Why are you saying that? Observations in museums not about the art

Blog, Coursework, JOUR 279, Writing
Felix Gonzales-Torres' "Untitled (Portrait of Ross in LA). Photo courtesy of Art Institue of Chicago

Felix Gonzales-Torres’ “Untitled (Portrait of Ross in LA). Photo courtesy of Art Institue of Chicago

“I could probably draw that,” said a roughly 9-year-old girl to her mother at the Art Institute of Chicago in regards to Arthur Dove’s 1929 abstract work Silver Sun. She probably couldn’t, and even if she could, that’s not really the point.

Galleries and museums are wonderful places. Until you start paying attention to the people that go there as well. Are you being an asshole in a museum? Probably. Don’t worry, I am too.

The Louvre is probably the pinnacle of Western art, the place of cultural relevance to go. It’s also the perfect place to take a new profile pic selfie in front of the Mona Lisa. You definitely look cultured now.

In the same Louvre trip I witnessed tourists herded like cattle into the corrals around the disappointingly small Da Vinci masterpiece, I was making fun of the facial expressions painted into countless classics. I am no better.

Art is a really strange thing. We learn about “masterpieces” in school, making copies of Van Gogh’s bedroom scene in our first grade classrooms, long before we can even understand what they mean. Like any high art, it’s not as accessible as elements of pop culture, but pop culture seems to have eclipsed high art more than ever. Traditional, visual art can be thought of in roughly three ways by folks: there are the classic masterpieces you have to see but know little about, art is boring and/or dumb, or art is really great and interesting. The latter group is shrinking by the day.

On a recent trip to The Art Institute, I started observing the museum goers and their reaction to the artwork. I attended on a Thursday night when the museum is free, bringing in the most people that don’t want to pay to see art. Or maybe it was because I didn’t want to spend any money, because it’s perfectly acceptable to eat out for every meal for last three straight weeks, but the $12 student rate for admission is simply out of my budget.

The Art Institute has a large impressionism collection, which is great because it’s pretty. Art is only allowed to be pretty. Take Mary Cassatt’s The Bath. “I think I have a postcard of that one,” I overhear; the pinnacle of an artwork’s success.

The real magic happens in the Modern Wing. Modern and contemporary art are, by nature, incredibly confusing to everyone.

“Is this art? This definitely isn’t art. Wait, is it art? I wish these were chocolate,” said an older woman as she grabbed a strawberry-flavored piece of candy from Felix Gonzalez-Torres Unitled (Portrait of Ross in LA). The piece is heartbreaking – The pile of candy sitting in the corner weighs 175 pounds, the healthy weight of his lover before his diagnosis with AIDS. As viewers take the candy, they represent his deteriorating health and weight loss. But no paint was used, it can’t be art.

Maybe I’m the one being an asshole, smug with the six art history classes I’ve taken in college. At least these folks found their way to the museum. In a year as an editor for a section covering art, a whopping one writer wanted to write about gallery openings. Once I assigned a story on “art events around the city” that translated into five rap shows happening that weekend.

“I hate art,” said David Webber, junior, as I looked over slides for an art history final. “I don’t understand why there’s so much art in graphic design.” He’s getting a graphic design minor, and art is probably ruining his life.

While I’m going to keep laughing at you as you take pictures of American Gothic and post them on Facebook, I think I might just appreciate you. Thanks for actually still caring about art, in some way. Maybe just talk a little bit quieter and stop taking pictures of your children posing in the same poses as the statues.


“We’re all toys:” Chicago Public School closings affect thousands

Blog, Coursework, JOUR 279, Writing

Video courtesy of Video Catalyst Project

Somewhere behind the oversized podium, there’s a young boy ready to speak his mind. The microphone was removed from its stand to accommodate the smaller-than-average speaker, but a chair instead came to the rescue. Clad in red, the color the Chicago Teacher’s Union has made so visible this past tumultuous school year, 9-year-old Asean Johnson addressed a crowd Monday, May 20, protesting the imminent vote to close more than 50 Chicago Public Schools.

“Rahm Emanuel thinks that we all are toys; he thinks he can just come into our schools and move all [of] our kids over gang lines,” Asean, a Marcus M. Garvey third-grader, said to the cheers of the crowd. He was fighting to save his school on 103rd Street and Morgan Street in Chicago’s Washington Heights neighborhood.

Johnson’s moving words worked – Marcus M. Garvey Elementary was one of the four schools spared last minute before the Chicago Board of Education swiftly closed 50 Chicago Public Schools in their vote Wednesday, May 22. Mahalia Jackson Elementary, Ericson Elementary and Manierre joined Garvey on the sparse list of saved schools. Canter Elementary will close in 2014, but the remaining schools have been ordered to shut down at the end of this year, a decision that will affect roughly 27,000 children, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Mayor Emanuel, the city and the Board of Education’s decisions to close the schools, according to Chicago Tribune reports, will help the city’s current education budget deficit of $1 billion, according to NBC News.

“This is racism…we are black and we are proud, we are white and we are proud,” shouted Johnson. His mother, Shonice Reynolds, stood proudly behind him, smiling and raising her right arm with a fist in solidarity.

It is African-Americans that will feel the hit of this vote hardest. Of the 50 schools shutting their doors for good in June, all but five lie on the South and West sides of the city. 39 of these schools, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, are more than 90 percent African-American students.

Starting in the 2013-2014 school year, students will be relocated to other nearby elementary schools to solve the underutilization problem. The closed schools were all operating with much fewer students than their capacity, the majority under 50 percent utilized. The gang lines Asean told the crowds about? They’re real, and a new reality for students on their way to school.

Marcus Garvey was spared, but Kohn just a couple of blocks away wasn’t as lucky. The students from elementary school at 104th and State streets will have to crisscross dozens of former crime scenes on their new walk to school. One route from Kohn to their receiving school, Lavizzo Elementary, experienced upwards of 20 violent crimes between January 2012 and April on the five-block route between the two schools, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Mayor Emanuel’s appointed school board has made its decision, and there is little now that can be done to save the schools. Asean, however, has done his part.

The video of his speech, carrying the message so many adults have tried to get across over the last two month is on its way to becoming viral. After only one week online the video has gotten more than 200,000 views.

“Education is our right, that is why we have to fight,” Asean ended his speech in unison with the roaring crowd.

Painting and process: Tom Urioste III

Blog, Coursework, JOUR 279, Writing
Urioste’s original skull ring painting. The new painting is still a work in progress.

Urioste’s original skull ring painting. The new painting is still a work in progress.

With fishing wire, sticky tack, construction paper and a camera in hand, Tom Urioste III is ready to start his next oil painting. The shutter clicks three times to capture the suspended silver skull ring, then Urioste puts the memory card in the MacBook sitting on the kitchen counter of his North Center garden apartment.

“I’m going back to something I did almost a year ago and trying to make myself look bad,” said Urioste, 30, senior at The American Academy of Art Chicago. “People always said [the old painting] was good, but I think I’m better now.”

The original canvas shows the same skull ring that’s suspended for Urioste’s current project. It’s very realistic; the details in the ring and the painted background are astonishing. The  chrome finish of the ring reflects the light so realistically, on first glance the oil painting might be mistaken for a photograph.

Urioste is an oil painting major at The Academy, graduating this December. He’s on a break from school for the summer, giving him a chance to work on personal projects. Recently, he’s been finding his inspiration for personal and academic projects in music, he says.

“One song has been getting me in the vibe for what I’m doing lately, it’s ‘Pyramids’ by Frank Ocean,” Urioste said. “The song got me thinking about shapes, which is really just everything all of this is. There’s something divine about the number three, but it’s our jobs to explore it, not explain it.”

The path to art school was a unique one for Urioste. He comes from a family of military legacy. The ex-Army vet found himself struggling once his time as a part-time jailer in the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s department and a recruiting assistant for the Army were coming to an end. Urioste said he was depressed, and his father made him move to Chicago to get his life back on track.

“I wanted to be a tattoo artist, so I brought my portfolio to Skin of a Different Color in Aurora, and was told I needed to go to art school. The artist went to The Academy, so I applied to The Academy,“ said Urioste.

Urioste sends a picture of his set up to two friends and waits for their response before he continues. Jeff Sant and Alex “Zespo” Velasquez are two classmates of Urioste’s, and he won’t start any of his work without getting approval from them. He consults them on everything from his original idea to overall composition.

“I don’t do a painting unless I run it through them. I’m inspired by their opinions, Jeff’s work ethic and Zespo’s hunger,” said Urioste.

Urioste waits as Sant and Velasquez send him sketches of how he should set up his scene. He has to look at something to paint it, so the scene must be perfect. He takes a piece of glass out of a picture frame and sets it on two glasses. He gets a text from Sant. He finds more sticky tack and angles the piece of glass between the two glasses to get a perfect reflected angle.

After taking more photos of his set up, he begins to loosely sketch out the scene on his canvas. He works off both the live set up and the picture that frames the scene the way he wants it to be documented.

“Starting is the hardest part. I’m very particular about what’s being put on the canvas,” said Urioste. “I need everything to be measured. I have OCD and it goes into my paintings. Everything’s measured from corner to corner.”

It will take Urioste about a month from start to finish, idea to completion for one of his works. Once the painting process begins, he starts with an underpainting of raw umber and layers colors until he arrives at his desired destination.

Painting only from sight, his works are not stylized but very realistic. While his ideas are very much always in his head, he cannot create a scene just from memory.

As Urioste’s time in formal education is coming to an end, he’s still trying to figure out what he’s going to do. He has yet to sell one of his paintings, but not because they can’t sell.

“I don’t do this for everyone else, I do it for me,” said Urioste.

After many careful measurements, the canvas is ready for paint. The line of the glass divides the middle, with the ring and its reflection flanking both sides. A pyramidal shape takes form.

“The process isn’t the same every time,” said Urioste. “I may not get the drawing right for a day or two.”

After many layers of paint, an end will be in sight. Urioste says there’s a certain feeling he gets when he knows a piece is done.

“I think, ‘I better stop now before I ruin it.’”

Kickstarter gives a jump start to creativity

Blog, Coursework, JOUR 279, Writing


Polarcode raised nearly $7,000 for their upcoming EP via Kickstarter. Photo courtesy of POLARCODE

Polarcode raised nearly $7,000 for their upcoming EP via Kickstarter.
Photo courtesy of POLARCODE

*Published in The DePaulia May 19, 2013

From March 29 to April 28, Chicago-based band Polarcode received nearly $6,950 to make their EP “Supernatural” from 62 willing backers. Why would 60-plus people give money to a band to create an album they know little about? They probably wouldn’t if not for Kickstarter.

Kickstarter is a four-year-old website that allows artists, designers, musicians, filmmakers, actors and just about every creative type in-between to crowd fund their next projects. Backers select their pledge, for which they receive various items provided by the artist.

“We’re getting to do some pretty cool stuff with our fans, and we’re going to be able to make a really great album,” said Eric Stang, lead singer and keyboard player of Polarcode and a DePaul graduate.

For Polarcode, $1,000 bought one backer a Cubs game with the band, $200 bought another a piano lesson with Stang and $10 bought an early digital download of “Supernatural.”

What makes Kickstarter unique are the benefits for both artist and backer. Polarcode received $950 more than their goal for fundraising. Their fans received albums, posters and unique events for the band.

The year 2012 saw unprecedented growth in fundraising on the site – $319, 786, 629 was pledged, a 221 percent increase from 2011.  In addition, 2,241,475 backers funded projects, a 134 percent increase from the year before.

What makes Kickstarter so appealing?

When Canadian musician and former teen television star Alexz Johnson launched a Kickstarter campaign in January of 2012 for a U.S. tour later that year, longtime fan Emily Karnick jumped at the opportunity to donate, contributing at the $100 level.

“I would have bought most of the things I received on that level anyway,” said Karnick, a junior at Aurora University. “But the fact that it helped bring Alexz to Chicago for the first time ever was really awesome. I’d do it again too.”

Karnick has been a fan of Johnson’s since her television show “Instant Star” was on The N, Nickelodeon’s teen offshoot network that brought other Canadian gems like “Degrassi.” After her donation, Karnick received a phone call from Johnson, a mention on Twitter, a signed live performance video of a show on tour, a signed copy of her “Skipping Stone” album and a T-shirt.

“When she called me it was one of the best moments of my life,” said Karnick. “Definitely worth $100.”

It’s likely that 2013 will be an even bigger year for Kickstarter and its fundraisers with this year’s record-setting project, the “Veronica Mars” movie.

Raising roughly $5.7 million, the project was the fastest project to reach the $1 million and $2 million marks, the all-time highest-funded project in the film category and the project with the highest number of backers, 91,585.

While Kickstarter has helped fundraise for primarily indie projects in the past, 10 percent of the films at Sundance in 2012 were funded by Kickstarter campaigns, and the “Veronica Mars” project brought Kickstarter to a larger stage – Hollywood.

Both Melissa Joan Hart and Zach Braff launched campaigns for their new projects in April. Braff’s campaign ran through May 24, surpassing his intended goal of $2 million with $3,105,473 raised for “Wish I Was Here,” the follow-up to 2005’s “Garden State.”

Hart’s campaign, however, was a flop. Rounding out at just a little more than $50,000 for her pitched project,“Darci’s Walk of Shame,” Hart fell well short of her $2 million goal.

Though Hollywood has started to find its way to Kickstarter, it seems as though they’ll be the exception, not the rule. “Veronica Mars” was a cult favorite. “Garden State” was a prerequisite for anyone trying to be indie in 2005. For now, it’s the little guys that are making big strides, thanks to Kickstarter.

“I’m really happy we met our goal,” said Stang. “Now we’re going to make a really great album.”