Thursday, February 2, 2017

Symbol vs Icon - What's the Difference?

You can find this cross on ebay here:

You might have heard these words used inter-changeably over the years and thought nothing of it but there is a subtle difference. A symbol which represents something else, usually an abstract concept or idea, is not always an icon although an icon is always a symbol.
A much simpler way of stating this is that an icon is part of a symbol system. You've probably heard a computer instructor or IT technician say "click the icon on your desktop..." When you click a certain picture on you computer screen it launches a program. Clicking a different icon launches a different program. Creating this system was a simple way of compiling a group of programs that made computers user friendly.
Another common symbol system you might not have thought too much about is the alphabetic writing system. These are symbols that represent the sounds we make when we talk. There are certainly other ways of writing with logo-grams, ideograms and so on. These systems make up a richer much more complex way of writing that is not as easy to learn. In fact, English is supposed to be one of the easiest languages to learn simply because it is phonetic. 
When we say phonetic, we are talking about a symbol that represents the sounds we make and this is why English is so much easier to learn. There is a direct correlation between the symbol and the spoken word. Also, when we call our alphabetic system phonetic, we are honoring the culture that gave this iconography to us - the ancient Phoenicians. The Greeks 'borrowed' the phonetic language and made it more aesthetically appealing. For many centuries we credited the Greeks for our alphabetic system. They beautified it but did not create the iconography for our alphabet.
I remember in the 80s, signing up for an art history course in Iconography. I dropped it when I found out it was just a course in christian iconography. I wasn't open to the idea of studying Christianity at that time so I signed up for something more multi-cultural. It would have been easy to label this experience as limited or narrow minded but it wasn't until the end of the last century that average scholars outside the history and archeology departments were familiar with other cultural iconographic systems.
Now we are much more aware that all religions use iconography in some way and this term can be applied to much more than religion.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Small Change

I've seen a lot more homeless people on the streets in the past few years. This is an issue that really gets to me. I've been so close so many times to being homeless myself that I stare at these people with fear and compassion. I was guided to start a practice a few years ago when I quit smoking. I now use the ash tray where my cigarette butts used to go for a change compartment. When I see a homeless person I grab some change and hand it to them. I'm not there to judge who deserves the change and who doesn't. That takes too much time and negative energy. It doesn't really matter to my why they need the money. They're asking so I'm there to give.
I've met a lot of homeless people this way. I'm shocked at who is homeless on the streets these days. One woman my age was sitting on the side of a freeway one day and I gestured for her to walk up to my car. I handed her a few dollars in change and noticed she had a black eye. She saw me look at her face and replied, "I was robbed and beaten last night." I broke down crying right on the spot. It's like a wave of pain rushed over me.
Another time I handled the situation a little better. This man with a dog had made his 'camping' spot in a strip center near my home. I would see him every day and give him my small change. One day I saw him crying. I'm used to seeing homeless people cry. In fact, they seem a little hardened by life so I had to find out what happened. I went home and made him two peanut butter sandwiches (one for him and one for his dog) and grabbed a ten dollar bill out of my purse before rushing out the door. When I walked over to him he wasn't crying any more instead he looked angry. I handed him one sandwich and put one on the ground for his dog. He replied "She won't eat it. She's real picky." He was right. The dog sniffed the sandwich and walked away.
I handed him the $10 bill and his face perked up right away. He then grabbed the other sandwich and began eating it. I wanted to ask him why he had been crying but I didn't have to ask. He spoke up and said, "Do you know what someone said to me?" I listened. "They told me that it was cruel to keep my dog on the streets with me. They said I should give her up!" I looked at the dog that was walking around freely with a leash dragging behind her and stated the obvious. "Well, if she wanted to run away, she would. I don't think you're cruel at all." He was grateful that I validated him and he then affirmed, "She eats before I do! I make sure she has food every day."
I talked to him for a little while and then went home thinking about how judgmentally cruel some people can be when they don't have all the facts. This guy was having a tough time on the street and someone suggested he give up his only companion? It was hard to believe. I kept giving him money every time I saw him.
A few weeks passed and I saw him outside on a summer day. He told me that someone had offered him a job digging ditches in the "hot sun." He acted like the offer was ridiculous. I looked at him and stated the obvious, "Aren't you in the hot sun anyway?" I don't think he even realized this before my comment. I didn't see him again after that.
I think he took the job.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

My thoughts on Medical Care...

This is a little off my normal subjects of art and art history - but then again - without our health, where and who are we?
You can find this print I created here:
It represents the 'heart chakra' 

Although I'm all for expanded medicare I'm totally against Obamacare or any type of mandatory insurance. I think we need a system where the only the sick and terminally ill should have required insurance at a discount rate. 

All other medical policies should be in a 'free for all' system - just like the dental and optometry industry. Have you noticed how well the service and progress is in these particular health industries?
If doctors competed for customers - the way the rest of America does, then they would not be so indifferent to their patient's needs.

Every one I know has at least one horror story about seeing a doctor.
There are so many bad doctors that are practicing medicine, we need to do research on how the system got this way. The health industry is the one industry where a young person can enter and be successful no matter how little they studied or trained. In every other profession, you must study hard and be competent to land a job. This is not true for the medical profession. It's the one place where jobs are so in demand the pay is good even if you are at the bottom of the medical hierarchical list. Average pay just to change someone's bed pan is twice as much as minimum wage!

I'm hoping our next president does not feed into a system that is broken and corrupt. I commend the politicians that are fighting to keep medical costs down. Instead of policing the education system that is so messed up by governtment control, we need to focus our attention on the medical industry's policies.Why has hospital costs become so outrageous? Even doctors are shocked by the cost of a surgical room. I've had more than one doctor point out to me that his or her bill was the lowest charge for surgery. Ironically enough, the surgery I was going to get from that doctor did not necessarily need a surgical room. I found a doctor years later that performed the same minor surgery in a standard patient room so sometimes it's not the doctor's cost that's expensive, it's their procedure and therefore, lack of training or ability to keep up with new medical technologies.

In the past few decades, we've seen a surge in self-help and healing remedies. This is a direct response to the outrageous costs the medical industry requires to treat a patient. Before Obamacare, over 50 percent of the US population was not on health insurance. Now that we are forced to buy into the corrupt medical insurance system, the cost has not come down - instead it's gone up. That should tell us something.I voted for Obama, twice, but that does not mean I'm happy with all of his decisions.

Before I was forced into a medical plan, I was not on insurance. When I had an ailment or sickness, I sought home remedies first. That usually did the trick but when it did not, I saw a doctor. Yes, there were many doctors working outside the system that provided good health care.
There were emergency medical clinics all over the major cities designed to handle people without insurance.
This is the beauty of America and it has always been this way. When there is a need, there is always a business ready to take care of it.
Many people have become rich off of finding those specific needs that have not been addressed. Capitalism can really be a beautiful thing when it falls into the hands of the right people.

My wish today, is to get this message into the right hands of people who will listen with an open mind and also have the power to do something about it. I've tried writing to my congress representatives several times but have received no response.

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Eiffel Tower

(airbrush painting by dianne curtis)
I made this poster about 10 years ago when I was doing research for a graduate art history class. This was a great choice of icons for a paper because there is so much history and analysis behind this structure. First of all, this airbrush painting was created to mimic the original poster for the world's fair that was held in Paris in 1889, the 100-year anniversary of the French Revolution. The Eiffel tower marked the entrance to the fair and was designed to symbolize French Industrial Strength.
Gustave Eiffel was an architectural engineer who designed bridges and he didn't want to put a skin or cover over this structure so he could show off his engineering skill with the beautiful and elaborate trusses. It is designed in an art nouveau style even though it represents the machine age. This is an important point since the world had been experiencing the industrial revolution for over a century by the time the world's fair made its way to Paris. Annie Oakley and Buffalo Bill were the star attractions at the fair along with many African artifacts on display from explorations in this region that sparked the French's curiosity.
Ironically enough, this eiffel tower project almost didn't happen. At the end of the industrial revolution, many civilians and artists were disgusted with the mass production that was going on in the factories. They saw the damage cheap goods were doing to their environment and the economy and another famous artist, William Morris, was making an impact on society by teaching the general public about the quality in a hand-made product. Art Noveau (new art) reflected this distaste with bulky geometric shapes that factories were producing and a turn toward organically, naturally shaped objects prompted the public to seek out art in this new style. The entire poster above reflects an organic feel with smooth curvy lines. The tower itself is both organic and geometric in its shape.
Gustave Eiffel was under heavy deadline pressure to get this work of art created by the opening of the fair. It must have stressed him quite a bit when he heard about a group of art nouveau artists protesting its creation. Many artists called it an abomination and pointed out that it would dwarf every structure in Paris. (It still dominates the skyline even today.) There were other artists that actually defended its creation and protested against the protestors. With all this fighting, the city of Paris abandoned the project and left it in the hands of this poor, tired architect. Gustave had to generate funds on his own to create the tower without the help of the city. (Eventually he was reimbursed.)
Since this structure has such an amazing history it is now the pride of Paris. Even though some Parisians will tell you they still believe it's an abomination, they do recognize it to be an important icon for the history of Paris. The Eiffel tower has proven its importance since it was first built. It's not only a beautiful icon, it's also a functional work of art. It has been used as a radio tower since the 1920s and a TV transmission tower since the 1950s.
...and this is how an artist becomes immortal!!!

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Jackson Pollock lesson

(This is one of my own abstracts. I've painted other action paintings similar to Pollock's style - but they all sold a long time ago and I didn't take photos.)

Over 20 years ago I worked with a small child who had low-toned cerebral palsy. He loved art but had no control over his hands. It was a challenge to create assignments every week that he could do and feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of art class. One week I decided to teach a lesson in action painting.
Jackson Pollock left a legacy to America and then the world. With his loose brushstrokes that evolved into extreme slashes of paint slung on a canvas, he re-worded the meaning of art. Over fifty years after his death, performance artists are still creating in front of audiences to this action-painting style. We owe all the abstract expressionists a huge debt of gratitude for seizing the title of art capital of the world. Under these artists, America became known for a unique style in modern art.
Above all that, action painting is just down-right fun! Who wouldn't enjoy slinging paint on a canvas in a spontaneous fashion? I knew my 5-year-old art student would love doing this so I packed a lot of butcher paper, cheap latex paint (Pollock's favorite media) and a lot of towels.
When I arrived at my young student's house, I could tell that his parents were very nervous. My student had a friend stay over the night before and they asked him to stay for art class. Since my student was so severely handicapped, he didn't have a lot of close friends. In fact, this was the first friend he had made that was willing to stay overnight. The parents were spending a lot of energy trying to make sure the two young boys had fun so the friend would want to come back.
I explained to the parents what I had planned for the art lesson and then set up the canvas in their driveway. I didn't want any paint to splatter in their home so I believed this was the best setting for this particular art lesson. Jackson Pollock actually purchased a barn to create his works so we were actually painting more like the way he would have done this assignment.
The two boys became so enthusiastic about the assignment;  they began diving into the canvas. Soon, the three of us were covered in bright colors. (And some of this paint made it to the canvas as well!) I got the inspiration to stick my art student in the middle of the canvas and have him crawl around on it. His friend laughed and then pushed him over to me like my student was a huge paint brush. I pushed him back to his friend. We laughed and continued playing this strange game of catch and my little art student really enjoyed being the brush.
When the parents came out to let us know that the friend's parents were on the way to pick him up, they noticed the mess. I felt a little guilty. We were covered in paint. The driveway was covered in paint. Even some of the bushes and trees were covered in paint. The painting looked great and they could see our collective effort. Much to my surprise, they were not upset. In fact, the father insisted that I take the painting home and frame it. He wanted to put it in his office at work. The parents then took the two young boys in the back yard and hosed them down. I packed up, went home and took a shower.
The next week the parents told me that the two boys had a fit in their kindergarten art class because they wanted to create another Jackson Pollock. I felt a little sorry for their art teacher. She didn't have a driveway to use. Imagine doing this assignment with 30 kids and then having to clean up for your next class?

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Perils of a Stone

The Perils of a Stone

This rock may not look like much. It's a little dull even though there's an oil coated on the surface which makes the dark areas shine. I purchased this on ebay for about $4 from a very nice seller and I couldn't wait to work on this piece. I just joined a lapidary shop that allows me to use their equipment to cut, grind and polish stones. It's a lot of work but so rewarding when you know you've controlled your own jewelry down to the very stone that was set.
I first had to place the whole rock in a huge vat with a giant circular saw that cuts the rock into slabs. (Sorry I can't show you their equipment without permission.) With the help of a shop assistant, I was able to get three nice slabs out of the rock pictured above. Here is one of the slabs:
From there we had to decide the best stone cuts that could be formed from each slab without wasting too much of the rock. I chose free form. Even though an irregular shape is harder to set in a bezel, it makes a unique, one-of-a-kind piece of jewelry that cannot be copied. After deciding how to cut and shape the pieces, I have to take each piece through a series of sanding wheels that grind and sand it down to a bezel shape:
Whether the stone is a perfect geometric shape or free form like these, it must be domed so a bezel wire can wrap around the piece and set the stone in place.
One thin strip of wire is soldered to a flat piece of metal in a circular shape that fits the shape of the stone. The stone is placed snugly in the center and then the thin bezel wire is carefully pushed over the stone to keep it in place.
This is how a traditional cabochon setting is made. Cheap imitation jewelry today glues the stone in place to save time and money. Don't buy that crap! It's mass-produced by get-rich-quick schemers who care nothing for the fine art of metalsmithing and lapidary work.
This whole stone setting process is an ancient art form that is still practiced today. When you examine a  piece of jewelry with a cabochon setting, touch the stone in the center. If it moves a little, that is okay. If it doesn't move at all and there is no metal covering the stone, it was probably cheaply glued in place.
The cabochon setting was the standard way of setting stones from antiquity through the middle ages.
Faceted stones, (your basic diamond cuts) were not created until the 17th century. 
Here's the whole process this Tiger Eye stone went through to wind up on someone's finger:

Amazing process, isn't it?

Saturday, November 26, 2016


This ACEO print from one of my original paintings can be purchased on ebay:

Who doesn't love a good dragon story? I think Dragonheart is my all time favorite dragon movie but I want to write about what's behind all this folklore. I truly believe the expression "where there's smoke there's fire" applies with all myths and legends. If we dig deep enough, there's an ancient truth waiting to reveal itself.
This is definitely the case when it comes to all the legends and folklore about dragons. We have stories all over the world involving dragons. The ancient Americas, the Roman empire and the ancient east all share stories about dragons. We associate medieval tales with dragons and knights in the western world but how did that come to be. In medieval times, everyone knew what a dragon looked like. We even have historic records of someone named George slaying a dragon in an ancient Roman village. There must have been some kind of species - some big lizard that was quite common in the earliest parts of our history. Perhaps we caused this species to go extinct?
Now think again about these fairy tales but see the symbols of the dragon as a metaphor for an animal's characteristics. According to legends, dragons breath fire. Most of your big lizards today have poisonous saliva. Fiery breath is a perfect symbol for a dangerous mouth. Remember how Beowulf died? He died when the dragon he slayed drooled on his body.
Some believe the Allosaurus fossil was the inspiration for all the dragon myths. This prehistoric dinosaur was among the first fossils to be discovered. It was also the most common of all your big lizards in prehistory. Could some of those reptiles survive and have been alive during ancient and early medieval times?
Considering we have so many legends from cultures who did not communicate as far as we know, there might be a possibility that a strange ferocious lizard existed at times when people were too vulnerable or scared to understand this species. Nonetheless, we revere this animal enough to reserve a spot for this creature in our imaginations forever.