Sketchbook Assignment #1: Same Picture/ Different Views

I recently signed up for the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) by CalArts, entitled Live!: A History of Art for Artists, Animators and Gamers with Jeannene Przyblyski, Ph.D. I’m so excited to learn about so much that I don’t know yet! I am also inspired by the fact that there are thousands of students around the world taking this course for free, made possible by Coursera.

Our first assignment in this eight-week course is to make two sketches: one, that stands for what I think art really should be, and the other, what I think people in the world think art should be.

That seems so broad, with so many possibilities about what other people think it should be. I felt stuck…I tried to sketch but could not capture it in just one picture. It ended up being a whole lot of written words in my sketchbook!

But it got me thinking, about one tiny aspect of this, and recalling a personal story…

If we talk about “the art world”, what comes to my mind are galleries, exhibitions, art collectors, auctions, and artists trying to make it up the ladder of “success”. And in that world, there are many intellectual people, many sincere artists, but also probably many that just go see art for the sake of the status, the crowd they want to be associated with—I come from the Philippines, and this was often the case, in a country where art is not “as accessible” to everyone.

I remember, as a young teenager, though I loved going to art exhibits to see the works, I didn’t really enjoy “that crowd” so much. I did not understand the mind of an art critic (definitely something I hope to learn more about in this course!), or the mind of an art collector, for that matter. I only knew that I loved to create, and wanted to learn more about creating. Plus, many of my friends were artists and it was something we did together, for fun.

Years later, in 2005, I held my own solo exhibition at the Sheraton hotel of Kamapla, Uganda. I’ll tell you that story some other time, but the particular moment that this assignment led me to think about, was when—as a result of that exhibition—the Kabaka (King of Buganda) purchased my painting. What an honor and experience.

Here is a photo of that artwork, entitled “My People”:

MY PEOPLEAs it became public knowledge that the king himself owned my art, I was soon getting more phone calls, and people wanted to buy “that painting”. Of course they couldn’t have the original; only a duplicate.

And I made sure to tell them, “It won’t be exactly like the picture—it will be similar, as I can never reproduce one exactly like that one.”

No one seemed to mind. Sometimes, they didn’t even know what the picture was. They’d never even seen it, or a picture of it. They’d say, “Just paint me the one the king bought.”

I ended up selling reproductions of that painting eight more times.

Although I love this particular piece of art, only I know what inspired me to paint it, and the moment I came in contact with this tribe. Those who paid to own the artwork itself will never really feel what I felt at the time, a respect and sadness/concern for the community where this nearly-forgotten tribe lived, way up on the mountains.

So I use this picture in my assignment, not because I think art SHOULD be like my art, but to represent what the process of art means to me.

To me, the picture was a symbol of:

  • Exploration (both the long journey to reach the tribe, as well as the process of creating this with pastels on felt paper)
  • Expression (The personal process of creating something)
  • The power to change one’s circumstance, or one’s outlook
  • Communication
  • Life (Art should be vibrant, exciting, striking, I often use deep colors)
  • Awareness (Hardly anyone knew that this tribe, called the “Ik”, existed. I wanted my portraits of them to tell their story, to show their faces, fears, and dreams)
  • Bridging cultures (too much to say on that!)
  • A personal experience we can (and sometimes, should) share

I know what the painting meant to me at the time…but it became valuable to others for an entirely different reason. So if I am allowed to do so, I’d like to use this picture for both illustrations.

Thanks for reading! I’ll update about the new things I’m learning from this exciting course as we go along.

Do You Ever Miss that Sound?

Potato seller in Kampala. Photo by Robin Yamaguchi

After living on Lake Como for five months, I realize how truly blessed I am to be in one of the most amazing, beautiful places on earth.

I also realize I miss chaos.

Growing up in chaotic Asian cities like Bombay, Bangkok and Manila, I knew what it was like to walk through crowded places, throngs of jam-packed people on trains and buses, questionable street food, smells and sights and sounds whizzing by, tickling every one of your senses—or clogging it.

There is always a dense humidity in the air, and the constant buzz of people.

Out here, in Western Europe, there isn’t much of that. There is peace, and quiet, there is amazing nature, there is untouched beauty. And there is so much to love about it.

But there is also a longing in my heart to get back to a little bit of the craziness of living, the things that may be not so tranquil, but force you to find a balance inside. I remember that feeling when shifting my way through the markets of Kampala, and once while watching a sunset on a busy beach in Colombo.

Some cities and towns in Italy do seem to have a nice mixture of both the unexpected, and the sublime.

Visiting Merano in the Spring

Have you ever found anywhere in the world during your travels that has a good balance—just enough stimulation, yet just enough silence?

More on Life in Lake Como

Let me tell you a little more about life here in Como:

We live just a couple steps from the town piazza, behind the local church, the bakery, and Gelateria. Across the street are two café bars, my husband’s work place (watersports school) and a giant, grassy playground with a tennis court, basketball court, trampoline and swimming pool.

The atmosphere here is a typically relaxed one, where people stroll unhurried, and whole families play together—or sometimes with total strangers, and children learn to love Nature. Out on the beachfront, kitesurfers pump up their kites to air out, while parachuters glide down the mountain side’s cool air, the wind powering them just enough for an early morning sail.

It’s a place where locals greet you by name, and always a smile. Unlike Germany (our previous home), where the conversation ends at “Good day”, before walking quickly on one’s way, here they will continue chatting—regardless of long queues at the checkout, schedules, or working hours. You learn to not get impatient, but rather, appreciate the fact that people are taking the time to listen, and converse, and communicate—face to face.

Besides, siesta will come soon, and then it will last at least three hours.

And when you live in Italy, you learn to embrace this laidback style. You sip cappuccino, eat gelato, and have a midday Prosecco—as you please. You take your time. You smile more. You stay up late, and sleep in long hours. You chat long minutes because you bask in the presence of another human being, you share life stories as the sun sets in front of you, and you swim naked in the lake, because water is for nurturing.

After a long day’s work (and yes, sometimes just being a stay-at-home-mom is quite a lot of plain hard work with no paycheck at the end of the month) if you get to kiss your son goodnight and say, “I love you, and when you wake up, we’ll go swimming together at the beach,” that’s something to not take for granted.

So you can manage those disputes that sometimes happen in the shadows of your home; those misunderstandings, the trivialities of life. You can look forward to greeting the next Summer day, because as long as there is someone to share it with, and good health to enjoy it a little bit longer, then life is quite delicious.

Lives Worth Living

About three years ago, a friend introduced me to a couple who ran their own business, and seemed perfect. They had been together for nearly 20 years, had two handsome teenage sons, and the beautiful wife was so eloquent in her speaking, that I remember admiring their family a lot, just by this one chance passing.

I recently learned the man had hung himself. Exactly why, I don’t know.

The shocking news made me realize that we come into contact with so many people every day, and never know their real stories, their turbulence or problems. When everything seems okay on the outside, when Twitter and Facebook updates seem like their world is perfect, who’s to say it really is?

Then again, who’s to judge? We can only accept each other as people, all passing through the same planet, living our journeys, and getting by one day at a time.  It made me think about the “friends” I do have listed, and what actual relationships are nurtured because of social networks.

Last week, I listened to two couchsurfers (whom I’ll call Will and Ray) talking about Facebook, and the conversation went like this:

Will: Everyone feels like you know everyone’s lives, based on the updates.

Roy: But it’s the start of your conversation with that person.

Will: But I would inquire as to how many of those interactions turn into real life friendships, or relationships. Because a lot of people are very curious about what you’re doing, but once they find out, you go your separate ways. So at the end of the day…

Roy: But we’re all so busy with our own lives…

Will: I think the biggest thing for me is Facebook makes it easy to be a lazy friend. For me, friendships are something that you work at, you need to make an effort to stay in people’s lives—if you want to—and FB makes it easy for people to feel like they are, but they’re not.

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I know that social networks can be a powerful tool, either way. I hope we can make it something that deepens our relationships and friendships, enabling us to reach out more, to live fuller lives, to enrich ourselves and those around us with good vibes, and positive feedback.

We may not have perfect lives, but we can have perfect peace, and create solid, real friendships that matter.