Monthly Archives: May 2015

Undergrad Adventures: European Romanesque through Baroque Art

Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus" is one of my favorite paintings, and I was so glad it popped up in this class.

Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” is one of my favorite paintings, and I was so glad it popped up in this class.

I needed some extra units this quarter, so I decided to pick up an art history class. I definitely count art and art history as hobbies: I love going to museums, reading books about art and incorporating art into my daily life.

This particular class covers Western art history from the European romanesque (early medieval) era to the baroque. This also includes the Renaissance, which honestly deserves an entire class. While I’m a little sick of the lecture-group work-exam class structure (My senioritis has just kicked in), I have enjoyed this class more than I thought I would.

Everyone should take an elective they really love.

You love United States history? Take a class in it. You want to know how to code? Sign up for a workshop. Beyond the knowledge I gained about the subject material, this class taught me that taking electives you want to take is really a form of self-care and makes you a well-rounded person. I love literature classes, but this class was a great diversion from my normal and further fused my hobby with my everyday schedule. I really wish I would have taken more art history classes earlier on in my college career so I would have gotten the full deal.

Romanesque through Baroque art is still not my thing, but I feel more comfortable discussing it. 

Talking about art from the Impressionists onwards is my jam. So as you can imagine, I walked into this class feeling a little bit uncomfortable. From the eighth century to the 15th century in Europe, all of the art was religious, which is something I don’t have much experience with. The fact that 99.9 percent of this art had some religious context makes sense, though. The only people/groups who had money to spend on commissioning art were the religious figures/churches. If they weren’t inspired by Greco-Roman statuary, these artists were borrowing the Byzantine style, and modernism was just a twinkle in the sky.

Nine weeks into the class, however, I feel more comfortable talking about the art from this time period and the cultural significance of these pieces. I can now explain to you what a polyptych is, and tell you all about both Donatello and Michelangelo’s David. I’m glad that I can add all of this information to my breadth of art history knowledge, and that if anyone ever asked me about the Mérode altarpiece or the different parts of a pilgrimage cathedral, I could totally carry on a conversation.

The idea that art is truly everywhere seems to have originated in this time period.

One of the best things I’ve learned in this class is that art is really everywhere. The Europeans crammed sculpture and paintings into just about every corner of the cathedrals they built, from the windows to the door jambs. Their idea (well, those who believed that decorating churches made them even holier and showed incredible devotion) was that everyone, including the illiterate, needed to have the fear God instilled in them. Because so many people could not read, the best way to do that beyond a sermon was making it incredibly visual. There are some insane tympana that probably scared everyone who crossed through the church.

I have to say, I’m really glad they did that. I think that attention to detail and deliberate move to put art where everyone could see it has direct implications for the architecture that follows it. The trend in architecture right now is insanely minimalist, but when I was in downtown Los Angeles last week, I could even see the care taken to add details to the architecture of some of the early 20th century buildings. It just makes me happy that it all exists.

But multiple choice tests continue to suck. 

Granted, I am sort of glad that the exams for this class are multiple choice. Sometimes it’s easier to pick out the right answer from a list of wrong ones instead of trying to pull it from my head. And it is really difficult to retain all of the information, from the name of the artist (so many Italians) to what the pieces are made out of. But 75 percent of the questions on the test ask those kinds of questions. Who is the artist? Who commissioned this piece? Where was it displayed? What is this color/item/person in the painting supposed to represent? What is this architectural detail called?

While I find knowing all of that information important, especially if you’re going to be an art historian, regurgitating it to mark A, B, C or D doesn’t do much to help me retain the art’s cultural significance. There is an essay portion of the exam that approaches this idea of explaining why the pieces are important to talk about, and I’ve rocked it both times. A good art history class would have a lecture component, but also a component where we discuss the pieces and what we think about them. Tl;dr Death to multiple choice tests.

Do you like art history, or have something to say about an elective you really enjoyed? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

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Link Party: 5/18-5/22

Downtown L.A., y'all.

Downtown L.A., y’all.

Here’s what I read this week:

1. My favorite Mad Men series finale review.

2. Instagram is turning us all into sociopaths.

3. An inside look at Thought Catalog, which is a lot more terrible than I originally had thought or anticipated.

4. I gotta say, this article about online journalism is #duh.

5. I fully agree that there should be trigger warning on some things, but when you start slapping them all over classic literature you run into Problems.

And a bonus: Why Americans love road trips, courtesy of the wonderful PBS Idea Channel.

Have a great weekend!

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Culture Connoisseur: The Last Bookstore

When you’re a literature student, you get to be quite the purveyor of used books. I think my fellow English majors who read this blog can attest that while new books from Barnes and Noble or Amazon are awesome and beautiful, used copies are preferable. They’re already loved, and now they’re in your arms for much less money than a Barnes and Noble price. If you order a used novel for a class and it comes in the mail in the right edition with no weird smell, you’re golden.

My favorite place in Los Angeles to buy used books is The Last Bookstore, hands down. Located on Spring Street in downtown L.A., The Last Bookstore has copies of just about every book you can think of or would want, new and used.  Both times I’ve gone to The Last Bookstore I’ve gone with my English honor society, Sigma Tau Delta. We like going because it’s a fun place to buy books while bonding over our love of literature.

Spring Street is as New York as Los Angeles gets. I wish The Last Bookstore was closer to me, but it’s probably for the best as a) I’d have no room for things besides books and b) I’d be broke.

 

I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel at home in a Barnes and Noble — the lighting / ambiance is horrible, and even the wood the furniture and shelves are made out of bothers me. It all seems entirely capitalistic, in that they’re really not interested in you getting the books you really want beyond you buying them from their store. While I know I’m paying money for these books, I want the experience to be personal.

That’s why The Last Bookstore is different. It’s comfortable and relaxing, which really makes for the best browsing and buying experience. It’s entirely conducive to mellow browsing. The sounds of Spring Street make for perfect background noise, and there’s plenty of room for both the customers to walk around and the books to breathe. The customer service is fantastic too — I had two or three come up to me on Saturday and gently ask me if I was finding everything okay, which I really appreciate. The space itself is really beautiful. They also have some really interesting art installations with books, from book windows to interesting wall art.

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I took this photo from the second story balcony. As you can see, there’s so many wonderful books to choose from, and lots of space. That’s another thing I don’t like about B&N — sometimes I feel cramped.

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An example of a book window.

Upstairs is what the store calls the Labyrinth. When you go through the tunnel…

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A tunnel of books!

…you end up in a room of endless bookshelves. Some of it is color organized, which makes for great photos. All of the books in the Labyrinth are $1, which is entirely justifiable. Most of the books in the Labyrinth are very old copies of books that have obsolete information or very obscure novels, which probably means they haven’t sold well downstairs. It’s the room in the store where books go to languish, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are books that have been there since the bookstore’s founding in 2005. There’s something oddly comforting about it though, knowing that all of the books no one reads anymore still have a place.

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Isn’t this the most soothing photo?

In terms of prices for the used books, they’re comparable to what you would pay for a used book on Amazon. I got four books on Saturday — the complete Flannery O’Connor collection, Don DeLillo’s Underworld, David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men and a really awesome 1960s copy of selections from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass — for about $30. The new books are slightly less expensive than MSRP.

My very satisfying haul.

My very satisfying haul.

While it’s pretty far away from me to frequent often, I have thoroughly enjoyed my experiences at The Last Bookstore. I really do hope it sticks around for a long, long time.

Do you have a used bookstore you like to frequent, or know another one in L.A.? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

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Capstone Adventures: Convocation

Here I am with my beautiful poster and beautiful box of pamphlets. Good times.

Here I am with my beautiful poster and beautiful box of pamphlets. Good times.

You guys, I graduated from the Kellogg Honors College on Friday! My capstone project is finished!

Well, that’s not entirely true. I need to send one last essay out to a publication, but I’ll tell you about that later. Tonight I wanted to talk about the experience I’ve been working towards for an entire year. To graduate with honors, you have to complete a senior research project and present it at this poster conference. For the uninitiated, I did my project on postmodernism and the high/low culture divide. In a nutshell, I applied postmodern theory to examples of pop culture and made some connections.

The conference and the graduation ceremony is called Convocation, and it’s really fun — I’ve been going since I was a sophomore, and everyone’s happy to share their findings. Of course, I’ve learned tons through this project, but for this post I’m going to zero in on Convocation.

It’s actually really emotional. 

I came into KHC as a freshman, and have been consistently and actively involved in the organization. I was only 17 years old when they explained to me that I needed to complete a senior project, and at the time I remember wondering what in the world I was going to research. I didn’t even know postmodernism was a thing yet. I am so so so glad that I had the opportunity to do undergraduate research. I got even deeper into American studies and realized that my journalistic passion is writing about art and culture. In some ways, it inspired this blog.

In the past four years, I’ve taken eight honors courses, participated in six civic engagement opportunities, had three KHC Club officer positions, volunteered in three Showcases of Excellence and spent countless hours in the honors commons having memorable conversations about life and academia. It has become a more significant part of my life than I had ever really realized. I have met some of the most wonderful students, faculty and staff through the program, and for that I am eternally grateful. The honors college gave me a sense of community when I didn’t know very many people on campus, and made me feel like there was always a place for me and support if I needed it.

All that being said, you can imagine that it was a very emotional experience to have it all come to a close. Walking across the stage with my KHC sash and my pin, it hit me that I was done. It’s weird to think that it was only a four-year program and that it’s not going to be part of my life anymore. I wouldn’t be where I am now without the honors college.

I had copies of my SCCUR presentation and all three papers hanging below the poster, with the box of pamphlets on the chair. I am very proud of myself.

I had copies of my SCCUR presentation and all three papers hanging below the poster, with the box of pamphlets on the chair. I am very proud of myself.

The poster is as intensive as the actual project itself.

I made four drafts of my poster before settling on the final one, and I am so glad my wonderful capstone professor (if you happen by some chance to be reading this, Hi Dr. DeRosa) pushed me to do my very best. It’s very newspaper inspired, and I think I had the best balance of text, image and design elements. I’m not even going to skirt around it — I really think I had one of the best posters. It was aesthetically pleasing and easy to read, without being bogged down by dense theory (which I had a lot of) or abstract language. I moved most of my text to a pamphlet I made that people could take with them.

To be quite and totally honest, this is the crown jewel of the Zoë Pantheon.

To be quite and totally honest, this is the crown jewel of the Zoë Pantheon.

I also had fantastic layout and font advice, and of course, my best friend Paige was a crucial consultant. I was also so glad to show up on Friday and find that my poster was clear and crisp — I was very concerned that the photos weren’t high quality enough. I also took extra time on the title headings that ended up being a great idea. I wanted that particular font that isn’t a standard Microsoft font, so I took the time to convert them into images. Totally and 100 percent worth it. I think it’s what makes the poster.

In retrospect, I only would have made a few changes to my poster. I would have had a better definition for the simulacra (explaining that was incredibly difficult) and I would have given a little bit more room to Kanye West and John Green. I was so concerned with having a good balance of blank space and content, and I think I could have gone a little further.

The experience of presenting was incredibly gratifying.

I’ve been working on this project for a year, and it was wonderful to be able to explain to people what my project was about and have them actually understand it. Postmodernism is not an easy thing to understand — hell, I don’t understand it myself most of the time. But many people thought that what I was doing was really cool cool cool, and that in itself was entirely worth it. I loved that I was able to share my discipline with people from all academic and professional backgrounds. Plus, I was the only student who got a hug from University President Soraya Coley (I gotta say, we’re pretty tight), so all in all, it was something I’ll never forget.

In case you’re interested in reading my papers or reading my poster and pamphlet up close, I’ve uploaded the entire project to Dropbox.

You can read my Kanye West paper here.
You can read my Fault in the Stars fanfiction paper here.
You can read my Community paper here.
You can view my poster here.
You can view my pamphlet here.

And here I am with my sash and pin. The end of an era. Photo cred Paige.

And here I am with my sash and pin. The end of an era. Photo cred Paige.

Have questions for me or want to share your undergrad research adventures? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

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Link Party: 5/11-5/15

Your periodical reminder that Zoe loves plants. She knows nothing about gardening or botany, but she loves plants nonetheless.

Your periodical reminder that Zoe loves plants. She knows nothing about gardening or botany, but she loves plants nonetheless.

A few exciting things happened this week, which I’m really excited to tell you all about soon. In the meantime, here’s what I read this week:

1. Alex Herns gets a lot of emails that aren’t meant for him.

2. Will art save the future generations from radioactive waste? 

3. This writer took her mom to a very expensive restaurant and had a wonderful time. I had a wonderful time reading the account.

4. What it was like to visit Yves Saint Laurent’s studio.

5. Moss is very very very important.

And a bonus: A very good single from Albert Hammond Jr.

Have a wonderful weekend!

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Undergrad Adventures: Black Literature in the U.S.

I gave a presentation on this Basquiat painting in ENG 205 yesterday, and easily could have talked for hours about it. This painting is called "Untitled (History of Black People)," and it's Basquiat's reclamation of the Egyptians as black.

I gave a presentation on this Basquiat painting in ENG 205 yesterday, and easily could have talked for hours about it. This painting is called “Untitled (History of Black People),” and it’s Basquiat’s reclamation of the Egyptians as black.

I originally signed up for ENG 205, Black Literature in the U.S., for two reasons. One: I needed some extra units. Two: It’s with my capstone professor, so I was already familiar with how rigorous the class was going to be and what was to be expected. Seven weeks into the class, I can say that I had no idea that this class was going to be so incredibly important for developing my understanding of contemporary race issues in the United States, as well as my understanding of other people’s understandings of literature.

The class dynamic is very different, to say the least.

I walked into this with very limited reading under my belt — Two of the examples I can think of right now are Zora Neale Hurston and Toni Morrison. Not only am I one of the oldest students by standing in the class (shoutout to Eric for also sticking through it), but I am also one of a handful of white people, which I can honestly say is refreshing. I don’t think it would be as good of a class if it was predominantly white, which I’ll get to in a moment. The last things you need to know are that it is classified as a general education course, and the subtitle of this class is A Literary History of Ferguson, Missouri.

The range of disciplines and racial diversity that make up the student body of this class makes for a really interesting dynamic that makes for a greater takeaway. There are quite a few students who are involved with the African American Student Center, and I can’t seem to tell who is actually an English major. There have been a few moments where I’ve been really frustrated about the direction of the conversation (The ratio of discussion of social issues to text is 60-40, and it’s difficult to return to the books we’ve read once we’ve gone off in the other direction / sometimes social justice opinions cloud the discussion, and the texts are what I’m really most interested in) it has made for incredible discussion. Before taking this class, I had no real idea of just how pervasive implicit racism is. Although I will never be able to understand what that feels like, I appreciate the perspective it has given me. I am also very lucky that I go to a university that prides itself on diversity and allows for this kind of class to be a part of the curriculum. I’ve wanted to tear my hair out when people have used their 2015 lenses to look at 1898 or 1970s issues, but thinking about why they analyze it in that way is also a learning opportunity for me about how other people experience literature.

The resilience of the African American community after so many years of injustices and inequality should be the more important American narrative. 

Part of the class has involved a presentation from each student, highlighting examples of black resistance and resilience. I’ve enjoyed this part of the class too — it’s been cool to see what people have come up with. Yesterday, one student talked about how disco, a genre pioneered by Chic, resonates throughout today’s music. Other students have talked about the Tuskegee airmen, The Brownies’ Book and Maya Angelou. In a class that is steeped in the literary history of Ferguson, it’s wonderful to hear about really positive movements in light of some really shitty setbacks. I wish that more of these people and movements were recognized on a wider scale, and it sucks that the history we all learn about in high school (and even college) is so whitewashed.

The reading list has been A++++.

We started out with Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric, which has to be one of the most important books I’ve ever read. Citizen brings attention to the forms of implicit racism that people of color experience every day at every moment, and I’ve never experienced a book like that before. We were also really lucky to have her come to campus to read her poetry and answer questions. She is a national treasure.

We’ve also read Charles Chesnutt’s Marrow of Tradition, and just finished James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk. I had read Baldwin’s novel exactly a year ago for another class, but wasn’t particularly moved by it at the time. Knowing what I know now, however, has made it a more fruitful read. Up next is Colson Whitehead’s Zone One, which I’m also excited to delve into.

I am grateful for the further education on social issues.

I like to think that I keep on top of current events, but this class has shown me that there is a lot of injustice and inequality that just isn’t covered in big media. Granted, I tried to follow the Michael Brown and Ferguson protests as they happened, but I was truly ignorant of a bigger cultural conversation on police brutality and mass incarceration. This class has also coincided with a big historical movement, which has made me pay more attention to it and the voices coming out of it.

The first few weeks of this class centered on a more contemporary conversation about race, and I left most days feeling incredibly depleted and emotionally drained — but it has definitely been worth it. I am much more aware of the language I use to describe situations (for example, riots v. protests). And I am more aware of my white privilege than a lot of other white people (as aware as I can possibly be to still have privilege), and this class has moved me towards understanding in what ways it works.

Have you ever taken a class like this? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

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Link Party: 5/4-5/8

I took this photo on the way home from school one day. I love that W.K.Kellogg hid his house in what is basically a jungle, which fulfills all of my childhood fantasies.

I took this photo on the way home from school one day. I love that W.K.Kellogg hid his house in what is basically a jungle, which fulfills all of my childhood fantasies.

I’m very, very sorry that I’ve been MIA this week. I have to tell you, it’s been a rough quarter in terms of scheduling: I don’t get home most weeknights until 6:30 or 7 p.m., and by then my brain is mush. But I have a lot of ideas for posts next week, and things will be back to normal!

Here’s what I read this week:

1. This conversation with Anna Wintour makes me feel really good about my goals.

2. This Kris Jenner interview is really interesting in the context of that the Kardashians are a cultural black hole.

3. Bobby Shmurda’s explanation of his lyrics is actually quite insightful.

4. I’ve never been a fan of Jezebel and its content, but this article on the maxi dress has been circulating and you should read it. (And then tell me what you think.)

5. Do you know who invented the piano?

And a bonus: This .gif of Peggy Olsen walking into the McCann Erickson offices is everything to me.

Have a wonderful weekend!

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