Inspired by Design Shows

The Cleveland Institute of Art is holding its annual CIA Spring Show, and it is nothing short of inspiring. When I walked through the exhibits, glossy marketing posters shone under the white curvilinear walls in Case Western University’s Peter B. Lewis Building (designed by Frank Gehry, by the way). I snuck a peak at Industrial Design, Interior Design, Communication Design and small portions of Ceramics, Enameling, Glass, Jewelry + Metals.

In the Design Environment, there were re-styled foodmarts based on adult vs. teen preferences, an American Greetings kiosk which merged their card selection and a candy outlet, ergonomic chairs (that often looked really uncomfortable), re-thought ways to re-brand hip-hop music from illicit lyrics to clean lyrics, restyled totes/water bottles/coffee mugs, and wallpaper inspired by Viktor Schreckengost, the industrial engineer who was an instructor at the Cleveland Institute of Art. (Another aside: Schreckengost was a powerhouse. His foundation’s webpage says this about his work: “Every adult in America has ridden in, ridden on, drunk out of, stored their things in, eaten off of, been costumed in, mowed their lawn with, played on, lit the night with, viewed in a museum, cooled their room with, read about, printed with, sat on, placed a call with, enjoyed in a theater, collected, been awarded with, seen at a zoo, put their flowers in, hung on their wall, served punch from, delivered milk in, read something printed on, seen at the World’s Fair, detected enemy combatants with, written about, had an arm or leg replaced with, graduated from, protected by, or seen at the White House something created by Viktor Schreckengost”.)

All in all, it was an inspiring show. Now I’m really ready to figure out how to satisfy that 20-years-long design annoyance: how to create a nailpolish bottle and a brush long enough to scoop up that last bit at the bottom?


Wayne Thibaud at the National Gallery of Art

My cakes!

Well, not really — not in a full-on Thibaud exhibition, at least. But something perhaps much more fun! On the National Gallery of Art’s classroom education page, you can decorate your own Thibaud cakes! Here’s some I “decorated.”

Art on a Bus, Art in a Museum: How Do YOU See It?

Promotion for the Cleveland Museum of Art's new East Wing

Friday morning, while navigating a stream of rush-hour traffic, a bus whizzed by. Usually rattled by anything five times the size of my car, I grumbled and looked up. But what I saw on that big ‘ole bus made my day! Why? Splashed on the side was a huge banner (above) advertising the Cleveland Museum of Art’s new East Wing (fabulous, by the way — all glass, glossy floors, and a bow to the 19th century original building). Its message was magnificent!

“How Do YOU See It?” read the caption on the banner in milk-colored script. The museum was inviting the public to share their views of what the art means to them. Usually you walk through, read the placards, and take away the curator’s view. Or if you take a tour of the museum, you come away believing the docent’s view. Or maybe when you stare up at the painting you only try to figure out what the artist herself was saying. Here it’s all about the individual viewer and their impressions. What does the artwork make the viewer feel, see, think about?

[Shameless plug, but this is exactly my theme in my book Degrees of Freedom.]

When you enter the galleries, you are invited to share your take on the CMA’s works of art by submitting comments using interpretive cards available on-site at the museum. The Cleveland Museum of Art cards, which are an assortment of works by Modigliani, Avedon, others, read: 


Everyone interprets art differently. Consider this an invitation to use this card as a canvas upon which to describe, draw, paint, decoupage, distress, haiku, or whatever will best communicate how you see this piece of art.


Now, if I can just get my hands on those cards (which will be used by the museum for promotional purposes) – what a feast!

Data Visualization: Is It Art?

Depicts 20,500 tuna, the average number of tuna fished from the world's oceans every fifteen minutes.

Depicts 20,500 tuna, the average number of tuna fished from the world's oceans every fifteen minutes.

Zoomed in even closer

Zoomed in even closer

Does art spur emotion or does emotion spur art? (Well both, duh.) But data visualization seems to throw its weight into this debate.

Here’s a fascinating article from the NYT on data visualization. I’m such a visual learner that data visualization is right up my alley. I can’t fathom a string of numbers, but I can get the essence of 1,000 sharks’ teeth or 2 million fish. (I was talking yesterday with a colleague about that other type of “string” — string theory. You can imagine that my eyes were glazing over.) I wrote something about “volume” on my blog recently in the “Guiness Book of World Records” post… someone had collected thousands of graffiti stickers and then posted them in a room and called it art. And there was the photo of hundreds of clergy at St. Peters. These perhaps lean more toward the wow! factor than being art for art’s sake. Maybe.

So what is data visualization? From the NYT:

Data visualization…is an interpretation, a different way to look at and think about data that often exposes complex patterns or correlations.

Data visualization is a way to make sense of the ever-increasing stream of information with which we’re bombarded and provides a creative antidote to the “analysis paralysis” that can result from the burden of processing such a large volume of information. “It’s not about clarifying data…It’s about contextualizing it.”

My favorite (and the most easy to interpret) example of this is Chris Jordan’s portraits of global mass culture in the “Running the Numbers” photography series which he uses “as a bridge between alienating information and its emotional impact.” The photos above, for example, illustrate a specific quantity of something: the number of tuna fished from the world’s oceans every fifteen minutes.

But is this art? In Chris’ work, which largely shows the effect of human consumption/impact I guess you could say that he used emotion (poor tuna!) to spur art:

large amounts of fact data > emotion > “emotional” data > becomes art

Which turns on its head the below philosophy that puts art at the beginning of the chain — that seeing a piece of art spurs emotion:

art > perception of art > perception of beauty > spiritual and physical love (emotion)

This second concept flow is the central theme of Degrees of Freedom.

Art Latches On To… The Guiness Book of World Records?

Is art latching onto the concept of “go big or go home!” “Whoever accumulates the most, wins!” “I have more than anyone else in the world!” Is more and bigger, better? I ask because:

Starting in the early nineties, Michael Anderson, a Bronx-born artist, began to amass what has come to be regarded—unofficially, and mostly by Anderson himself—as the world’s largest collection of graffiti stickers…For years, they sat quietly in notebooks in the artist’s Upper West Side apartment. Last April, the owners of the new Ace Hotel at 29th and Broadway came calling with a mural commission. Completed last month, it’s most likely the only museum devoted to this extremely ephemeral form. 

I love this. Anderson calls himself a curator, largely because the graffiti were all done by graffiti artists, whose work he cobbled together, printed on silk paper, and assembled in a collage.

But the striking part of it is how many, which leads you to “wow!”

It’s about scale and the idea that by simply viewing  something that we can feel really small or on top of the world or invincible. It’s not about each and every individual sticker; it’s the menagerie that tricks the eye and the mind into going somewhere else.

I talked about this “bigger is better” concept here as “critical mass” 

anything portrayed in critical mass will be poignant. 1,000 butterflies, 1 million grains of sand, 40 carats of rubies…

Mona Lisa: Will ‘Smile’ for Coffee

Mona Lisa made with cups of coffee

  • 3,604 cups of coffee
  • 564 pints of milk (for color variation)
  • 20ft by13ft (nearly ten times the size of Leonardo da Vinci’s original masterpiece)
  • Took a team of eight people three hours to complete
  • Created for The Rocks Aroma Festival (coffee lovers’ event) in Sydney, Australia

A variation of the traditional “sketch”? I think so.

Dead Butterflies and the King of Cycling


Lance, je t’aime, but what were you thinking?

The bike is gorgeous. Just gorgeous. Damien Hirst created a brand-spankin’ new one for Lance to ride on the last stage of this year’s Tour de France that wrapped itself 8 loops along the Champs Elysees. It was covered in real butterfly wings. Ahh. Is there anything more beautiful?

But let’s come to a screeching halt here: does Hirst create beautiful art? I’m not entirely sure this is his thing. Projects such as the shark in formaldehyde, etc. etc. have all been, well, grotesque. Is creating the sense of beauty an entirely new endeavor for Hirst?

So back on the bike…  Couldn’t they have used fake butterfly wings? Hirst said no, that he was going after the irridescence and shimmer that only real wings could exude. But those poor butterflies…

Which begs the question, does art need to be stark raving real to be beautiful? Don’t synthetics have a place?

Also, is  Hirst saying that Lance is a dead butterfly?