I have noticed something about my taste when taking photographs: I very much prefer images which are not totally man-made. I realized this first somewhere along the first time that I went to Las Vegas and did not take pictures of the extravagant ornamentation, not even the ones which seemed set-up for great picture-taking. Now I realize that this is because those images were artificial. Not just in the way that photos cannot help but be artificial, but in the way that these images that I avoided recording were created just to be seen.
In contrast, the images I take of plants, and which I took at the last CA State Fair, had an element of chance to them. Even when the images taken were obviously human-arranged, such as the images of a small garden full of Coleus which I took — there was a non-human element to them which was dominant. As versus the plants within one of the mall displays at Las Vegas, which were placed and then left to die, it seems, the ones at the State Fair were obviously well cared-for, and center stage. That is, it was their beauty we were looking at; not an entirely artificial one.
It reminds me of a time when I was at the UC Berkeley Botanical Gardens and was trying to take a picture of a flowering tree…the flower I was focusing in on had a small green bug on it which kind of looked like a green ladybug. At the time, I felt like the green ladybug-thing was keeping the photograph from being “perfect,” but later on, and especially now, I realize that this was an element which individualizes the photo and makes it a portrait of a specific time and place (now gone). As I age, I realize that art pieces I make — or that anyone makes, really — are records of the times they originated in…and if there’s one thing to note about time, it’s that it always keeps going. 🙂
The other thing I realized about myself, as regards my reading habits, is that I have a very large tendency to want to read things which are new to me. That is, I dislike reading a chain of seven different books which might as well have been one — which has been a big reason why I haven’t read broadly (in fiction) after University. The perspectives I tended to find were both broadly distributed and relatively unitary as regarded their philosophies. Now that I look back on it, the books which I have most appreciated have been books from authors who had at least dual-culture experience.
From Articulations of Difference: Gender Studies and Writing in French, which focused on explorations of gender and sexuality in French literature, and which was my first major foray on my own into literary criticism; to Essentials of Buddhism: Basic Terminology and Concepts of Buddhist Philosophy and Practice, which is translated out from its original Japanese; to The Hell Screens, written by Alvin Lu, who questioned why he didn’t write the book in Chinese…through to my experiences in my English education where I appreciated a few of the translated works by Russian authors much moreso than books written by native English speakers (though unfortunately I cannot remember anymore which specific authors I appreciated; this was at minimum a decade ago)…not to mention the translated manga I have read but not gotten all the way through (Blade of the Immortal comes to mind)…I have a pattern of appreciating international thought; specifically, international thought which doesn’t try to assimilate to thought structure typical of writing in the English language.
And this last book I’ve been reading, on Chinese Painting Techniques for Exquisite Watercolors, by Lian Quan Zhen, and how it can translate over to influencing Western-style watercolors, is really eye-opening. It reminds me of what I had been told about Picasso’s study of African artwork — that is, that it revolutionized his painting technique and helped to usher in a new era (for the time) of Modern Art, which in turn blasted open the ideas of what art could be, in Western circles.
I didn’t get to work on my painting today because I am trying to avoid getting sicker than I already am (going out to work did not happen either); nor did I get to work on reading anything. (And certainly, I should get back to bed after writing this!) However, the memory of having read what I have, of Chinese Painting Techniques, is sticking with me. It’s just really, really interesting to me to read thought which I have not heard expressed to me, before; along the lines of hearing about Best Maugard’s Seven Motifs in my Painting classes, which was brought to me by a teacher fluent in Spanish.
As for how that translates into my learning other languages…I know that language acquisition will open my world, at least one culture at a time; maybe more than one at a time. This possibility draws from the example of learning an Asian language which has authors who then touch on cultures I know much less about — like Essentials of Buddhism by Mizuno Kogen (Mizuno is his surname), who goes into some lesser-known sects of Buddhist practice (out of South Asia, unless I am mistaken) which are no longer extant — that is, they either are no longer practiced, or have morphed into something else.
How are these things related? Probably via my art practice — what there is of it, at this point, anyway. Where it comes to painting, Chinese Painting Techniques, has been really refreshing.
Through this book I have found more of a focus on nature, less of a focus on the human body as a subject of art (I have not understood the Western focus on the human body as a subject of art, but suspect it has to do with seeing the human form as a mirror of the Christian God — which is irrelevant to me); and a freedom to imaginatively describe subjects as versus copying them from reality. I was just kind of blown away when I looked at this book and found that it was OK in some traditions to describe things intensely by linework, or to describe elements of reality in an imaginative and still elegant way, as versus a literal way…or to incorporate poetry with art (though granted, I knew the latter already). In particular, the section on composition, along with drawing inspiration from reality but not copying literal reality; these things have opened up a new way to thinking about image-making, for me.
At this point, I am very much inspired by this book. I am unsure about buying it, as it seems the only options to get a paper copy are through used book sales, and I am not planning on switching to Chinese watercolors anytime soon (which behave differently than Western watercolors). However…just to know that there are alternate accepted ways of working out there, is really nice to know. That is, it’s nice to know that doing things differently is not necessarily doing them wrongly.
And how this ties into my desire to learn other languages…? It’s a relatively new viewpoint for me, but I will keep trying. It’s just strange to notice the lack of exposure someone who only knows English has to the knowledge of world civilizations and histories and cultures and arts, etc…almost as though this knowledge is commonly seen as irrelevant or optional. (It’s not, when we live with people who have backgrounds from all over…)
This is to the extent that I know my English grammar skills are lacking (I was supposed to be taught this when very young, but apparently no one wanted to teach it), which cannot help but make the later acquisition of other languages, more difficult. However, it’s been clear that my grammatical knowledge has been built on and reinforced both by Spanish and Japanese, even though I am not yet to the level of full functionality in either language. It wasn’t until I started work, though, that I realized that my six years of training in Spanish amounted to very basic Spanish knowledge, which could maybe allow me to understand the gist of a kid’s book or an advertisement.
(I wonder how I would have done in Ethnic Studies, or a foreign language as a major; as versus English…? Would it have been so conservative?…)