26 March 2013

on miffy, kitty and creativity

There are new (and old) things to learn everyday, and some of them are surprising ... especially when you are not expecting a trivial comment to lead you to something more.

I had no idea that Miffy was Dutch. I blame the successful marketing of (the rip-off?) Hello Kitty for my thoughtless assumption that Miffy was Japanese.

In fact, I had never really thought about it, and while I can't remember a time without Miffy, I had no idea that she was so old. Nearly as old as I am, in fact!

Was Hello Kitty a "rip-off", or was some designer unconsciously influenced by the image? Or did H K develop completely independently? (The latter seems unlikely when you consider the success of Dick Bruna's work). But it does make me ask myself the question, how much in the world can we call "original"?

I remember being surprised, when doing my "genuinely original" work, to find an artist in the UK making similar pieces. I, in turn, upset a student by suggesting that she research a certain artist who had made work almost identical to her original work. It took some time to persuade her that continuing with her work was valid, and that I had alerted her to it so that she could be aware and set her work in context, not so that she would change direction.

Being original in a universe that is cluttered with visual images from around the world can seem a difficult challenge, but I believe that if we are true to ourselves creatively then we will produce work with our own signature that can be called our own. Or can we? Does Hello Kitty have Dick Bruna's "signature" even though she was produced in Japan?

Read on... (Wikipedia) I found this really interesting. Never assume anything. Yesterday I met the cutest Miffy, and previously when flying through Amsterdam I had noticed many Miffy dolls for sale in Schiphol. A chance comment about Miffy being Dutch had me googling... :-)

Today I am grateful for children's books.

2 March 2013

an old dog

Who says that you can't teach an old dog new tricks?

A while back I took the opportunity to spend some time in the city. The big smoke. I tried life in the fast lane. I tried life in suburbia. It was fun. It was exciting. It was a little scary!

I left the dogs without even a proper goodbye, and caught the train to another life.

My apartment in the burbs was perfectly adequate. I had everything I needed, nice neighbours, good food and a huge range of restaurants and shops nearby. Being without a car meant using the metro and walking. It was a 15 minute walk to the metro, using a shortcut only in daylight. The trip on the metro was about 25 minutes, and then I walked again to my destination, another 12 or 15 minutes I suppose, but I didn't ever look at my watch - there were too many shops to gaze into. and people to dodge on the streets.

But before I got to the metro I met my biggest obstacle, culture shock!  In my little village traffic is slow (well, mostly), and cars are small and battered. But to cross the road to leave my suburb in the city I had to cross a twelve lane highway in an affluent neighbourhood. The cars were huge, shiny, menacing. They lined up at an angle across my road like starters in a grand prix race, engines roaring, ready to pounce in that split second that the lights changed.

The green man, my best friend, was way behind the play. He simply didn't have it right.

The first day my guide led me across the road to the centre before the green man noticed us. I was nervous, but we were in number; other commuters had the same problem. The prancing vehicles were constrained, and we all crossed safely.

The second day I waited until others arrived, and I stuck to them like glue. I was far too afraid to judge when it might be safe to cross. I am not sure how many times I did this.

Then one day, to my horror, I found myself alone at the crossing. There was not another walker in sight. I took a deep breath. I tried to remember. I watched the lights.

Then, all by myself, I judged the perfect moment and stepped out in front of those shining menaces all waiting to squash me like a hedgehog or a possum on the road. But I foiled them. I was not destined to be flattened into the tarseal. I scuttled across to the green man, and then sauntered like an expert (OK, so I had 60 seconds to make a 65 second crossing, perhaps sauntered is not the right word) and I reached the other side safely, all by myself.

A week later as I confidently helped other newbies to cross I realised how things had changed. Yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks.

But, despite my wonderful mahi there, and despite the confidence that grew every day, I packed up my things and handed back the apartment key. The city might have many attractions, but it's the country life for me!

Today I am grateful for confidence.