

Does length matter or breadth? Maybe a simple word-count model for the degree of extrapolation needs to be reevaluated.

Does length matter or breadth? Maybe a simple word-count model for the degree of extrapolation needs to be reevaluated.

Bloggers tell stories judiciously, empowering the reader with links and videos, and other other immediate citations so that his words are not overburdened, but the story is told, laterally, beyond the realm of his page if necessary. It’s a selfless act and its not called ‘link love’ for nothing!

Good art extracts meaning from experience and as regards ‘meaning’, a blog post is like funky generative art.

The comments on a post, though by other people, continue to allow an original work to grow in directions the author himself possibly did not imagine, so that every other person who reads his post often has something more to gain.

 Conclusion- Spidermen, unite!

There’s a stir taking place in the world of literature with self publishing and e-readers and questions over whether the value publishers provide is worth the royalty anymore.

Maybe we need a New Blogging movement of some sort to assert ourselves (we can call ourselves ‘The Spidermen’ perhaps ;)) so that we coalesce into the formal stream of literature. Maybe at the subsequent literature festivals we’ll see prominent WordPressers reading from their archives.

God knows they deserve it.

 

Secret Cubists in their Cubicles

cubist-paintingI couldn’t resist posting this despite a busy day at work!

I walked into one of the conference rooms and saw this palimpsest created out of the deliberations of numberless meetings, TOO MANY of which I have been a part of.

It looked HIGHLY cubist to me. Reminded me of Braque’s painting above and ‘Nude Descending a Staircase, by Duchamp.

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SORRY I’M LATE – a collaborative work by the folks at my workplace 🙂

At the risk of stretching the metaphor, Cubism was partly about adding the dimension of passage of time to painting. It was competing with the nascent and emerging medium of film.

What better motif to have in a room where the speedy passage of time is often the most primary concern!

I call it ‘Sorry I’m Late’, a collaborative piece of performance art, mixed media, marker on whiteboard.

🙂

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The ‘studio’ where this piece of performance art was created 🙂

Tributes to Dylan in Kinetic Type – College Design Projects

I was, and still am, pretty obsessed with Bob Dylan.

The footage for ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ from D.A Pennebaker’s film ‘Don’t Look Back’ could arguably be described as one of the the first ‘motion type’ videos, couldn’t it? With that in mind, back in college, when we were doing a motion typography course, I thought I’d use his incredibly lyrical song for my project. Here’s what I had made:

Here’s the original clip of Dylan dropping ‘word cards’ along with Pennebaker’s commentary in the background. Apparently the alley still has construction work going on. 🙂

Here’s another one I did to the words from ‘Tambourine Man’ using completely analog means. I dropped hand written ‘word cards’ just like Dylan, only I dropped them from under a light table (a back lit table we used to use to trace stuff). I kept the unedited sound because it sounded nice and dark and spooky, and seemed to add value to the video. It was a happy accident, in keeping with my theory of how randomness helps me in design.

I was inspired to do this post by Blockader’s post ‘Now for something completely different’ in which he digs out a college comic project he did in the 1980s. Thanks Blockader.

It’s also interesting, when you dig into college work, to see what typefaces you used back then. Typeface preferences change so drastically. I’d probably never use Palace Script ever again, though it’s renegade ‘god save the queen’ sort of attitude’ mirrored my own approach to life back then. The cynicism I felt for the outdated flourishes in the script (using them as a parody almost) mirrored my own disparaging opinion of institutions.

Also It makes me miss the creative licence of the world of academia, and the truly ‘open’ approach to design, far from the conundrum of commercial art I mentioned in this post.