April 16, 2012 § Leave a Comment
I just can’t get enough of Brene Brown’s talk, so I wrote a second blog post on what I learned about vulnerability, love, and life as found in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.
Yeah, that’s right. Life lessons from a story that includes a playboy candelabra and a villian with a hairy chest.
My friend has been re-watching all the Disney animated films in chronological order and blogging about them at Disnerd Adventures. (I wrote a guest post awhile back about Peter Pan and the gift of stories.) After seeing Beauty and the Beast again (the first movie I watched – or remember watching – in theaters), I was drawn to the character of the Beast:
As I paid more attention to the Beast, the requirements of the spell in particular stood out. Not only did the Beast have to get past his own self-centeredness, someone had to love him back.
Think about that for a moment. How in the world—enchanted or not—do you get anyone to love you?
Change yourself? Difficult and challenging but put the pedal to the metal and you can probably do it by your 21st birthday. Get someone to love you? It’s too much to ask.
Read the rest of my post here.
April 9, 2012 § 3 Comments
Guest post by Anna Marie.
I will begin by saying that I am not a dancer or gymnast or any other kind of accomplished artist besides a musician. However I want to share some insights I’ve learned from taking dance class, playing the piano, and listening to artists talk about something we all need to learn how to do: be grounded. And stop grasping, physically and emotionally.
Dancers and gymnasts often strive to achieve beauty through a perception of weightlessness. They strive to appear to defy gravity. Gymnasts play with it, throwing themselves high into the air, performing physical feats up into space that awe viewers. I think of dance as a continuum of weight and weightlessness, moments when something is dragging you down and moments when you are the embodiment of grace, a bird flying. This contrast is illustrated beautifully in this video below. The man is weight; the woman, weightlessness. (Although this is animated with added effects, it was choreographed and performed by dancers for the artist to copy, and the movements are honest-to-real dance)
In college I took classes in Alexander Technique from Dr. Toni Poll-Sorenson, dance professor and Alexander Technician. (Check out her practice here.)
“The Alexander Technique is a way to feel better, and move in a more relaxed and comfortable way… the way nature intended. An Alexander Technique teacher helps you to identify and lose the harmful habits you have built up over a lifetime of stress and learn to move more freely.”
Many artists seek out this therapy, and this class was where I heard conversations about the difficulties each discipline faces. We addressed the issue of reaching our achievements. For dancers and gymnasts to reach their goal of defying gravity, often they resort to the most intuitive solution – gathering their bodies upward, trying to reach up to the sky in their movements, grasping at the idea of getting off of the floor. Toni stressed that this gathering oneself upward is self-defeating and can give you destructive bodily habits. The only way to create an illusion of weightlessness and flight is to be absolutely connected to the floor, grounded deeply, to submit to gravity, not fight it. When grounded deeply, one can gain the balance and strength necessary to make the jump or achieve the stance that will make you appear as floating lightness, unencumbered by the laws of gravity.
The need to be grounded manifested itself in my experience as a pianist as well. During one class, I played a piece for Toni and my peers. With particularly vigorous passages, I would desperately gather my shoulders upward and forward to get the power I needed into the keys. Toni suggested I start again and try driving my heels into the ground while I play. When I did this, my legs suddenly felt like they were tree trunks, solid and grounded with roots as deep as I am tall, connecting me to the seemingly unmovable mass of the earth. This released my upper body, and I felt like branches swaying, unburdened and flexible, but at no loss of power. I felt I physically had more power to create a larger sound without striving upward to do it. It was as though all the power from the muscles of my legs, back, shoulders and arms were being channeled through my weightless fingertips to the keys, creating more sound and more endurance for quick passages. I was streamlined, playing from my whole body, rather than my hands and forearms taking the brunt of the work. Toni and the class noted that the sound changed noticeably, that it had a deeper bass quality to it.
Other ways to create lightness are to either create a piece that seems weightless, or to create a moment when the viewer can feel transported, as though they were being transformed into weightlessness through their experience of the art. Stick sculptor Patrick Dougherty achieves both of these.
(View more of his sculptures here.)
We learn that stick sculptures need to be physically grounded. They need to be structurally sound before they can look like they could be easily blown over. We learn also that the artist needs to be grounded in technique, design, and hard work in order to create a transcendent experience: something that looks very simple that transports viewers to another place.
Dougherty describes the effect this way, “The mark of a good sculpture is that… people walk up and say ‘yeah I could do this.’ I don’t mind that illusion. I think it adds to the vulnerability and personability of the piece.”
I admire him for preferring that people don’t know the extent of work that goes into it. If they knew, it would take away from their experience of whimsicality. In a way, that is the test of an artist: his or her willingness to stop grasping at being admired and sacrifice the persona of being a genius in exchange for an outcome that truly is genius.
A nod to those who have spent the hours, days, or years stripping down their visions in order to rebuild them again, from the ground up.
March 9, 2012 § 2 Comments
Today I was defeated by a jar of maple syrup, which I could not open. I twisted and pulled, used bare hands and grip pads, ran under hot water, and banged against the counter to no avail. Am I really so weak (those who’ve met me, please don’t answer)? Was the inherent syrupy stickiness which I so desired on my waffles the same as what prevented me from obtaining it? Did these Vermont jar manufacturers win the prize for “Most Sealed and Likely to Stay That Way” maple syrup?
I don’t know.
In the end, the jar sat victoriously on the kitchen counter…
…while I skulked on the living room floor.
We were not on speaking terms.
I feel like the badger in the 2006 Academy-nominated short film, who is repeatedly frustrated in getting the quiet he needs to sleep (while managing to be both crochety and adorable at the same time, thanks to Sharon Colman’s animation. Tonight I managed at least the crochety part.)
But who I want to be like is writer and parkour fan Amy – not just for her strength (though that would be very helpful in my encounters with maple syrup jars) but for her passion in pursuing a way of life that does not come easily, for allowing her fears to propel her forward, for just showing up.
Hmm….I suppose I should try again.
A nod to extraordinary women, the persistence of small mammals, and yes, even jar manufacturers driven by passion for perfectly preserved maple syrup.
August 29, 2011 § 2 Comments
The Golden Snail is the nickname for Russian animator Yuri Norstein, though as far as I know, he’s never drawn a golden snail. The name comes from that the fact that this internationally acclaimed, award-winning animator is in his 70s and has only published 85 minutes of work.
For 30 years, he’s worked on a feature film called “The Overcoat,” based on Nikolai Gogol’s famous short story of the same name. He takes decades to work on projects, but his attention to each detail creates a mood, a tone that is complete. He eschews the help of a computer, preferring imperfect, ‘non-ironed’ drawings, and his short films use a multiplane camera to add the illusion of three-dimensional depth, as you can see below in his 1975 short film, “The Hedgehog in the Fog.”
Norstein’s work has been compared to lyrical poetry, focusing more on evoking an emotion or memory than drawing out a plot. But I love the loose storyline going on here too: the hedgehog’s sweet friendship with the bear, his dismal acceptance when he falls into the water, and his mystical awe concerning the white horse in the fog. It includes the unexpected adventure of getting lost and the relief of once more being known and found among friends. “Who other than you knows how to count the stars?” asks Bear, when he thinks that Hedgehog has abandoned him. Who, indeed?
I’m impressed by Norstein’s storytelling and dedication to his craft, rivaling J.K. Rowling’s 17 years writing Harry Potter and Tolkien’s 30 years immersed in Middle Earth and its tales. Such artists are an encouragement to keep plugging away. Quality takes time, years even. There will always be the Mozart child prodigies, the Jimi Hendrix geniuses who explode onto the scene, but more frequent is the slow and diligent crafting of those like Norstein. In his essay “Late Bloomers,” Malcolm Gladwell writes:
Late bloomers’ stories are invariably love stories, and this may be why we have such difficulty with them. We’d like to think that mundane matters like loyalty, steadfastness, and the willingness to keep writing checks to support what looks like failure have nothing to do with something as rarefied as genius. But sometimes genius is anything but rarefied; sometimes it’s just the thing that emerges after twenty years of working at your kitchen table.
A nod to Norstein’s kitchen-table working.
May 13, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Widely considered the Picasso of the dance world, Graham’s innovative work in the 1920s and 30s focused on the independent spirit and the meaning of movement itself. The doodle features several iconic poses from her various pieces, which The Martha Graham Center of Dance breaks down.
From dancing out lamentation, partying, springtime, and women on the frontier, you can see how varied and particular each movement is. She said, “All that is important is this one moment in movement. Make the moment important, vital, and worth living. Do not let it slip away unnoticed and unused.”
How important those individual moments of movement become for the animator! Done by motionographer Ryan Woodward, the animation is modeled after a dancer performing the same phrase of movement.
Watching the crafting of this doodle, I was immediately reminded of one of my favorite animations, a dance set to the song, “World Spins Madly On” by The Weepies. I love how the form and movement of a real dance take on a surreal-like aspect when the animation is added. The woman becomes imagined, dreamed for most of the song. Her sudden sprouting of wings and his overlarge and tangled limbs beautifully illustrate the complicated emotions of relationships, matching the movement.
When I went looking for this film again, I saw it was done by none other than Woodward himself. Though he has worked on several big name projects (think Spiderman and Where the Wild Things Are), he found himself wanting to do something simple, hand-drawn, with more freedom for interpretation. The behind-the-scenes video below is long, but interesting to watch the collaboration of choreographer, dancer, and animator, as well as a bit about the art of animation.
I like his choice to refrain from cinematic tricks and techniques to tell the story, wanting the emotion to be genuine rather than triggered, and allowing mistakes to be part of the piece itself, as it is part of the humanness of relationships. Woodward’s animation adds to and defines the meaning of the dancer’s movement rather than simply imitating it. A nod to Graham and Woodward.