Inspiration: Keeping Our Child-Like Curiosity & Fascination Throughout Life

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Su Blackwell artwork from series ”Dwelling”

When we were children, many of us asked our parents a thousand questions a day, genuinely eager to learn more & curious about what is around us. When there are trips to science museums or book club days at elementary schools, many children enthusiastically look forward to these simple yet amazing delights. The reason why I still visit public libraries for personal interest is because I love what I’ve found there growing up, and it has influenced me greatly. It started with my mother taking me to the public library often, & within the children’s section I was introduced to books like The Magic School Bus: Lost in The Solar System and Here in Space by David Milgrim. I believe educational books like these helped me become fascinated with astronomy & complex matters relating to space and time. Presently, I love books such as Space Atlas: Mapping The Universe & Beyond, Final Frontier by Brian Clegg, and physicist Michio Kauku’s books because they are amazing to me. Captivating books like the ones mentioned inspires me to ask even more questions due to passionate curiosity, & think of all the endless possibilities that have yet to be discovered. Unfortunately, often times a child’s curiosity and eagerness to extensively explore a variety of different subject matters can decrease. Many blame school systems’ educational curriculum, but learning is a process that never really ends. Of course, we may not find all of the truths of life and answers to questions that are surrounded in mystery…but there are valuable sources available to us for a variety of different topics if we are genuinely interested. I encourage us all to continue having a curious child-like fascination and to inquire more. Our whole lives are an educational opportunity, and it should not be limited. Let’s keep going to our city’s museums, supporting our libraries that are sometimes in threat of closing, reading daily, and exploring different topics beyond just the surface. As children, we are so eager to learn more and even what is considered ”simple” makes us want to discover why/how. So, as we continue on our educational journey (life)… let’s keep that same pure fascination/interest!

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Thelma Johnson Streat: Multi-Talented Artist & Trailblazer

Thelma Johnson Streat was a distinctive and multi-talented artist that emphasized intercultural appreciation. One of her most recognized artworks, Rabbit Man, can be seen permanently at the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art). Thelma Johnson-Streat also worked with other iconic artists such as Diego Rivera and she was the first African-American woman to have a painting exhibited at the MOMA in 1942 & her own television program in Paris. Streat was a mixed-media artist, who not only created paintings but also wanted to end stereotypes and prejudice through dance. She performed cultural dances and songs for many children in Europe, Canada, U.S, & Mexico to help them gain an insight & appreciation for cultural diversity. Although she was threatened by ignorant terrorist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, Streat did not let this prevent her from expressing herself and emphasizing much needed truthful messages within her creations such as ”Death of A Negro Sailor ” & ”The Negro’s Contribution to Medicine and Veterinary Science”. She also created an educational visual program called ”The Negro in History.” Thelma Johnson-Streat (1911-1959) is an artist and innovative story teller that should not be forgotten. Her artistic expressions and educational works are inspirational and interesting. Here are a few of her acclaimed artworks.

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The Negro’s Contribution to Medicine and Veterinary Science, c. 1945

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Thelma Johnson Streat artwork, title

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Rabbit Man, 1941

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Thelma Johnson Streat Photographed Posing

Art Happenings: Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors Exhibition Tour & Past Artwork Creations

I was very excited to hear that Yayoi Kusama’s ‘Infinity Mirrored Room’ is coming to the High Museum of Art starting in November 2018. I am still thankful and grateful that I decided to become a High Museum of Art member back in 2014 (very cost effective & worth it compared to what you get with each membership type), and it is art collections like ‘Infinity Mirrored Room’ that makes me eager to return repeatedly for more than one viewing. Yayoi Kusama (1922- present) is known for her captivating and colorful creations that are concept contemporary artworks with different mediums used. Some of her art includes styles such as surrealism, abstract expressionism, and pop art. Here are some interesting artworks by Kusama, which also includes ‘Infinity Mirrored Room’ installation.

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Infinity Mirrored Room, Yayoi Kusama

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Reach Up To The Universe, Yayoi Kusama

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Stars by Yayoi Kusama

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Butterfly-Yayoi Kusama

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Infinity Mirrored Room, Yayoi Kusama

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Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: With Artwork by Yayoi Kusama

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Yayoi Kusama as a child

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Yayoi Kusama

Snowfall: Season Two’s Crack Era Retrospective 

Season 2 of John Singleton’s FX show Snowfall will likely detail more of the effects caused by the Crack Epidemic during the infamous Reagan Era. Predictions for next season include the main character Franklin, the rising ambitious drug dealer, and how some of his own family members will become addicted to crack (likely his father and one of his friends). Will he choose to sell the product to his own blood or a pregnant woman? Will his conscience bother him after witnessing what crack is doing to his neighborhood or will financial desires triumph over virtue? The thing is, some people during the Crack era like real life drug dealer Rich Porter (portrayed by Mekhi Phifer in Paid in Full) and others may have saw selling crack as a way out of poverty, but in the end there was more tragedy than long term success. Crack money came with betrayal from “friends”, countless enemies that wanted them dead, and the people who changed into walking zombies after using the drug. I suppose some may think a multitude of different cars, fresh fits, jewelry, and other material things was worth the tragic end…but it was not a good trade. The significance of Snowfall is not to make the Crack Era seem like a desirable/glamorous time, but it’s importance involves telling true stories from different perspectives. We see why Franklin is doing what he does, but we also see how it is affecting everyone around him in a variety of ways on the show. During the Crack Era, the dealer may not have been affected in the same way as the user or a child, but each one has an interesting story that is still relevant to reflect/analyze on over 30 years later. 

A Homage: Marley Marl, Juice Crew & Cold Chillin’ Records Legacy

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During the ‘Golden Era of Hip-Hop’, innovative producer/DJ Marley Marl and DJ Mr. Magic (1956-2009) formed the legendary Juice Crew. Groundbreaking artists that were a part of the Juice Crew created music with Marley Marl on the Cold Chillin’ Records label, which includes Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie, Masta Ace, Kool G Rap & DJ Polo, Roxanne Shante, and MC Shan. The collaborative music team helped usher in a new era in music, and of course…there was the well-known ‘beefs’ with the Boogie Down Productions. The famous ”Bridge Wars”, which partly started when lyrics were misinterpreted in MC Shan’s ”The Bridge” and then KRS-One/Boogie Down responded with ”The Bridge is Over” and ”South Bronx”. Not to mention the ”Roxanne Wars” series started by a then 14 year old Roxanne Shante (which influenced at least 100 response songs about the ”real Roxanne” created by different artists). The Juice Crew created a distinct collection of songs that are timeless and a great reference to the ”Golden Era”. Some of my personal favorites includes Biz Markie’s ”Vapors” and Big Daddy Kane’s ‘Long Live the Kane’ album. Marley Marl produced a variety of classic projects, which includes L.L Cool J’s ‘Mama Said Knock You Out’ album, and Marley Marl’s first album ‘In Control Volume 1’ introduced one of the most influential and recognized songs in classic rap…”The Symphony”. Some of the legendary artists who consider Marley Marl an influence are Biggie Smalls, RZA, DJ Premier, and Pete Rock. When paying homage to those who helped create the ”Golden Era of Hip Hop”, it is important to always remember innovator Marley Marl and the Juice Crew. Their music still sounds amazing and refreshing.

 

Jazz Legend Sonny Rollins: ”There Will Never Be Another You” Live in Denmark 

Saying that Sonny Rollins had a ”great” seven decade long career is an understatement. Rollins is not only one of the most significant jazz musicians in music, but he is a living inspiration and amazing composer who has received accolades such as the National Medal of Arts , Polar Music Prize, multiple Honorary Doctor of Music awards, and elected to the American Academy of Arts of Sciences. Yet, it is not just the awards that represent just how astonishing Rollins’ career has been. Even if Rollins was not as recognized or given so many awards, his music’s quality is momentous and exceptional. Whether he was a saxophonist creating music for Blue Notes Records, Okeh Records, Prestige, RCA, or any other recording company…his compositions will forever be rich jazz standards that are a part of music history since the late 1940’s. Thank you Mr. Sonny Rollins.  Here is one of my favorite performances/song from live in Denmark, 1965, ” There Will Never Be Another You.”

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Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince Treatise : A Philosophy That Is Still Relevant Today

Machiavellianism, introduced in the Niccolo Machiavelli book The Prince, is a term that does not just apply to the Dark Triad subject in applied psychology. Machiavelli’s philosophies in The Prince included the belief that it is okay to use immoral/foul means such as manipulation & showing a disregard for morality in relation to personal gain and self interest. Some people argue that Machiavelli’s acceptance of immoral actions was due to the fact that he lived during a time in Rome when political conflicts and success through criminal actions were common among it’s leaders. However, this time period is not the only era where immoral actions have been common in society. As long as societies have existed, baleful actions have been used throughout history for different reasons…not just among princes vying for power. Unfortunately, it is accepted and a normal/common practice for societies to manipulate and commit evil doings toward others for their own personal gain/self interest in our world. Many people have developed a “that’s just the way it is” perspective on this detrimental behavior because it has been universally prevalent throughout our timeline so far. Therefore, Machiavelli’s philosophies are not just historic political science lessons that reflect the world he knew…but it also can be used to compare what is now, the present. It has gotten to the point where we question & categorize just what is immoral and moral depending on a society/culture’s accepted practices. I may be speaking from a bias point of view because I believe in not perfection, but at least trying our best to be morally upright and emphasizing virtue & genuine goodness. However, no matter what different ethical/moral philosophies exist, Machiavelli’s The Prince should have been a reference for what to avoid, but it now seems as if it is a repeated pattern that does not just apply to old Rome’s royal hierarchies or a personality test. Nevertheless, since the future is not yet written and the present is still unfolding, there is no universal rule that implies history has to keep repeating itself. Yet, even though we are one humanity, we are also individuals who do not share the same mentalities and belief system when it comes to virtue and morality. ..perhaps that is why treatises like The Prince and Machiavellianism seems to have been a relevant philosophy for a very long time.

Underground to Pop Music: The Art of the Evolution of Music

Manipulating the sound of a record while someone spoke on a microphone was not widely accepted less than 40 years ago. Before the musical art form we call Hip Hop and the method we know as rapping was an internationally recognized fixture in popular music culture, it was a underground innovative movement. It is always exciting and refreshing when a new form of musical style (which eventually is often considered a subgenre) has been introduced & created. Whether it was the origins of punk music with bands like The Kinks and The Ramones  or the “college rock radio” era of alternative music with musicians such as R.E.M & The Smiths, they all have one thing in common. Rebellion. They all rebelled against what was popular and mainstream. Yet, often times in history an underground musical art form became a part of the mainstream popular music culture if it was accepted on a massive level. Case in point: Kurt Cobain was not comfortable with Nirvana’s music being a part of pop music culture (In Bloom song speaks about this). However, that is what “Grunge” music became…chart topping hits that was played continuously on heavily viewed channels such as MTV. Nevertheless, it was their decision to  sign with a major record label, and “bandwagoners” naturally came with this. In fact, there is often a repeated pattern in music with this, which will probably always be. There are many factors such as generation, society/cultural events, technology, and demographics that correlate with an underground “alternative” sound being popularized. The problem is when a new musical style/sound starts off as fresh and different… then is transformed into something that has lost its “edge” and individuality due to exploitation in the music industry. The art of “underground”music becoming popular mainstream music has its pros and cons, all how we perceive it. Either way, music has & always will be an ever progressing art with many different colors. Hundreds of years from now what we listen to today, what we call “rebellious”, “alternative” or “innovative” in comparision to a “pop music” sound will be so interesting to compare with what sounds/styles may be introduced in the future. The evolution of all music is inevitable. 

John Coltrane’s Blue Train: A Classic Revisited

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John Coltrane’s 1958 released album Blue Train is one of his gems that is both timeless and significant in any era. Not only was the label Blue Note Records a legendary & important part of music history, but it is Coltrane’s brilliance playing the tenor saxophone, Lee Morgan on the trumpet, Curtis Fuller’s trombone skills, Kenny Drew playing the piano, Paul Chambers on base, and Philly Joe Jones as the drummer that completes this album in such a compelling manner . The album was produced by Blue Notes Records co-founder Alfred Lion and Coltrane wrote nearly all of the music, with Johnny Mercer and Jerome Kern writing the song ”I’m Old Fashioned.” The album has two sides, which includes ”Moments Notice” and my personal favorite ”Blue Train” on side one. Side two includes ”Locomotion”, ”I’m Old Fashioned”, and ”Lazy Bird”.  In 1997, alternate take bonus tracks were released of ”Lazy Bird” and ”Blue Train”. This was only Coltrane’s second solo album & although it is considered ”Hard Bop”, I think all of his music is beyond just one specific genre. Of course, not long after releasing Blue Train, Coltrane would go on to create an album that was chosen as one of the 50 recordings picked by The Library of Congress & added to the National Recording Registry…the groundbreaking & innovative classic Giant Steps.

 

 

Ancient Africa Is More Than Egypt

There is nothing wrong with people being interested in the history and culture of Ancient Egypt. However, it seems as if many people tend to focus more on one part of a continent even though there is so much rich and innovative history in other ancient African civilizations as well. What about the history of Sierra Leone, Morocco, Angola, Ghana, Senegal/Gambia, and others? Many African Americans have ancestry and lineage in West Africa, yet many do not know a lot about the history of these regions. The western civilization has put an emphasis on Ancient Egypt, often times with false & inaccurate images. So, it’s okay to be interested in knowing the truth about Ancient Egypt, but this is not the only area of Africa worth knowing about. Although I feel as though Ancient Africa is a history that every human needs to know, however as a black person, I find it interesting that many other black people do not take an interest in finding out more about the regions where some of their ancestors came from in other parts of Africa. Yet, people have followed trends in wearing Pharoah faces on shirts, and jewelry, exploiting/profiting from Ancient Egyptian culture, but many can’t tell you anything about other aspects of Ancient African society. Of course, I am interested in all areas/regions concerning History, but it is fustrasting to me that there is forgotten about history in Africa that is just as important as Egypt, but many only choose to focus on one area in a continent full of history worth learning about.