Friday, 17 June 2016

Gardening the Creative

File:Chicago World's Columbian Exposition 1893.jpg
World's Columbia Exposition 1893, Chicago (Wikimedia Commons)
For some people, looking after a garden simply involves cutting the grass or watering the plants, but for others, garden design is an art form. Recently, my attention was drawn to the art of the garden in two different places:a book by Erik Larson about the 1892-93 Chicago World's Columbian Exposition  and an interview with English garden designer Juliet Sargeant on CBC Radio's arts program q.

Larson's The Devil in the White City tells the double story of Chicago's struggle to create a rival to the Paris Exhibition in the midst of a nationwide financial collapse and of aserial murderer who preyed on the women drawn to the city during the fair. Among the architects and city planners who worked on the fair was Frederick Law Olmstead, the landscape architect who designed New York's Central Park. The  Chicago exhibition was famous for its large-scale projects: an oversized neoclassical city, the first ferris wheel, and the reconstruction of Algerian, Polynesian and German "villages" in the city's people-pleasing midway. Olmstead, however, insisted that the vegetation and pathways that surrounded and connected these works of wonder would set the emotional tone for the entire space.

The "Modern Slavery Garden" Juliet Sargeant has created
The Modern Slavery Garden, 2016 Chelsea Flower Show
A century and continent away, Sargeant put aside her medical training to become a garden designer. In her exhibit The Modern Slavery Garden for the Chelsea Flower Show, Sargeant creates an allegory for the secret suffering in Britain of  victims of human trafficking. The display, which on the surface looks like a proper English country garden, commemorates the passage of the UK Modern Slavery Act. 

Landscape architecture and garden design require the proper selection of plants to suit a theme or mood, not to mention the practical skills required to place living things in and around inorganic materials. My humble backyard garden is nothing on the scale or the intellectual purposefulness of Olmstead and Sargeant works, but like the heroes in Voltaire's Candide, I do my own little work in my garden.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Creativity and Mental Illness

A couple of years ago The Atlantic published an essay about  research on creativity and mental illness with an emphasis on the work of Nancy C. Andreasen. One conclusion of Andreasen's research is that creative people tend to have mental illness in their families, even if they themselves do not (and many do).  Why this is the case seems to derive from the way that creative people think. They are good as associating ideas with other ideas, which can be both helpful and not helpful to mental health. Associations are not always practical, understandable to others, or even correct.

Andreasen makes other generalizations about creative people that, unlike mental illness, are qualities  somewhat under an individual person's control. Her creative people work hard, probably because they are doing what they like to do. They tend to be self-taught in some areas of knowledge, even if they have a great deal of formal education, and they tend to be interested in many different areas. Creative people take risks, and they are persistent in the face of rejection or failure. Andreasen defines creativity in a way that embraces the arts and sciences equally. John Nash, for example, the subject of the film A Beautiful Mind, was of particular interest to her. (Read her obituary about John and his wife Alicia).

Her most recent long-term study focuses on famously creative people, so her results may be skewed as a result towards those people whose creative work has gained some mainstream acceptance and public accolade. Nevertheless, I think it is worth noting her generalizations and think about their implications for people who are not famous.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Public Art in Urban Nature

My recent intersection with urban interventionism through 100In1Day has led to another intersection, one that involves walking in my city's vast river valley and ravine complex.

Knowing what I have been up to lately, my husband clued me into the Kinnaird Ravine art walk, and I went along with him with our son and dog to check it out. The KinnArt Ravine project was mounted in early November 2015. Since then, people who walk along one portion of the gravel path through the ravine also pass through a public art gallery. News coverage at the time gives good information on the project and many more photos.

This part of the ravine is so deep and low that it is easy to forget the ravine is in the city's downtown. At first I mourned the now more obvious signs of human activity that the murals present. Of course, my desire for nature to somehow trump human occupation is based on willful illusion: I am well aware that I am in a city when I walk through the ravine. In any event, the paintings replace an existing retaining wall along the trail, so the murals beautify an existing architectural structure.

This project is listed on the website of Make Something Edmonton, the same group that is coordinating 100in1 Day.

News coverage at the time emphasized the community league's desire to discourage the graffitti that covered the previous retaining wall. As one of the organizers pointed out, however, public art is not alien in other parts of the world, such as his home town in Chile.

I sometimes get suspicious about attempts to discourage graffitti, even though I realize that much graffitti is not art. I was pleased, then, to see some graffitti-style murals in KinnArt.

Signs of creativity and positive group effort please me and give fodder for my humble blog too. I salute the artists and organizers of this project.