Close Looking with Cal

A bit ago Callie brought me a rock and we were talking about it, talking about the details of it – a simple observation practice called close looking. While doing this, we got into a debate about the color of it – she said it was grey, and I felt pretty sure it was blue-green. So I asked if she wanted to find the color and see if we could draw it. I had been in the middle of work, so I had adobe programs up and running, and had her grab my surface pens so we could doodle.

Since covid forced so many people home, and unexpectedly into the role of homeschooling mom, I’ve had a lot of people ask how I do it, what my days look like, how I juggle. We don’t officially “begin” our “homeschool year” (we are always learning, and tend to do big projects in the summer when the world is available and not frozen) until next week, but even then, while I am continuously striving for systems and routines that work well, this is what a lot of days shape up to be. Stopping what I’m doing to look close, to discuss, explore, and connect. It’s not perfect, some days I’m overly focused on work, sometimes I am too into a topic that they have no interest in exploring. Even 8 years into this journey, we are still practicing, and evolving, through our learning together as a family.

And, of course – playing. When we were done with the rock, and had settled on the color being green-blue-grey, I turned Callie loose and we played with the photoshop tools. I’m forever amazed by how quickly kids catch on to everything tech. She was breezing through those tools with such ease. I am forever grateful to get these moments with my kids, to get to see them learning and figuring things out, and figuring it all out by their side.

Move Aside, Wes Anderson. Fairfield Porter has entered.

I know, I know. How predictably hipster of me to love Wes Anderson.

I’m thinking tonight about …well, as always, a ton of shit that isn’t related but gets woven together in my spaz brain. Just picture me waving my hands in the air, gaping like a drowning fish, trying to find the words to explain why thinking styles, wealth distribution and the myth of the meritocracy, compositional design theory, and life rafts all go together. Not so much a lack of words, I suppose, as complete and cohesive sentences. Shut up brain.

Anyway. I just wandered over to Wikipedia and clicked random article a few times, hoping for a little mindless inspiration to turn into something. I ended up on the article for Fairfield Porter, and let me tell you what – when I saw that first example of his work, alongside the rattling off of his prestigious family, I. Was. Pissed. BANANAS DUCT TAPED TO WALLS. NFT ART. TAYLOR SWIFT. EVERYTHING MEANS NOTHING. Merit? Merit is meaningless if money and a well-connected family allows you to step over people with actual talent who are working their tails off. Mind you, that ain’t me, but man I’m mad for those folks, probably. In theory.

Cause this? This is horrible! Don’t try to convince me otherwise with some pretentious bullshit. If your art takes that many words to justify it, it’s bad. IT’S BAD.

Fairfield Porter's painting 'Under the Elms', 1971 - 1972.jpg

Fucking Fairfield Porter and his Hahvahd education, his architect-poet parents, his delightfully WASPy name, and his terrible, terrible art. He is everything wrong with the world. I can envision the smug smiles and cashmere cardigans that call this shit art. On Great Spruce Head Island. In Maine.

So then, of course, I wanted to feed my bratty envy entirely valid rage and feel superior about my own shitty art skills. So I turned to my trusty friend, Google, always there to validate whatever feelings I want to believe in.

And wouldn’t you fucking know.

Please don’t make me admit it.

Dammit all. I just wanted to be mad, but no, of course not. Instead I get eyes like saucers and a racing heart, taking in aaaaallll of that gorgeous, no-words-required-art.

So then I just wanted to talk about it, show someone the pretties, but my brain wandered away to obvi-wes places – and it brought me to a new frustration. Before making my way to Wikipedia, and Sir Porter of Great Spruce Head, I had been researching compositional design theory – and, even for a master of the Google-fu, I was having a hard time finding precisely what I was after.

Part of this is an algorithmic problem, of course – too many people look for the easy answers, driving those results to the top and drowning out the deeper, more complex explorations on a topic. Fair enough. However, whenever I come against such a wall, I am plagued by a mild regret, for not having gone to college. Not really, because I have enough awareness to know that my little girl fantasies of passionate academic debate taking place in classroom, coffee shops, and in an evergreen quad are, at best, a thing of the past, and possibly purely TV-inspired myth. But part of me wishes I had (easier) access to the deeper understanding that seems to be available through university system, than it is for an autodidact with an internet connection. While options like Skillshare exist, most of the classes are pretty shit, people repackaging and regurgitating the same information you find in those first few pages of google search results.

I love design, composition, cinematography, storytelling, music. All of it. I love art, creation, expression. I drink that shit in, it gives me goosebumps. However, loving and understanding are two different things. Laying claim to love, and being able to explain what it is you love, and why…that is an entirely different beast. I do not have that beast, I am beastless. Or, I suppose my beast is undisciplined, unintelligible, and never fully satiated. Maybe if I had saddled it with a 6-figure education, led it into the cage of higher education, I would now be the proud master of a broken beast which I could ride into the glorious, well-composed sunset.

I don’t think it should be that way, is the trouble. I also don’t think it is that way – because most of the people wandering the internet, confused, searching for those easy answers…well, statistically, they have a college education, and they don’t seem to understand anything, either, and especially not in a way that they can speak on with any authority. But why is it so hard to get complete information online, in the Information Age. Why is everything available in memes and nuggets, with very little deep, meaningful discussion happening.

I’ve been preaching since I was a young teen about the potential of the internet for learning, that you could teach yourself damn near anything if you have an internet connection. It’s true, you can – but it’s also lacking. I talk a lot about our experiences with homeschooling, and how the most memorable learning moments were found in connection, and especially the lifeguard who taught us about the ocean on a random weekday afternoon, on an empty beach in Florida. It used to be that you could get deep connection online, in fact when I was an awkward hermit youth, I could only find it online. But now it seems that everyone is so busy having opinions and being authentic that we’ve forgotten how to have real conversations. Like really real, like really hard, not just cozying up to people who spout the same buzzwords in an endless cycle of yas queen. CHALLENGING, dissenting, perspective shifting conversations. It shouldn’t be this way, but should doesn’t measure up to much, and I’m off topic. Always.

So what is it. That’s the question that made me start this bullshit post with too many words because I’m avoiding going to bed. What is it about this art that I love so much, that I want to bring into my own work, that I want to name and study and maybe even talk about??

Haven’t the foggiest. But if I ever manage to figure it out, I want to wrap my life up in it.