Tina K. Russell

September 22, 2009

New art!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — Tina Russell @ 4:38 pm

I drew something today! I think it’s cool. Click for full size and full majesty.

Frolic

Find it here on Flickr. As usual, it’s Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0. So, if you want to use this for your Creative Commons project, credit me (Tina Russell) and place a link back here or to the Flickr page. Thank you!

May 1, 2009

School of hard knocks

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 11:41 am

Op-Ed Contributor – End the University as We Know It – NYTimes.com
… Faculty members cultivate those students whose futures they envision as identical to their own pasts, even though their tenures will stand in the way of these students having futures as full professors.

The dirty secret of higher education is that without underpaid graduate students to help in laboratories and with teaching, universities couldn’t conduct research or even instruct their growing undergraduate populations. That’s one of the main reasons we still encourage people to enroll in doctoral programs. It is simply cheaper to provide graduate students with modest stipends and adjuncts with as little as $5,000 a course — with no benefits — than it is to hire full-time professors.

In other words, young people enroll in graduate programs, work hard for subsistence pay and assume huge debt burdens, all because of the illusory promise of faculty appointments. But their economical presence, coupled with the intransigence of tenure, ensures that there will always be too many candidates for too few openings.

It’s not a dirty little secret for me; it’s been a terrifying transition, from community college to a state university, to find how many classes are taught by disinterested grad students racking up chits.

In a community college, professors (and they are all professors) are essentially volunteering, since they’d get more pay and prestige at a “real” college. This means, in my experience (in Portland, land of the free) that the teachers are really good (they volunteer their time, so they care deeply about what they do) or really bad (they couldn’t get a job anywhere else). Community college was a complete crapshoot for me in this way, and any class could be the best experience of my life or two and a half months of hell, with little in between.

At the University of Oregon, this experience has been thrown out completely. Most general classes, like trigonometry or microeconomics, seem to be taught by grad students (Graduate Teaching Fellows, or GTFs). I don’t want to disparage the profession except to say that every single class I’ve taken, led by a GTF, has been one hundred percent abominable. It breaks my heart because I took first-year economics at Portland Community College and it was taught by a man who cared deeply for his work and got the class excited to learn about comparative advantage and bond maturation. When I began second-year economics at UO, taught by a graduate student, it was so horrible that I wrote this lengthy post that has become one of my most popular ever. (In short, the GTF made economics not only painfully boring, but abstract to the point of irrelevance to us, and so I feel a little bit vindicated now that this financial crisis has happened in large part due to the over-abstraction of finance. …Even if I’d rather not be in a financial crisis.) I dashed out a quick drawing to teach in five minutes what he failed to teach in two hours, and I’m heartened to read comments from people saying it helped them grasp key early concepts of microeconomics.

And so, when I look to sign up for classes, I now vet the names given, not at RateMyProfessor or somesuch but in the faculty directory. When I thought I might want to re-enroll in second-year economics (it wouldn’t be that hard for me to get an economics minor, and maybe then I could make millions by giving bad advice with conviction on my own cable TV show), I looked up the teacher and found that he wasn’t even listed in the faculty directory. I could find his official university page using a Google search, and he proudly provided links to his curriculum vitae and his personal website, both of which were broken. (Since then, he is now listed in the directory, but those links are, hilariously, still broken.) Needless to say, he was a GTF, and I didn’t take his class.

I didn’t take his class because those things confirmed my worst fears: that he didn’t care. The hallmark of any bad teacher is thinking of his or her work with students as perfunctory, a second job, something to do before getting back to research and boinking freshmen. I’m always annoyed with the way undergraduates tend to be referred to in a dismissive sort of way, the undergraduates, not, you know, the reason the school exists. We’re the ones paying for the experience, and yet, we seem to be treated as though we have not reached the requisite level of cynicism for the ultimate goal of academia, which is to pass that cynicism (I’m sorry, critical thinking) onto a new generation of students. We’re barely out of high school. What does our opinion matter?

That brings me to the other tragedy of leaving community college, which is no longer being treated as an adult. I always loathed that, in community college, everyone else had someplace else to be (work, kids, etc.), and I was actually going there for my intellectual and personal formation. There is an advantage, however, in dealing with professors used to dealing with students who have work, or kids, or other obligations: they treat you like an adult out of habit. I developed the habit of acting like an adult, since that’s how teachers treated me back in Portland. At UO, that’s welcome to some and an affront to others.

I’ve learned to avoid teachers (and people in general) who see me as being like them when they were young, and so they want to mold me into the chiseled warrior they are today. If somebody acts rough to me, expecting me to cower in response (or to sass back, so they can rough me up more, in a coming-of-age basketball-movie sort of situation), I tend to sidestep the passive-aggressive initiation by saying “please don’t do that. I just don’t respond to it.” I already know what I want. I’m a grown woman. I have no obligation to entertain others’ fantasies of who I am. So, being told of hoops to jump through, initiations to fulfill, rightful destinies to claim usually makes me sick. I want to improve my writing. I want to improve my art. I want to learn about the world. I want to make sound judgments. You can help me do that or you can stuff it. I’m the one paying to be here.

The truth is, though, that life consists of compromises, and all this has made me a profoundly unhappy person. I’m majoring in history—history—because of how incredibly mean the school’s art department was to me, and how much I want to get out of college. I love history and it’s a good subject for me to study, and that’s why I had so many credits in it already, which is why I chose it for my major. Taking either writing or art, my two real loves, would have exposed me to a culture of people who want to break me and mold me in their image, and anything else would have involved GTFs who just don’t care. (History professors, in my experience at UO, are actual professors.) But, in writing or in art, I’d be doing what I love, and as a class and not simply as a side project. And, I wouldn’t want to punch someone in the face whenever they ask me the standard icebreaker of “what’s your major?” (Then they ask, “what sort of history?” and I say “world history” but I want to say “history that happened in the past, you numbskull.”)

When I do what I love on my own, though, it means I can buy whatever books I want and keep whatever hours I want and focus on whatever areas I want. …But, I have no one to mentor me, no one to guide me around the usual pitfalls and express pride in my development.

I did take art classes at the community college. Do I ever have stories from that, obviously, but I should limit it to just one.

When I took a painting class, I was afraid of what I was turning into. I love art, but I want to ensure that I never become the sort of person who does art for the sake of prestige; I want to ensure I’m always making art because I feel it in my gut, because I can’t not make art, not because I want to deconstruct the fundamental didactic of human existence or related nonsense. I want to make art for myself, and through myself, for the world, not for any immediate circle of high-minded friends. I want to make pictures worth a thousand words, not a handful. I want to show, not tell. I want to be my art.

Art class can be fundamentally lonely, given that we’re all on painful personal journeys while surrounded by others. So, when we watched a film on a sculptor whose work seemed more aimed to shock than to reveal (or to provoke responsibly), I tried to start a discussion, asking a man nearby if he had any thoughts on that artist. (If you’re reading this, I’m sorry.)

“I don’t care much for her,” he said, and shrugged. I concurred… “she reminds me of everyone I don’t like,” I responded.

Later he walked up to me and said, “gosh, Tina, when you said that… I hope I wasn’t included in those you don’t like.” I told him not to worry, but I was flabbergasted and went home in existential crisis, pouring my feelings out to my parents later on. You see, he was exactly the sort of person I was thinking of, right down to the fundamental belief (from my perception of him) that art should shock people not by being brutally honest, but for the sake of being shocking. I wailed to my parents, “oh my God! Vapid people don’t know who they are!” And if they don’t know who they are, how do I know I’m not one?

And how will I ever tell if I become one? What if my personal defense mechanisms wear out, and spending too much time around art students will suck me into my own vanity? What if someday I start breaking mirrors or putting chairs on their sides and calling it art, and don’t realize how soulless I’ve become, how little I have to say? I’ve always described my creativity as a sort of lonely island I want to share with others… what if my island becomes a solitary, ragged life-raft that I’ve tricked myself into believing is a beautiful cruise liner? What if my art goes from being that which burns in my soul to that which glistens on my social résumé? Will I ever know?

As a result, there is some element of relief. Perhaps not going into art education has resulted in me not being devoured by the vanity and pointlessness of the modern art world. But perhaps I’ve missed my life’s calling… perhaps I would have learned something I never could on my own, perhaps I would have met people who would have guided me through me life, perhaps I would have been pushed in directions I truly need to go. Perhaps I have become cynical myself in fear of those who are cynical, and wish me to be the same. Perhaps I really am vain, protecting my precious sense of self via the path of least resistance.

Thoughts?

.

February 3, 2009

Learning the Tropes

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 7:15 pm

What Do You Mean, It’s Not Didactic? – Television Tropes & Idioms
Right, so you’re looking through the library and come across a copy of Moby Dick. First published in 1851? Wow, if it’s still being published after more than 150 years, it must be good! You’ve heard a lot of good things about this novel, so you eagerly check it out and head home.

Later, you open it up and discover there’s a preface. Might as well read that to get an idea of the context it was written, and so maybe enjoy it even more. You start reading, and naturally the preface begins by summarizing the plot… wait, why are you annoyed? You weren’t planning on reading it for the story, were you? This isn’t just literature, it’s a work of True Art! In the minds of Really Clever Literary Critics, the true worth of a book, movie, or TV series is not in telling an engrossing story with interesting characters, but in allowing people to write long, complex, deep essays on the true meaning of the subject matter, whatever they think that may be. Once the critics have done this sort of analysis, they can objectively declare these works as True Art: it doesn’t matter how much you personally like or dislike these works so long as you understand the deeper meaning behind them. Only ignorant fools don’t understand. Such an attitude may be expressed in several ways:

You can even get away with Completely Missing The Point if you’re a Really Serious Critic who wants to reveal all sorts of Family Unfriendly Aesops inside a work, whether or not they have anything to do with the actual characters or plot. Goodness forbid that the author(s) wanted you to do so. How long will it be before high school/college students are forced to write long-winded essays about the philosophical and socio-religious undertones of Harry Potter? (Answer: Already happened.)

Note that having the plot given away becomes less and less of an issue the older the subject is. Most people who haven’t read, for example, Moby Dick will still be familiar with key plot points due to Popcultural Osmosis. See It Was His Sled.

See also True Art Is Angsty, True Art Is Incomprehensible.

Good God, this website is brilliant! It’s already sucked away hours of my life. It’s a complete listing of clichés that have appeared in (despite the site’s title) every fictional work, ever. All are named, identified, and catalogued. It feels like a certain consumer comeuppance. And, as such tropes are not necessarily bad (as the site eagerly points out), it’s like revealing that the emperor has no clothes—and hey, the emporer’s not that bad looking. He could be Mr. September on the Vainly Deceptive Heads of State swimsuit calendar. (I hope there’s a trope entry for what I just did, going too far on an allusion. You know, like instead of going out on a limb, you’ve staked out a tree for a week as part of an anti-logging public protest, only to find that the threatened tree you needed to protect is a couple meters over and already chopped down. It distracts from the text.)

January 13, 2009

Don’t you know that overambition is waaaaaaay uncool?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 11:16 am

Crispy Gamer – Feature: Critic in Exile: Is It OK to Finally Admit That I Didn’t Really Like Fallout 3 All That Much?
I recently threw caution to the wind and whispered my anti-Fallout 3 sentiment to a fellow game journalist who edits a competing Web site. I was worried for a moment that this journalist would report me to the Fallout 3 Crusaders. I saw pitchforks and lit torches in my future. To my surprise, this journalist’s eyes got wide. She whispered, “You too? Man, I can’t play that shit, either; it just depresses me too much.”

That’s how I learned that I wasn’t alone.

I know of a least a half-dozen writers who included Fallout 3 in their top-10 lists who, I know for a fact, didn’t invest more than three or four hours in the game if that, and still felt compelled to vote for Fallout 3 — let’s go ahead and say it — because it felt like the right thing to do. In the end, it seems it’s not a question of how much critics liked or disliked the game, but rather an issue of not being able to argue with 1. the developers Bethesda proved with the Elder Scrolls series that they know what they’re doing, and 2. the game’s pedigree the first two Fallout games are already well-ensconced in the canon.

As someone who hated Shenmue, I feel this man’s pain. Shenmue was so profoundly overambitious, its gameplay ended up consisting mainly of talking to scores of fake people with dry and absurd dialogue. (“Hey, Mister!” and “I’m looking for sailors” are its legacy.) Shenmue was was so thoroughly saturated with hype and pretense at its release that the press honeymoon and fans’ cognitive dissonance formed an impenetrable shield against anyone who would impugn its “quality.” Shenmue’s action scenes, when present, were clunky. The mystery, such as it was, was thin, and the game was essentially a big-budget, next-gen, ultra-realistic episode of Blue’s Clues wrapped in layers of fluff about searching for your father’s killer (which somehow involves walking around the city asking about calligraphers). It was essentially an unprecedentedly realistic simulation of being bored, which is something I can already do for free. (Plus, the graphics are better.) It wasn’t until the series got an Xbox sequel with a wider audience that game publications woke up and started admitting the game was beautiful and empty. (EGM memorably gave Shenmue II the year’s “Shut Up and Hit Somebody” award, which they made up for the occasion.)

You may remember that my opinions about Fable are similar, but I played that game four years after it came out, so instead of going against the crowd by saying it was disappointing I went against the crowd by saying no, it’s not disappointing, it’s just bad. (It really was.)

All the time I see games try to be ambitious, be movies, be visual novels, be worlds, and I wonder when games will ever try to be games. (Jet Grind Radio and Katamari Damacy come to mind for me as games that relish in being games, as well as Crazy Taxi, Advance Wars… okay, all the games I like, basically. I hear Gears of War makes a similar accomplishment in form, by making the fine details as fun as the broad strokes.) When we try to cover up that aspect, the core gameplay of a work, we’re essentially being ashamed of the medium; if we try to “make games art” by making them more like other media, we’re essentially saying (against our intentions!) that games aren’t art. Games have story, games have visuals, games have voice, games have music, that’s all wonderful. Games do have expansive and beautiful worlds, and that shouldn’t change. Games are art, and that raises the standards we should all have for the medium: that the unique quality of gameplay, what only games have, should be used to tie all those disparate parts together into something greater than their sum.

December 30, 2008

“Kicking the Bucket,” by Harold Pinter

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 8:39 pm

Harold Pinter, Playwright of the Anxious Pause, Dies at 78 – Obituary (Obit) – NYTimes.com

I saw a few Pinter plays when I was a kid. My crazy art teacher in high school (whom I hated, and I imagined that, it I took over the school, my first decision would be to fire her; and if you’re reading this, no, I’m talking about another crazy art teacher at my high school) took us to a round of avant-garde plays a few times, and I found them excruciatingly awful. The Pinter plays we saw, supposedly emblematic of his work, were the worst. Let me repeat the experience for you:

This is a blog.

I am writing a blog.

You are reading a blog.

Why are you reading a blog?

The other day, I was reading a blog.

It was called, “Mittens.”

I have more lines.

So, I’m not shedding too many tears. But, I think it’s only proper to honor his passing with a moment of racuous noise.

(I’m sincere in that I believe his plays to be awful. I’m sick of art that’s so painfully bad, so devoid of even the most insipid content, that it must be brilliant.)

December 12, 2008

The Physical Impossibility of Debt in the Mind of a Museum Curator

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — Tina Russell @ 10:10 pm

Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles at Financial Turning Point – NYTimes.com
Yet by putting art ahead of the bottom line, the Museum of Contemporary Art has nearly killed itself. The museum has operated at a deficit in six of the last eight years, and its endowment has shrunk to about $6 million from nearly $50 million in 1999, according to people who have been briefed on the finances.

You know, I’d think cutbacks would be really easy at a postmodern art museum. Would anybody notice?

(And doesn’t an empty exhibit just make a big statement?)

September 26, 2008

Taking debate

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 7:06 pm

I just saw the debate at a local pizza place. I think I’ll watch the others at home; I don’t necessarily need to be surrounded by enthusiastic Obama acolyte, speaking as an enthusiastic Obama acolyte. (I already really like him!) But, I should admit that I did participate in some of the cheering and jeering… I don’t want to reflect too much until I’ve had some time to sleep and think about it, but I will say that I liked a lot of the jabs that Obama got in and I can’t shake the impression that McCain’s ship is steadily sinking.

Don’t trust what I say, of course, since I dearly want Obama to win. I was just concerned, given that McCain has a history as a good debater, while Obama’s debate skills have been honed at the knee of the formidable but much different Hillary Clinton, and hasn’t had much other practice. I thought McCain might surprise us, pull a rabbit out of a hat, some kind of fanged Monty Python rabbit that would go right for Obama’s jugular. I was happy that Obama held his ground and got some excellent punches in. I try not to read the pundits in the impressionable post-debate period (the afterglow!), but I can’t help it if my beloved brother scans the reactions around the Internet on his iPhone and reads samples of them aloud. For instance, he says someone at CNN opined that McCain, behind in the polls, needed a big win, making any kind of tie or muddling performance a loss for him, and that sounds quite right. So, whatever you think of Obama’s performance—though I think, on first reflection, that it was stellar—it’s pretty clear that, with the debates as the last chance to change the public’s perception of you before the election, the whole thing cemented the image of Obama as president and McCain as cranky old man. (How many times did he have to gnaw on Obama’s leg over pragmatic diplomacy after he already explained himself? Aaagh…)

Okay, that’s enough! (Though, props to Jim Lehrer, or Lehruh, as he says it, for changing the way debates are done. By squeezing the candidates’ nipples and forcing them to address each other, he began to turn the screws on the way debates are done. We saw plenty of fluff and scripted lines, but we also saw some pleasant cracks of sunlight into the usual dark, sterile debate environment with the new format. If they keep going with this, we may have some real debates in the future rather than the usual trading of stump speeches.) I posted this because, over pizza, root beer, and politics, I drew these sketches on my tablet compy, using GIMP, during the debate. Forgive me if my leanings crept into my caricatures; I only think that Barack Obama is the last chance for America to regain its strength at home and respect abroad.

A sketch of John McCain that I made during the debateA sketch of Barack Obama that I made during the debate

August 6, 2008

My digital art

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Tina Russell @ 9:23 pm

Hey there, dear readers! It’s about time I showed you some of my digital art, lovingly crafted on my tablet computer. These are all done as practice, using some photo or another as reference. These can all be found at my Flickr page. All of my works in this post are licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 Unported, the short version of which is “do what you want with them, but credit me, and if you make something else out of them, use the same license terms.” Thanks!

First is Bodil! She’s the lovely woman who writes Being Bodil. I’m really grateful to her for the opportunity to do this. (Reference)

Bodil

(By the way, if you detected a resemblance to the Shadow The Hedgehog logo in the calligraphy-style stuff at the bottom, you’re right!)

Next is a painting of Stassa, the illustrious Secret Whore. I wish she would come back to Flickr sometime, but in the meantime, what she has up is gorgeous. (Reference)

Secret

Here’s a painting of a happy girl in Brazil during the Carnival at Bahia. The photo just gave me the happy shivers when I saw it, so I needed to make a painting of it. (Reference)

Spark

The photo was taken by Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom of the Agência Brasil, the Brazilian national news agency. All their content is Creative Commons-licensed; isn’t that awesome?

Next we have my friend Natalya. She’s super gorgeous. She gave me permission to do a painting from one of her Facebook photos, and it was an honor.

Gentle

She really does have those poofy bubble-cheeks. (Natalya: just teasing! You’re beautiful.)

Next is the mother lode! I’m really, really proud of this. It took about a month of continuous work. (Hopefully I’ll get faster with practice!) I learned so-o-o-o much doing this. (Maybe I’ll even have a background next time!) Since it exceeds Flickr’s maximum size, click here for the extra-special-super-large version. (Reference)

Rose

It’s based on a photo by Marcus J. Ranum of the beautiful Carly Champagne. It’s an obvious joke, but I can’t hold it in: somebody needs to bottle her and sell her.

That’s all! Please comment!

June 20, 2008

Paved with Good Intentions: Portraits of Well-Meaning Liberals (UPDATED)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Tina Russell @ 10:11 pm

From a list of Pride week events in San Francisco:

GAY PRIDE EVENTS
Good Vibrations

“Divas of San Francisco: Portraits of Transsexual Women.” Photographs by David Steinberg. Reception 6-8 p.m. Thurs. Through July 20. 1620 Polk St. (415) 974-8985, ext. 201.

facepalm

If you’re wondering why this makes me so angry, try to imagine a “High-Achieving Academics of San Francisco: Portraits of Asian Women” photo exhibition, or maybe a “Forthright Playas of San Fransico: Portraits of Black Men” one, or perhaps a “Mystical Shamans Who Cry When You Toss Away That Beer Bottle in San Francisco: Portraits of American Indians” one, and you may get the idea.

Basically, stereotyping in praise is still stereotyping. I’m essentially being called a “hot tranny mess,” and it makes me want to pound somebody’s eyeballs out. If I’m walking down the street of San Francisco, dressed in fashionable clothes and toting a purse, I wouldn’t mind people thinking I look pretty (why else would I dress up?), but I would mind if people thought right away, “wow, she’s a diva, she looks like she’s gonna take over the freakin’ world.” I loathe when people praise transsexuals for our default setting of “being transsexual”; they might as well be patting us on the head and giving us lollipops.

Grrrr.

UPDATE: Well, I feel silly now. My dear friend Riftgirl–see her blog, “Being ‘T,'” at right–fills us in through the comments.

I’m SO totally anal at times, it amazes even me. With regard to the exhibit title, it actually is very intentional – and appropriate. From the exhibit notes:

“For over five years, David Steinberg has been photographing transsexual women who frequent Divas Nightclub and Bar in San Francisco, the premier transgender club in the U.S.”

Still, I don’t know what “culture” has to do with a name of a bar. ;-) And on a side note, “premier transgender club”… Groan, I hate that kind of crap.

Hey, Riftgirl, don’t you get it? The nightclub is questioning its gender identity. That’s perfectly normal for its age. (I wonder what its parents think?)

June 11, 2008

Tina’s Picassohead

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Tina Russell @ 10:45 am

Hey, I was bored.

My self-portrait, made in a web app

It’s really a fun application. By the way, if you want to know how I did the fancy stuff, the sad answer is this: patience.

(By the way, that’s really what I look like. I really am constantly being marauded by an army of multicolored geometric shapes. No, seriously, it’s a self-portrait. I kind of like it.)

Mr. Picassohead

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