December 12th

These blog posts are thinning out to say the least, partly because I'm busy, and partly because I've already said a lot of things I wanted to. Which is better, repeating yourself endlessly, or staying silent once you've said your piece?

Quote of the Week

  • "This house has been far out at sea all night, |The woods crashing through darkness, the booming hills, |Winds stampeding the fields under the window |Floundering black astride and blinding wet |Till day rose; then under an orange sky |The hills had new places, and wind wielded |Blade-light, luminous black and emerald, |Flexing like the lens of a mad eye." - Ted Hughes, Wind

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Holiday Objectives

Like any good, know-what-I-want-and-how-to-get-it ex-Chinese school student, I'd set a clear and attainable to-do-list over the holiday, and have been for the large part sticking to it excellently. My objective this summer (besides the mandatory dissertation) was to do absolutely nothing. I've been chided by Mum and Dad over this, and usually I don't have the patience to explain things when I'm being prodded, so let me clarify.

As I explained to my Dad, I'm coming to the realisation that my holidays (and free time in general) are going to grow shorter, and with them my opportunity to do little things like sleeping in late or staying up all night listening to music while browsing endless streams of wikipedia pages. I know that in my first ever blogpost (here), I denounced anyone who ever sat on their arse for not doing something to (cheesily) "save the world". I kind of still believe that, but then again this is me now, and I'm not as capable of the manic intensity which I summoned to write essays on till the sun rose, or jump into a fountain in the middle of Leicester at 4am (long story).

I've been worn down a lot, not so much by work, but by the realisation that the work will never ever end, and that the workload will only increase as time goes on. I've no option to stop either - it took me a whole lot of time and money to get into medicine, and once you've bought into this game you have to keep playing till you retire, die, or get cleaned out. Don't get me wrong, I love medicine and can't imagine myself doing much else - but then I'm starting to wonder - if all my time and effort will be given to saving your health, where does that leave the little things? When will I have the time to sit down and chew through a book because I like it, rather than peer at tiny letters in the index section to answer a question about Wegener's Granulomatosis or Angina Pectoris?

The answer, is that until I make consultant (which is a very very long time away, if I even get there), I have between now and graduation to enjoy every sliver of time I get - whether it's by blasting my brains out with computer games or enjoying a cup of tea and staring out of the window. And I intend to use that time fully, not to get sloshed (because that's temporary stress relief at best) but by truly relaxing, drawing pretty pictures of nothing while my brain wanders. I want the option of staying home and drawing a picture instead of getting sloshed at a party, because a party doesn't give you relaxation but excitement, and it's hard to summon the energy to be excited about everything all the time. I've touched on this in a previous post, but now I've finally put my finger on the missing part of the puzzle - relaxing.

So, the things I enjoy doing and intend to do more of over the next month:

  • Gaming
  • Dancing to a good beat
  • Banter with friends over Malaysian food and iced lime juice at 2am
  • Sketch art
  • MSN conversations
  • Wikipedia
  • Blogging and blogsurfing (yay!)
  • Swimming
  • Books! Lots and lots of books!
  • Music and reorganising my iTunes library (now that I have a good set of speakers, thanks Kav for opening up this new world to me)
  • Casual internet chess

    I guess doing "nothing" actually is pretty time consuming!

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Times They Are A-Changing

I was looking for good pictures to draw, when something from the Watchmen opening montage niggled at the back of my mind. Now Watchmen is at best an incomplete work to me, what could have been a truly insightful film was (mostly) turned into a no-brainer. But despite the horrible sense of a lost opportunity, the opening scene had at least a glimmer of something bigger than an action movie:

(Music: Bob Dylan's Times they Are A-Changing. I encourage you to take some time to absorb the lyrics.)

The short scene of a girl placing a flower into a rifle barrel (3:50)was inspired by a real event, the Kent State Shootings. So this is the darker, uglier side of American history - not that you didn't know that there was one, but then again you probably didn't know just how dark it really was. Another famous picture, taken in the October 1967 peace march at the Pentagon:

Just goes to show how high the price of freedom is. Are we really ready to foot the bill?

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

The Tate Modern

Now I know that I spent a week in London, and visited about 6 museums and art galleries during this time, but I'll not dwell on the general - otherwise it'd take me ages to write a review, and I still need to complete parts 3, 4 and 5 of Banksy vs Bristol Museum. Instead, i'll focus on the museum/gallery in London that left the most lasting impression - the Tate Modern, a gallery with a world famous collection of modern art. I have rather mixed feelings about all this, so I'd best explain.

Modern art is simply any form of art that doesn't use the same instruments or produce the same results as standard "old shool" art. On the upside, this encourages a fresh approach to standard portraiture and landscapes, which can be pretty monotonous. Unfortunately, this also means that it's extremely difficult to distinguish between exceptional, intelligent art and a doodle by a three-fingered chimpanzee on cocaine.

Sadly, the Tate Modern, like any other modern art gallery, didn't manage to make this distinction. Its collection ranged from the surreally beautiful, to plain rubbish, to the downright disturbing. One of the rooms was dedicated to a sadomasochistic artist who used blood as paint, and filmed his subjects "torturing" themselves. Needless to say, I left that room quite quickly. Others simply didn't register in my brain, I found myself staring at a series of red blotches and blue streaks on white, that after a few minutes began to give me a headache.

Now, some would suggest to me that the fact of the matter is that I'm thick, and the reason I don't understand the meaning of some art is that I don't know the cultural background from which the artist created their work. This is a sensible argument - formerly, I thought all modern art was rubbish, but as I grow more aware of the burdens of mankind (in other words, I'm getting OLD), modern art is starting to make more sense - and when it does, the experience is visceral - one example was a strange black sculpture of a figure, stretched upwards to become exceptionally thin, and flattened sideways so that from the front, its head looks like a tiny vertical line. Its looked like an Easter Island Moai, but thinner and more gaunt, with a expression of deep sadness despite (or because of?) its almost-flat face.

Up to now of course, my description makes no sense whatsoever, but then I read the label on the wall - the sculpture was made by a Holocaust Survivor. Suddenly, the full weight of the sculpture's history hit me like a brick in the face, and inside me I felt a knife twist in my guts.

So then, the argument that modern art can only be understood along with its cultural context is at least partially logical. But then again, that is no excuse for bad modern art - for just as there is bad standard art, there surely is bad modern art. It's the audience's job to distinguish between the two.

Tips then, for future purveyours of "modern art" - firstly, take your time to read up on the artist, and their background - not about the artpiece itself, but try to understand what shaped the artist's mind. Secondly, when you do finally go look at their work, take your time to examine it, especially if you've not done Step #1. Look at it from a distance, look at its details, consider it from different directions if it's a 3-D work. In fact, I prefer to do Step #2 before Step #1 so that I don't cloud my judgement, but then again that's just me. Thirdly, don't be afraid to call a goat a goat - if it doesn't make sense to you after about 5 minutes, and you've done your pre-reading and taken your time to examine it, then you have every right to declare it insignificant.

And a final message to those (un?)fortunate enough to go to a modern art gallery - don't be afraid to leave if your head hurts!

Monday, 13 July 2009


There's something about looking out of the window of a train as the English countryside whizzes by. Paradoxically, I feel like I'm looking in at myself; and it is when I look at the noisy passengers that I am looking out at humanity, cooped into this tiny space despite the vastness of the outside world. Have we gotten it all wrong? Should we really be squeezing ourselves into the tiny space of a few cities when all the world is out there?

More than half of all humanity lives in cities, and according to estimations some 70% of us will live in urban areas in ten years. Granted, the growth of cities has been the cornerstone of civilisation, and cities provide us access to almost everything we can put a price tag on. But have we gone too far? Will an afternoon in a field, alone but for a book and one's thoughts one day become a commodity?

Or, more personally terrifying, am I alone, who thinks of taking a break from humanity and being on my own? Am I, in seeking solitude, ironically placing a barrier between myself and the rest of the world? In a sense, this blog is an attempt to record thoughts that are my own, yet at the same time maintaining contact with everyone else - another paradox.

I suppose, reconciling one with the other is the challenge we all need to face. On the one hand, I cannot imagine plunging myself into humanity, for the fear of never resurfacing; and on the other, it's hard being a hermit while doing a degree. Again, it is a matter of balance.

Isn't everything?