VVP: Art 434 & Engl. 410

Website for Vision Voice and Practice: An Interdisciplinary Course in Art and Creative Writing

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Lorene Delany-Ullman

Last Thursday, the poet Lorene Delany-Ullman visited our class, where she read from her new book, Camouflage for the Neighborhood, described her writing practice, and told us about a prose/photography collaboration project she's been working on the past few years.
One thing she mentioned in her talk with us was that, while she's working during the academic year (she's a lecturer at UC Irvine), she has a modest goal for poem production: two pieces per month. This is encouraging for those of us who struggle to balance the work that pays us and the creative work we feel called to make.  (One strives to make these the same thing.)

She also showed us photographs of the method she used to put together her book, which looked more like collage than linear process:

Finally, Lorene told us about the project Saved, which is a collaboration between herself and the East Coast photographer Jody Servon. This project was similar to the sorts of things we do in this class. It was a pleasure to have her visit us and share her work. Her book, especially for those interested in the history of the personal and geopolitical intersections of Southern California's defense industry, is worth seeking out.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Rituals of Makers

Slate has been publishing a series by Mason Currey, drawn in part from his new book, Daily Rituals: How Artist's Work. The author was featured this week on one of Slate's podcasts, The Culture Gabfest, and the following exchange caught my ear and seems worth sharing here (the names of the three hosts of the podcast are June Thomas, Dana Stevens, and Stephen Metcalf--are marked by their initials, as is Mason Currey himself):
June Thomas: One thing that really struck me though, Mason--I love the book, by the way--is that unless you're already successful and so you've got the money, or maybe just the kind of the command, to say, "Family, Life, work around me" ... you either have to be a kind of a monomaniac, or a bully, or just a kind of commanding presence to make everyone accommodate your preferences, because mostly they're not really needs; they're just, preferences. Does that strike a chord with you?

Mason Currey: Yeah, I think so. I mean, these people were--you know, they knew what they wanted and they were willing to ... make other people adjust their schedules to fit them, a lot of them, anyway. There are a lot of forceful personalities in the book, and maybe it's a little discouraging for the 'meeker' creative people among us.

Dana Stevens: Yeah, it made you envy people like Freud, or Thomas Mann, ... who had whole families and households that kept quiet for hours so they could work, and brought them--somebody had coffee brought to them in bed every morning... Or who was it who had a glass of cold water every morning in bed? That was a great ritual.

Mason Currey: That was, that was Flaubert...

Dana Stevens: Right. Flaubert's household definitely revolved around him.

Mason Currey: Yeah, they would all stay quiet until he woke up, and then he would get his pipe and newspapers and his mail, and his water, and everything.

Dana Stevens: That sounded so good. I want Flaubert's morning.

Stephen Metcalf: I know, but what's so amazing about this, right, is that we've placed this incredibly finely graded filter over all of humanity in order to get this book, right?, which is that these are the people who are justified, retrospectively, for having made these demands: Flaubert, Freud, Thomas Mann, on and on and on. But think about all the douchebags out there, who've forced everyone to revolve around their egocentric belief in their own artistic destiny, who have no artistic destiny. So, this book could be dangerous fodder for some people. 
A few days ago an Onion-like headline came to me: "Loser Artist Loves his Family". (Alas, I looked to see if The Onion takes editorial submissions, and they do not.)

Anyway, Dr. Duquette would be happy to know that, according to the interview excerpted above, Jane Austen was a responsible, well-balanced woman.

Image Text Collaboration

In this collaborative project writers and visual artists were paired and asked to create visual works that incorporated image and text. In the combining the image was to be privileged. These are some examples of what was produced.

Beatrice Coron, paper cutting

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Two Chatbots Talking To Each Other

It is my hope that some day I can make something as entertaining as this.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Individual Practice - Writing

The following examples of student work were made under self-imposed formal and time restrictions.


[Variations on a theme:]

Sunset in Pasadena, CA 7:20 pm

My parked car
in the corner spot has

on the dash with
date and time

the printed paper slip
encased by the glass

veneer reflection
of time spent or fading

dark blue, light blue,
soft green, harsh

purple too.



The orange slice
Rolls down

My citrus swallow
And juices into

The fire pit
Of my stomach

Where California
Poppies boil

Across the half-light
Of mixed blood

And mustard

- Nick Maurer


Red beef with flesh in jewel-bright slabs
All piled inside a gleaming pot.
A narrow knife-point peels and stabs
Red beef. With flesh in jewel-bright slabs,
My father gathers up and grabs
The meat, stirring the stew of hot
Red beef with flesh in jewel-bright slabs.


Old Advertisements

Light lurks unnoticed in the alley's edge,
a spectacle from some unseeing eye.
The road is still, and on a window ledge
light lurks unnoticed. In the alley's edge
discarded signs are muttering illeg-
ible proclamations and asking why
light lurks unnoticed in the alley's edge,
a sight for some unseeing eye.

- Jonathan Diaz


If you throw salt in February,
it will eat like ringworm.
But in June the fans turn on,
and the breeze thaws,
and the air crinkles up into a steady heat.

In the front a sprinkler is going,
reminding each end of the lawn
just how much it is loved,
spitting confetti through missing teeth.

And if April comes and you haven’t seen rain,
expect buckets.
But when September,
with leaves rolled in his hair,
comes stumbling in with misplaced Saturdays,
make sure the pilot light is burning.

In the battle between the rope and the fir,
the rope lost;
cut lengthwise as not
to spoil the effectiveness of its heavier twine.

In the lawn,
as it is made weekly,
off-white shoes will be confirmed,
smothered in desultory
greenness of that precious oil.

And if you buy a mint in January
it will freeze on the top of your tongue.
October always twists again
to temper off the harshness of the greens.

In the center of the neighborhood,
there is a drain that willingly swallows
And if the clouds convince enough rain to jump,
then bleeding parking tickets and
excavated chew toys
all become one.

- Justin Potesta


Baby Suggs

The children filled the clearing with the sound
Of laughter raised to heaven, to mothers,
And next the men were called to dance, their feet
Hard pressed the earth, their backs grown wet with sweat.
The women watched and then were called to cry.
They didn’t hide their faces from the rest
But let the water drip from chins and run
Between their breasts. The children danced, the men
Wept, women laughed, then danced, and all collapsed.
Small, Baby Suggs went wading through the crowd-
She whispered milk-white ink over them all
And, looking up, spun with twisted hip.

- Sarah O'Donnell


Nineties babies wanted to ride in the
Mystery machine. Watching Shaggy and
Scooby eat snacks, while Velma searched for clues.
Jinkies, what are jinkies? Methamphetamines.
Too naïve to know that Scooby stood for
Sensless collection of obtuse youth,
Shaggy was a stoner, Velma was a
Rebel and Fred and Daphne they always
Disappeared for a reason. Mystery.

- Julius Thompson


Night covered me with salt and pepper and but-
ter like I was a dish to be sauteed.
I laid in the pan I called my bed, but-
tonning up a plan to make me unmade.
I want to simmer down to an emul-
sification of myself and watch the
unnecessaries float away.  This dull-
ness tries and tries and tries me.  Will I come
to find in the light that I wasted my
night-time time in thought when deeds were what were
called for?  This question raises the heat by
three, four, at least.  The skin begins to burn
and bubble, my liquids sizzle and crack,
my skull explodes, the pan sticks to my back.

- Spencer Cullum


“Praying for you right now! I bet you are doing great!”

She said, “Praying for you right now! I bet you are doing great!” I didn’t know what to say to her. It made me feel even worse for lying. And I definitely was not interested in her prayers. I know she means well but things have just been tense for us…I know its my fault. This always happens when I keep secrets from her. There is no way I would tell her about this though. I don’t think she’d be praying for me if she knew I was going to Planned Parenthood today. Anyway, I just wanted to let you know I’m here. I’ll call you after. Good luck with the history test haha I’ll see you in 3rd period. 

- Hannah Perry



            The mountain air was cold against his cheeks, camouflaged hunters cap pulled down over his eyes to shade against the afternoon sun in the blue Colorado sky above. It had been a long climb up the mountain, and he could feel sweat dampening the back of his cotton shirt. The late fall breeze coming up the side of the cliff brought scents from the valley below and cooled his perspiring skin.
            He straightened up and adjusted the leather strap of the hunting rifle on his shoulder, the wooden stock settling between his shoulder blades. His eyes went out over the valley he had just left behind, a small silver river barely visible as it trickled its way through the rocks far below.
            Taking a deep breath, he turned back up toward the crags above him and squinted into the sunlight. The sky was clear and blue, with a few wisps of white vapor way off on the horizon.
            His quarry was not in sight, but he was not in any hurry. He would catch up, eventually.
Shifting his rifle, he began to once again resume his ascent up the mountain.
            His breathing was becoming more labored now, the oxygen molecules arriving at his lungs with more scarcity as he climbed higher and higher.
            Stopping at a particularly large builder, he took off his ball cap. He took a moment to swing a small pack around his side and reached inside to pull out a small flask of water.
            Unscrewing the cap, he took a swig, not minding when it overflowed past his mouth and dribbled down the outside of his throat. It was cold and refreshing, and once he had almost drained the bottle, he poured the last ounces over his head, dampening his hair.
            Replacing his pack and shifting his rifle, he turned to face the large boulder in front of him. It was smooth and polished by the wind, and it sat directly in his path eliminating the possibility to go around it. He wiped his hands on his cargo pants and scrutinized the surface for handholds.
A crack near the top looked promising. He braced himself, then jumped, his hands grabbing the crevice and sticking. Grunting and struggling, he hefted himself up the rock face and grasped the top of the boulder. Boots scraping, he pulled himself up and over the top, panting with exertion.

- Matt Glass


Things the Sky Fits Inside of

a book
a mirror
a cup
a kingdom
a mystery.


The World You Inherit

my own
tremendous mountain.

your own
portable prairie.

a precarious habitat.
How the Canyon Became Grand

The water was wild.

- Rebecca Johnson


Burn Injuries

They fell asleep while smoking in bed.
The extinguished batteries in the
smoke detector left the flames unattended.
With no cautions provided,
they never reached the fire extinguisher
kept in the bathroom.

Difficulty removing themselves from the fire.
Difficulty removing themselves from the burn source.
Their reduced mobility, coordination, and strength
increased their risk of severe burns.

They were referred to a specialized burn center.
Their elderly skin–thinner, less elastic–
challenges their ability to heal.

- Charlotte Foland


Alex and Wolf

This morning, I told Alex that I was a really good dancer. I was joking, of course, but he thought I was serious. “Ew,” he said looking down at me from his couch. “Are you serious right now?”

When I saw his repulsed look, I knew I couldn’t take it any farther. “I can’t believe that you even thought for a second that I was serious! Oh my gosh, why is everyone so willing to believe these things lately?” I laughed and laid down on his living room rug.

Alex clearly wasn’t over the initial shock. “I’ve seen you dance before! You dance exactly how I imagined people from Jersey would dance.”

“Oh. My gosh,” I was laughing. “I’m kidding, and why does everyone believe these things all the sudden? The other day I told Louise that I wasn’t going to her housewarming because she hadn’t personally called and invited me, and she thought I was serious and got really weird and stern with me.”

Alex shook his head, and looked down at his laptop again. “I don’t know,” he said. “I just believed you for some reason.” He looked up. “Hey. Where’s Wolf.”

Wolf is Alex’s miniature dog, and even Alex doesn’t totally trust the little creep. He grins constantly, baring all his miniscule teeth and his fur sticks straight from the sides of his little body. When we take him for walks along the beach, people’s faces melt, and they come up to us. Alex is really annoyed by this and selfish about Wolf, but he hides it well. They always, always ask what kind of dog he is, and lex consistently evades this question, even among his closest friends. He is convinced that Wolf could have his own reality show someday.

“Wolf!” Alex opened the front door and walked out into the hallway. “Wolf!”

When this happens I have to have a panic attack with him, or else I’m not a caring person.

“Wolf, where are you?” The dog’s crazy little head poked over the arm of the couch. “He’s right here,” I say.

Alex shut the door and walked toward Wolf. “Hi!” he cooed, kneeling. “Hi!”

“I wuzz just playing hide and seek because I’m a crazy little man!” said Wolf . . . said Alex.

“Yes you are! Yes you are!” Alex responded. He grabbed the dog’s little face, clutching Wolf’s itty-bitty ears and pulling back the corners of Wolf’s eyes. I sat down and watched. I’m always a little worn out from the intensity of Alex searching for Wolf.


Four p.m. I’m working. I’m trying really hard to sell the shirt with the palm trees that never sells to the first customer that’s walked into our store in the past hour. She’s wearing a blue dress that I happen to know a ballpark price for. I’m pretty sure she’s loaded. We’re about one minute away from her deciding to buy this if I can convince her she will wear it. “Mmmm. I just never wear button-downs,” she admits.

“I totally understand, but it just has to be the right one,” I tell her. “This is the kind of shirt that you can wear with pretty much anything on the bottom because it can be either worn super clean or messy.”

She holds on to it and circles the store. I go behind the counter and look at my phone. Suddenly, she’s in front of me. “I’m just going to do it,” she states. “I won’t sleep tonight unless I’ve bought something, you know?”

I smile as I ring her up, “Yes. Totally.”

My boss walks in from the back and sees me folding the shirt with the palm trees. I feel his admiration from the other side of the counter as I finish helping the customer. As soon as she walks out, he turns to me. “I really hope you weren’t on your phone while she was in here.”


Ten p.m. I’m at Alex’s. We just finished watching the levitation scene in Solaris, and he’s already tired. The ceiling fan is on low. I’m watching a dust bunny roll around in the crook between the entertainment center and the wall.

I look down at Alex. He’s laying facedown on the rug, asleep. Wolf is literally laying on top of Alex’s back. I shake my head, but I take a picture of them. Then, I stand up quietly to get my jacket.

As I open the front door, I hear shuffling behind me. Wolf is standing at my heels, watching me with his crazy little eyes and his tiny, pink tongue hanging out of his mouth. The warmth from the hall light diffuses on his monochrome fur. I can almost see what other people see in him.


It’s midnight, and I’m home. My roommate and his girlfriend are talking in low voices in the next room. The cold, sticky air sifts through the screen on to my face. I’m looking at my ceiling. I see the lady from work today. She’s standing in her room with her back turned looking at her new shirt spread out on her bed. I didn’t like that shirt very much. I really, really wish I had shown her something else.

On the table next to me, my phone lights up with another text from Alex. I reach over and flip it face down. Then, I turn on to my side to face the window. My mattress shudders. Four little paws creep up and lay down behind me. 

- Alyson Luthi


Sunday, April 21, 2013

Interview with Makoto Fujimora

Fujimora was our commencement speaker last May. Here's a recent interview where he touches on some of the stuff this class is designed to address.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Field Trip!

Yesterday, the class went first to the mysterious and enchanting Museum of Jurassic Technology. Next, we went to the Hammer Museum to look at the provocative and visually intense Llyn Foulkes exhibit. Afterward, we went to dinner at the delicious vegan restaurant Native Foods. Below, students regard a remarkable sculpture by Katie Grinnan. It was a day full of adjectives.

Earlier, outside the Museum of Jurassic Technology:

Monday, April 15, 2013

Individual Practice

Some recent examples of individual studio practices.

photo by Sarah Croswhite
painting by Caroline Davoust

objects by Laura Soto

photos by Justin Potesta

objects by Aubrey Stevans

objects by Crystal Perreira
painting by Rebekah Weeks

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Influence of this Class

A few weeks back, I showed the students a slide show that covers the material in this post. I had just recently taken my son Eli to the beach to fly his new kite:
This particular kite, a small "trick kite," was new to him and required me to, from time to time, re-launch it after it crashed. (He's since become an expert at flying the thing.) That meant reading the book I'd brought along was out of the question.
Looking for something to do between crashes, I glanced around the beach. Seal Beach, where we live, is notoriously trashy. The oceanfront is only about a mile long, and it's bounded on each side by jetties. At the western end (it's a south-facing beach) the San Gabriel River empties into the ocean, bringing with it 40+ miles worth of urban runoff. The southern jetty marks the boundary of the Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station. After a rain, it's especially nasty, as the trash carried by the river gets stuck between the two jetties and sinks to the bottom of the ocean, is pushed out into the wider sea, or ends up on the beach. Here's an aerial photo, taken from CSULB's geology department:
All I had to do was look down to see the evidence of this:
Another view:
This always makes me sad (and a little angry), and I find myself on occasion trying to clean some of it up, either alone or with my kids or with Save Our Beach. But the wave of trash keeps on coming, relentlessly.

I decided to make something out of it. The previous week, Dan and I had given the students of this class one of our several "spot-collaboration" assignments. In this case, students had to look around the classroom, within a 100-yard radius, and make sculptures out of whatever they could find. They had twenty minutes. The results can be viewed in the small pictures along the right side of this blog. The stuff students came up with was terrific, inspiring really, and it highlighted one of the many joys of teaching this class: The world becomes a little more magical when limitations help us make something of it that's unexpected and witty and true (note the chairs piled up and making their escape through the ceiling; the color wheel attracting, like a multi-chromatic magnet, like-colored objects to itself; the trash-bag jellyfish). Influenced by the students' creativity, I grabbed a bunch of junk off the beach and made this:
Something unexpected I learned from this, and because I'm a writer I don't think a lot about it, is the importance of documentation. We take several pictures of the visual artists' work in this class, and the artists take pictures, too. Seeing how important that process is to the work itself is reflected in the following two photographs. The first brings to mind what I remember reading in Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale: "Context is all." Context may not be all, but it sure is lots:
That's the sculpture, in reverse angle, swallowed by the size of the beach. And here's another photograph, the one that captures the object in better light:
Note the kite in the background. The angle of the camera made for a better representation--so much better. I wouldn't have known it had I not made it. A friend asked me once why I write poems, and my response was that I do it to find out what I know and what I don't know. I'm grateful for this small experience, and I'm grateful to our students. [Thanks, students!]

Monday, April 8, 2013

More on the management of information

If this blog were The Awl, this item would be under the headline "What a World":

The NY Times has started a page of haiku derived from its own stories. You can view it here. Goldsmith, et. al. are more prescient than perhaps they know we knew! [Here's an excerpt from his book Day.]

Two examples from the Times site that I particularly liked:


Also, related: The crazy technology (new, yes) allowing people to use photographs of old record albums to recreate the sound of their recordings, which have been otherwise lost or destroyed. Somehow this is both breathtaking and unsurprising. The second adjective's the one I worry about (for myself).

Also: In the sermon at church yesterday about how people co-create by rearranging the material of the universe given to them (paraphrased): "I can't eat a bowl of flour, a bowl of sugar, a cup of oil, an egg, and some cocoa and say I've eaten a cake."

The material:

The object: