A friend of mine once joked that he often expects a pop-up widow to appear on his iMac desktop informing him that his desktop is cluttered and unaesthetic: Would you like to aestheticize your desktop? Aestheticize. Don’t Aestheticize. Cancel.

While working with iWeb (the program, I’m embarrassed to admit, that currently holds my web site) over the past year something has caught my attention that I’ve frequently mulled over. Apple has always marketed itself as a provider of creative ease— a manufacturer of tools devoted to the advancement of individual expression. With the current versions of Mac OS Apple has reached a pinnacle of marketing to the ego: iWeb provides a concrete example of this. Nearly every page of every template contains the word “Me” or “My.” A pronoun and a possessive adjective. Individuality and the ownership of that individuality. My photos. My favorite songs. My trip. Me.

But does the Mac, or any computer for that matter, truly foster more personal creativity among the masses or simply promise a potential audience? Is it the inspired act or the hope for attention that fuels the digital revolution?

I’ve been trying to formulate a theory about passive creativity in the digital ear ever since computers became a fixture of my daily life. That theory is, in part, powered by a Mac.


The Cartographer

Consider this situation.

There is a cartographer with the power to obliterate places from the physical world by erasing them from a map of Earth in his possession.* Topography dismissed from the world becomes a blank nothingness; a flat wasteland of paper-white with remnants of natural color and form where the eraser failed to fully eradicate existence.

When asked to consider this by one of my students I affirmed that it was an intriguing image but I wasn’t quite sure whether I was only to focus my imagining on seeing this situation, or remedying it. As a teacher you often try to suss out what the real question being asked might be.

Could I consider such a situation. Yes. Would I, or could I, do anything about it? No. I don’t pit myself against divinity: real or imagined.

*Note that I immediately associate an all-powerful figure with masculinity. The subconscious force of a Christian upbringing is very strong. . .


Richard Deacon at PAM

Internationally lauded sculptor Richard Deacon spoke at the Portland Art Museum last night and watching the admittedly brilliant artist struggle through his lecture (given at the behest of the museum, who just purchased a major work by Deacon) seemed to pain all but the overly-perfumed elderly art patrons who sat behind me and gasped at the genius of every image to appear on the screen.

Deacon was clearly an uncomfortable speaker; primarily reserving his eye contact and explanatory gestures for the laptop before him rather than his audience. Evidence of his thought process was primarily gleaned from the chronological narrative that slowly played out on screen.

His formative years (early 1980’s) were given a considerable amount of time as he attempted to express how simple construction materials like galvanized steel, linoleum, and wood eventually were brought together in an open exploration process that resulted in a sculptural architecture of constructive technique. The resulting pieces were both inviting and exclusionary depending on the viewer’s vantage point. At one point Deacon also tried to express how the exposed hardware and joinery created “a sort of anxiety” among the viewer who were being made privy to the structural underpinnings of the artistic work. This is still a common theme among artists of many disciplines as they continue to react to the public perception that artists are material alchemists; capable of skills that the viewer will never understand or possess.

These early years, where much of Deacon’s artistic thinking was freshest if not always aesthetically appealing (forays into flimsy narrative yielded pieces such as If the Shoe Fits which lack all the refined grace that his process-oriented works demonstrate) slowly gave way to a mixed bag of large scale exhibitions which seemed more about meeting the demands of a rising market for work than refining thematic ideas planted at the outset of his career.

Nevertheless, a topological exploration of form took root in the 90’s as Deacon grew fatigued with rectilinear construction. As the geometry of his sculptures began to embrace complex curves and three dimensional twists of materials like wood and plastic an awe inspiring aesthetic of contorted form took hold. What Could Make Me Feel This Way seems to slip and wrap around itself: from one angle seeming almost intestinal despite being fabricated almost entirely out of bent wood slats. In this case the narrative is more open-ended, and thereby more successful— the title following the form rather than vice versa.

Throughout Deacon’s presentation I found myself alternately awed and dismayed at works he chose to display. His decisions for the Venice Biennale in 2007 seemed remarkably incisive, while gallery works of monolithic monochrome ceramic work seemed a bungled reaction to visual memes in globalized consumer culture. As an artist I am somewhat aware that I may not be able to differentiate which of my works are more successful, but I also grant that the failures help inform and spur on the greater successes. Such is obviously the case with Deacon, and perhaps my surprise was that I couldn’t be certain if he actually viewed the weaker work as successful or just maquettes for the breakthroughs that have earned him his standing in the art world.



I’ve often been told that Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood is a masterpiece of craftsmanship. In fact, this was a common conversation thread throughout my years at Portland’s one and only craft college. It would begin with my telling a stranger I was getting a degree in craft.

There would be silence.

Then there could be a range of clunky questions seeking clarification, or there would be the question about Timberline.

“No.” I’d say, “I have not visited Timberline. Yet.”
And that would inadvertently derail that conversation.

After being an Oregonian for over a decade I finally wandered through Timberline Lodge. It contains many remarkable evidences of hand work; with the wrought iron hardware and massive hewn beams being the standouts. Over one doorway I spied a butterfly tenon larger than both my fists put together. Carved rams support chunky oak slab table tops and telephone pole beams are cut short and topped with friendly carved animals. A handmade cohesiveness provides harmony as well as quirky surprises on each floor of the lodge. In one side hallway I came across a simple wooden bench with protruding iron handles on one side and a single heavy metal wheel on the other so that the bench could be wheeled about if a new location was desired. I could not find another one. This singular bench made me wonder when we might again build buildings that would be erected to not just serve a function to the public but would also honor the ingenuity of a hand laborer.

As I see it, Timberline’s crafted beauty isn’t nearly as important as the sentiment that wrought it. In the bleakest of times for America a president saw fit to think outside of advisors, analysts, and political tradition to empower the impoverished. Among the hundreds of people working to fashion Timberline there were many who discovered previously hidden talents and were awarded not just a check, but with the feeling that their labor mattered. Simply stated, the New Deal valued its citizenry and unlocked their potential.

Critics of FDR’s plan proselytized the end of capitalism with the advent of the New Deal but I think of it as a very heart felt attempt to counteract an international crisis of economy and the subsequent feelings of worthlessness that it engendered.

Ultimately, government should not be just a gnarled web of mandates and bureaucracy; it should inspire and support the dreams of its populace. As a democratic population we should not allow our government to operate solely as a short-sided arm of disaster relief for the victims of its own inefficiency. FDR was not the primary culprit of a national economic downturn and many of his solutions to it live on today— can we have much faith that our current president will leave us with a similar legacy?

*Feeling it imprudent to take a camera on the slopes I turned to Flickr for an image. Fellow photographer Sherri Jackson graciously provided the picture above. It manages to capture not just the fantastic scale of the woodwork and masonry, but also reveals a bit of the impeccably considered lighting that exists throughout the lodge. Much thanks to Sherri.