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April 09, 2003

A Nagging Question


My little boy is at an age (he’s pushing two) where an extra foot or so in height opens up a lot of horizons, so my wife went looking for a step-stool for him. She found some that were cute, stained wood with hand-painted pictures on them. Unfortunately, they cost $700. So my wife came up with a different plan: she bought an unfinished $45 stool, got my 13-year-old daughter to sand it and stain it (which she did admirably) and then assigned me to decorate said stool. Being a patron in the Renaissance manner, my wife also had a program worked out: my decorations should feature one of my son’s favorite scenes, the cow jumping over the moon. (My son finds the moon very, very intriguing. He asks me to take him outside almost every night to inspect it; once he’s taken a good long look, he then waves goodbye to it as we go back in the house.)

Since I don’t recall ever seeing a cow walk fast, let alone attempt to jump (they don’t seem particularly well-designed for levitation) I turned to the Internet to obtain some reference material. I found a nice little design, which I copied reasonably accurately onto the stool. That left me with the moon, which in my reference material was a simple circle. I put in a shadow on one side of the moon and a cast shadow of the cow’s front legs to link the cow and the moon spatially, and then stopped. I was unsure how far to go with the whole spherical aspect of the moon, since the cow was resolutely a two-dimensional pattern, rendered in flat black and flat white. I pulled up a large scale astronomical photo of the moon, and stared at it for a while, not coming up with a solution. Suddenly, I realized that I had picked up my brush and some white paint and I was in the process of adding a highlight to my moon—a highlight that wasn’t present in the photograph. Then, mysteriously, the highlight kept getting bigger and bigger. I mixed some more intermediate greys and started adding craters along the shadow line and unspecified dark shapes in the lighted zone. I kept working lighter, then darker, then lighter and generally making my previously nice perfect sphere all beat up and lumpy--also slightly out of round. Finally, it appeared I was done, having created a moon that was extremely tactile, thus “resolving” the problem of a flat cow and a round moon only through an opposition so extreme it made the question pointless.

By Popular Demand: Contemporary Cow with 1960s Sci-Fi Moon

I’m not bringing all this up out of any idea that what I created was an artistic masterpiece, but simply because when I started working over the moon I recognized the presence of an aspect of my personality that always has violently strong opinions on aesthetic matters. I first became aware of this aspect of my personality twenty years ago while simultaneously attending art school and being in therapy; I eventually began to think of this aspect of my personality as a surviving fragment of me from the age of 8 or 9 years old. (Maybe this is a silly conceit; so sue me.) When this aspect of my personality wakes up and develops an interest in any aesthetic problem, it more or less immediately solves it, leaving my “adult” personality stupefied at the bulldozer-like directness of its approach. One nice thing about this aspect of my personality, however, is that it is utterly indifferent to notions of conventional taste or social acceptance: it knows what it considers "cool," and can’t even imagine the need for any other standard of judgment. Granted, the interests of this aspect of my personality are those of an eight or nine year old boy growing up in the Midwest in the early 1960s; but those interests, such as they are, are probably the only genuinely original thing I bring to the aesthetic table. As an adult, I could knock out reasonably accurate renderings of, say, classical statues; but I strongly suspect that if I focused on an action figure that appealed to my inner eight year old I would end up creating an image with more zip to it.

Anyway, shut up as I am in my own head, I occasionally wonder if anyone else out there has a similar (schizophrenic?) relationship to his or her creative impulses. If the relationship isn’t in my pattern, okay: but what is the pattern?



posted by Friedrich at April 9, 2003


I am holding my answer hostage until you present a jpeg of this moon stool.


Posted by: alexis on April 9, 2003 4:18 AM


Posted by: binky on April 9, 2003 4:26 AM

You let yourself in for this one!


Posted by: Michael on April 9, 2003 8:02 AM

I agree--just gotta see the flat cow and the lumpy moon. Maybe there's a new nursery rhyme in it too!


Posted by: Deb on April 9, 2003 9:49 AM

The mob has spoken! Make with the stool jpg... wait, let me rephrase that, we need to see a sample...

Posted by: j.c. on April 9, 2003 11:33 AM

Well being only a Sunday dauber myself, I thought of adding a shadow from a strand of hair on a forehead of portrait I was doing. I was working post-model(one way to really screw a piece up fast) and the strand didn't really exist. But I wanted to make it more interesting(realistic in this instance). Just like your moon, with the highlight and craters.
Sometimes I think doing art is a vain-as-hell hobby/occupation anyway, so to embellish is just a flaunting of knowledge. To call attention to myself so I can belong to the "club" that may know more; has better taste, maybe. To have more shit going on.
So, I may be schizophrenic too, or just using technique to climb up out of flatness. (At any rate, it keeps me out of the bars.)

Posted by: James on April 9, 2003 11:58 AM

Sixthed. Is that a word? If not, it ought to be. I like one-syllable seven-letter words, and the more there are of them, the better.

Posted by: Felix on April 9, 2003 12:49 PM

Geeze, you people are demanding. Now can I get an answer to my question?

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on April 9, 2003 1:01 PM

Short answer: yes.

It's (probably) based what appeals to you.

One of the false starts I made in college (which I now wished I'd followed up on) was an attempt on a minor in art - creation thereof, that is. That ended when the teacher in the intro class screamed at me for drawing with bold, clear lines rather than with this technique he liked where you varied the pressure as you drew, resulting in what he called "line quality." I figured if I couldn't get past the line Nazi - even when I did draw like he commanded - future classes here were not for me. I didn't want something I enjoyed being ruined.

To this day when I draw, I have big, clear lines. It's just what I dig, and I can't do anything else with conviction and joy.

Posted by: Yahmdallah on April 9, 2003 1:34 PM

Nicely-done moon! Your son will enjoy it.

Posted by: on April 9, 2003 1:40 PM

What a wonderful work! I must now hide this from my wife lest she imagine that I'm capable of just such a feat.

Posted by: Mitchell Morris on April 9, 2003 3:32 PM

For all the trouble of posting the pictures of the stool, you didn't get much in the way of answers did you? I'm not artistic enough to answer!!

Posted by: annette on April 9, 2003 5:35 PM

Michael, I live in a farmhouse with cows pastured on two sides--they definitely run. You can really tick a dairy farmer off by getting his cows galloping around the pasture. Lowers milk production when Bossy gets too much of a cardiac workout. However, logistically, if they were jumpers, fences would be useless. They wont even walk over grating so you can keep them in a pasture and have an opening in the fence by putting a "cow grate" in. FYI...

Annette, I will give it a go. I am a knitter and spinner. If I am talking to someone snobbish, I call myself a fiber artist. Knitters tend to get stupid jokes like "if I give you some steel wool will you make me a car." Har har.

But I never just make a sweater as I originally design it. Halfway thru I come up with some cool thing to do for the neck and then of course I have to change the way the sleeves drape above the elbow. I dont like the basic rib on the bottom, so I cut it off and put something else on, maybe a hem. That looks awful, so I will split the hem into panels and add a pattern in the knitting. Then I have to make the cuffs sort of match and do something with the neck treatment that will make tie all of it together. Then I decide that it really should be a cardigan rather than a pullover so I cut it down the middle and add a front button panel. etc. etc. etc. The sweater often ends up totally different than I originally envisioned and drew and planned but usually what I did with texture, pattern and color work if I dont overthink the process.

Michael, did I get it?


Posted by: Deb on April 9, 2003 7:18 PM

Ok, so I addressed the wrong blowhard in the last posting. Sorry, guys. You look so much alike.


Posted by: Deb on April 9, 2003 7:29 PM

That's a better answer! By the way, Friedrich---I do like the lumpy moon and the flat cow. But it occurs to me---I think this would be much more important to a guy or little boy than to a little girl. A cool, real-looking moon would have been more important to either of my brothers as kids than it would have been to me, in fact, I would have liked the cute, flat, perfectly round, perfectly unrealistic moon you started with.

Also, it occurs to me to wonder---given your son's waving farewell to the moon each night--wonder how Neal Armstrong felt about the moon at two?

Posted by: annette on April 9, 2003 8:52 PM

Both of my little boys went through a phase of wanting to see the moon every night before bed time, and I know my nephew (now a senior in high school) did the same thing when he was small. I don't recall doing it myself when I was little, but I begin to wonder whether this is just something little boys do.....

Posted by: Will Duquette on April 10, 2003 11:16 AM

I have a grandson that age & I would immediately buy that stool for him if I could.
I also loved your posting about his language awhile ago.

Posted by: Susan on April 11, 2003 4:35 PM

I have a grandson that age & I would immediately buy that stool for him if I could.
I also loved your posting about his language awhile ago.

Posted by: Susan on April 11, 2003 4:35 PM

Thanks to everyone for their supportive comments regarding my little craft project. (And perhaps I should thank all the people who were repulsed by it for not posting their candid comments.) Having continued to add (rather laboriously) other decorative elements since making this posting, I will only say that the price tag of $700 for a hand-painted stool is starting to look more and more reasonable to me. But the little guy is worth it.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on April 12, 2003 1:41 AM

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