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Andrew East

a combination of an art blog, which examines themes displayed in the Modern Art era, and another dedicated to the IB Theory of Knowledge

Invisibilia Reflection: “High Voltage”

There is a very compelling question which arose in the 37 minutes of this Invisibilia podcast, entitled High Voltage (Emotions Part II): Is it possible to discover an emotion? Have you ever felt something so powerful and innate but it doesn’t exist in between the margins of happiness, anger, sadness, etc? Perhaps the “palette” of human expression is more diverse and some cultures experience others more often because of their circumstance.

Anthropologist Renato Rosaldo was faced with these revelations during his stay in the Philippines where he integrated himself and his family into two indigenous tribes and studied their culture, language, and lifestyles. However, Rosaldo didn’t expect his study to expose him to another layer of emotions he never thought existed- all because of one word: “legut”. The Ilongot tribe often used this to describe a feeling of chaos, absurdity, discord, or “high voltage” (as Rosaldo best likes to explain it).  They are a tribe prone to head-hunting expeditions where they march into the Carabello Mountains and decapitate a person and howl after they feel the sensation of legut.

It’s a word Rosaldo never knew how to define and he initially believed it meant “progressive” or “powerful” based on examples of legut he found in the village but he never was able to discover the bizarre feeling embodied in that word until tragedy struck a few years later after his departure.

He and his wife Shelly moved to a village of a northern Filipino tribe known as the Infagul. One morning, while Rosaldo was staying behind with his two young sons, Shelly went hiking with Infagul women among the rain forest’s rice terraces where she fell off a 65-foot cliff. Devastated as the anthropologist was after his wife’s tragic death, he returned to California and resumed the life he lived before researching the Ilongot and Infagul tribes. Rosaldo explains that, unbeknownst to him, “the seed of an alien emotion he’d never experienced before began to grow inside him”.

Rosaldo was driving through Palo Alto one sunny day, however, and felt a powerful sensation he inherently knew was legut. And he started to howl. It was an emotion he felt possess his entire body and consciousness and this howling gave him insight to the world of invisibilia. Because he was able to conceptualize legut, he discovered this new and wild form of human expression as well as a cure for his grieving. Fortunately, Rosaldo didn’t feel the desire to go “head-hunting” but what is so compelling about his experience is that it demonstrates how our conception of things as diverse and varied as human emotion is possible for how we express them.

Whenever I am excited, for example, positive thoughts float through my mind like bubbles and they make my perspective more optimistic and my actions more productive or influential. But when I was fourteen years old, I experienced a series of depersonalization and derealization episodes during a depressive state that lasted for months. I had no idea what I could do because I felt  n u m b  everywhere. It wasn’t sadness or even anxiety because those emotions including the rest of them felt entirely exhumed from my psyche. I knew nothing of how to react to the emptiness I felt and the way I recovered from it was through expressing it to a psychiatrist.

Like the howling of Renato Rosaldo, expressing our emotions in sometimes peculiar ways is essential to our recovery and reconstructing the concepts that we use to define our emotions.

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My Personal Geography and Me

Visual reflections of reality, or maps, are not strangers to mankind. The astronomers use them to identify the constellations of the night sky and sailors have maps to navigate themselves through the seven seas. Sly politicians use them to manipulate electoral districts, architects design baseball stadiums with them, while some of us (like me) utilize maps to find the quickest route to the local CVS Pharmacy. Maps appear in our day-to-day routine and some may encompass wider concepts. But how can someone use a map to exhibit one aspect of their “individual existence”? This is what I discovered this past week in my Theory of Knowledge class when I became a cartographer and created my own geography in the form of a self-portrait (which is pictured above).

I chose to paint myself as a continent with land monuments that represent vulnerable parts of my personality. At the top of the picture, my hair flows in the shape of a wave like how it does in real life. The wildness and density of it prompted me to nickname this part of me as the “Sea of Hopes and Dreams” because I have many aspirations in life which have carried me in many directions. For example, I once considered becoming a psychologist for people who have survived traumatic experiences and then I convinced myself that I’d rather be a modern language teacher, and now, I’ve decided to pursue a career in International Affairs. Like the ocean, my dreams are constantly changing but I have the power to choose my final destination.

The split on the left side alludes to the underground city below Paris, otherwise known as Lutetia, which was built by the Romans in 200 A.D. I chose this to symbolize the personality I had when I was a child: highly optimistic, outgoing, and confident. I still carry these traits in me. Yet with time, I grew accustomed to being a teenager in today’s world. I believe I’ve had to bury the joyful spirit of young Andrew after recognizing how harsh reality can be…

My two eyes are replaced with the map symbol for a roundabout. The left is known as the “eye of fear” while the right is the “eye of wonder”; both are instruments on how I internalize knowledge. I have a curiosity for the things I cannot explain or understand, which encourages me to search for an answer, but I am simultaneously stuck with fear of the unknown. Sometimes, I’m scared thinking what the answer would be and how I will have no choice but to accept it. I believe in Christianity as well as I acknowledge that there may not be a life after this one but my inevitable death terrifies me.

I used color mapping to pinpoint the places on my cheeks, or “fields of embarrassment”, where I blush the most when I’m embarrassed or I think I said something stupid in class. One of the problems I face as a student is talking in front of people, particularly the intelligent kids who are in the I.B. program with me. Even though I enjoy expressing myself, I am anxious of how others perceive me and if I’m approved by their standards. Whenever I stutter or can’t find the right words to say, I blush a lot and end up thinking about that situation for weeks and weeks until those weeks become years.

The “effects of perfectionism” are expressed through the bags under my eyes, showing how my personality can impact my physical state. I have an unending yearning for things to be ideal and with school projects, I often sacrifice things like my sleep to satisfy my perfectionist nature. There are two dots on my face, however, which I labeled to reflect my Italian heritage, and thus, my family’s cultural background of the Mediterranean. This is important to me as it has bestowed upon me a sense of identity and place in the world.

Lastly, the “border of introversion” surrounds my main continent at a distance.  This is a visual representation of my relationship with others and my environment. Even though I’ve been gifted with loving friends and family members, I don’t think anyone has gotten so close to know me completely and authentically. Maybe that will change with time or maybe I will always have an introverted side for protection and independence.

 


 

There were several “personal geographies” from my classmates in Mr. Brewer’s TOK that I thought were counter intuitive and definitely embodied the spirit of our lesson: critically thinking about the potential for maps to reflect and create reality. Kamiya Wyatt’s “Heart Map”, in particular, made me smile but it was something new and interesting for me to analyze. She created a Pangea of the things she holds in her heart, such as “family”, “friends”, “God”, and “education”. I loved how all are connected through a network of streams and bodies of water, showing that Kamiya’s principles relate to each other. She used the sizes of the islands to symbolize how much she let them impact her- something I didn’t think of when creating my self-portrait. Ours contrasted differently but I think both shared the basic structures of our personalities which were demonstrated in a compelling way.

Taking on the Role of Teacher: A Reflection

A week and a half ago, me and four friends taught our IB Theory of Knowledge class as apart of the Ways of Knowing unit. We were assigned the topic of sense perception and thus, went into deep research on the five senses- hearing, sight, smell, touch, and taste. Our PowerPoint included extended notes with little videos in between so that the information we wished to convey was fully grasped by our intended audience- the class. Teaching almost twenty kids for 90 minutes seemed like a chance for catastrophe. After all, we are teenagers and lecturing children seems like a job reserved only for adults. Despite my initial dread when walking through the door of Mr. Brewer’s room that afternoon, I came to realize how prepared and effective we were in presenting our W.O.K. project.

The curiosity that was expressed by the other IB Diploma students encouraged us to be more confident and thus, the rest of the class period went by with ease. Our demonstrations of how the senses are necessary to obtain knowledge but can also deceive us provoked many class discussions, especially when we listened to the several examples of auditory illusions and mentioned the power of other senses when one is impaired. These brought up first-hand experiences from kids, which developed into higher-level questions in the spirit of the Theory of Knowledge. Even though the class would sometimes talk out of turn or rampant ideas were being thrown across the room at once, it was fantastic for me to witness the wheels start to turn in everyone’s minds.

Some parts of the lesson which we didn’t expect to stimulate interest did, like the socio-geographic affects on people’s sense perception. And others we were certain would succeed did not, such as our evaluation of empiricist philosophy. This was a new experience for us in expecting the unexpected. I believe that tying all of the senses together in a conclusion could’ve helped the students to reflect upon what they learned from our presentation. However, I don’t think that our discussion questions at the end were bad either because it conveyed a general sense of ambiguity for sense perception. These were just experiments that were to be done through trial-and-error because we now know what is and isn’t effective for our audience.

Communication was a key factor in making this experience successful. What I believe diminishes education in a classroom environment is the lack of interaction between teachers and students. After every lesson in our PowerPoint, we sought out to clarify any misunderstandings and make sure that everyone was on their feet. And because we are all the same age, there was not a difference in power dynamics and we were able to listen relate with each other on the same level of authority. This entire ordeal was valuable for me because teaching the class improved my confidence, strive to educate others, and my view of how important teamwork can be.

 

 

This I Believe

As an American teenager, I’ve succumbed to the consumer culture of feverishly buying something and disposing of it just as fast when I believe it’s broken and worthless. I was walking to my car with a friend a few weeks ago and after our feet collided, the stitching on one of my flip-flops snapped. They were only $30 and had been worn for a year so my immediate instinct was to throw the shoes away. Coming from a middle-class household with good stability, I’m privileged enough to have other pairs of shoes to wear throughout my high school year. I left the broken sandals on the stairs when I got home. Maybe it was the memories I had with them over the previous summer which stopped me from sacrificing them to the trash bin. But the next day, my grandfather came by and offered to stitch and reattach the straps.

I remember a story he told me about living in Pennsylvania as a young boy. My grandfather’s family was predominantly German-Italian and lived in tiny row houses in South Philly. They, like other families in the city, were dependent on their local tailor and shoemaker. If one of them were to rip the zipper on the pants worn for Sunday mass, they could simply walk across the street to a tailor who’d repair it and they were able to wear them again. In that lifestyle without many options and without much money, you didn’t give up on the things you had because of a small rip or tear. You learned to appreciate what you were given and customize it in times of struggle.

There is a useful message to be taught from this- one we should use to approach our behavior on the things (and people) we view as unfixable… We can make an effort to practice patience, leniency, and optimism- even if this means you are taking a risk by funneling hope into something that isn’t secure. For me, this is a struggle I’ve never noticed. I am often too quick or too confident in marking things and people as incompetent for their faults; by me and others not showing the compassion they may rightfully deserve, we abandon their potential to improve and thus, everything that could be done for society is incomplete. Because of our indifference.

My grandfather fixed my shoes and left them in my room, which I found upon arriving home from school last week. I saw the new adjustments yet they seemed like new. I may not trust them enough to wear to school again but my sandals, like people, have limits but they also proper value for certain circumstances. By being productive and accepting of the “unacceptable”, you may refrain from making an irreversible decision that’s manageable. This could benefit our relations with one another and also minimize our materialistic behaviors which are detrimental to us and the environment.

Thus, I believe in the power of customizing the world around me with what I’ve been given. I believe in the capability of broken shoes and flat tires and old tablecloths; and in the inner-integrity of drug addicts and the homeless. And I believe in forgiving people without reason; for what kind of world is one that cannot be proactive?

 

The Theory of Knowing What We Know

We as humans are life-forms who have become quite skilled at surviving on a rock in the middle of nowhere for thousands and thousands of years. Thus, the philosophers of generations before us have collected many questions- most of which were solved through rationality and the pursuit of science. Others still remain unexplained today, such as identifying what swims in the deepest abysses of our oceans and pinpointing who or what created the universe. And what if all the concepts we currently believe with steadfast confidence are simply illusions? This ambiguity abandons us in a grey-area of the mind that is both frustrating and is able to spark much interest.

To say that I “think” something doesn’t necessarily guarantee my credibility. Knowing something with 100% certainty is to successfully defend it as being a reliable and unquestionable doctrine. At one time, ancient mythology was known to mankind as an accepted reasoning for what caused the weather and creation. This means there is a fine, fine line between believing and knowing information, and we often argue our theory as the truth, despite its legitimacy. It may sound ridiculous for you to distrust what seems definite like questioning whether the sun will rise tomorrow from the east. However, to acquire a broad insight into knowledge and our world, you must seek out the relatively impossible- or what we deem as impossible…

Everything that is “known” can be debated with far-fetched, alternative possibilities, which may make you feel sometimes like you’re in “Inception” with Leonardo DiCaprio. Obviously, humans came to exist by natural child birth, the world wasn’t invented five minutes go, and a falling tree in the woods will most definitely make a sound. But there is strength and there is beauty in admitting we do not (and cannot) know the answers to everything, no matter how much effort we put forth into discovering them. Only through open-mindedness, flexibility, and resilience can humans thrive in a setting like our world, which exists off of pure mystery.

A true inquirer accepts his or her short-comings, but they flourish each day with their attentive awareness of the people, societies, and all other elements around them. Because even though information is fickle and humans are limited, we must accept that for what it is. Even Albert Einstein, arguably the smartest man who ever lived and the inventor of the theory of relativity, once said “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination“.

Jean Delville (1867-1953)

Beauty is one of the manifestations of the Absolute Being. Emanating from the harmonious rays of the Divine plan, it crosses the intellectual plane to shine once again across the natural plane, where it darkens into matter.

A powerful but rare characteristic of modern artists is to adapt their own fundamentals into art forms, and so well that observers are dazzled by the creations, for it’s coherent that they’re motivated by a deep, spiritual connection. Belgian theosophist Jean Delville’s work is very symbolic in the way that his paintings are a reflection of stories from the New Testament and Greco-Roman mythology. Like a series of visual oratorios, dozens of these paintings were produced in his lifespan during the Idealist movement. The theory of idealism emphasizes that humans are limited in their perception of reality because reality is fictitious in itself. Knowing the dogma behind Delville, his artwork becomes an exploration of the central cosmos and entities outside of humanity as they are harmonized with themes of divinity and the ethereal.

The two depictions above of Heaven (in “L’homme-dieu”) and Hell (in “Les trésors de satan”) are relatively similar in placement but are contrasting in every other element. Because of how Jesus and Satan are formatted at the same coordinates on the paintings, one can make a clear analysis with Biblical knowledge that both are mirror images of each other yet take on opposite ambiances of character. Delville is playing the role of God in how he has set up Christ and the Devil to be authoritarian roles in the paintings but both divide into two paths like in the stories: Lucifer yearning for the possession of power and Jesus in the quest to sacrifice his strength for God. It is a yin-yang connection and this is visible by the artist’s manipulation of color. Pale shades of eggshell and cyan are indicated for holiness. Embers of green and mahogany in the coral-reef/oceanic setting formulate Hell’s ruin. Followers in the first are lying in mercy for humility and the damned of the second are in a frenzy of lust and immorality. Could these individuals below them be symbolic for the contradictory themes connected to Jesus Christ and the Devil?

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Another iconic depiction of symbolism is in his painting, entitled “Prometheus”. This refers to a tale in ancient Greek mythology where Prometheus was a god who created mankind out of clay and then stole the fire of Mount Olympus to provide for the mortals. In the painting above, his figure is shown dashing with the light of creation. Similar to Jean Delville, Prometheus represents the spirit of an inventor and is productive yet prideful of his creations.

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However, while there is creation, there must be the presence of death in everything and the artist is very raw in his representation of it. In the painting “La Mort”, a personified entity of death is seen cloaked with blood-stained rags and the face of a vampire. A clock reigns over It’s head like a crown as to say that Death is the ultimate emperor of time. This piece of art is destined to give me nightmares tonight.

Otto Dix (1891-1969)

I have to experience all the ghastly, bottomless depths for life for myself; it’s for that reason that I went to war, and for that reason I volunteered.

The painter Otto Dix stands out in the art world through his enrollment in fighting for the Central Powers of World War I. From his legacy, Dix’s works were intended to reflect a grotesque, macabre version of society in the 1900’s German Empire. With an intent to contradict the general preference of people that art should be “pretty” and “appealing” (perhaps to balance out the time’s gloomy atmosphere), he exposes the ugly side of life, where beauty is commonly artificial. 

 

Above are three separate paintings which include ghastly characters expressed through his artistic lens. These images of normal people are twisted so that the sailor becomes diabolically sinister, make-up on the women inflames their skin, bones are visibly weak, and the figures’ eyes show the extent of their cynical demeanors and disfigurement. All characters that appear in his work are shown to be similarly unflattering except for one painting, which is a portrait of his wife (shown below).bf08ecb9602db53cf41636607a9239ee (1)

 

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Above is a portrait from Otto Dix entitled “Kriegsverletzter”, or “war-wounded”, which shows a man who’s face is half-destroyed. What leads me to an analysis of this painting is the title itself. We all know that war doesn’t just cause physical damage but harms the human psyche as well and steals a part of that person. Maybe “Kriegsverletzter” is showing the emotional erosion of a man after battle. Or it displays the face of a friend who later is killed and haunts the painter with his moribund state. 


In this, a soldier lies in painful agony- hand clenched at his heart, arm twisted, and eyes of shock- in a trench of some sort. As we are already told, Dix saw many things in the span of his enlistment and though we don’t know for sure if “Die Kunst des Krieges” (“The Art of War”) was a glimpse of what horror he witnessed, we can imagine. 

Though we weren’t in Dix’s position, the drawings he produced are enough to transport us back into the wastelands of WWI and the seedy ports of Germany. And it is the mystery of their backgrounds that make them even more haunting. 

Kara Walker (1969-present)

I want to make my work where the viewer wouldn’t walk away, he’d get pulled into history, into fiction, into something totally demeaning, and possibly very beautiful.

This is exactly what I did the first time that I saw her artwork when it premiered at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta two years ago. Most of the other displays in the 21st century exhibit were “abstract” and lacked depth, vision, and talent. For example, a painting on the other side of the room was a white canvas with three stripes of flashy, assorted colors and worth about $2,000. In the contrary, Mrs. Walker’s work was actually art and its boldness brought me to a standstill, though I wouldn’t say it was “beautiful” in the sense that we know.

Her nightmarish paper silhouette tableaux is shocking and quite explicit. They convey scenes of barbarity in the times of American Colonialism with African-American slaves that are least likely to appear in our history books. This features the violent abuse of black women and children from white slave owners,  high officials, army men, and southern women. Its style resembling a children’s pop-up book make the tone even more haunting. How Walker makes the distinction between race is through modeling black people with exaggerated features such as big lips, nappy hair, and busty curviness while nude; whites are portrayed being plump, taller, and pointier with haughty pin coats and lavish frocks.

Warning: the following artwork is very graphic and are not for the eyes of children. 

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The above comic is set up of five instances, and is thus branded the name, A Shadow Drama in Five Acts. A black servant on the first slide acts as a wet nurse to a white boy. His aid from the woman’s breast milk shows how her responsibility extends to caring not just for her own but for children of a different race- the same race of which has carried a tradition of hate for black ethnicity. What can be said from this image is the way that society in the past was very dependent on the role of the black woman. From the cradle, white infants were pampered, primped, and catered for by servants, and they in turn grew up to rebuke the black hands that fed them. A duty was shifted onto African-American women for many years to be the one whom people depended on for advice and nourishment. She wasn’t supposed to have concerns of her own but instead absorb the issues of her employers and their families. Next to this, a young white girl holds her arms in desire or attention for the servant while hoisted on a dog that jolts towards an approaching black lady, possibly a laundress or another maid, who turns in fear. On the right slide, a snobbish, white man violently chokes a young black girl when another, in water perhaps, looks on and pleads in mercy. This exhibit is very confusing and heinous but compelling. The fragile frame of the girl with the sturdy shape of the cruel man highlights the scene’s gut-wrenching display.

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Enslaved people were used as resources and commodities for the southern agriculture industry. In the illustration above, a black girl is dehumanized to a horse by a jockey, who holds a carrot in one hand and a whip in the other. A rabbit nearby shoots off a gun to signal the start of the race towards a goal of the burning, directional sign post. Symbolism manifests in this simple image- the carrot, the jockey, and the inflamed street sign. Sharecropping in post-slavery era was destined to bring about obtaining the American Dream but was an ultimate scam. Profiting off of this business was various people who sold the vegetation for money while the sharecroppers could barely get by from the money they obtained and then trapped in a cycle of poverty. The black girl represents the entire black population who was given false hope and promise so that they could dutifully perform to advance whites. A promised, future destination or reward for blacks through their strenuous labor was simply a mirage that, in a quick second, was to be eroded by flames and gone.

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These derive from Walker’s “The Emancipation Approximation”. The title is clever in the way that it explains how deficient the abolition law was, replacing ‘proclamation’ with ‘approximation’ as to show how not all servants were granted freedom and oppression was still alive. On the left, a vulgar but sad display of a George Washington-type silhouette forcing a lower-level servant to perform a degrading act for him while perched on another worker who is struggling to lift under his weight. On the right, a presumably black woman holds up a white woman in a large gown and style. Both illustrate the degradation that blacks faced with the either gender and the class inequality dynamic.

To learn more about Kara Walker and her art exhibits, you can visit this link: https://art21.org/artist/kara-walker/

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Francis Picabia (1879-1953)

Pain has its reasons, pleasure is totally indifferent.

As an avant-garde virtuoso with a history of rubbing shoulders with various subcategories of art, the man known as Francis Picabia was a heretic of all artistic conformities. This disposition caused him to abandon and then switch styles faster than the Earth’s seasonal patterns. In Picabia’s lifetime, the artwork he produced paralleled with Surrealism, Impressionism, CubismDadaism, and other forms that end with -ism. But I feel a singular theme of mythical, invisible forces is subjective to all of Picabia’s most famous transparencies and drawings. Interconnection between souls and spirituality linger upon the surface of his distorted, mirror-image take on reality.

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This painting above depicts a cynically feminine face with upturned eyes and full lips that, similar to a Russian nesting doll, possesses a fragment of another woman inside except this one has a far more organic expression. The outer shell is cracking down the middle to reveal the inner figuration of the woman- who is conveyed as the central consciousness and personality. Her character is morally tired, sacrificing her true nature for her fake, outer demeanor- which is a mere masque in attempt for conformity and thus, acceptance. This speaks on a feminist issue of idealism when it comes to representation in front of others, and an internal conflict that the woman in the painting has is unfortunately reminiscent of what many girls experience.

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Ecstasy is the primary component of Francis Picabia’s raw drawings that shimmer with just one or two color tones. Pictured above, for example, is a nude woman with an overlay of a closer snapshot- both with give off demeanors of glory or enlightenment. The giant hands curl through the image and softly pinch the nose of one frame and the breast of the other, leaving viewers with a confusing yet soft atmosphere.

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In this portrait, two lovers engulf themselves in an intimate embrace while it’s as if their eyes gaze into another world of some kind. Partial interdependence from the couple only strengthen the image’s warmth. There is such a strong partnership between these people that their spirits are inclined to conjoin almost in an out-of-body experience, such as astral projection. Despite whatever circumstance this scene is erected from, their souls yearn to be connected in balanced harmony.

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