In my previous post on the complicated subject matter of envy, I discussed that despite the negativity that envy brings, there is a positive side of envy that inspires us to improve ourselves. There is a meaningful purpose behind envy and if we come to terms with those emotions, we are able to make better sense of why we feel the way we do and consider the important steps we need to take in order to better our own situation. Falling into malicious envy causes far more damage, not only to the person you are envious of, but to yourself and others around you. Even so, I described my own experience with envy, what it was trying to teach me about myself and from then on, I'd take into account the areas I struggle most for my personal development. In that post, I also covered why attempting to ignore those emotions will cause you more harm than good as denying what you feel will continue to emerge in some form or another. Thus the important role envy plays in our lives goes far beyond self improvement in the physical world, but even more so spiritually, which I will delve into in Part 2.
I ended Part 1 with a link to an interview with Embracing Envy author and psychologist Josh Gressel on Business Innovators Radio Network with host, Mike Saunders in which there is talk about living for something greater than yourself, a recurring theme that will come up many times here. There are some brilliant insights brought up in this interview that can and should be taken into account, not only in regards to envy, but in our daily lives in general. Early in the interview, the interviewer and the interviewee discuss self improvement. Gressel describes his experience working with his clients, who appear to have adopted the widely accepted notion that at a certain age, you stop growing and that there's nothing else to learn. In Gressel's line of work, he debunks that mind set by indicating that as people get older, they can still keep learning and growing until death. Those who slip into the mindset of the former end up finding themselves bored in life. On 3:17 into the video, Gressel's observation goes as follows:
"I think for me when I'm working with people is so often people are indoctrinated in a way of thinking that you know you reach a particular age and that's it. You're all grown up. And it's really trying to help them unlearn that programming or that socialization. Sometimes I think it's also a lack of role models...How often do you see somebody who continues growing up until the day they die?...[T]hat's why we're given a lifetime is to make use of it. It's not to retire at the age of 25 into the routines that we've established for ourselves, but...there's so much to us. We are really truly infinite and if you, not only believe in it, but if you have that experience...They talk about the metaphor that's frequently used, peeling back the layers of the onion. There's one more layer and one more layer and one more layer to go and you never stop...I can't imagine being bored in life. When I hear somebody say 'I'm just bored', I'm shocked! How could you possibly be bored? It just means you're stuck."
Mike Saunders adds to Josh Gressel's insights by describing a time when he was talking to a woman about the word, intimacy. The way she said the word, 'intimacy' prompted Saunders to reconstruct it into the three separate words, 'into' 'me' 'see'. He highlights that "[Gressel] as a psychologist working with clients, [he] need[s] to see into [his] clients and help them to see into themselves, into me see". Thus, his response to Gressel's question over how can anybody find themselves bored in life is from his own observations:
"The problem is they stay looking at themselves and it becomes this selfish thing of 'what's in it for me?' and not looking at 'how can I contribute to the world?' or 'how can I break out of this rut that I'm in?' and you think of some of the people you know in certain economic classes that you go 'wow! Their grandfather was the same way their father was'. What makes that person break out of that realm and many times, it is someone in their life that speaks into their life positive or encouragement or motivates them."
Mike Saunders then uses motivational speaker, Les Brown as an example of someone who needed someone to see him for who he truly is and who he can become and eventually, he reached his full potential. The point is that what breeds a selfish mindset is the mentality that whenever we set our minds on our own self-indulgence, we see no reason to contribute to the world. Our value is reduced solely to our own pleasures rather than seeking ways to reach our full potentials. Therefore, we diminish our own self-worth. If we limit our learning capabilities to a certain amount, never leaving room for personal growth, we find ourselves less challenged and more disenchanted with life. We then keep chasing one temporary high after another and are never satisfied with anything. Having someone to see us for who we can aspire to become and that we can be more than what we limit ourselves to can make a huge impact on our faith in ourselves and our desire to keep learning. It could be a mentor, a teammate, a co-worker, a teacher, a counselor. Just anyone can make a positive impact in our lives that inspires us to be better. As Gressel adds "we are not the center of the universe. We need to be living for something greater than ourselves and...somebody who really is just in it for 'my own pleasure', 'my own this', 'my own that', if that's your sole focus, you're going to be very unhappy and you're going to end up being bored...Is that all there is?" He then responds to the second question Saunders raised by saying that "we need another person to see us for us to be able to see ourselves". It's one thing for us to hope we are putting our best foot forward, but when somebody reminds us of how well we put our best efforts on the table and that we truly draw our audience in, it makes a whole world of difference. We feel more motivated to, not only keep doing what we are doing, but we have a desire to continue learning, further develop our craft and deepen our knowledge. If we don't garner that mindset that learning is endless, you will find yourself in a rut that becomes an endless cycle. Even so, there is also mention about stepping out of your own little world and reaching out to others as well as having expectations that everyone is capable of something because it's a sign of respect for others.
On the main topic, envy and Josh Gressel's book, Embracing Envy: Finding the Spiritual Treasure in Our Most Shameful Emotion, Mike Saunders asks how Gressel got around to writing about the subject matter as it's "not a very glitzy topic". After a chuckle, Gressel described his own experience with envy and his shame of feeling the emotion. Of course, he knew that to an extent, feeling envious of people who were writing books was an indicator that he, too wanted (and felt the need) to write a book himself. Also, there isn't much written about envy on a meaningful level. Typically whenever envy is ever touched upon, either it's academically examined or that it's written about from a moralistic perspective. The goal Gressel set out in writing Embracing Envy is to further deepen the questions and provide the reader with those tools to self reflect "that envy is not a sign there's something wrong with you. Envy is a sign there's something right with you that you're not claiming". Despite the negative press attached to the emotion due to it being among the Seven Deadly Sins, envy is all good if you are kind to yourself. If you feel shame for it, take the time to learn from your envy.
On a spiritual level and going back to what was discussed early on, we are aware that we are blessed with unique gifts, yet we still feel envious. Why is that? Gressel uses one of his patients whom refers to as 'Bob' as an example. Bob is an acupuncturist with a special approach to his profession. He found himself being envious of famous people, but didn't understand why. When he started asking himself the harder questions, he realized that it wasn't so much about the object of envy itself. It was what the object of envy was pointing him to. In other words, it wasn't about wanting to achieve fame, but for this acupuncturist to be more present in his line of work. The less he was out promoting his uniqueness to his clients, the more it felt like he was depriving them of what he had to offer. It wasn't about garnering more customers. It was about being the person who God needs him to be.
We realize we have talents and we know that the more we continue to hone them, the better we are at the skill. The less we spend doing so, we never improve. Thus, we find ourselves stuck in the rut, going nowhere. Once we learn about our talents, find away to improve them to reach full potential and bring those talents out into the world, we learn more about what we have to offer and discover our true identity. Going back to the idea that we need to be living for something greater than ourselves, there is a reason why we are given talents and that reasoning is that that's who God needs us to be. To elaborate on this point, Josh Gressel delves into it in full detail on Chapter Ten: Envy through a Religious Prism, to which he writes:
"Envy suggests that we are somehow not pleased with how God has created us...It's as if we're saying, "You made a mistake with me. Give me other things--like You gave him or her--so that I will be the way I should be".
Implicit in this is a hubris that we know how things should be; that God's manifestation is limited to that which we admire or envy. If we are truly enveloped in a spiritual way of looking at ourselves and the world around us, we will understand that the surface manifestation--material reality--is but a small fraction of the total picture, and we are usually blind to the enormity of what lies behind it" (Gressel 110-111).
In this context, Gressel is referring to the Biblical story of Cain and Abel, the sons of the first humans, Adam and Eve, which is found in the Old Testament (Genesis 4:1—16). Like Cain feeling inferior to Abel when God favors his brother's offering to Him over his, we feel a twinge of discomfort when one is favored over us. Gressel points out that Cain's punishment from God is not because of his envy, but it's how he chose to react to his envy, which was that he killed Abel. God grants human beings free will and in the story of Cain and Abel, Cain had a choice to make when he felt envious of his brother. He could have used it to better himself and see the bigger picture that God had a different plan for him than the one He had for Abel, but instead, he chose murder. Gressel writes in regard to Cain's story as follows:
"If we stop a moment and think of all the examples with which we're familiar from in our life, or from that of public figures whose poisonous rivalries make up the nightly news, isn't this warning borne out in reality? Have we ever known anyone to find a life of happiness through acting out her envy on a rival?" (111).
Because we as a species have free will, we have a choice to focus on self-improvement or bring out the worst in ourselves in response to our envy. Upon choosing the latter, we end up causing more harm, not only to the envied person, but to others around us and even our own well-being. If we choose the former, we walk down a path of self-discovery and growth. We start to discover who we truly are and what we are capable of becoming. There is nothing wrong with us wanting to uncover what we know we are most capable of doing and seeing someone in a similar position that we aspire to be in is fine as long as we put things in perspective. What was meant for one, might not necessarily be the ideal thing for someone else. The other person's success can inspire others to do better, but at the end of the day, we all need to forge our own path the way God has planned it uniquely for each of us. Josh Gressel adds "[t]here is something innately altruistic about this urge to share a part of ourselves with the world. It is also an act of generosity: to want to be of service, to want to offer a service, to want to give of ourselves" (111).
The more we learn about ourselves, the more we have that desire to contribute to the world because we know we have something that will speak volumes to others. The unique ability to create and produce contributes a great deal meaning we have in our lives and to the world around us. Others are able to see us for who we truly are and can become, so we go out of our way to bring out our best selves. To conclude the sub-topic, he highlights the most important point of view in his analysis:
"Finally, this biblical tale might help us understand that, when properly aligned, the doing will be its own reward. When we are more aligned with our true nature, the service is the primary thing. The acceptance is still lovely, but secondary ("For whether you offer well, or whether you do not"). Staying focused on doing it for God, for something larger than ourselves rather than for our own gratification, keeps us in this correct balance" (112).
This ties so well with the discussion in the Business Innovators Radio Network. Upon putting into perspective that you have a talent that needs to be nurtured and it should be put into use that is greater than yourself, the more fruitful your growth journey will be. The end results are secondary to what your main goal is. If you are improving yourself for the right reason, which is that you know your were blessed with your gifts for a reason, you will find more fulfillment. As I mentioned in Part 1 about my own envy, I don't really want what the young indie game developer has. The reason I'm envious of him isn't so much about his success itself, but what seeing someone like him be successful in his early 20's means to me. What I really want is to continue illustrating graphic novels and teach art and therefore I know what steps I need to take in order to achieve my goals. Success is desirable, but it's more about what I have to offer and how can I contribute to the world that matters in the end. The thing to keep in mind is that the thing I envy about him is something of the world as well as what I hope to accomplish. However, it's important to remember that while we are living on the earth, we are not of the earth. It's what we contribute during our lifetime and letting the spiritual guide our motivations and ambitions. Gressel writes:
"The truly spiritual intrinsically conveys within it an experience of plentitude and generosity, and we pick this up automatically on some level. When the spiritual is mixed with our more earthly passions—whether they be for prestige, possessions, or some other material prop to our being—we also respond instinctively by recoiling, envying, competing or experiencing some other earthly passion" (120).
This goes to show that envy occurs naturally and because we always hope to aspire to reach our full potential, inevitably we are going to glance at what someone else is doing to achieve a high goal we hope to achieve ourselves. So long as we remember what the object of envy gained is not what was meant for us and that no one is the center of the universe, envy has a significant purpose. If we have that desire to continue developing ourselves upon letting our curiosity of our envy be explored, we start to gradually discover our own path to get to know our true selves better and what we have to contribute. When all is said and done, the positive side of envy takes us from our myopic perspectives to show us the greater image of who we are as a whole, which is what God created you to be. I'll end this post with a link to another interview with Josh Gressel from Savvy Broadcasting. Again, he brings up his mantra around 13:50, "envy is not a sign that there's something wrong with you. It's a sign that there's something right with you that you're not claiming. Trust that!" Also, he adds that "[w]e are not defective human beings. We don't feel those things unless there's a reason for it". If we allow ourselves a deep understanding behind our envy and that there's a reason why it exists, the better we understand that deeper purpose we were missing all along.
When we think of envy, typically what comes to mind is that it's one of the Seven Deadly Sins. It's an unpleasant emotion that occurs when we see others in the position, place or social status we aspire to be on par with, but yet we find ourselves below the person in those areas. Envy is also a ubiquitous emotion, commonly arising in one form or another in our everyday circles, whether we ourselves are conscious of it or not. At first glance, it seems like we should try to suppress it and do our best not to feel it, but no matter how much we try, envy continues to appear. If you feel envious of someone, there might be an important meaning behind it than you realize and instead of feeling guilty about it, taking the time to learn about your envy can eventually lessen those unpleasant emotions and inspire you to engage in proactive behavior, growth and personal development. According to Josh Gressel in his book Embracing Envy: Finding the Spiritual Treasure in Our Most Shameful Emotion, he writes in the introduction that he is "of the opinion that God did not make any one of us defective or inferior nor are any of the emotions with which we grapple defective or inferior. This means that envy, while shameful and shunned, is every bit as much a part of God's plan as joy, gratitude, anger, or hatred. Yet how can we uncover its part in creation if we won't look at it, explore it and feel it?" (Gressel, page 2). If anything, envy is felt because there is a greater purpose for it than we realize. The problem is that because it's such an uncomfortable subject, we avoid it at all cost, exacerbating the problem even further. In this post, I'm going to discuss my own experience with envy and my main takeaways from the subject matter so far and in Part 2, discuss ways to make peace with the emotion on the spiritual level.
Before we begin, I'll start by clarifying that the words envy and jealousy tend to get used interchangeably many times in the English language, but they actually aren't synonyms. Jealousy is the emotion in which you want to protect what is rightfully yours, which is less shameful than envy. You go to great lengths to secure what you've already earned. Envy on the other hand is when you look at another person's gain in contrast to where you are lacking. Openly admitting that you feel that way sends the message that you feel inferior to the other person in some form or another. For example, if you say, "I'm envious of Jimmy's ability to play chess" or "Andrea's skill to market and sell", what you are really saying is that you know you are lacking where you feel like you need to improve most. Seeing others successful and feeling a tinge of discomfort is neither good nor bad, but it's how you choose to respond to your current situation that makes all the difference. Thus comes the two sides of envy, benign and malicious envy, benign envy, being constructive in which you spend time improving yourself and your skills to get to where you need to be and malicious envy is where you try to bring the other person a peg down. Of course, choosing the latter yields to causing harm not only to the person you envy, but to others around you including yourself. You gain nothing out of it, whereas benign envy encourages proactive change and the right mindset for you to grow and reach your full potential. The YouTube channel, Psych2Go has a deftly made interview with psychology professor, David Ludden on the topic. Their video, What is the Psychology of Envy? [Interview] delves into the concept of envy thoroughly and thoughtfully gets the viewer to ask themselves the right questions, reframing and taking on a neutral view on the concept of envy. (I will discuss a point brought up in the video later in this post).
To answer the question asked at the end of the video and to describe my own experience feeling envy, positive or negative, I'll start my story off with a similar goal to that of Josh Gressel's when penning his book, Embracing Envy. I'm not going to conclude with any one definitive answer, since no two people's experience with something is ever exactly the same, but rather I too, want to go through this post deepening and furthering questions. The way I see envy is that it's a learning process that if approached constructively, will contribute to our growth. I started to feel envious of someone who I never even met, but he and I went to school in the same area around the same time. Although we've never met, I have met friends and acquaintances of this person. He went onto create an rpg (role playing game) video game that became massively successful a few years ago and while I didn't think much of his success at first, the more people talked about this kid and boasted about his game, the more I started to feel myself cringe. I can easily say without hesitation that I quite liked what he made. It may not have been the best game I've ever played, but I was impressed with his ability to bring life to very simplistic characters, collaborate where he needed an extra set of hands, and especially compose all of the music. And yet, that uncomfortable feeling of cringe started to hang at the back of my mind. What made my feelings even more strange was that he is an indie game developer and the area I aspire to be in is comics/illustration.
Upon fully accepting and owning up to those sentiments, I finally began to ask myself why am I envious of him? I'm not interested in pursuing game development, so why am I envious of someone who is pursuing something seemingly different than what I'm doing? Thus my main takeaways start to come to mind. First, I needed to take a step back and reevaluate my situation compared to his. One of my main weaknesses was that I was very disorganized when it came to setting up goals for projects that I hoped to accomplish. I piled up a slew of projects I wanted to get done, but found myself spreading myself too thin whereas this developer had his mind on one project and that one project alone until he finally completed it. Another thing is that we tend to envy those who are similar to us in some capacity and are geographically close to us. Like this young developer, we have animators, comic artists and musicians as connections and, as I mentioned earlier, we attended school in the same area around the same time. To top it all off, we both live in the same town and I've met people who know someone who knows him or know him. Last, but not least, this part goes without saying, but I feel that the most important root of my envy was that he seemed to have had everything in his life all figured out in his early 20's than I did.
Although I don't know how other people respond to their own feelings of envy, I think we all have our own approaches to learn from it upon thoughtful self-reflection. Upon embracing the emotion, there are a variety of ways to improve your situation and loosen the grip envy has on your life. One path I took after accessing my situation was that I not only started setting long term goals for myself, but I started narrowing specific goals. I now ask myself 'what do I hope to accomplish by such and such a day?' and stick to the project without letting myself get distracted by the other ideas I have in mind. Finish what I set out to do now and prepare the next one afterwards. Currently, it's the Pascal and the Timeless Hotel remake that has been on the forefront of my other projects. At the time of this writing, it's now 95% completed. Finding my target market and exclusively centering my entire focus is another component to lessening envy. The main reason I was scattered around the way I was had every bit to do with me trying to get too ambitious, yet never specifying who my audience is. I always knew I wanted to be an artist, but did I want to be an animator, graphic novelist, game developer or musician? The problem was that I wanted to be innovative, so I put all my focus on being innovative, but never found the right approach to do so all because I never really specified my main medium. In the end, I learned I had to stick to one medium, continue developing the skills in that specific medium and thus, innovation starts to take shape. I chose to stick to making graphic novels primarily, but rather than letting myself get caught up in other forms of media to incorporate into my books, I should practice the techniques of making a basic comic. From there, once I had my rock to stand on, innovation can flourish. I can experiment with other artistic techniques as long as they are still within the realm of my medium and my target market, which are people who read graphic novels.
This is a lesson I've learned from taking Moore Art School founder, Rod Moore's Udemy online course on starting a business teaching art, and of any skill I feel I need to practice the most is identifying my role easily or what they call the elevator pitch. The lesson reminded me of an article I found on Your Tango, entitled Stop Feeling Envy & Focus on Yourself With These 3 Steps Instead by Jane Evans. The second step Evans discusses upon examination of the root of your envy is to '[d]efine your aspirations', in which she poses the questions, "[w]hat aspects of your personal and professional life do you feel that you lack? What dreams, wishes, aspirations, and goals did you leave behind?" She concludes this step by reiterating the main point and encourages the reader to write down their aspirations "so that [the reader] can think about them proactively" in order to "make some meaningful changes". Although Rod Moore's lesson seems unrelated to the suggestion made by Jane Evans, from my end of things, being able to identify your goals effectively has a huge impact on how you feel about yourself and the progress you're making. If you find yourself stuck trying to identify what direction you're heading, you don't have a specific goal to serve as a blueprint for your foundation and you find your brain is scattered all over the place, that you never get anything done and, worse yet, your audience is left confused. As a result, you might find yourself abandoning everything you set out to do as was the case with me. Being scattered was one of the main factors that weighed into the roots of my own envy, if not thee main factor.
Maybe what worked for me might not be the right answer for other people in a similar situation. Nevertheless, there are many ways to respond to envy appropriately. Thus I'll describe some additional takeaways. The short answer I found that the best way to mitigate envy is by accessing your situation and also asking yourself not 'how could I be envious of anyone', but rather 'why am I envious?', examine what lead up to the envious sentiments, evaluate your strengths and weaknesses and build your plan to improve yourself. As stated by David Ludden in the Psych2Go video, "emotions provide us with information about our current situation and motivation to do something" and the role envy takes is to "provide us with the information about our status and the social structure". When on the topic of mindfulness, Ludden makes the point that some may feel a twinge of envy if they see others in the position they wished to be in, "but if you're aware of your habits, you can change them. This is especially true when you understand you can turn your negative envy into a positive motivation to improve yourself...[I]f we give into negative envy, it draws us into a vicious cycle that can be hard to escape". At the end of the day, you yourself have more control over your envy than your envy has over you if you mindfully reflect. The worst that you can do is succumb to bad habits, which potentially lead to the dark side of envy. There's more to add to the discussion of envy, plus the most important question worth exploring, 'how does spiritually play a role in it?, all of which I'll cover in Part 2. I'll end the post by leaving a link to an interview with Josh Gressel on Business Innovators Radio Network, in which both the interviewer and the interviewee himself touch upon some valid points I want to delve into in the next blog. Until then, stay safe, everyone. God Bless!
Update: As of now, the Boston Kids Comics Festival has been postponed for a possible September date due to COVID-19. Also, my next blog post has been postponed until early May.
Good afternoon everyone! As this is the first update I've written in the New Year (and New Decade, of course) and wasn't able to provide any updates before the end of 2019, I'm going to take the time to address the current status of the Pascal and the Timeless Hotel remake and my goals I have planned for this website going forward.
Currently, Pascal is close to completion, (roughly 75-80% completed). However, mid-way through the project, as I was deciding how to illustrate the most important moments, I came up with an idea that I've been wanting to experiment in comics for years. Ever since I started drawing comics back in late 2014, I've had big dreams of finding innovative ways of storytelling and implementing new techniques into comics that are often used in other forms of media such as animation, (which I have a background in from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston). I began experimenting with this new concept I created back in September of this past year and continued to perfect it. I decided how to incorporate the new technique into the Pascal story. As a result, it's possible I may change my original deadline. Because this was somewhat of a last minute decision and not necessarily part of the original plan for the remake, I may or may not be able to present Pascal and the Timeless Hotel this year at the Boston Kids Comics Fest, (which is taking place April 25th) as my original goal was set to have the physical book completed in the Spring of this year. Whether I decide that I need to extend my deadline or I'm able to finish before mid-April, I'll be taking as much time as I need to make sure the new art technique 'blends' naturally with the story and setting.
Once Pascal and the Timeless Hotel is completed, the introduction and unveiling of my art technique also means major changes for my upcoming projects. Going forward, this new technique I'm working on is going to be my signature-- a huge staple of my writings and this website in the coming months and years ahead. The first presentation of Pascal will mark the official debut of the new art technique. Thus not only will I be doing my first book publishing since 2015, I'll also make this an introduction to the technique I envisioned for my comics and will finally bring to fruition and into the public eye.
On that note, I'll end by saying I will still be running this blog from time to time and should have a new post by early to mid March. I am very excited for what this year and decade will bring and what is to come for both this website and upcoming presentations with the Boston Comics Roundtable!
I'm not the first one to say this, but this year in film has been quite, (to put it politely) peculiar. From the urban live-action/animated fantasy film noir, Detective Pikachu, based on the Pokémon game of the same name, to the direct-to-video SyFy horror adaption of The Banana Splits, it seems any type of adaption can easily get greenlit regardless of how absurd it can be. In a sense, these ideas are rather interesting solely for their weirdness. I don't expect any of them to age too well, but it's still fascinating to consider how this year for movies will be remembered years from now. However, as far as film adaptions of 2019 go, I think we can all agree that the one that left everyone the most perplexed is the upcoming live-action adaption of the 1981 Andrew-Lloyd Weber musical, Cats. Ever since it was announced in mid-July, the film has received a mostly negative reaction from spectators highlighting how uncanny valley it looks. From its bizarre blend of CGI and live-action, to its overall aesthetic and just the mere presentation of the characters along with the universe they inhabit, the look and feel of this movie leaves an unpleasant imprint on the viewers' visual senses.
You can view the trailer here and see for yourself how uneasy this film looks on the eyes. I can safely tell you, that 'unsettling' is a bit of an understatement. The movie is slated for release on December 20th, but it's already obvious why the aesthetic choices don't do these characters or the story any favors. First off, at the beginning of the trailer, we see two of the characters in the middle of the streets wandering about. At first glance, they look like humans emulating cat-like behaviors, which comes as no surprise as that's what the cast of the Broadway musical did, too, except in the next scene, the viewer gets a glimpse at how the characters are costumed. The shot introduces us to this version of Victoria (Francesca Hayward), but unlike the Broadway show, where the costumes look organically blended with the actors, the costumes look oddly intertwined with the actress's body. It doesn't look like a costume. The CGI effects make it so that the fur is part of a human body, rendering it (no pun intended) to look like a mutation between a person and a cat. The next shots showcased in the trailer don't get any better as it goes on. In the following scene, we see Victoria and Mr. Mistofflelees (Laurie Davidson) running to a gate to meet another cat, revealing what the rest of the cast of characters all look like. They all suffer from the same problem: The costumes look way too much mutations than cats! I think the designs of Macavity (Idris Elba), Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench), Bustopher Jones (James Corden) and Grizabella (Jennifer Hudson) to name a few of the more elaborate characters in their appearance add another layer of blurry confusion of where the costume, the CGI and the live actor begin and where they all end. By the way the rest of the cast is outfitted, the costumes appear more skin tight to the point it becomes difficult to discern what is what, which all those factors lead to an uncanny valley foul taste. In addition, the perspective is another aspect of the film that doesn't sit very well with audiences and with good reason. Given the fact that the characters look like a bad combination of both human and cat, the locations and sceneries where they interact are just way too strange and quite unsettling on account of how small everyone appears to be. To match the size of a cat, the actors are set in a way where everything looks relatively as big as it would to the eyes of a cat, but given the character designs, the perspectives come off as incredibly wonky, making it slightly nauseating to lay eyes on.
Admittedly, the soundtrack and vocal sound very promising, but unfortunately with all those factors ruining the overall appearance of the movie, I highly doubt very many music fans, much less die-hard Broadway buffs are going to be too enthused to obtain a copy either physical or digital. The movie in comparison to the Broadway show brings me back some fond memories (so to speak) of when I went to see the musical in 1999 as a pre-teen. I remember being impressed with the choreography, the songs and the layout of the streets the Jellicle cats (as they are referred to) would all gather in. I liked how the costumes naturally suited the performers and how the make-up was done that it presented the characters' personalities and traits so well. You also have to figure that while the premise of Cats is quite simple, there is a certain depth and meaning in the story that adds to its timeless quality like its source material by T. S. Eliot and why the film adaption is just going to end up being a product of its time.
That's actually not to say a film adaption of Cats can't come into fruition, that is, if done correctly. In fact there was an animated version planned. It has been confirmed that in the early-90's, Steven Spielberg's now-defunct company, Amblimation had an animated version in the works, but was scrapped upon the studio's closure. According to the catsmusical.fandom.com site, Spielberg "decided to set the show during the Blitz in London (1940-1941)" and veteran animators, Hans Bacher and Luc Desmarchelier posted some concept art on their blogs. Hans Bacher was responsible for the look and feel of the film and "spent a lot of time researching some rather 'unusual' London environments". Part of the task involved seeking the "trashiest spots [the team] could find" and scrolling down after a photograph of the creative team are some rough sketches and other related art by Bacher himself. In an additional post, Bacher writes about when he came on aboard with the rest of the team, which at the time they were a few months into the project. At the time, the idea was to blend miniature models with traditional animation. However, Steven Spielberg envisioned the animated world of Cats during the Blitz, so Bacher "started fresh with [his] designs" and thus began the research and reimagining of the film. Hans Bacher adds that in London, "behind all the sightseeing tourist area, there were 'backyards', a hidden world of trash and destruction" and that he "still [had] a map of '[his] real [L]ondon' where [he] marked this reference world". He adds that after 17 years, most likely, there's nothing left of the trash and war torn environment. (Mind you, he posted this on October 19th, 2008).
Luc Desmarchelier adds his various pieces of concept art to his own blog, which not only does he do an outstanding job of highlighting the vision for the film, but the audience gets a sense of how the cats themselves might have been animated. Character designers, Carlos Grangel and Nico Marlet worked various pieces consisting of how the characters would have been reimagined for the film and certainly, their art captured the personalities and traits associated with each of the prominent characters spot on! Old Deuteronomy looks as grand as one would have imagined an animated counter part of him. Grizabella looks just as worn down and shabby as she's portrayed in the musical, that the viewer instantly sees how past her prime she is. Macavity looks just as sinister as his musical depiction.
With the abundance of concept art and potential the film could have had, it's unfortunate it never came to be, but upon simply examining it, it's no surprise that it had more visual appeal to audiences than the 2019 film does. To this day, an animated adaption of Cats can still be a viable choice with the right art direction. The key is not only garnering an understanding of the stage show itself, but making the sceneries and character designs more organic. Put simply, the team behind the live-action film appears to understand the stage show very well, but the combination of CGI animation and live-action, coupled with the wonky perspectives is what throws the audience off. You may know the ropes of the source material and nail it perfectly in that regard as well as having a solid cast, but if the visuals don't mesh well, it fails to resonate with the audience the way it was intended to. Unfortunately, this is what happened with the live-action film. Had the audience gotten the planned animated movie by Steven Spielberg or something similar to it, then the reception would yield more positive results.
The concept created by Spielberg works in every possible way because it doesn't try to emulate the live performance the way the live-action film does. From what can be gathered about the production of the animated Cats movie, the environments the characters inhabit would have been far more appealing to look at for a variety of reasons. For one, the characters would have blended better with the perspectives more. At the time, 2D animation was still commonplace in the animation film industry and the trend in 1990's theatrical releases were mostly animated musicals, so designing the characters and sets best suited of a 2D setting is accessible. Once the environments are designed, deciding how the characters should look is easy to decipher. Knowing how a film looks gives the character designer an idea as to what type of character designs would be fitting for the environments created.
This brings us to the second reason why an animated movie would tip the Cats story in its favor. It's common knowledge that when designing a character, the final product should tell the viewer on a basic level who the character is and what their role might be based on visual cues. Putting it into action is easier said than done. Taking live actors from a stage show and deciding on what their animated counter parts should look like is a daunting task, one that requires multiple drawings as with any other animated project. In the case of Cats, it's a matter of understanding the characters and making sure the animated versions showcase those basic traits in their overall appearance. A major flaw of the live-action film is that it lacks showcasing character personality and/or leaves little room in the designs for audiences to get invested in the characters, which we'll compare and contrast in a moment.
Finally, it's the story itself. Cats the musical is a very simple story with a relatable moral. While we all get so caught up in things of glamour, those are things that fade over time and thus, will never bring true happiness. Grizabella, an aged cat, the best years of her life long passed, reminds the other Jellicle cats that in her iconic musical number, Memory. It was easy for them to reject her just because she's old and lost much of the charm of her youth, but if they welcome her back, they will remember never to take the best years of their own lives for granted and that the moment they are presently living in will someday be a memory just like her glory days. Simple stories with thought provoking themes don't need over complicated designs and sets to convey a narrative. Animation is a visual medium that if well written, drawn and directed, it can speak volumes to its viewers. The character designs and layouts of the animated Cats do what animated movies are often known to do: know the story and let the visuals tell it. Both story and visuals should go hand-in-hand and what Spielberg had in mind conveyed this spot on! This applies to any visual piece, especially if it's an adaption of a pre-existing stage show, so these creative decisions are very important to take into account.
The character designs in the live-action lack what this animation could have been because there seems to be less focus on who the characters are and more on trying to create impressive visuals while trying to look like the stage show. This doesn't work because on one hand, these designs fail to resonate with the viewer. If your interest is geared towards taking advantage of modern technologies and less on letting your characters tell a story visually, that is a fundamental flaw in which will prompt your audience to be less engage and rather more perplexed. As stated before, the character designs in the live-action film blurs the line between CGI and the costumed character. This could easily work if there was a proper balance of CGI, live actor/actress and costume (rotoscoping, maybe?), but in this case, it's clear the emphasis was geared towards visual appearance a little too much. The designs became over saturated with CGI and live action, thus creating an uncanny valley mess with little to no focus on designing a character that says who he or she is at first glance. Surely you can spend so much time on CGI in hopes it will match up to the quality of what you hope to achieve, but if your end result is being discussed less about who the characters are and their story and more about how their design is unsettling, your intent to grab the audiences' attention becomes futile. Viewers complained about the character designs in the live-action Cats for that reason. Pair that with the perspectives of their environment and that just adds to the problem. Making visuals too overcomplicated when they don't need to be doesn't encourage audiences to be invested in a story. Sometimes it can easily drive people away or be less invested in the story because there's something too distracting about the visuals. The animated movie on the other hand makes use of the simplicity of Cats by coming up with a specific idea of what their world would look like and how to properly fashion the characters. All of those factors are important to take into account because at the end of the day, each component will be a major factor in what draws people into the story, relate to the characters and (in the case of Cats being a musical), get into the soundtrack.
The main question I had going into this post was if Cats could ever have a more effective retelling and if so, what would have been better suited for it than the live-action film?. In order to answer that, it just takes a specific understanding why the live-action film fails on so many fronts, understanding what worked for the stage performance and how the scrapped animated movie demonstrated a more ideal alternative. Aside from its musical numbers, the show relies so much on character and setting. While visuals are important, they go hand-in-hand with the characters and their environment. If making a live-action film was of the interest of the directors, it would have made more sense to focus on choosing CGI animation over live actors or rotoscoping than trying too hard to blend the two. The reason the canceled 1997 project would have done the story and characters of Cats justice was because the environments and character designs were carefully taken into consideration in regards to story. With the right combinations and less emphasis on just visuals, the goal shouldn't be trying to be the stage performance of Cats, but let it be its own thing. It's an adaption of an iconic musical, but it should be created to stand on its own. By doing so, this is how the final product resonates with audiences. With each and every puzzle piece put together to create a visual motion picture that best fits the tone and ambiance of the story, you'd be bound to latch onto the audience's attention for the right reasons. This is true with any animation or visual medium for that matter. In an era where CGI has become prevalent in both animation and live-action, it's no surprise Hollywood easily abuses it at times to a saturation point, causing the quality of movies to suffer a great deal. If studios begin to return to their roots where their focus is equally attentive to story and art direction as seen with the potential Steven Spielberg's version of Cats would have been, think of countless possibilities that could come of musical films and other forms of animation and live-action.
Normally, I don't use my blog for news related stories, but as a fan of animation, especially Anime, I wanted to address what happened in Kyoto this month and the major toll it has had on the victims and their families as well as the Anime community. On July 18th, Kyoto Animation, best known for their films, and series, Eiga K-On!, Lucky Star, Tamako Love Story and A Silent Voice endured an arson attack at their studio one facility, leaving at least 34 to 35 dead, and roughly 33 injured.
I was away on vacation when it happened. I heard a piece of the story in passing, but did not gather further information until I got back and settled down from my trip. I got back on Sunday last week and started following up on the story on Wednesday night. From my understanding, the suspect involved did this out of spite, claiming that someone in the studio or the studio stole his idea. He threatened the studio, doused the place and some of the employees with gasoline and set everything on fire.
This is a very tragic news story. Waking up one morning to go to work like any other normal day, it would never cross one's mind to suspect something so horrible like this would happen. Anime merchandising company, Sentai Filmworks, one of Kyoto Animation's partners, started a GoFundMe page with the social media hashtag, #HelpKyoAniHeal to help the victims and their families rebuild. The fundraiser has surpassed its goal and is still going strong. I'll leave a link below where you can donate. Please keep the victims and their families in your thoughts and prayers at this time of need.
Help KyoAni Heal donation page
Rugrats in Retrospect: A Response to Saberspark's Video 'What RUINED Rugrats - The Untold Drama' and Why Paul Germain was Spot on about Good Storytelling
In the 1990's, animation was starting to evolve from toy commercial centric cartoons like Care Bears and My Little Pony to creator driven content as seen with Nickelodeon's hit shows of the time like Doug, Rocko's Modern Life and Nick's then pop cultural phenomenon, Rugrats. At the start of the decade, media and technology entrepreneur, Geraldine Laybourne served as Nickelodeon's first president from 1984 to 1996. She and the rest of the team set out to make Nickelodeon the first network for kids with their unique line-up of shows that were original creator content in order to differentiate themselves from other networks during those years. At the beginning, Doug, The Ren and Stimpy Show and Rugrats were the first three animated shows to be greenlit into production. Of the three, Rugrats would go on to be Nickelodeon's biggest hit, paving the way for the network's upcoming animated shows like Rocko's Modern Life, Angry Beavers and Hey Arnold!. More to the point, Rugrats became the face of Nickelodeon throughout most of the '90's, but then in the latter part of the decade and the start of the 2000's, its popularity gradually began to die down, eventually being eclipsed by Sponge Bob Square Pants.
There is a very specific reason as to why that happened. However, contrary to popular belief, the decline in popularity for Rugrats wasn't so much for the addition of new characters, though, there is some merit to that assumption. The real problem that caused this series to lose its momentum, as seen in Saberspark's video, What RUINED Rugrats? - The Untold Drama, had everything to do with the show creators failing to see eye to eye. The show was created by then married couple, Arlene Klasky and Gabor Cspuo along with fellow co-worker, Paul Germain. In this blog post, I'm not going to delve too much into the notorious drama that went on amongst the writers. I'm just going to pin point the main source of it. Rather, I'm going to discuss my thoughts on the situation from the perspective of an aspiring writer and early childhood teacher. Using my animation and illustration background as well as my experience so far working with children, I will explain with an in-depth analysis on why I favor Mr. Germain's side of the story.
For starters, before Rugrats made its debut, the trio worked on a few episodes of The Simpsons shorts for The Tracey Ullman Show from 1987 to 1989 before it made its debut as a television series itself on December 17th, 1989. The Klasky-Csupo team worked on this series during the first three seasons. The Simpsons, which was created by Matt Groening, has been a pop cultural icon for nearly three decades now, and is still going strong to this day, making it the longest running American animated sitcom in history. As we know, the show deals with the titular dysfunctional family and their interactions and responses toward American culture. As simple a concept that may be, what contributes a great deal to the success of The Simpsons is character development and stories that explore the human condition by going into the characters' minds and challenges. Having previously worked on the show, Paul Germain knew that the key to making a top tier animated series was quality storytelling, so his level of expertise would bode well for him in the long run. (I know The Simpsons did suffer a bit in quality over the years, but that's another topic for another day).
When pitching a show for Nickelodeon, Arlene Klasky created the concept for Rugrats with one basic idea in mind that made it truly memorable: "if babies could talk, what would they say?" Having been pregnant during the show's conception, making this a very personal show that was important to her, she had Paul Germain help her elaborate on the idea. Inevitably, Nickelodeon greenlighted production on the series and a total of sixty-five episodes would be in the contract. Rugrats debuted in the summer of 1991. Due to solid promotion, its success and viewership increased immensely. From films, to merchandise, and even a giant parade balloon making its debut in the 1997 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, there was no denying Rugrats became the crown jewel for Nickelodeon. Unfortunately, as Saberspark pointed out, the events building up towards the show's success was ultimately what lead the show to crumble. There were several feuds between Klasky and Germain that would often put Csupo in the middle as the swing voter between the two.
Long story short, Arlene Klasky favored the idea of the baby characters acting more like their age rather than see them acting on adult-like behaviors as seen in the 1992 episode, The Trial in which the babies have a courtroom setup after one of the children destroys Tommy's favorite lamp. Paul Germain was all for writing plot driven narratives with solid character development like that of The Simpsons, but for kids. To make this disconnect between the show creators worse, it was the introduction of Angelica that increased conflict between Klasky and Germain. Germain created Angelica, feeling that the show having an antagonist would tip the scales in its favor. Klasky, having not created the character, strongly disliked Angelica and often complained about her portrayal being too cruel towards the younger children. Inspired by a childhood bully, Germain wanted to explore Angelica's character and craft character driven plots examining why some kids who bully other kids behave the way they do. After Paul Germain's departure in the mid-1990's along with other members of the writing staff, the quality of the writing began to shift. Although that was the time Rugrats skyrocketed in success, a few years later, it began to fizzle and eventually the show ended in 2004. Given all that was happening behind the scenes with this show and in regards to good writing and how children learn and develop through cooperative and explorative play, Paul Germain was definitely on-point when it came to what would have been best for this kind of series.
First of all, since Rugrats is a cartoon about children from ages one to three and a half years old, it should delve into topics that focus on the inner workings of early childhood development. The key ingredient that goes into good writing is having a deep understanding of your subject matter and drawing even more inspiration from the real world. It could be from personal experience, people you know or some new insights you've garnered working with others. All of those elements are vital to good storytelling, if not an important foundation for it. Arlene Klasky was right about one thing. When coming up with an idea for a story, it's a good idea to write something that is personal to you, but her unwillingness to listen to her peers left almost no room for personal growth. Good ideas become stronger when you garner deeper understandings of what you're writing about. If Klasky wanted to make a show that was about babies exploring the world around them, she'd be wiser to take those concepts into account. With Paul Germain's approach to writing, he was willing to add and explore those aspects of early childhood development blended with personal experiences and incorporate them into the plots. For example, when the children mimic adult behaviors, that's a prime example in early childhood development with children letting themselves think freely in a risk-free environment. What contributes to children's growth is their freedom to explore certain attributes of adult behaviors and thus, begin to learn about themselves and how the world works. As is the case with The Trial episode, the babies have a courtroom setting in the living room because they have already seen and know that adults attend jury duty. They are somewhat familiar with how that process works. Certainly they may not understand every little detail that there is to know, but at an early age, children observe adults on one side of a testimony and others representing the other perspective in order to determine who might be guilty and who might be innocent.
To add to this, from my experience so far working with preschoolers and what I've been studying, I've seen how children play certain games like house, kitchen, or store. Social referencing is something that occurs in infants between six to nine months, which is when babies observe how their caregivers react to certain situations and use that as a model for the appropriate response. Preschoolers already know this social cue from their infancy and build up from it. In terms of childhood development theories, Lev Vygotsky theorized that social interaction among other children is what adds to the child making meaning and gaining new knowledge. He also believed that, unlike Jean Piaget, who categorized childhood development in four stages, children's development is continuous and occurs through cooperative learning. Children, thus learn from each other. Jerome Bruner's Three Modes of Representation observes that children continuously and actively learn by adding on previous knowledge. Enactive, which is based inaction occurs during the early years. Iconic, which is image based, occurs during the mid-childhood years. Symbolic, which is rooted in language, takes place during adolescence. Applying this to The Trail, we see these examples playing out in the episode. We see that the children in the cartoon already understand why adults resolve disputes in a courtroom, so there is a bit of social referencing displayed as the babies are seen referencing adult behaviors to respond to their situation. The way that the Lev Vygotsky theory is depicted, the children are interacting with one another and thus, through this type of play, they are learning through cooperation and making meaning in order to find out who broke the lamp. The way that Bruner's theory plays a role is that at the age that the Rugrats characters are, they are learning through action or Enactive imagery and that is knowledge that gets built on with new knowledge over time.
That being said, drawing from real-life examples and knowledge of how children develop are important elements that contribute to good writing. The topic or subject matter you are writing about may be personal to you, but if you don't take the time to build up a deeper understanding from other perspectives and real-life observations, your concept may still be good on paper, but stale in representation. This also leads me to another reason why Germain's approach to storytelling excels over Klasky's, one that should always be at the forefront when crafting a story: who is your target audience? This question may already be a matter of common sense, but its one that seems to get a bit lost as new writers join a team on a show or other type of creative project. As mentioned earlier, Paul Germain envisioned Rugrats being The Simpsons of children's television. What he meant was that the target demographic for Rugrats could appeal to not only children, but adults as well. Just because of the age of the main characters, it shouldn't imply that there can't be stories written in a way that would resonate with older audiences as well. From the sound of the debates between Arlene Klasky and Paul Germain, it was obvious that Klasky failed to understand her audience, much less ever listen to why Germain's writing team was on point. Klasky felt that if they were to make a show about babies, it automatically meant that the main characters should consistently do what babies do. However, there is a major flaw in this thought process: aside from it leaving very little room for character development, it leaves very little room certain topics to be covered, rendering the show's content too stale.
The main problem I see with Klasky's approach as to what she thought was right for Rugrats is that she wanted to play the show too safe. Audiences eventually get bored of that. They can easily tell when writers are taking creative risks and when they are selling themselves short. By having the main characters constantly act their ages, not only are there limitations on story and character growth, but it fails to resonate with audiences. If Rugrats was intended to be a show both kids and adults could relate to, this approach was absolutely not the ideal choice for that demographic. You can't just have one foot in the door for a certain age group and the other one stepping out for another. A good kids show written for both kids and adults in mind should always be an open space for writers to be adventurous and explorative when it comes to dealing with new ideas. Plus this is the type of audience that wants to see something beyond the comfort level. There have been episodes of Rugrats, like the PBS Kids edutainment show, Arthur, where difficult topics were covered, such as neglect, loss of a pet or family member, jealousy, generational differences and of course, child growth and developmental milestones. There have even been episodes that deal with fears adults struggle with and new experiences that come with each stage in life. Even most impressive was that there have been holiday specials that focus on Hanukah and Passover and their religious significance, something that not very many shows at the time were covering. Being open to topics like these make room for both kids and adults to have a dialogue with one another. Because early childhood development is the seed that shapes how we grow up as our earliest experiences shape us, our perception of others and the world around us, it makes more sense that character driven plots were the best way to construct an episode of a show like Rugrats. Playing it safe with very little for the characters to do eventually alienates viewers and thus, that is why Paul Germain had the right idea all along. Even so, when it came to Angelica, her role wasn't solely to be a one-dimensional bully as mentioned earlier, but rather to represent a figure of the type of kid everyone has to deal with at times. As children grow up, they will always encounter a bully. Contrary to some of the stereotypes portraying bully characters over the years prior to Rugrats and other shows afterwards, there are underlying reasons why some children lash out the way they do. Over simplifying or dodging the subject altogether is not only playing storytelling safely, but it's also denying the reality of the world we live in. (I would like to delve into the topic of bully/brat characters in kids shows in a separate blog post sometime because I think it's a topic deserving of its own post).
With all that has been said and done and how well Rugrats aged as a pop cultural icon, in the end, it was Paul Germain's values as a storyteller that made it stand the test of time. With all due respect to Arlene Klasky, who undeniably had a brilliant idea for a television show, her concepts sounded good on paper, but Germain had ideas to help take her concept up another step further. It was unfortunate that Klasky and Germain failed to find common ground, but one can't deny that it's one thing to have a good idea on your hands. It's a whole world of difference to build up on it. Going off of Klasky's approach, there would have left very little room for character development and growth due to limitations on plotlines as was the case with the later seasons. Germain had all the right pieces in mind that fit into crafting good stories that would resonate with the show's respective audience. With an understanding of real world examples, such as studies related to the subject matter that the series centers around and personal experiences along with comprehending who the show is for, those are all important factors that contributes to both a show's quality and increased level of success in the long run. Stories can teach us about our struggles and shed them in a different light when delved into correctly, inspiring viewers to ask themselves the right questions and reflect on their own situations. By playing it safe and shunning other suggestions to further improve your concept as well as knowing less about who your target audience is, you not only put limitations on the potential of your ideas, but also on yourself as a writer. The more explorative you become with your concept and how it relates to the real world along with knowing what kind of stories your audiences are hoping to see, the better rounded you become as a creator. Your concept will grow and flourish, reaching its full potential. As with any creative medium, it will always be a continuing process that no one ever stops learning from because our experiences never stop shaping us and endless knowledge is always being spread around. You yourself will never stop learning. It's either you're open to it or you just stick to what is already familiar to you. By the latter, you will have many missed opportunities. By the former, you will constantly be exposed to them and those new opportunities and insights are what you give your audiences in return.
In the age of online shopping via Amazon, the traditional American shopping mall has gone down a death spiral year after year. However, as the rate of dead malls in the United States continue to increase, so does a growing community of urban explorers on YouTube and other platforms who venture from state to state to visit and document these ailing malls for future generations to see and learn about. Among such talents in the dead malls community include Jack Thomas of www.deadmalls.com, Anthony at Ace's Adventures, Nicholas M. DiMaio of The Caldor Rainbow, Ron and Kristen of UniComm Productions, Anthony from Faded Commerce, Adam from The Vintage Spaces Channel, Ashley, The Neon Explorer on Instagram, Pat and Heather from Raw & Real Retail, Jon Rev of [jonrevProjects], and Salvatore 'Sal' Amadeo of Quite Studios, all of whom are active members of the Dead Malls Discord.
In his video, Century III Mall In Extremis, and Le Flâneur de Beaudelaire, the 36th of his Expedition Log Series and sequel to another video about Century III Mall, Sal and other members of the dead mall community meet at Century III Mall in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania for the Inaugural Dead Mall Summit of 2018. It was an event open exclusively for the members of the Discord sever and it mostly took place in the area where Century III Mall is located due to the over-saturation of malls in the area. Therefore most of them were in stiff competition. The main focal point of this video is an analysis of the philosophy of Le Flânuer, which was introduced by 1800's poet and art critic, Charles Baudelaire in 1872 and how it relates to the explorations of dead malls (or urban exploration in general), some of which these theories influenced the ideas of Walter Benjamin in the 20th century. Although the ideas Sal expresses in the video are speculative, he brings up some very interesting points and details as to how Le Flânuer relates to urban exploration and the art world, (specifically during the time period of the Impressionist painters such as Degas, Monet, Caillebotte and Renior) as well.
Early on starting in the 11:35 minute mark, Sal talks about how he got into the urban exploration community. He mentions that his interest in urban exploration peaked "quite sometime ago" and that he would venture out into the woods with friends, not to film, but solely out of intrigue. When he discovered Dan Bell's channel, "the interest really kicked into high gear because [he] learned that people were gathering and doing [urban exploration], that there were more people out there that were doing it and since then, [Sal] wondered why? What draws us to that? And if this is a new thing or not?". This is an important question to consider because although dead malls and other such urban exploration videos have gained popularity during the late 2000's and the 2010's, the concept of sharply observing society's urban areas, even in the most obscure corners dates back much further than it would seem.
I won't go into the history of how shopping malls came to be, since it's not the point of this blog post, but the history provided is still worth noting. It starts at the 13:10 mark. Later, around the 30:29 mark, Sal discusses the role Le Flânuer plays in the history of urban exploration. Starting in the nineteenth century, the world began to flourish with urban growth, mainly noted in Paris, France and in the United States. All over Europe and the United States, arcades opened and this concept of indoor shopping centers began to accelerate all across the globe. As Sal highlights:
"This idea of a vast interior shopping center was gaining traction around the world. This intense expansion of commerce was causing social waves among the classes and philosophers were beginning to take notice of a new type of urban figure who reveled in the details of architecture and observing the less traveled paths in a city and within buildings. This new urban figure was coined by Charles Baudelaire in Les Fleurs du Mal or The Flowers of Evil, and refers to somebody who observes a newly industrialized city and its structures while just taking a walk, pondering the philosophical implications of what these new passages and arcades have on society and looking for the secrets that common passers-by would otherwise miss."
This is where the term, Le Flânuer originated. In Sal's opinion, this term might have paved the way for today's urban explorers.
At the 40:50 mark, he goes on the explain that the French verb means to stroll as the noun is used to describe someone who strolls and "wants to discover the secrets of public passageways, arcades, tunnels backstage areas and the like and to see what the general public might never notice". Anywhere most people never walk, le flâneur will step just to take in every little detail one might not ponder on. As a result, this concept became prevalent in Paris, even among professions throughout the Impressionist period, such as the artists of the time. Monet, Caillebotte, Renoir and Degas were all deeply immersed in the concept, that they would venture down less visited paths to paint images of areas and scenes viewers rarely noticed, if at all. Sal offers an analysis of the Caillebotte painting, The Young Man at His Window (1875) as an example of how Le flâneur is depicted in the works of these painters:
"[R]ather than the view of what the man is seeing, you see the man, the man's pose, an orange, velvet upholstered chair and the marble guard just past the window. The idea is that you are now the spectator, gaining an intimate view of something you wouldn't otherwise see. We don't see the man's face or what he sees because he's not the focal point of the composition. The idea of spectating is the focal point".
The backstage areas of performing art centers depicted in the works of Degas are another instance we learn about in this video. Degas painted what happens behind the curtain, all of which is invisible during a stage show. Monet also took his easel and art utensils, ventured into the back of a train station, went behind the rails and illustrated what passengers almost never see. These famous painters might just have been the first urban explorers in Sal's point of view. Given the similarities between today's content creators capturing these mostly abandoned places on camera and the Impressionists painters painting subject matters most people don't typically consider, the commonalities are very uncannily striking. In Sal's narration, he goes on to say the following:
"These in my opinion were the first urban explorers and they brought the idea of preserving a scene for purposes of exposure and archival to mainstream audiences. These people were exploring places that passers-by would never see and they were painting these places. They were capturing that moment and showing other people what they aren't noticing in their daily travels. How fascinating is that that these people were going out and doing urban exploration well before this ever became a popular thing? And now their art is selling for millions".
Next, we hear about Walter Benjamin, a Jewish philosopher from Germany. Before World War II broke out, Benjamin wrote about Le Flâneur, describing it as a representation of modern strolling into the urban culture, walking through the crowds at the arcades and coming across every brand new, shiny thing behind glass. Benjamin believed that because of the rapid growth in which urban culture was increasing along with the changes in socio-economic leanings in Paris at the time, Le flâneur as a trend began to soar. According to Sal's commentary, "[t]his change, which was rooted in budding capitalism, involved the creation of the of the arcades, which again, were the passageways through neighborhoods, which had been covered with a glass roof, embraced by marble panels, so as to create a sort of interior exterior for vending purposes". From Baudelaire's observations, the reason the passageways in which the arcades were designed with such style and grace especially in their shops, was because the concept behind the shopping arcades was to be seen as a small scaled city or a new world. On a social level, he perceived the arcades as a means for visitors to find a relief from the complications and/or monotony of daily life. Taking a leisurely stroll, he'd observe everyone and everything for both pleasure and gaining new insights into what is beyond the surface level.
After describing the feeling of going inside the active JC Penney and then returning to the lifeless mall, Sal delves a bit further into Walter Benjamin's philosophy, pin pointing that "Benjamin laments on the extinction of Le flâneur, who disappeared as the commercial world slowly deserted the interior exterior of arcades for the carpeted, artificially lit department stores that were to replace them". He then quotes Charles Baudelaire in which the main point was that even as the arcades would soon fall out of favor to department stores, Le flâneur will still roam even through such changes. From Benjamin's perspective, the more commercialized, the less Le flâneur would have an incentive to stroll whereas, Baudelaire's saw it as regardless of changes, the explorer will always have a reason to stroll the walkways.
In any case, as arcades evolved into department stores and from department stores to the major shopping mall, the idea for the places in which the public shopped was for them to be pleasing on the eyes and offer a delightful experience for the customers. With the rapid rate in which shopping malls are dying, Sal reminds the viewer that "the same notion of Le flâneur captured the minds of modern day urban explorers" and that the buildings they set out to explore "were something that the public would no longer see because they were being demolished and removed from our everyday lives". Like the mindset of the artists of the Impressionist period, today's urban explorers "felt an urge to capture [the structures'] last moments or moments that society either forgot about or will never see again to preserve what once was for future generations". Just like how the painters of 1800's would use their art to delve into and preserve what the general public didn't see or didn't realize they were taking advantage of, the urban explorers of the 21st century are always capturing what people miss through the lens of a camera.
Sal concludes his observations with this statement:
"While Le flâneur was the rise of interest in seeing these places, Le flâneur gave rise to the Impressionists, who went out and found places of interest that nobody saw and painted those things so that we can see them. Their senses were then dulled by the artificial department stores, which were just bland and bleached out inside until you got stores like Wanamaker's and such, which were gorgeous.
But, for the most part, in the rural sections of the department stores were pretty boring and Le flâneur didn't want to see it anymore. But once these places started crumbling and growing mold and trees inside of the mall where the carpet was, this was a wholly fascinating experience and a cathartic one, too because as the urban explorers were seeing these things, the mall was closed, the department store was closed and nobody would see it, so they began capturing these events as the Impressionists did back in the 1800's and showed the public because it was fascinating. The pedigree of modern day urban explorers in summation comes the idea of Le flâneur and the urban expansion in the 19th century. Urban explorers get their roots from Le flâneur and the Impressionist painters of the 1800's"
While Sal makes it clear that this is just his own speculation based on his own research, it's easy to see the similarities between the Impressionists and today's content creators on YouTube. As someone who shoots to write and draw her own stories that dispel expectations and strives to offer new insights into expected ideas, I find Sal's analysis not only insightful, but accurate. As both the Impressionists painters and urban explorers show spectators of their art new insights into the things they take for granted or don't usually give a second thought to, they utilize creative means to expand the boundaries of their expectations and challenge their perceptions. Our perceptions might deceive us into seeing only what is on the surface without questioning if there is more beyond that surface layer. Once the spectator takes a moment to remove that surface layer, uncovering the underlying details, the spectator can't help but discover new insights into what they thought they knew. Urban explorers, through the content they produce use video as a means to communicate such ideas as the Impressionists did through painting. Works of art indeed are supposed to invoke, not only emotions, but new insights as well. If an urban exploration video inspires a viewer in such a way that offers the new insights and suspends what was perceived early on, the modern day urban explorer successfully accomplishes what the Impressionists accomplished centuries ago.
Marc Brown, who is known primarily as the author of the Arthur children's books series, is a three-time Emmy award winner behind the PBS Kids TV series of the same name. Born and raised in Erie, Pennsylvania along with his three sisters, he grew up listening to his Grandma Thora's stories, which eventually inspired him to come up with and write his own stories as he got older. Aside from sparking his interest in writing, Thora also sparked his interest in drawing. Marc began using watercolors in high school after his teacher introduced him to the medium, which he continues to use in most of his illustrative works. Among his influences are Cubist artist Marc Chagall and fellow children's book writer and illustrator, Maurice Sendak of the Where the Wild Things Are fame. Marc majored in graphic design at the Cleveland Institute of Art after receiving help from Grandma Thora. Since then, Marc Brown pursued children's books even while taking up other jobs before pursuing the career path officially.
To this day, Arthur continues to air, becoming the longest running children's animated series in the United States and the second longest running animated show behind The Simpsons. The television series made its debut on October 7th, 1996, two decades after the first Arthur book, Arthur's Nose was published. Both the books and the television series center around the everyday life and challenges of the titular character, who is an 8-year old anthropomorphic aardvark, his friends and family. The topics of the books deal with issues and challenges children face such as trying new things, first days of school, effort and success and working together with peers. In the television series, there are episodes that cover difficult issues families struggle with such as autism, cancer, dyslexia, Alzheimer's, death of a pet, Asperger's syndrome and coping after a devastating event.
I had the pleasure of meeting Marc Brown back in 2014 at a talk he was giving at the Boston Public Library. The lecture was a part of the Gateway to Reading Lowell Lecture Series. Marc discussed what inspired him to become a children's book author as well as his creative process, how the people he went to school with when he was in third grade and family members inspired the characters in the Arthur books, other books he was working on and other authors he worked with. When on the topic of how Arthur became a TV show, he cited the late Fred Rogers (Mister Rogers' Neighborhood) as his main influence. PBS wanted to make a television show based on the Arthur books as a means to encourage children to read. Marc recalls "what PBS wanted to do with Arthur was to make more kids want to read by watching television. I thought that was a wonderful use of both animation and TV. And the best role model was my buddy Fred Rogers, who I think used television in such helpful ways to kids and families. I miss him a lot." Marc then goes on to show the audience some clips from the animated series. "We did a lot of shows, things that you couldn't do in a picture book as well. Like a lot of families, including ours have dealt with the problem of Alzheimer's and Arthur's having some problems with his Grandpa." The first clip shown is from the episode, Grandpa Dave's Memory Album, featuring late comedian and actress Joan Rivers in a special guest appearance followed by another clip from the episode, The Great MacGrady, which dealt with the topic of cancer. Marc then goes on to show more clips from the animated series featuring other guest appearances including Larry King, Matt Damon, Neil Gaiman, Ming Tsai the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, Mike Fincke, Michelle Kwan, the late Koko Taylor, Taj Mahal, Frank Gehry, Yo-Yo and of course, Fred Rogers. After the montage of clips, Marc talks about his experiences meeting four presidents after writing the book, Arthur Meets the President and shares some fun and humorous anecdotes from his travels. He then talks about a book he illustrated, titled Wild About Books, written by fellow children's book author, Judy Sierra. The writing style in Wild About Books pays homage to Dr. Seuss, who is known for famous titles such as The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham and The Lorax. Marc shows the audience his illustrations as he narrates the book and concludes the lecture by saying "if I ran the zoo, all the teachers would make more money than movie stars because what they do is a lot more important. Think about that".
After the lecture, there is the question time taking place, starting with the kids and then the rest of the audience. When my turn comes up, (timestamp 48:16), I ask about how does the team go about the difficult topics covered in the show. Marc's response goes as follows:
"Well, I'm glad that you are interested in that because...it's kind of a detail that a lot of people don't know about. Because we deal with so many issues that are difficult, most people don't want to deal with those [topics] with kids. We have a wonderful advisory group and we go to people who are specialists in those fields. We talked with a lot of people who know about cancer and they know about families..., dealing with that and how to be helpful, what we should put in the show, what we shouldn't put in, what's age-appropriate. So it's...our advisors who really helped us a lot and as I was saying very quickly when I showed you that little reel about our guest stars, Matt Damon's mom who teaches at Lesley is one of our advisors and she's really good as they all are. And we have great young writers! They...will get together once a year and we'll make a list of things that might make good show shows and...one day I said 'desk wars'! And they wrote a whole story about kids and their desks and classroom and the wars that they were having with... each other...or head lice! Who's going to deal with head lice? We are!"
The next question is from a little girl who asks if any of his books have been adapted in braille because her mother is blind, to which Marc replies that "there are quite a few Arthur books that are in Braille. I was working directly with the Perkins School". At the 52:49 timestamp, Kathy Brodsky, a clinical social worker who also writes children's books herself comments on the work Marc and his wife, Laurene Krasny Brown did on Dinosaurs Divorce: A Guide for Changing Families and When Dinosaurs Die: A Guide to Understanding Death, commenting that she has used the books "for people of all different ages and they've been terrific". Marc turns everyone's attention towards Laurene for a round of applause and describes how she went about writing those stories. "Laurene worked at...Harvard with the brilliant Howard Gardner for many years in project zero and did a lot of research of children and media. And she's so good at taking those hard issues and...getting the right questions for families to talk about". The last question is from a little boy, who asks Marc what inspired him to make Arthur into a TV show to which he responds "well, like I said, I wanted kids to read and I wanted kids to go to the library and pick out more books. And Arthur is all about reading... [W]hen he has difficult things in his life, one of the first things he does is go to the library to try to learn about it". After Marc thanks everyone for coming and supporting his work, there is also a book signing taking place.
I purchased a copy of In New York at the book signing. When I get to Marc's table, I briefly introduce myself and tell him what I'm studying at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts (animation at the time). I then expressed my interest in writing and illustrating my own original stories and characters, so I asked his advice for aspiring writers. Marc's response was very simple: just keep writing and exploring. You just need to find what is inspiring to you and keep practicing the skills. If you have a great idea you want to write about and it's important to you, keep working on developing the story and character you've been working on.
Of all the advice I received that year in regards to getting started with creative ideas, this was one of the strongest and it stuck with me ever since. Sometimes it's easy to get so caught up in the little details about how people get into writing a book (or any other form of media for that matter), but what they often forget that it's the craft that goes into writing and illustrating the final product people value most. The time and effort put into a project and the quality of writing is what resonates with your audience in the end. If you can write good, enriching stories and characters that resonate with the reader, you are on the right path. In the case of writing children's books, it's important to learn about your age group, what your topic is, do the research, seek good help and information from others who specialize in the topic to decipher what is an age appropriate way to tell the story, develop the idea and most of all, you will never stop learning.
Post Trip to Italy: After Thoughts Part 2 What I learned from Elia Stelluto about Capturing Moments through the Camera Lens
Last blog post, I wrote about my trip to Italy, which took place back in October of the past year. In that post, which I decided to make into a two-parter, I started with my visit to Rome and what stuck with me the most when I was there: the Sistine Chapel. This was important because given the wealth of history behind the chapel and the legacy left behind by Michelangelo, I felt that I'd write about how understanding the skill and technique of the old masters is influential to today's artists.
In this post in which I focus on my time in San Giovanni Rotundo, I'm going talk about what I learned from Elia Stelluto, the famed photographer of San Padre Pio. Padre Pio (1887-1968) who has been canonized a Saint, was a friar, but above all, he was a well known mystic and stigmatist. His body remains uncorrupted to this day and is displayed on public view at a church in the Sanctuary of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina. Throughout the years of San Pio's work, Elia captured the major moments and highlights in his photographs and they have been on display throughout various locations in San Giovanni.
When my family and I finally met Elia and his sister, Maria, we got to see and learn of the many amazing places throughout San Giovanni and more about his friendship with Saint Padre Pio. As someone who specializes in drawing learning from someone who specializes in photography, there were a few new techniques I garnered from Elia that reshaped my creative process that I wanted to cover here in this post.
When we went to go see the stations of the cross, upon trying to get a good photo of each one, he showed me the best ways to take a solid snapshot. Don't hold the camera too close to the subject matter. Don't place it too far either. Keep it steady. If the subject matter is a landscape, position the camera to match the horizontal position. If the subject matter is portrait, set the camera in the upright position. Also, be very observant of the light source. In this case, because this was outdoors, the sun was my light source, so I had to position my camera in the best ways possible so that the sun wasn't blinding nor darkening which station I was taking the picture of.
Although I was using the camera on my phone to take pictures, (which I normally do for snapping real-life examples that I use as references for my illustrative works), Elia encouraged me to be open to the skill and techniques that go into picture taking. Usually when we take photos with our smartphones, we don't normally over analyze how we do it. We see something that catches our attention and want to document it as quickly as possible especially if it's something that is going to move very quickly like a truck with a rare logo or a billboard while on the road, so we just try to capture it right then and there. However, because there are those special moments we want to capture using any kind of camera and even though photography might not be our main focus, learning the basic techniques of photography from Elia got me rethinking the way I take pictures and why. In some cases, I do it to preserve memories and others as reference for my illustrative works. So, even though I don't specialize in photography, learning from Elia's years of experience has restructured my thought process for picture taking and how it complements the work I do. Ever since then, I just take pictures that I know are going to mean something to me when I pull them out again and that they won't just be a blurry clutter for my phone, both figuratively and literally. If it's a subject matter that I'm going to revisit for a project that I'm working on or an important memory I simply want to preserve from my travels that I want to document and show what I've learned from or got out of it, I felt it was a good idea to take advice from someone who knows the craft and experience and then I start using it in even the most simplest of things.
In the end, I really enjoyed my conversations with Elia and getting to know more about his work ethic and process. Although photography is not something I'm considering to pursue professionally, I felt it was very beneficial to learn a thing or two from Elia's craft. In turn, I started to see we are very much alike. Although our mediums are different, as artists, we share the same goal in our art: to tell a good story that will be an inspiration to others.
Ever (re)discovered new facts about any art form or part of pop culture that you thought you knew before and realized there might be more to the story than what meets the eye? The Blog section debunks common expectations and assumptions in the art world.