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Category: art

“Make Me Beautiful”

Journalist Esther Honig wanted to examine how the standards of beauty vary across cultures. She sent a picture of herself—makeup free and hair pulled back– to 40 different graphic designers across the globe with only one request: “Make me beautiful.”

What she received back blew her mind.  (And mine.)

Some of the pictures came back with minimal changes, what I  think of as studio photo retouching. Like this image from Romania:


All images in post are courtesy of Ester Honig

Others were radically altered. This one is from the Philippines:



What struck me is that some designers changed Honig’s features in ways I wouldn’t even think of, going to extremes like changing her eye color, removing collar bones, and altering the shape of her eyes and forehead.  Read more »

Evidence of Life: Voices from the PSU Archives

Portland State University just discovered new life through history

Portland State University just discovered new life through history


Last week Portland State University made headlines after revealing decades of speeches that had been tucked away in their library’s archives, out of sight, out of mind, until now. Some of the greatest minds of our time — leaders, artists, activists — can be heard speaking at PSU online now. Check out Robert F. Kennedy, Toni Morrison, Allen Ginsberg, and a ton of other voices here.

Femcees Rising

Time magazine recently posted an article briefly introducing the 7 female rap artists they say are the industries new up-and-coming superstars, women they indicate are moving in the same direction as Nikki Minaj and Iggy Azalea, both of whom have found huge success in the male-dominated genre. The Time article was a response to XXL‘s (really good) list of 12 freshman rappers to watch over the next year, a list which, unsurprisingly, featured no women. Artists like Noname Gypsy and Nyemiah Supreme are joining the ranks of women like Brianna Perry to shake up the rap world brining pointed and poignant lyrics and melodies to the microphone.


However, one rapper they didn’t pay attention to is Minnesota-based rapper Dessa. Granted she is part of the underground rap scene and the Doomtree collective whih are not marked as mainstream music. Beyonce may not post Dessa’s music on her tumblr as she did for Brianna Perry, and you won’t see Dessa working with Timaland the way Nyemiah Supreme did, but her music explores cultural problems, issues of place and politics, crises of the heart, of life, and of childhood. Basically the same topics as all the other important MC’s working in the business and just as interesting to listen to, except she’s white.

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Cognative Surplus, or How LOLcats will Save the World

Back in the late 90s, I worked in a software company that hired  full development teams to other technology companies. We provided expertise that our clients might not have in-house, which meant we usually worked with new technology on cutting-edge projects. When the internet opened up to e-commerce, the company signed up new clients at record speed. One of the marketing managers explained to my coworker Angela and me that the internet was finally useful now that people could use the web to make a profit. After that meeting, Angela created a secret slogan that we would sometimes whisper to each other while working on projects that had no purpose other than making crazy amounts of money: “Use the internet for good, not for evil.”

This weekend, I listened to author, professor, and social media guru Clay Shirky on the TED Radio Hour. The program focused on collaboration and Shirky talked about a concept he’s coined “cognative surplus.” According to his estimates, the world has over a trillion of hours of free time to commit to shared projects. Some of that time we—the people of the world—use to do things like watch TV or create memes that we share on the internet. But even if you use your time to create LOLcats instead of inventing cool apps to do crisis mapping (one of Shirky’s examples is the creation of Ushahidi, the software that election information after the disputed 2007 Kenyan presidential race), you should still feel like you’re contributing to the good of the world:

The stupidest creative act is still a creative act….The gap is between doing anything and doing nothing.

The talk is well worth the 13 minutes it takes to watch. I especially find Shirky comparing our relationship with media and technology during the 1900s to the 2000s inspiring. The last century taught us how to consume. We’re still excellent consumers, but with new media tools like the internet and mobile phones we also show that we like to create. And share. And collaborate.

According to Shirky—and I really want to believe him on this—human motivation, new tools of collaboration, and our cognative surplus allow us to do “truly incredible experiments in scientific, literary, artistic, political efforts.”

In this new century, we’re finally using the internet mostly “for good, not for evil.” Angela and I are very happy.

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The Division of Gravity

I marvel everyday at humanity’s capability for resilience. So often, difficulties and challenges feel insurmountable, heartbreak feels incurable, pain unending. In a perfect world, the people we love don’t hurt us, parents don’t separate, families aren’t ruined, and everyone has enough money to live decently. But perfection is also problematic, sometimes it is too weighty, sometimes it costs too much to sustain and gets lost in the fullness of itself.

However, it is entirely possible to survive every misery, from the trivial to the desecrating, no matter how many things were solid yesterday and today disappeared beneath a fault line. After a while, the dust settles. Ruin is swept away, rain becomes important again, and air, and the sea and the sun.

Learn “Deep Yes” so You Can Say “No”

JustineMuskLast year, I was on the verge of burnout and a friend sent me the most wonderful list: Justine Musk’s 25 Badass Ways to Say No.

I’ve always had a hard time rejecting requests, whether they’re from a family member, a friend, a coworker, or a total stranger. I want to be the perfect hostess, making sure everyone enjoys the time spent with me. Making sure everyone likes me.

My exhaustion last year didn’t only depend on not wanting to disappoint people. Life threw me a few hurdles: my dad’s fast onset of dementia, my mom’s reoccurrence of cancer, my husband’s shoulder injury, which although not life-threatening required caretaking duties. A person saner than me would have recognized that these events demanded less commitment elsewhere. But I barged on, over-committing myself to write a grant, organize a physics conference, join work committees and initiatives, and keep up with my regular volunteer duties in the community.

Hence the burnout.

Even when life doesn’t throw huge boulders in our paths, creative folks don’t always recognize that it’s okay to say “no.” It’s okay to set aside time to practice our art. We’re not being selfish. We’re not being entitled. We’re just doing what’s necessary to nourish that part of us that feeds our soul.

Justine’s list didn’t cure my tendency to instinctively say “yes” to any and all requests, but it I am learning to be more protective of my writing time. I’m not yet brave enough to say all the things on the list out loud, but it’s so much easier for my mouth to utter a “no” when my brain is thinking one of these:

-Life’s too short to do things I don’t love.

-My ladyballs are not that big.

-There is a person who totally kicks ass at this. I am not that person.

-The idea is bad and you must be punished.

-I no longer do things that make me want to kill myself.

-It would cause the slow withering death of my soul.

It’s easy to think that until we are published, sold our first photograph, or recorded our first song, we don’t have the right to turn down a request in favor of writing, painting, creating. But actually, we do.

Actually, we must. Read more »

Invented Landscapes and Very Real Things

Berkeley IB Art ShowI know memory leaves bright spots where there used to be large, black expanses, and I know it hardens up shapes that used to be fluid and swimming. I know my memory draws long, looped lines to all the places I could have got to quickly if I’d turned the other way.But what I remember about being a teenager is a lot of uncertainty and a kind of desperate cultural claustrophobia.

Nothing about my high school, or the streets I took to get there, or the people who rotated in different versions of the same visual, reflected the ripplings that were going on inside me. There were structures in place: gateways and tryouts and solidifyings that stretched out forever and determined one’s place in an inscrutable system– which felt everlasting, in the doomiest way possible.

Not having played soccer religiously from the age of four, for example, had been a bad choice. No teamlife for me.

Not being a prodigy in any one spectator-ready talent was troubling, as the best is what it seemed the system was searching for. Every fifteen-year-old had a lot and wanted more, and the point was to stand directly in the spotlight and grab it. That was the point. Grab it.

Read more »

Ballad of a WiFi Hero

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Great animated adaptation of “In Which I Fix My Girlfriend’s Grandparents’ WiFi and Am Hailed as a Conquering Hero,” by Mike Lacher, from McSweeney’s Internet Tendency.

Tour of the House Called Longing


Prints by Zarina Hashmi

There’s a tree blocking the house from the front, a needled tree, but that can be cut back. The house is green and lovelorn, it is 1093 square feet on a 3 thousand something square foot lot, room for lemon trees, anything. It borders an alley, industrial spaces, its street address is 808 and all of this points toward yours.

The house is listed for 550,000 and will need some work.

You will take up the carpet to expose the old floors, and somewhere in there you hope you’ll find an alcove, an indentation, a place to build some kind of shrine like every house in India.

“This is my house.” So said Navita, packed dirt floor, we stepped over a gutter moat to reach the front door. Walls painted bright orange, one plastic chair, nothing else but the shrine: Durga’s picture hung on the wall with a calendar. The next room was all but dug out, where she and her mother kept their sleeping mats rolled during the day.

“This is my house.” It will contain only the best of what you need and love, you don’t need more and more. Potted palms in the corner of the living room. Necklaces hung for the choosing near the bedroom window. The bathroom tiled like an Istanbul hamam. Things you’ve found, collected, resting finally.

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The Cat Show is Decadent and Fabulous

A show person's beautiful denim shirt.

A show person’s beautiful denim shirt.


Last Saturday, I went to a cat show. Yes, a cat show. I’m still piecing it all together. I feel like I spent my weekend at a rave surrounded by people in soft sweaters navigating through feathers and little gold bells, like my brain is still coming down from all of the ecstasy and molly I ate. But I was sober. Stone cold sober. I have no excuse other than I was under the influence of heavy dopamine surges typical of an all-night cat video bender. So. Many. Cats. I was there for three hours. I planned on staying less than one.

The Saintly City Cat Show in St. Paul, MN is held annually, and it brings hundreds of cat people in varying levels of cat-personhood ranging from cat video enthusiasts to the seasoned breeder and presenter. Some come from as far away as central Illinois—an eight-hour drive. In January. One woman I met flew to Sweden to get her rare Norwegian Forest cat. Sweden! These people are dedicated. They are proud of their pedigree felines. They give their cats three-word names. Gaelic names. Names of Roman gods. They subscribe to Maine Coon magazine and Cat Fancy. Their sweaters match the coat coloring of their cats. Based on what I saw this weekend, it is astonishing—nay, negligent—that Christopher Guest hasn’t written this screenplay because, just like his movie Best In Show, these people are as nuts as they are lovable. Read more »

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