Jillian Tamaki
 

Thoughts on Context, in which The Author rambles on Sloth, Musical Instruments, and Public Television

Jan 31st, 2010

Gourd Drum (Ipu Hula or Ipu Heke), 19th century, Hawai’i

I’ve been feeling shitty about not going to museums lately. I mean, why exactly does one put up with the crappy things about the City if not to take occasionally take advantage of the wonderful things?

And I missed the MoMA Bauhaus show. Boo.

Anyway. I was thinking I might go somewhere tomorrow. This Met exhibit of Oceanic instruments looks pretty cool. They’re something so beautiful about an object for which you intuitively know its use. Sam and I were talking about this the other day when we observed that he immensely, surprisingly, enjoys kitchen supply stores despite the fact he doesn’t cook.

For many of the instruments, you can listen to curators speak about cultural uses and hear audio of them being played. The site is simplistic, but it offered a glimmer of how museums could harness interactivity to reach many more people and, more importantly, deliver a more thorough understanding of the subjects at hand.

Context is important.

I’m currently working my way through a PBS documentary series called Art: 21, about fine art in the 21st century. 3 or 4 contemporary artists are profiled per episode, and the experience is so RICH. You’re brought into someone’s studio, peeking in on them working, speaking to their family, oftentimes their subjects, hearing memories of their childhood. So much more compelling and accessible to hear it from the artists’ mouth versus reading a curatorial text. You realize how much of creativity is simply exploring things that perplex you or that you’re curious about. Didactics come later. Or, perhaps, full meanings are discovered through the process of creation.

On illustration. Illustration has always been a late adopter, often reinterpreting or refashioning artistic “styles” several decades after they were conceived by the art world, and applying them to commercial purposes. It’s kind of a nostalgic form. No judgment on that (that should go without saying!). And yes, it does go the other way sometimes too (see: pop art). But! I think there’s a valuable lesson illustrators, particularly students of illustration, can learn from Fine Art… that work should come from a place of exploration and introspection. To copy a “style” is simply a superficial appropriation of someone else’s context. Someone else’s life experience, interests, travels, tics. It’s just surface. There’s nothing underneath.

Flute (Pūtōrino), ca. 1800–1820

Aotearoa (New Zealand), Bay of Plenty region, Māori people