Wednesday, February 27, 2013


A visitor quizzed me recently about a group of my photos hanging in Mindport's gallery. Quite a number of them most viewers might term "abstract," in that they are images of patterns in seashore gravel, water, clouds, seaweed; fragmentary views of pedestrian objects whose identity is not always apparent from their close-up perspective. Our visitor told me he couldn't tell what they were, and wanted me to explain it to him. Doing so was a challenge, akin to attempting to ascertain whether, when I see blue, another's experience of that color is the same as mine.

Patterns attract my eye without any rational explanation. They give me a certain feeling, and that's what the images are about. Either they give someone else a feeling or they don't. Whether they give someone else the same feeling they give me, I don't know. But most people seem to respond favorably to such abstractions. Eventually I told our guest that the pictures were simply of patterns I found appealing because they reminded me of images I see in dreams. He seemed satisfied with that explanation.

One of the interesting lessons learned from my years of experience attempting various art forms, including photography, ceramics, drawing/painting, and three-dimensional kinetic sculpture, is an awareness of the diversity of perception between different people viewing the same piece of work. I became increasingly conscious of this during a period when I was working with clay, mostly making ceramic hanging lamps, but also miscellaneous glazed clay vessels. One woman who was quite taken by my efforts, which she'd seen displayed at a local crafts fair, came by my studio for a visit. I gave her a tour during which she spotted a box of rejects, mostly things that I thought were ugly or which didn't meet my standards in one way or another. You'd think she'd found a pot of gold! She asked if she could go through the stuff. As a starving potter, who was happy to glean every cent possible from his work, I told her, Certainly. She carried away a number of items and insisted on paying me $15, which at least covered the cost of the materials from which they were fabricated. Some artists wouldn't get caught dead letting "inferior" work loose on the world, but I was living on a pittance at the time and wasn't going to let pride stand in the way of my next meal.

That was my first objective demonstration of how radically taste varies from person to person, and it was a good one. It taught me not to worry excessively about people's reactions to what I create, since whatever I do, some will like it and some won't. Having grown up in a household where criticism was rampant, it was finally liberating to realize that as an artist I have a choice whether to take criticism to heart or to let it go the way of water on a duck's back. In one sense criticism, preferably self-criticism, is a good thing when done in the correct spirit, because it keeps you on a path toward improving your work, or perhaps I should say it can hone your ability to express your feelings accurately as well as helping you clarify the direction your future efforts should take. But when fear of criticism prevents you from doing anything at all, it's good to come to terms with such fear and not let it paralyze you.

It's naturally pleasing when people love your work, but even that can be an inhibiting factor. I had a conversation once with a well-known local artist who was experiencing distress because he was tired of doing the sort of thing he'd been doing for years and wanted to take a new direction. He'd tried new forms of expression but a large number of his "fans" had objected so strenuously that he felt like making changes had become a painful uphill battle. This situation is especially difficult for artists who are attempting to earn a living with their creations. It's easy to become a slave to the tastes of your public rather than feeling completely free to go your own way. The tragedy is that so many past artists who remained true to themselves died paupers, only to have their work become highly valued decades after their lives had ended.

One moral you might take from this story is that the happiest artist is the one who isn't required to earn a living from his or her work. But I've heard it argued that the agonies of the market ultimately push artists toward excellence. . .  which inspires the question, is the happiest artist necessarily the best artist? The question, if answerable at all, could be the subject of a whole essay in itself. It all depends on the personality of the artist, circumstances, the sort of work s/he's doing, and how you define "best" and "happy."

For awhile, at Mindport, several artists met weekly to discuss their work. The rule was that when viewing another's creations, you didn't label them "good," "bad," or with any other objective label. Rather, the instruction was to describe how a piece made you feel, what it reminded you of, or otherwise how you responded to it. We all came to agree after practicing these habits for awhile that receiving this sort of response to our artwork was much more helpful, not to speak of interesting, than having pat labels applied to it. Even receiving such comments as "I like this," or "I dislike this," were of little use to us. As an artist you're attempting to communicate something, and the most gratifying response is hearing the details of how your work affects others, beyond simply kudos or condemnation.

It's true that as a viewer of art in some circles you may justifiably fear that you'll be considered naive or ignorant if you respond honestly to work in the way I've suggested. But I promise you that you won't get a response like that at Mindport. We're happy to discuss what we show, and will meet any questions you have with respect. But please, remember that we're vulnerable too and like to be accorded similar consideration.

Kevin Jones

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Spring Cleaning

Mindport's tenth-year (in this location) revamp, painting, cleaning, and exhibit-shuffling session is near its end. We're open again, most exhibits are ready for visitors, and a new show of Kevin Jones photos is hanging in the gallery. One new exhibit, a newer and larger version of "magnetic molasses" has been installed by AnMorgan and Carol. The whole staff, including docents, have put in a lot of effort on this project. When you visit, we think you'll like what you see.

Regular followers may notice that the Blog heading has also been remodeled to reflect better what actually goes on with this blog. Over time it's become apparent that only a couple of the eleven staff members have much interest in writing entries. We, the two writers, are more entertained by writing about the philosophical ideas relating to Mindport and its social environment, than we are by writing about Mindport's internal daily doings. One reason for this is, in the collaborative process inherent in Mindport's operation, there isn't much obviously visible on a daily basis. Exhibits have a way of "coming about," rather than being a consequence of a hard-and-fast planned process. Often, an exhibit or project which starts out being one thing becomes another, an implication of this being that most of us who build exhibits don't care to talk about what is in process until it's actually complete. Personally, I've found that the surest way to lose interest in building something is to talk much about it while it's being conceived or built.

Judging by the statistics on our blog site, and by the questions asked by visitors in person, more people are interested in the ideas behind Mindport and in the sort of ideas that keep US interested in the ongoing collaboration which is Mindport, than are interested in descriptions of physical "daily doings."  We do enjoy writing something about new exhibits when they show up on our floor, and we'll certainly continue to do that, as well as announce any events of interest that happen to be imminent. But entries dealing with more philosophical subject matter, mental "daily doings," will be our focus when something we're reading about, seeing in the media, or thinking about inspires comment. We're living at a pivotal point in history when the survival of the human race depends on a major change in our collective belief system. We at Mindport are acutely aware of this, and much of what we create reflects, directly or indirectly, a response to what we see going on around us, filtered through through our personal histories and a shared world view.

Mindport is about ideas, Writing about these ideas is useful to us because the process of writing has the effect of clarifying in our own minds what's important to us and suggests future directions for our work. What we write also provides past and prospective visitors hints about the thought behind what they see exhibited on our floor.

Kevin Jones

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Personal History and the High Tech Path

"Home Brew" Radio Transmitter
I've been involved with science and technology since about age 7. At age 14 I earned my amateur radio license, and at age 19 started my first paid job in the field of electronics, which was serving for 15 months as electronics tech on an oceanographic ship in the Indian Ocean. After that, I spent a couple more years in electrical engineering school, then worked for the University of Colorado in two different branches of the physics department, involving research satellites and radio astronomy respectively. Upon moving to Lummi Island in 1977, I started my own business, initially repairing TVs, radios, ship radars, etc. As consumer electronics became less economical to repair, I found myself designing various electronic gadgets, which I sold via mail order, or which I supplied to others who commissioned me to build them. In 1995 Joe Edwards and Robin Burnett, and I, started Mindport. Several of the exhibits I've built for Mindport incorporate electronic circuitry, and, in a couple cases, microprocessors.

Over the last ten years, or so, I've become increasingly interested in the ways that electronic technology (and other sorts as well) impacts our lives, particularly the downside. Having spent so much time working in technological fields, I'm well-aware of the upside, since that's what drove my youthful passion to become involved there in the first place. From early on, I was intrigued with the idea of automating things, a fascination that bloomed with the advent of microprocessors and computers. It was after an extended involvement with the development of a microprocessor-controlled espresso machine that it became clear to me that technology, especially electronic technology and electronic "information technology", are not just neutral tools, but ones with often unrecognized and undesirable social and economic implications.

The development of the electronically-controlled espresso machine demanded that I become more deeply involved with computers and microprocessors than I'd been previously. In those days, we were still mainly using DOS (the early computer Disk Operating System). Windows had not yet come on the scene, or was still in a rudimentary form, as was true of the Internet. My early computer involvement gave me a first taste of high-tech rage, an emotion that has only become more severe and prominent over the years, not only with me, but just about everyone I know who suffers any involvement with computers and related equipment. It's difficult to find anyone who isn't.

It's an odd feeling for me to realize that there are young adults all around me who have never lived in a world without personal computers. Cell phones came along a little later than the early PCs, so they're only slightly less internalized in the lives of a twenty-year-old than the computers are. I compare the perspective of today's youths to my own, when I was twenty, employed as an electronics tech. I worked with people in their sixties who had been young in a world where the "personal motor vehicle" was a rarity, and rudimentary, at that. Same with broadcast radio. TV, of course, was barely conceived possible when those people were young. Experiments in sending pictures had been tried, but no commercial application (mercifully) had appeared. I, on the other hand, had known radios and automobiles all my life, and took them for granted, just as today's twenty-year-old does computers and the Internet.

I was 7 years old when I saw a TV for the first time, and was completely enchanted. My parents refused to have one in the house until well after I'd left home, at age 17. Correction: someone did give us a junker TV, when I was 13. It received one channel poorly, lasted a year, and my brother and I watched the Micky Mouse Club on it. Nowadays, I'm grateful that my parents eschewed TV, because I would have spent a lot of time in front of it, instead of tinkering with radios and electronic gear, which activities eventually culminated in an effective means to earn a living.

I've written this post as a prelude to others I doubtless will write in the future about technological impact, especially of the electronic variety, on our lives. It's a subject that comes up for me more frequently than any other, so, to avoid repetition, I've summarized experience that I hope will lend credence to future critiques of technology coming from my keyboard. I don't want anyone labeling me an uninformed Luddite, in other words. We're heading toward a likely comeuppance if we don't start paying attention to the road we're apparently taking, technologically speaking. Electronic technology is SO seductive, and nobody is more aware of this than I am. Because I become increasingly uneasy about its impositions on my life, and on the lives of everyone around me, particularly the very young, I find ideas about it creeping into my daily awareness, and into much of what I write. There's a message there that I won't ignore.

My grandson is almost four, and technology asserts a pressure on his life, and therefore the lives of his parents, that concerns me. It brings up questions about the world he and his cohorts will be creating for themselves when he's become a young adult himself. We do have the option to make choices about what technology we adopt and how we adopt it, but powerful forces militate against our making those choices, including the very seductiveness of the technology itself and the pressure exerted by its purveyors to keep us hooked on it. We must also consider the possibility that high tech may disappear, since it does require large amounts of energy to sustain its associated infrastructure, and future energy resources are uncertain. You may be tempted to scoff at this possibility, but, on the chance we must revert to more rudimentary technology, what will be the price we pay for having allowed ourselves to become absolutely dependent on the level of technology we presently enjoy?

Reading suggestions:

The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, by Nicholas Carr
Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less from Each Other, by Sherry Turkle
The Future Does Not Compute: Transcending the Machines in Our Midst, by Stephen Talbott

Kevin Jones
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