Amazing! Pulp culture!

The pulp fiction magazine.

Chances are that if you were walking by a newsstand in the first half of the twentieth century, you would have been looking for a dime to purchase one. Their covers were dynamic. Their stories were bold. And from 1896 until just after World War II, they constituted one of the most successful and powerful forms of reading entertainment in North America.

I didn’t become fully aware of the pulps until my later teen years and I eventually found out that some of my favourite writers, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, and Richard Matheson wrote primarily for the pulps. Now I can’t get enough. I recently spoke to three pulp fiction enthusiasts about the history and aesthetics of pulp fiction magazines.

Jamie Fraser is the owner and operator of Jamie Fraser Books in Toronto, which specializes in pulp magazines and also sells used and rare books in the science fiction, mystery, and horror genres. Neil Mechem runs Girasol Collectables in Mississauga, which also specializes in pulp magazines and related materials, even reprinting editions of various pulps. Don Hutchison is a Toronto-based writer who has written extensively about the pulps and whose book, The Great Pulp Heroes, is an exciting study of the hero characters from the pulp magazines.

I. Misconceptions Defeated!

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Derived in spirit from the story papers and dime novels of the mid-nineteenth century, the pulp magazine was born when an enterprising publisher, Frank Munsey, decided to use pulpwood paper, thus lowering his printing costs and increasing the amount of printed fiction for his adventure story magazine, The Argosy in 1896.

“If you wanted to read something, you had a choice of reading either a hardcover book or magazine like the slicks, let’s say Colliers or the Strand or National Geographic, which were printed on high quality paper. And then there were pulps,” explains Jamie Fraser.

The term “pulp fiction” is easily misunderstood. Many people think of the paperbacks of the ‘50s, but these would come much later and are dissimilar to pulp fiction magazines, though they were certainly spiritual successors. One book I read, True Crime, True North, mistakenly identified the cheap true crime magazines that flourished in Canada during the ‘40s as pulp fiction.

“They were a different size,” says Don Hutchinson, “[They] weren’t printed on pulp paper and were, in theory, all true stories, whereas pulp fiction is for pulp fiction magazines printed on pulp paper. A different animal, really.”

There was no such thing as a typical pulp magazine — almost every possible taste was catered to. There were detective stories, western stories, sci-fi, horror, weird menace, aviation stories, army stories, adventure stories, and even adult-flavoured “spicies.” Companies like Street & Smith and Popular Publications became legendary fiction factories, feeding the hungry imaginations of millions of loyal readers.

There were also the hero pulps, magazines dedicated to crime-fighting supermen who predated their later incarnations in the comic books. The Shadow, who started life as the narrator for Street & Smith’s radio series Detective Story Hour, was given his own magazine in 1931. Walter Brown Gibson, a magician and journalist, would pen the majority of the Shadow’s more than three hundred and twenty-five adventures. The Shadow would later get his own radio show, with Orson Welles the first to take the role of gangland’s doom.

II. Thrills and Chills Galore!

Since they were printed on cheap pulpwood paper, publishers were able to keep costs down and sell a one hundred and twenty-eight to one hundred and sixty page magazine of fiction for as little as ten cents. During and immediately following the Great Depression, that was a great bargain, especially for working-class readers. “They were essentially the first form of affordable fiction for the masses,” Mechem explains. “Books were relatively expensive at that point. It was the first way the average person had access to a cheap read.”

At one time there were over one hundred and fifty different well-established pulp fiction magazine titles publishing, and all of them were actively competing with the other for newsstand sales. This resulted in bold cover designs.

“I think the first thing that strikes a lot of people is that it is a very bold style,” says Mechem. “With the better quality stuff, it’s a very dramatic approach to selling a magazine. The cover had to compete on the newsstands and so you get a lot of impact for it. It’s also relatively early in colour printing, so the colours tend to be a little more basic, not so subtle, they tend to go for more primary colours, a lot of strong reds and strong yellows.”

The best pulp cover illustrators brought a certain artistry and audacity to their work. For example, Frank R. Paul would define early sci-fi with his optimistic and thoroughly modernist covers for Amazing Stories, the first sci-fi pulp magazine. The November, 1928 issue of Amazing is one of his best covers, featuring several people exiting a rocket ship on one of Jupiter’s moons and gazing in awe at the gas giant as it hangs in a bright blue sky.

The Canadian artist, Hubert Rogers, would also stand among the American greats, making his name doing covers for Astounding Science-Fiction, which ushered in the “golden age” of sci-fi. Hailing from Alberton, P.E.I., Rogers would do fifty-nine covers for Astounding between 1938 and 1952. Featuring everything from strange time paradoxes to alien observatories and giant, rusting space ships, his covers had a more somber and muted colour palette, and were evocative of the new maturity that Astounding’s Editor John W. Campbell brought to the science fiction field.

Most pulp artists used simple oil on canvas. One of the few female pulp cover artists, Margaret Brundage, used oil with pastels for her very sensual covers for the horror magazine Weird Tales. Much of her work featured vulnerable, scantily-clad, or, in some cases, nude women being menaced by a leering villain.

Innovative covers certainly helped sales, but what kept people coming back for more was the thrilling writing. “People thought the pulps were for the average Joe or Jane, basically,” says Fraser. “But really, an awful lot of well-known writers today, such as Earl Stanley Gardiner; Perry Mason; Edgar Rice Burroughs; Walter Gibson, who created The Shadow; Lester Dent, who did Doc Savage; got their start writing for pulp magazines. And if it weren’t for the pulps, a lot of these authors would have never been published.”

While looked down upon by the intelligentsia in communities across North America, younger readers got in on the fiction revolution reading now-classic stories by writers like Dashiell Hammet, Raymond Chandler, Ray Bradbury, and Robert E. Howard.

III. Canadian Content!

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Although a definitively American medium, there were numerous Canadian contributions to the pulps in various forms. The passage of the War Exchange Conservation Act by the government of William Lyon Mackenzie King in 1940 actually created a domestic pulp fiction industry during the Second World War. There were at least three pulp fiction publishing companies here in Toronto during that time.

“Adam Publishing was on Spadina Avenue and they published pulps like Skyblazers, College Sports, and even something called Bill Wayne Western,” says Hutchison. “Not John Wayne Western, but Bill Wayne Western and Uncanny Tales. […] There was another company called Daring Publication on Wellington Street and they published Daredevil Detective Stories and Dynamic Western. And there was a company called Duchess Printing and Publishing Company on Sherbourne Street. And they did something called Private Detective and Real Western Stories.”

“There are very few strictly Canadian titles,” says Fraser, “and they weren’t very well distributed in Canada. Most of the pulps available during the war years were those in the US printed in Canada on Canadian paper.”

“They’re pretty much based on their [American] cousins,” elaborates Mechem. “There wasn’t really anything particularly innovative going on during that period here. It was strictly a protectionist attitude that put them out there. The unfortunate part about it is that what really distinguishes them is that they are terrible. I guess the idea was that they would hire strictly local talent. They were probably doing it on the cheap.”

During that period, Hutchison says that Uncanny Tales was really the best out of the strictly Canadian pulps with many of the first few issues being wholly written by a Toronto-based writer named Thomas P. Kelley.

However, there was a subtle contribution by one Canadian writer during the pulp era. His name was Frank L. Packard, and he created a character named Jimmie Dale, also known as The Gray Seal.

“Packard was definitely Canadian and his influences on the hero pulps were immense. His books were pretty much used by Walter Gibson in doing The Shadow and also in The Spider. […] Even the style he used was very, very similar to the Jimmie Dale books.”

Much like The Shadow, the Gray Seal wore a cloak and slouch hat, was a master of disguise, an expert criminologist, and maintained the persona of a bored, wealthy bachelor. Comic book characters like Batman and the Green Hornet would also take their cue from the template provided by Packard for the hero pulps.

IV. High Impact, Bold Culture!

The Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation, and Fantasy houses over 23,000 pulps with titles like Black Mask, Astounding, Weird Tales, and the best Canadian pulp, Uncanny Tales, all available for study. The Merril Collection also hosts the annual Fantastic Pulps Show and Sale, which will be taking place on May 14.

“A number of people, myself, Don Hutchison, and the Mechems, and one or two other people approached the Merril Collection with the idea of creating such a show,” says Fraser.

“A group of us thought, ‘Well, we really should think of having a small event here, and get some excitement going,’” says Mechem. “At that time a couple of the people we were talking to were involved with the Merril Collection. So it seemed like a good tie-in to base it out there.”

What of the impact on popular culture? “You can isolate certain things,” says Hutchison. “Science fiction existed before the pulps in terms of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. It was very minor. It wasn’t even seen as a genre. So when Amazing Stories started in the 1920s they really invented the whole idea of science fiction being a genre.

“The impetus of the magazines where the writers could, in a sense, be inspired by each other, and get together, and develop ideas — I think sci-fi could have ended up being only a minor literary form. The detective magazines were able to take writers like Dashiell Hammett and invent the American detective story, particularly the hard-boiled detective story.”

Even Scientology, also known as “Dianetics,” has pulp origins. “L. Ron Hubbard […] got his start in the pulps,” explains Fraser. “And in fact, he actually [tested] the whole idea of Dianetics in the pulps by putting the idea in some of his stories, as well as taking out advertisements in the pulps and asking for feedback.”

The pulp fiction magazine was a revolutionary form of entertainment that ensured the average person could access a good read. The pulps fired millions of imaginations, created three whole genres — hard-boiled detective, horror, and sci-fi — and created an avenue for some of the twentieth century’s best writers. Their creative visions remain with us today and we’re all still living in the midst of a pulp culture.

Welcome to the annual All Arts Magazine

From the editor

Features Editor SEAN MACKAY introduces us to the issue

Amazing! Pulp culture!

ALEX ROSS dives into the exciting world of pulp fiction magazines in this thrilling full-length article!

A body of work

Art Editor ALEX NURSALL explores the artistry behind body modification

Art: The exclusive medium of the wealthy?

JAKOB TANNER explores art as a commodity

Revealing the secret history of four world famous fonts

Design Editor TOM CARDOSO explains how Times New Roman and Comic Sans became the typographical juggernauts they are today

8-Bit Wonderland

A new generation of artists are using pixels in place of paint, writes BETINA ALONSO

All the right noise

SIMON FRANK chronicles the emergence of sound art in Toronto

Picture imperfect

Is phone photography authentic enough to be art? asks LAURA KATHLEEN MAIZE

Is this art?

EMILY KELLOGG leads a team on the Great Found Art Scavenger Hunt

Consider the comic book

NATALIE COOPER has us rethink the artist value of comics

(Art)ificial Creativity

Computer programs can now create viable and valuable art. Not only are these artificial artists changing how we define the creative process, they’re also changing our definition of the human, says ERENE STERGIOPOULOS

Social Fabric

ELIZABETH HAQ looks at fashion as art in the 21st century

Grow-up co-op

From puppets to paintings, ARIEL LEWIS describes her experience growing up in the Lakeshore Village Artists Co-op

(even though it doesn’t make much sense online, TOM CARDOSO’s table of contents is so nice we’re including it anyway)
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Grow-up co-op

“Living in an artist co-op, depending on the co-op you’re in, can be really great, innovative, and interesting. Or, it can be really horrible because the people are all…” My father hesitates to find the appropriate words, “Artistically freaked out. […] You’re going to find passion, so you’re either going to have amazing innovation or pots flying at your head.”

In August of 1993, my parents and I moved from a house on Perth Avenue, in the heart of the High Park neighbourhood, to the industrial district of South Etobicoke. In the month the Lakeshore Village Artists Co-op first opened, we moved into one of its three bedroom, open concept (meaning no doors, save for the bathroom), studio apartments. I was nearly three years old. We have moved twice since, within the co-op, to slightly more private apartments.

The Lakeshore Village Artists Co-op comprises four buildings that line the south side of Birmingham Street. It was the first artist co-op to have legal live/work studios, allowing artists to work and sell out of their homes. Though seemingly generic from the exterior, each building houses four floors of studio apartments that are equipped to make the environment work-suitable, such as extra exhaust fans for odours and extra plumbing for slop sinks. The co-op has two workshops and a gallery that can be booked for art exhibits or to hold birthday parties that will blow your friends’ minds.

“One of the studios downstairs was designed so that in the event of an explosion the walls will blow out, leaving the structure standing,” my mother explains to me. “That will prevent the rest of the building from being blown up.”

Larry Miller has lived here for nearly six years. A photographer since the age of nineteen, he sifts through words and memories, trying to articulate his experience in the co-op: “I think living here in this community has given me an opportunity to sequester myself in day-to-day life, with people of a similar geist.”
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Shirley Kleber, another pioneer resident of the co-op, has lived here for almost fifteen years. “I was living in the neighbourhood and I heard this place was going to be an artist co-op. So I snuck in to take a look around,” she chuckles. “I was surprised that there were that many artists in the area and that they were going to subsidize us. I thought, ‘For an artist? Really?’”

Aside from the layout of the apartments, what makes LVAC particularly appealing is that a high percentage of the units are subsidized, accommodating the many artists who have unreliable and meagre financial resources. Because of this feature, hopeful applicants to the co-op must undergo an interview process and display that they are indeed working artists, before they’re allowed to move in.

Roxanne Joseph, who practices in both the literary and performing arts, has lived here for the past eleven years with her daughter, Maia. She currently serves on the Admittance Committee. “They look at your résumé, reference letters, education, and whether you’re an active artist now,” she explains, while showing me the applicant questionnaire sheet. The evaluation process examines all facets of the applicant’s career, such as peer recognition, or whether they make most of their income from their work.

My mother, Pat Lewis, got her start in puppetry in 1978, apprenticing with Frog Prince Theatre. She builds and creates her own puppet shows, primarily performing and teaching in schools and libraries. In 1987, my father, Bob Howard, joined her. “Pat introduced herself, said she was a puppeteer. I didn’t think it was weird but I thought it was a joke. I thought, ‘No one’s a puppeteer — yeah, right.’ Then I actually went to see one of her shows, and at the time kids were kind of different, because you didn’t have the Internet back then. You’d get kids all the way up to age twelve. So I was at a library, it was a full crowd, she did The Frog Who Wasn’t with a bag stage, and I was totally amazed at how good it was.”

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For as long as I can remember, I’ve slept a room away from an overwhelming heap of puppet-hoarded madness. Try as they might, the ceiling-high shelves, packed with supplies and curios, have never been able to contain their contents to my mother’s work room. Puppets and puppet materials have always found their way into the rest of our apartment, claiming more space than we do.

When Shirley Kleber first applied to the co-op, she recalls that they refused to look at her portfolio, in order to judge her artistic experience objectively. “I liked that, too, because you may improve while living here. Having the workshop is excellent. My plaster piece,” she points to a long, life-size plaster woman hanging horizontally from her ceiling, “you can’t do that in an ordinary place. Now, I’m doing wax or small stuff so that I can work in my apartment, but I used that workshop a lot.”

Roxanne Joseph describes with certainty the direct influence living in the co-op has had on her artistry. “There’s more of a support system. For instance, I was working on a play and wanted to hear what the first draft sounded like. So I called up two neighbours, both of whom are actors, and got them to read it. Where else would you get that? It’s so cool, so convenient, actually. There’s a wealth of live resources.”

The tight-knit community that forms amongst the artists can often serve as a breeding ground for great creative innovation. For a number of years my mother and a fellow neighbour put together a family-friendly, non-alcoholic New Year’s Eve gathering in true, bohemian, hippy, artist fashion. As she recounts the story, I imagine a parade of people singing and dancing through the streets, an image that I suspect is not far off the mark. “We made puppets and did a little parade around the area. Then from the factory next door we got one of the big metal bins and cut fancy shapes out of the side of it and put a fire in it, so we had a fire to bring in the New Year.”

As my father describes it, creativity is never without its quirks — or flying pots. When I was twelve, my neighbour was a birthday clown and would frequent the hallways in her full makeup and costume, a feature that enhanced the excitement of leaving the apartment. An artist truly dedicated to her craft, my neighbour would never break character (squeaky voice included) if caught in her clown attire. Being yelled at by a clown to keep it down is a little startling, to say the least.

“There are a few people who’ve said, ‘Oh you guys, you’re just living off the avails of us honest people,’” Larry says, rolling his eyes. A prejudice familiar to many people living in the co-op, the mindset that Larry describes has dispirited more than one artist struggling to make a living.

Though still a performing puppeteer, my father recently made the decision to go back to school and shift away from the arts. “You see people in here who are really talented. There are a few people who have paintings in the National Gallery of Canada, yet they live in an artist co-op and they have to in order to survive. There are a few who have shows in New York all the time.”

He explains that it was ultimately the shift away from supporting local arts and culture in Canada that lead to his change of direction. “In the ‘80s Canada was different. There was a lot of funding. […] It was an amazing time for the arts, not a struggle at all. You could get tours all the time.”
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If I’ve learned one thing living with artists it’s that, should I wake up one morning realizing my vocation is corporate tax law, I should consider myself a very lucky person.

Maia, Roxanne’s fourteen-year-old daughter, has lived here since she was two. “I really want to be an artist, but living in the artist realm is hard,” she explains to me with practicality and reason. “So I think I want to be an industrial design engineer. I’d also like to write, but as an engineer. I’d also want to dance on the side as an artistic outlet, and if my writing took off I would move to Australia and run with that.”

I find it reassuring to discover that Maia has shared a similarly confusing upbringing. Though skeptical of the romanticized image of the starving artist, there are some quirks that always seem to nip that cynicism in the bud. “We always have a lot of parties, but with the same people,” she contemplates. “It’s funny because they’re already crazy, but when they drink they’re even crazier. But then, if you’re not crazy, what are you?”

Indeed, apartment parties where you, the juvenile youngster, are the least drunk of the bunch; discovering an array of free cheeses and wine offered at a gallery opening downstairs; and coming home at four in the afternoon after a long, nagging day of school to find your mother still in her pyjamas, fiddling with a fuzzy mouse puppet, all make it difficult to completely reject the idea of a career in the fine arts.

“I see how hard it is to live as an artist,” Maia concludes, “and I’m not sure if I necessarily want to live like that. But it certainly is an interesting lifestyle.”

Roxanne recounts the time she came across movers carrying four tables out of one of the industrial spaces on the bottom floor of her building. After tactfully inquiring about where these items were headed, she soon discovered that they, along with an assortment of treasures, were being laid to rest by the waste bin outside the building. “There were coats [and] cowboy hats. We gave a lot of it away, there was so much,” she relays to me with a wide grin. After three hours, a small party of five had joined her, with one person climbing into the bin to sift through the goods inside.

“And that’s what artists do, right? We reclaim stuff. I guess we have no second thoughts when it comes to stuff like that.”

Social Fabric

Kurt Vonnegut called artists the “canaries of society’s coal mine,” sensitive enough to detect toxicity before it reaches levels harmful to humans. If the canaries start falling off their perches, you know it’s time to hightail them to safer ground.

Toronto-based fashion designer Breeyn McCarney has been on high-alert for much of the past few years, particularly after the election of our city’s latest mayor. In her snug breakfast nook, adjacent to a modest studio space, she explains why fashion, as a form of artistic expression, is the direct result of its social context.

“As much as I hate to attribute anything good to Rob Ford,” she says, “I think Toronto’s artistic time is coming, because the more he tries to stamp it out, the more pronounced it will be. The anger that’s resulting in a lot of talented artists in Toronto will fuel some of the best work coming out of this city. I believe art comes from authenticity, not originality.” For this artist, her work is a sincere expression of the social fabric from which it is born.

Considering its reputation as the art world’s snotty little cousin — hot and flashy but mostly devoid of genuine emotion or relevance — fashion fits in quite well with the hallmarks of a 2011 existence. It is trendy by virtue, bored easily, concerned with the now while looking constantly to the next. It is highly responsive to the elements surrounding it, and its skill for disorienting its audience with quick turnarounds is reflective of its transient, temporal environment.

Toronto fashion in particular is coloured by this cultural environment. What we wear and what is designed for us is a direct result of the influences that went into creating it. Marcus Kan, fashion director of Ukamaku, an online fashion community featuring Canadian designers, concedes that diversity is the most sensational aspect of a Toronto-based designer’s aesthetic: “[On our website] we have designers from Romania, France, and Korea who are now based in Toronto to create fashion pieces which are influenced by their cultural background.”
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Left: Corrie, dress by AnotherWordforPink $150. Right: Jasmine, dress by Breeyn McCarney $650

While utilitarian in nature, what we choose to put on our bodies is the most steadfast indicator of our emotional state and economic condition as well as the emotional state and economic condition of the designer. It is a constantly self-regulating reflection of our existence — the culmination of a community’s reaction to the state of society. It is art imitating life to the highest degree, rarely presuming to be original, but striving to be authentic. For example, the HBO drama Boardwalk Empire can be credited with the influx of bow hats, stoles, and vintage-inspired draped gowns in every relevant catalogue and LOOKBOOK of the past few seasons. The creepy delicacy of feathered headpieces and bodices in an array of muted blush-tones seen on the spring 2011 runways has Black Swan written all over it. Viktor & Rolf’s spring 2010 ready-to-wear collection featured tulle ball gowns quite literally sliced and cut: a wearable display of “cutting back” in the harsh economic climate. Fashion may be the most relevant form of immediately accessible artistic expression available in modern times, simply due to its malleability and capricious sensitivity to its social environment.

From internationally renowned to locally produced, this intense sensitivity dominates the medium. “I set out to create a collection inspired by beaches and sun, called ‘Deep Sea Creatures,’” McCarney explains. “It turned out to be a lot darker than originally intended because around the time I was designing it, the [BP] oil spill was all you’d see on TV. The images made me weep.”

Because of McCarney’s lone experience crying in response to the largest accidental marine oil spill on record, your trip to the beach may be more cynical and outraged than you realize.

So if fashion really is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we must alter it every six months, it’s because our entire twenty-first century existence is just as ever-changing — a dizzying mess of uncertainty and danger, inundated with incomprehensible large-scale disasters, intrusive airport screenings, and the threat of the rug being pulled right from under you every time you’re summoned to your boss’ office. If it’s not a car it’ll be cancer that hits you, your education won’t satisfy your creative ambitions, and your chequing account simultaneously, and the only consistent thing about your relationships is that they end. Daily life is at once simplified and complicated by any number of twenty-first century conveniences at the average person’s disposal. It’s an exercise in navigating the grey spaces in between. And it’s not cynicism, it’s reality. There’s no such thing as planning anymore. Fashion is currently responding to this reality. The tragedies and triumphs of modern existence are reflected, if not necessarily anticipated, in the visions of self-expressive designers with more than bare-bone functionality on their minds.

(Art)ificial Creativity

“Usually, when people think of an artist as an important creator, what they’re saying is that he is capable of continuously surprising us with new, good work,” explains Pablo Gervás.

Does that same expectation hold when the artist is a series of algorithms? Gervás is a researcher at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, where he takes a rather unconventional approach to studying short stories and poetry: he programs computers to write them.

Computational creativity is an area of artificial intelligence based on developing creative machines. These systems can produce paintings, compose music, make scientific discoveries, and write short stories and poetry. In fact, they’re actually pretty good at it.

But developing software to create art raises a good deal of questions. Are programmers modelling the same kind of creativity that humans demonstrate? Should we consider the products of these machine creators art? If that’s the case, who is the artist — programmer, or programmed?

Berys Gaut, a professor of philosophy and aesthetics at the University of St. Andrews, proposes that artificial intelligence is simply a new step in the evolution of artistic practice. “I think that computers are some of the newest tools that artists invented to make art. They’re the next step beyond the paintbrush, in many cases. But you wouldn’t want to say a paintbrush is creative. Rather, it’s the person who is creative, who uses the paintbrush.”

Enrica Piccardo, a professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, echoes these thoughts. “The technical part is bigger, but the mind behind them is still human.”

Yet as technology continues to progress, the line between programmer and programmed is becoming increasingly blurred. One approach to creative systems is a technique called genetic algorithms. Inspired by biological processes, these programs are allowed to “mutate” on their own, in order to evolve toward better solutions to a problem.
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James Moor, a philosopher of artificial intelligence at Dartmouth College and editor of the journal Minds and Machines, explains the process. “You have something you’re trying to create: you have a standard about what it would be like to have that. Then you have a bunch of programs that try to figure out how to do it. Some of them do it well, and some don’t do it so well. And then you have a process of natural selection, and you may allow the programs to mutate, to change slightly, and then you pick out the best programs and let them do it some more.

“Eventually in some cases, through this natural selection among programs, you end up with something that’s quite novel and non-obvious — and valuable.”

The issue of value is critical to defining both creativity and art. In computational literature, the most common way of evaluating whether a system is creative is to look at what it produces: is the product original and worthwhile?

However, acknowledging the products of machine creators as valuable leads us into trickier territory; it brings us to the heart of how we actually define art.

David Moos, the curator of Contemporary Art at the Art Gallery of Ontario, provides some context to the question of what constitutes art and how it relates to the growing field of computational creativity. The definition of art has undergone a steep evolution over the past century. According to Moos, Marcel Duchamp first began the discourse of breaking down traditional definitions in the 1910s with works that he called “assisted readymades.” These were ordinary objects which he found and raised to the status of artwork simply by branding them as art.

With these initial barriers broken at the beginning of the twentieth century, artists have had the space to use an increasing range of tools and technology to produce their artwork. In 1990, German contemporary artist Rosemary Trockel created a painting machine — a mechanical device with fifty-six brushes that make different kinds of marks on a roll of paper.

Technology in art is even more obvious in the digital realm. According to Moos, Andreas Gursky is the current master of digital large-format photography. However, Gursky’s massive photographs of landscapes and architecture would not always have passed for art. “By a 1960s definition of art, that could not be art,” says Moos. “That would be Madison Avenue advertising. But it’s definitely art today.”

Nowadays, the machines at an artist’s disposal are becoming more and more complex — at times, even lifelike. It seems the next plausible step in the evolution of art might involve technology that is increasingly independent of the humans who use it. There’s something inherently thrilling in using a system that seems to have a mind of its own. However, once we cross that threshold, it becomes difficult to distinguish where the human begins and where the machine takes over.

This is the issue of creative agency, explains Jon McCormack, who doubles as an electronic media artist and researcher in computational creativity at Monash University in Australia. “Lots of people can use computers to make art, but there’s no doubt that the creative agency behind the task is a person,” says McCormack. “But in some cases, people have tried to shift that agency more and more to the computer. So the creative responsibility is more to the computer than to the person. That’s where I think it starts to get quite complex, quite ambiguous as to where the art is actually coming from, and who is actually responsible for producing the artwork.”

Some feel uncomfortable attributing creativity to something that isn’t human. Calling what a machine does “creative” doesn’t seem to do justice to the mystery of the human creative mind. “It takes the alchemy out of it,” says Toronto-based musician Emilie Mover. “I grew up with bebop jazz. To me, the idea is that people get together in a room, and strum or blow into an instrument in their hands, close their eyes, and they don’t have to think about it anymore.
Whatever comes out of their spirit goes into the atmosphere.”

Subrata Dasgupta, a cognitive scientist at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette, suggests, “I think people are uncomfortable [with computational art] for the various reasons that, over history, people have been uncomfortable when the uniqueness of the human being has been challenged.”

The fact is, we still see art as something that’s fundamentally human. Moos explains, “Our understanding of that word, that idea, that concept, goes back to the beginning of the history of visual art — which is, of course, in caves. The markings on the caves in Europe indicate humans using images to narrate a certain essence of their lives. And so deep down, fundamentally, that’s what art is.”

Once you start giving the human a smaller role in the art-creating equation, our definitions once again begin to break down. One thing to consider, however, is that technology is not only changing our definition of art; it is now also changing what it means to be human. As machines have become increasingly lifelike, humans in turn are incorporating more and more machinery into our biology. Cyborg culture is no longer a sphere reserved for science fiction. As Moos explains, even medical advances such as artificial organs and prosthetics challenge the idea that humans are autonomous. If our own bodies are no longer purely human, why, then, should we require art to be so? “We’re slowly getting to a point where the programs can compete with humans,” says Gervás.
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But while machines might be able to create the same kind of product as a human, their brand of creativity is still very much distinct from ours. McCormack suggests, “I think that certainly what’s currently possible is a long way from the kind of creative ability that you see in humans. There’s no computer program currently that can display even a modicum of the kind of creativity that we see in human beings.”

Part of that problem lies in scientists’ inability to hone in on what human creativity actually means. Moos explains, “The trouble with the creative process is that we know so little about how we do it. So it’s very difficult to evaluate it. It’s all kind of a mystery.”

Dasgupta suggests that a large part of creativity relies on processes at work in the unconscious state. Original ideas don’t come out of nowhere: we are influenced by past events, seemingly insignificant information, and things we aren’t even aware of. “My own work has been mostly on doing historical and field studies of creativity — that is, studying people in the real world, as they’re actually being creative. It’s astounding to see what kinds of situations arise that lead to creativity: their past histories, their cultural background, chance remarks passed by someone, chance observations of things. These kinds of issues, to my knowledge, are hardly ever replicated in laboratory studies.”

In fact, the notion of creativity itself is a relatively recent one. According to Gervás, “Creativity, as a word, as a concept, exists only from the nineteenth century or so. It’s not one of those things that you can trace back to the Greeks or Romans, because it’s quite a complex abstraction. There’s this idea that there is something in common between the process that people apply to reach goals in the arts, in music, in literature, in scientific discovery, in engineering, in design — which is what we call ‘creativity.’”

It seems that many of the roadblocks faced in creativity research come from attempting to define creativity itself. “You have to just recognise that all creative processes and creative products have characteristics that make them creative — but not necessarily always the same characteristics,” explains computer scientist Tony Veale. “It’s about trying to model something on a computer that people will agree is creative, without having to agree on what the definition of creativity is.”

Gervás continues, “At one stage, people realized that it’s not so important what creativity is — which is what had happened with artificial intelligence a long time ago. It’s not that common anymore to have people trying to define what intelligence is: nobody really knows. But people do build programs that everybody agrees are artificial intelligence.

“Computational creativity is reaching that stage now. Let’s not bother so much about what creativity is. Let’s just go and do it. Let’s get programs that can do things that, if people did them, we would consider them to be creative.”

According to Veale, computer science is the perfect discipline for studying creativity. “Because if you don’t have a definition, in most disciplines, you don’t know what you’re studying. But in computer science, you have the ability to build things. I mean, we still argue about definitions and concepts. But the main thrust these days is in building systems, and trying to agree or disagree why they show some form of creativity, or the seeds of creativity at the current stage at least.”

It’s unrealistic to think that machines will ever replace human artists, and that’s not what computational creativity is aiming for anyway. “I don’t think that a computer of any sort will ever be able to sing like Al Green,” says Mover. “And I think that still, no matter what happens in society, if you play a robot-record and an Al Green record, I think the majority of people statistically would choose to listen to the Al Green record for the rest of their life, if they had to choose.”

Instead, the value of creative machines will come from what they can do that humans can’t do on their own. We hope to go beyond the human.

“Let’s build something that can help a human artist do work,” proposes Gervás. “You need some kind of augmentation to be happening. You need the human artist to be able to produce something he wouldn’t have produced without it.”

Veale concludes, “Of course, that shows why computers will be useful. […] We want them to help us think in novel ways, and not just reinforce our thought patterns — we can do that for ourselves — but show us the possibilities that we didn’t recognise.

“What we really want is computers that will surprise us.”

Knot your grandmother’s knitting

Under the cover of darkness, they move quickly and covertly around the city. Donning hoodies and other stealthy garb, they pass from lamppost to park bench to chain-link fence, tagging as they go. In the morning, neighbourhoods awaken to fresh graffiti in their parks and around their storefronts.

But if you catch them in the act, you won’t hear the rattle of a spray paint can. Instead, it’s the clicking of knitting needles that gives these street artists away.

That’s right, an activity once relegated to your grandmother’s rocking chair has moved onto the streets. “Yarn bombing” has grown into a global movement of woolly intervention in the urban landscape, in which self-proclaimed “craftivisits” graffiti everything from parking meters to bridges with knitted legwarmers and crocheted cozies.

From Sydney to Stockholm, Paris to St. Petersburg, nowhere is safe from these crafty crews who leave their knit graffiti mark on everything from the Great Wall of China to the Golden Gate Bridge.

According to Leanne Prain, a Vancouver-based author and designer, the idea behind yarn bombing is simple: “It’s street art that’s made with yarn.”

Prain, who blogs about the renegade art form at, recently co-authored a book on the subject with fellow knitter Mandy Moore. Yarn Bombing: The Art of Crochet and Knit Graffiti, published in 2009 by Arsenal Pulp Press, is both a history of the bourgeoning movement and a do-it-yourself handbook for prospective practitioners, complete with patterns for knitting your own balaclava or picture frame.

The authors, who first met at a “Stitch n’ Bitch” gathering, trace the origins of yarn bombing to Houston, Texas, where a knitting collective known as “Knitta Please” first tagged a stop-sign pole in 2005. With an arsenal of unfinished knitting projects on hand, the small group led by Texan knitter Magda Sayeg — codenamed PolyCotN — began “bombing” drab and derelict public spaces all over the city with brightly-coloured textiles. The juxtaposition of whimsical wool against sterile steel and concrete was soon mimicked in urban centres across the United States and in Europe, all the while being documented in the blogosphere.

In fact, the spread of technology and knit graffiti go hand in hand, according to Prain. “It was around the time when people were first starting blogs,” she says of the movement’s infancy. “There were a lot of early craft blogs that started talking about knit graffiti.”
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Adopting monikers like Knit Happens, Micro-Fiber Militia, and WhoDunnKnit, tech-savvy knitting collectives made up primarily of twenty and thirty-something women — although Prain pegs male involvement at around five per cent — have since set up websites to share their temporary installations with the vast online D.I.Y. community.

“A lot of things come down within fifteen minutes, and you might have spent forty hours knitting it. That’s just part of it — you make it and you give it away. But there’s that need to document it,” Prain explains.

While the movement aims to be clandestine, the goal of knit graffiti does not necessarily have the same anarchic bent as its spray paint predecessor. Many yarn bombers are simply trying to purl and stitch their way towards urban beautification. According to Prain, “The main commonality is joy. There’s a whole bunch of different motivations for doing yarn bombing, but everybody does it because, I think, it makes them happy and they hope that it makes other people happy.”

But not everyone sees the knotty appendages as positive additions to the metropolitan backdrop. “It’s so painfully trendy,” railed one blogger in Australia in the run-up to a government-sponsored “bombing” in Sydney, calling it “a massive waste of time and human energy.”

For her part, Prain has heard critics complain that yarn bombers’ efforts would be better spent on charity efforts like knitting for the homeless. “Yarn graffiti serves the same important purpose as any other form of artistic self-expression,” Prain responded on her website, pointing out that other pastimes like sports and television are rarely critiqued as self-indulgent.

One yarn bombing installation in front of the Textile Museum of Canada in downtown Toronto last May came as a welcome surprise to museum staff. More than thirty submissions from crafters as far-flung as Oregon and the United Kingdom were donated for the event in the form of crocheted corsages, rainbow swatches, and even a knitted bike lock. The pieces were then assembled guerrilla-style in an effort to doll up the museum’s entrance on Centre Avenue.

“Some staff and volunteers had not heard of yarn bombing, but were very interested to find out about it and found it quite amusing,” says TMC Spokeswoman Alexandra Lopes. “Those of us who did know about it were, in a way, excited to be bombed.”

Although it was not involved in the event, Lopes says the museum shares a similar belief in celebrating textiles that are seen as authentic rather than mass-produced. “In some ways people look at the museum as a haven for genuine pieces,” Lopes says.

While she has not seen a huge increase in numbers amongst Toronto’s subversive knitting community, Lopes has noticed a growing zeal amongst its members. “In the past few years, certainly, the intensity and potency of the movement has increased,” she says.

In Canada, however, the West Coast remains the battleground for decidedly more political yarn bombing. In the run-up to the Vancouver Olympics, one artist known as KnitGirl displayed an altered version of the Olympics logo during a public art crawl in the city. Modifying the iconic rings to resemble knuckles, KnitGirl then stitched a middle finger in the centre of her piece.

“Now I anxiously await a $10,000 fine and/or months in prison,” KnitGirl posted on her blog after hanging the piece.

Whether intentional or not, knit graffiti falls neatly into the category of “Indie Craft,” a subversive and often politically-charged take on traditional handicraft. Here, handmade wares — be they ironic needlework, kitschy plush, or recycled jewelry — are as much a statement against hyper-consumerism and corporate culture as they are an expression of artistic individuality.

“You can’t reproduce handmade things because they’re always unique,” says Prain, who sees subversive crafts as an extension of a more sustainable way of living. “We’re at a point where everybody knows we can’t live on the planet the way we’ve been living, so we need to start doing alternate things. A lot of those are making things on your own.”

Prain points out that much of the current generation is flummoxed by seemingly simple skills; she herself didn’t pick up a pair of knitting needles until her mid-twenties. “So many of my peers don’t even know how to sew on a button.”

But forced to tighten their purse strings, many are returning to D.I.Y. as a classic way of saving money. Prain credits the popularity of yarn bombing in part to the recent economic downturn.

“People are really looking to do something that’s low-cost, that’s unique, that’s creative, and that’s fun because there have been a lot of bleak things happening in the world in the past couple of years,” she says. “Street art is accessible to everyone of every income level because it’s out there, anyone can do it.”

In fact, comedian Amy Sedaris — best known for her cult hit television series, Strangers with Candy — has showcased the appeal of handicraft in hard times with her just-released book, Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People. Part actual craft book, part tongue-in-cheek take on the Martha Stewarts of the world, Sedaris’ offering comes complete with chapters such as “Crafting for Jesus,” “Unreturnable Gift Giving,” and “The Joy of Poverty.”

In the book’s opening pages, Sedaris tells readers “virtually anyone without a job and access to pipe cleaners can join the elite society of crafters.” Although Simple Times is littered with irony — “fornicrafting” is just one case in point — Sedaris does seem to genuinely appreciate the arts and crafts movement, and declares that her book is “not here to judge, it is about the joy of crafting!”

If nothing else, Simple Times, like yarn bombing, speaks to an effort to recast traditionally docile and domestic activities as modern and empowering. A generation of women — and a growing contingent of men — are taking up their knitting needles, sewing pins, and paintbrushes as an act that is both feminist and countercultural. With twenty-first century arts and crafts, the medium is very much part of the message.

“We’ve come back to a place where we’ve reclaimed [it], where we’re knitting because we want to,” says Prain, who describes her own mother as a hardcore feminist who refused to knit in the 1970s.

“Handicrafts can be shunned and put down by people who don’t do them and haven’t experienced them,” she muses. “But I think there’s a lot of people — not just yarn bombers, but people using other materials — that are realizing that public art can be a really positive thing.”

Consider the comic book

When I tell people that I’m into comic books, they look at me funny. They seem to think I sit alone in a dank, dusty basement, clutching a copy of Superman: Doomsday in one virginal hand while I stroke my pocket protector with the other. I can personally attest to the fact that I have never been in such a situation. I’m terribly allergic to dust and my pocket protector has been missing for some time. In all seriousness, I usually respond to those who would lambaste my chosen form of entertainment by saying that I consider the comic book to be a modern form of art.

This usually gets me another look. The comic book is a form of art that not only grows with society, but reflects its values. Looking back on the history of mainstream comics, you can see the issues of each day and age being tackled just as society begins to tackle the issues itself. In 1971, DC Comics, the home of superheroes such as Batman and Superman, published a Green Arrow comic book story arc that addressed the issues of youth and drugs called “Snowbirds Don’t Fly.” In the arc, it is revealed that Green Arrow’s sidekick, Speedy, is actually a heroin addict. This sparked an era of socially relevant comic stories that opened the DC world — and arguably the world of fellow heavy-hitter Marvel — to many other “issues” concerning marginalized groups, such as homosexual characters. It could be argued that this age climaxed in 2004 when Mia Dearden, the second Speedy, revealed herself to be HIV-positive and was subsequently accepted by her friends, the Teen Titans, who treated her no differently.

Nowadays, most comic book fans can easily name multiple homosexual characters: Batwoman, Northstar, The Pied Piper. There are sixty-five gay characters in DC Comics, several in Marvel, and one is set to be introduced into Archie Comics. This is because the comic book is not just a form of entertainment for the nerds many people suppose its fans to be, but because it is a reflection of society. The comic book is a depiction of what we want to read with plots that are relevant and microcosmic to the world at large.
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Self-portrait by Ken Wheaton

I can claim that comic books are relevant, but how does that make them works of art? For this question, I had to consult with some people who truly know what they’re talking about: Toronto-based writer and founder of Rise Comics, James Cooper; The Simpsons and Popeye comic book artist Ken Wheaton; and Batman Adventures, The Simpsons and Stig’s Inferno writer and artist Ty Templeton.

Comics are “the most basic human art form on the planet,” according to Templeton, citing ancient cave paintings as evidence. Fifteen thousand years ago, people painted stick figures fashioning weapons on one side of a cave, and as you walked along the cave, you could see the whole story of hunting and cooking an animal play out. These are, as Templeton puts it, the first comics. He also believes comics to be a universal language. For instance, when you go to an international airport, all the directions are done in the style of pictures.

“People say music is the international language,” he says. “But a comic book can tell you how to put a model airplane together.” He also notes that ancient languages such as cuneiform and hieroglyphs are all thoughts in the form of images. The pictures became words, which became language. Our own English language is based on images: the letter “A,” for example, is an upside-down ox’s head. The idea of picture following picture is the basis of the way our brains created language, so how can a comic book be seen as anything less than art?

When asked if “art” was too pretentious a word to relate to comics, Wheaton explains “We can’t just think about art as drawing a picture or putting paint on a canvas. Art needs to be seen as an expression of creativity, and comics doubly so, since it’s a collaborative marriage of story and sequential pictures.”

Indeed, when so many people today consider art to be something that is hung in a gallery, the idea of the comic as an art form can seem ridiculous. But as Templeton argues, “There’s art to be found in a well-made chair. Art is whatever people do to express themselves.”

Cooper dismisses the idea of pretension entirely. “What’s pretentious is a few splotches of paint on a canvas being considered art.” Cooper explains that most mainstream comics are not considered art on the grounds that they feature well-known superheroes. It is by no means negative, in my mind, to associate comic books with superheroes, but it is a shame that people don’t see how many beautifully illustrated comics there are.
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Portrait of James Cooper by Minhee Bae

The evolution of comics, in Templeton’s eyes, is the evolution of society. In the ’70s, there were comics about cocaine; in the ’90s, indulgence was a common theme. Currently, a popular theme is freedom for the people.

“Like any art form, it goes through trends depending on the zeitgeist of society around it,” says Templeton, who cites the Internet revolution as making it possible for everyone to release a comic. Following September 11, the comic book industry created “The 9/11 Project,” which sought to put out 9/11 related comic books. The heroes became policemen and soldiers and it became “crass” to write for Spider-Man as people wondered whether he was the true hero.

Wheaton highlights another important use of comics throughout history: propaganda. Many comics produced during World War II were pure propaganda for the war effort. What better form of escapism to influence the youth than watching Captain America pummel Nazis?

“I think mainstream comics came into their own in the late ’60s, when they presented flawed, less idealised protagonists, used challenging vocabulary, and addressed social mores of the time,” says Wheaton. “All of a sudden, comics were being read at colleges and universities. They started to deal with issues like politics, race relations, and drug use, and didn’t talk down to the readership.”

As Cooper argues, “Just as any medium, comics need to evolve with the audience. This means dealing with tough subject matter in a way that doesn’t alienate the audience.”

There is a lot of concern that the comic book as we know it will soon be dead, as kids are picking up comic books less than they used to and new readerships are not being engaged. Cooper agrees that if kids stopped picking up comics, soon there would be no one left to support the industry, but he doesn’t think that will ever happen. “Cartoons, TV shows, and blockbuster films featuring comic characters come out en masse,” says Cooper. The popularity these characters are seeing in other mediums makes it more likely for new audiences to seek out the source material.”

I agree completely. Nothing makes me want to buy Green Lantern comics more than the thought of Ryan Reynold’s rippling abs in the upcoming film.

Templeton reacts to the notion of the comic book dying with gales of laughter. “Movies didn’t go away because of TV; TV didn’t go away because of Youtube. Entertainment is recession-proof. The idea that no one is buying comics is ridiculous,” says Templeton.
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Self-portrait by Ty Templeton

All three of the interviewees agree that comic books are a modern art form. Templeton says that “We are the universal art form… grown with every generation,” while Wheaton calls comics “legitimate literature” and cites their mainstream acceptance as forms of expression. Cooper notes that “if comics hadn’t grown with society, the industry would be dead.”

It’s true: any thriving social organism must be able to adapt to an ever-changing landscape. The marriage of words and pictures is as old and timeless as the cave images Templeton described. The comic will always exist, in one form or another.

When asked what they would say to someone who dismisses comics as nerdy or childish, Templeton puts it best: “You’re missing out, you poor bastard.”

Is this art?

Features Editor Sean Mackay is holding a reusable black grocery bag. So far, it contains a couple of empty cigarette packages and an empty coffee cup. Associate Arts Editor, Ariel Lewis, picks up a crumpled newspaper that has been frozen into a snow pile and waves it at Sean. He declines the offering. The ice would melt, we muse, and we can pick it up on the way back to The Varsity office.

It’s Sunday, January 23, one of the coldest days of the winter thus far. Bundled up, and unable to discuss anything beyond the weather for long, seven Varsity staff members and friends engage in an experiment. I’ve pulled everyone out of their hung-over stupor on this Sunday afternoon because I want to know if in an afternoon of prowling the streets for interesting bits of litter, we can become artists.

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Yes, But Who Is Victor? by Emily Kellogg

Found art is defined as an artifact that was originally produced without artistic intent, which has been proclaimed as art. These objects can be anything. The concept of ‘found art’ was introduced to the artistic canon in 1917 when Marcel Duchamp submitted the piece Fountain anonymously to a major exhibition. The piece was simply a urinal, turned ninety degrees and signed ‘R. Mutt.’ Unsurprisingly, the piece was rejected from the exhibition.

In 2004, five hundred British art professors named Fountain the most influential piece of the twentieth Century.

The concept of found art is absurd and seemingly arbitrary. Are the pieces of garbage we’re grabbing from the streets art? The answer would seem to be yes — so long as we call it art. For proponents of the artistic form, the absurdity of it all is inherent to the art itself. The idea is that found art draws attention to the definition of art. When creating found art, mastery or skill is no longer important. Instead, the simple act of presenting these objects as art is enough to transform a discarded coffee cup into something worthy of being photographed and printed in the pages of The Varsity.
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Tabla Mandala by Simon Frank

The faces of minor celebrities stare at us through tabloid newspapers. Who are they? What are they famous for? Who knows? Who cares? Through repetition the absurdity is heightened.

We continue down Bloor Street. We probably look like an odd cross between environmentalist city-cleaners and treasure hunters. I’ve instructed the rest of the group to pick up empty cigarette packages wherever they see them — I don’t have an art piece in mind, but I can’t help but notice that the empty packaging is everywhere. We all get strangely excited when we find a piece of interesting litter and crowd around it in impromptu moments of show-and-tell.

We stop in front of The Brunswick House and pick up a half-empty box of cake, an empty can of RedBull and a McDonald’s cup with a cigarette butt frozen into left-over Coca-Cola. It all goes into Sean’s black bag.
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Things Found In Front of The Brunswick House by Sophia Costomiris

Taxi. 3am. January. Three guys drunk, shit man. Must they beat the cold of the past until a cocktail whispers: Gee, sex can have feeling. She was pushed from hope. Sex each other. Chest out. Skirt him. Melted me. Spilled being.

It’s easy to make fun of found art. It epitomizes of one of the most frustrating aspects of contemporary art, which I like to call the “But, I could do that!!!” phenomenon. It’s that moment when you see a canvas with one black dot hanging on the wall of the AGO, give it a bewildered and derisive look, and murmur to yourself that you could have created that piece. If you had, you could have sold it at an auction for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and maybe then you wouldn’t be in so much debt from student loans.
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Keep “Christ” in Christmas//Collaborative

A comment on the absurdity of the ‘Christmas’ purists.

So does that mean that all of us are artists and that everything is art? Worse still — does it mean that everything considered ‘high’ art is an arbitrarily valued commodity that ultimately means nothing more than the random assortment of objects you interact with on a daily basis?

We head back to the office with a bag full of flyers, old coffee cups, free magazines, a brick, a pine cone, a headband, bits of paper, a tray, an empty bottle of tea, knives, out-dated posters, frozen sodas, sugar packages, a piece of plywood, and religious pamphlets. It all used to be garbage. Now, it’s art.
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Intelligista Hysteria by Brigit Katz

It’s post-modern.

When you are forced to go into a non-artistic space, using non-artful objects and create art — you start looking at things a little bit differently. Trash is still trash. (Trash will always be trash.) But the trash you put into that black bag is going to have to turn into art in one way or another. So yes, trash is still trash — but it’s also a kind of potential. You start looking at everything just a little bit differently, and while it might just be a matter of noticing these little discarded objects on the street for the first time, I think it just might be more than that. I think the seven of us might have had a kind of collective artistic experience.

So no, I’m not going to make the claim that any one of us created great art on Sunday afternoon. But still, I’m going to say that we did make art, and that makes all seven of us artists. And somehow, I don’t predict that a bunch of learned British old guys are going to name me the most influential artist of our age for my pyramid of empty cigarette packages.
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Passive-Aggressive Roommates by Will Sloan

Two roommates who slept together once six months ago, but haven’t spoken about it.

That saying floating around, “In the future, everyone will be an artist”, well, I think it’s true. I just think that an appendix should be added. “And in that future, not everyone will be a good artist.”

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Class of 2011 by Sean MacKay

The seemingly neverending cycle of cramming and caffeine represented through the circular shape of the coffee cup.