Calling Atheist Artists!

This is a post by guest blogger Ellen Bulger.

Wanted: Painters, Poets, Potters, Dancers, Filmmakers, Textile Artists, Musicians, Landscape Designers, Novelists, Printmakers, Songwriters, Sculptors, Animators, Actors and Architects…

A lot of atheists like to keep their heads down. Historically, it’s been that or lose ‘em. Recently that has changed and to some it must seem like every atheist in the world is screaming from the rooftops.

Studio © Ellen Bulger

Not hardly. Not no how. For every out atheist I know personally, I know a dozen cryptic ones. These are people who don’t want to make ripples, people who don’t want the attention. Their atheism isn’t necessarily a big secret. They simply aren’t given to PDA, public displays of atheism.

Artists have a reputation for being extroverts, but that is not always the case. In fact, I’m not even sure that extroverts are in the majority in arts communities. Yet even shy artists want their work to be seen.

Lab As Studio © Ellen Bulger

I suspect that the majority of artists would rather just go about making art and don’t much care for the business of promoting their work. Never you mind me, I’ll be in the studio. But they suck it up and go out to get their art in the public eye.

Do you see what I’m getting at here? I’m looking for those of you who live in the overlap of art and atheism.

We’d like to know about your art.

If you are an artist, and you are an atheist, I’d like to learn about the art you are doing. I’d like to know to what extent your atheism influences your art and your life. And I’d like to share your art here on Biodork at Freethought Blogs. My gmail address is Atheists.Artists@ and I’m waiting to hear from you.

Creatives not Creationists

This is a post by guest blogger Ellen Bulger.

When the lines of engagement are drawn, most everyone counts science on the side of atheism. But many theists claim art as theirs and theirs alone. Atheists, we are told, are cold, bitter, empty souls. “Look,” we are admonished, “look at all the great art that was created in the name of religion.” Endlessly we hear how artists come down on the side of god.

Folded Church © Ellen Bulger

I call bullshit.

I hear the magnificent musical masses and songs of praise. I can’t take my eyes off the soaring cathedrals with their stained glass and altar triptychs. But you think those things are proof that creativity springs from a god? Then you are so not an artist.

Artists need to eat. Artists need to buy materials. Artists need a place to live and work. Artists need their work to be seen because it is, after all, COMMUNICATION.

Artists need to be safe from persecution. Not for nothing, if you do sculpture or painting in a totalitarian state, you seriously increase your chances for sponsorship by perfecting a style of portraiture that reflects back at the PTB like Snow White’s Stepmother’s mirror. You might even extend your life expectancy. During much of Europe’s history, you towed the line of whatever Christian sect was dominant at the given time, or you risked your life, never mind getting a big fat generous patron. The only grants available during the dark ages were from the church. It is no coincidence that the fundies want to shut down the NEA.

But having been through the art school route, I can tell you that there is damn little discussion of god. Or rather, god gets no more attention than science or politics and considerably less attention than light, form, color, composition and, oh yes, sex and death. As far as I can tell, contemporary artists explore god mostly as a concept. Artists are less interested about god than they are in man’s relationship to god, in much the same way as they are interested in man’s relationship to everything else. Doubtless there are exceptions. And if artists want to question god and religion, they aren’t necessarily vocal about it. What they do is, put those questions into their work and then display it and let the public do the interpreting. Artists might rub your nose in issues public and private, but they won’t necessarily spell it out for you. You are required to participate.

Artist © Ellen Bulger

The artists I know who are atheists are quiet atheists. And there are artists who are quietly religious. But the public discussion between artists is not one of “Let us strive to express the glory of god!” as some would have you believe.

The pandering politicians who bristle at contemporary art yearn for the good old days. Yet their very reactionary reactiveness has elevated Serrano’s Piss Christ into an iconic work of historical significance. Do they realize that? Mustn’t it just, you should pardon the expression, grill their cheese?

Many conservatives would like all art to be propagandist patriotic or comforting mirrors to the collective narcissism. It’s queasy making. Really, atheists should get together and commission a spectacularly tacky 30-ft bronze of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It would be a droll and delightful project. And we should install it in the lobby of a National Museum of Atheism. I’m envisioning a modest-yet-imposing marble structure of Greek revival-style architecture. We should raise money and acquire an existing building or build one right in D.C.. Then wait and pray for Banksy to come along and tag the motherfuckin’ shit out of the exterior. EVEN IF HE IS CRITICIZING US. Wear it proudly, like the best ink EVER.

Great art often makes people uncomfortable. Like science, art is an exploration. Art is also communication. Science asks, what do we know, what is real? Sometimes art just says LOOK, and leaves the rest up to you. Art often asks, what do we think, and why do we think it? The Mormon Tabernacle Choir makes music, not history. They don’t change the way people think about music and sound and the world. They don’t challenge us.

Creative expression is not magical, even if observer and artist alike are often unaware of the processes at work. The religious think that art is a gift from god. Scientists act like they suspect artists are idiot savants.

What both sides miss is that art is problem solving. Artists, like scientists, build on the work of those who came before them. But unlike scientists, they are free to ignore the old knowledge and head off in an entirely new direction. Instead of standing on shoulders, artists might choose to tie some giant shoelaces together to catch the Titans unaware.

Art can simultaneously be freewheeling and an intellectual exercise, though often a non-verbal one. Art is banging together concept rocks in your head to make sparks, make FIRE. To really dig it, you have to let go. You can’t just be comfortable with uncertainty, you have to seek it. You have to crave it. Or so it seems to me.

These are my thoughts. I’m just one artist, a very tiny sample size of me. I’d like to hear from other artists who are atheists and see what they have to say. I’d like to feature their art here.

As atheists, we believe that man created god, not the other way around. As artists? Hell, we just get down to work and create.

You thought YOU knew how to play with Legos.

Jason Freeny is a muralist and designer. He’s been involved with creating props and design for theater and television, and he acquired a great deal of acclaim for his erotic art, which was has appeared in Heavy Metal, Juxtapoz Erotica, Penthouse and Time Out New York.

But dude knows how to rock some Legos. 

These are small SCULPTURES that Jason Freeny has painstakingly molded, shaped and painted. You can check out the process on his Facebook site; he has photos of how he creates the cut-away effect, the spaces in the ribs, the details in the intestines. It’s amazing and makes the work that much more awe-inspiring.

A google image search for “Jason Freeny” or a visit to his website will reveal that Legos are not the first toy dissection art he’s created, nor that he’s limited to  toy art. I’ve fallen in love with his robots, especially this image of a robot toy escaping from its packaging (click on image to see the full image at Jason Freeny’s website):

Tonka Takes A Holiday

Do want!

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Story first seen over at Street Anatomy, an awesome anatomy+art site that I recommend you visit on a regular basis. And by regular, I mean every five minutes. Or at least once a day. Maybe check in a couple of times a week.

Symphony of Science

I hadn’t visited Symphony of Science in a little while. The last video I watched was #8 The Big Beginning, and when I wasn’t looking John Boswell came out with four more productions:

  • Ode to the Brain (with Carl Sagan, Robert Winston, Vilayanur Ramachandran, Jill Bolte Taylor, Bill Nye, and Oliver Sacks)
  • Children of Africa (Carolyn Porco, Neil deGrasse Tyson, various presenters)
  • The Quantum World (Richard Feynman, Morgan Freeman, Stephen Hawking, Brian Cox, various presenters)
  • Onward to the Edge (Neil deGrasse Tyson,Carolyn Porco, various presenters

I like these videos because they highlight the wonder of the presenters’ words. They focus on the dreams that can be achieved with science, technology and innovation.

You can see the rest of the videos at the Symphony of Science website or the YouTube channel.

Atheists Don’t Swear Oaths On Darwin.

I’m a fan of Mike Peter’s Mother Goose & Grimm comic strip. I’ve been reading the adventures of Grimmy, Atilla the Cat, Mom, Ralph and the many other side characters featured in Mother Goose & Grimm since I was a little girl too young to understand the jokes. Also, I agree with a lot of Mike Peter’s political cartoons and editorials.

But I was disappointed with yesterday’s MG&G.

The comic presents the idea that atheists worship Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection as Christians worship the bible. The joke isn’t funny because I would bet that a lot of people have this misconception about atheists. If it’s taken as truth, then it’s not really a joke. As one lovely gentleman from the comic’s online comments section wrote in response to a man who said the comic wasn’t funny to him:

As an atheist I am frustrated by the connection of my lack of belief in gods to evolution; while of course related, the two have little to do with each other. I learned about and accepted evolution over a decade before I embraced atheism (for a long time I was a fan of the idea that God created the process of evolution). This comic muddies the water about the relationship between atheism and evolution, and has the potential to negatively influence public understanding of the relationship between the two.

While it’s true that atheists can decline to swear on a bible, so can anyone. Before testifying, a person must assure the court that they will tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Traditionally people swear to Almighty God because we have a little (teensy tiny) issue with Christian privilege in this country. In that situation one is swearing under pain and penalty of God’s judgement that they will not tell a lie. If you chose to not swear an oath to God, you may solemnly and sincerely affirm, under the pains and penalties of perjury, that you won’t fib to judge and jury.

On a side note, the portrayal of the atheist as a middle-aged white male feeds into the stereotype that all atheists are…middle-aged white men (with lots of crazy facial hair). Not true.

And one more point: “Atheist” can be a scary word, and being known as an atheist is a scary idea for some people. There are notions that atheists are god-denying (we are), creation-denying (that one too) trouble-makers (not all of us) who would refuse to swear an oath on a bible in court (a lot of us in some situations might) just to cause a stir (but not for that reason). But I think that it would take some courage to refuse to “place a hand on the bible” in front of a room full of strangers who are expecting you to do just that. Swearing before god might make you look more trustworthy to a judge or jury, while refusing to swear before god might make you look less so, and could have serious outcomes for your case. The comic isn’t funny because we might be brave enough to ask for a secular affirmation before testifying. Or we might not. It’s a tough position to be in.

Putting out a comic strip that is published in over 800 newspapers which 1)encourages public misunderstanding about the connection between atheism and evolution and 2)makes light of atheists who are in the difficult position of having to either swear an oath they don’t believe in or ask for a secular affirmation which might damage their case - isn’t funny, it’s potentially damaging, thoughtless and cruel.

Tattoo Thoughts

I received my first tattoo when I turned 18, for typical 18 year-old reasoning: “Ooo naughty!” and “Only $100 you say?” $100 was just enough to make it seem like a meaningful decision – money was sacrificed, therefore the commodity which was purchased was worthwhile.

I’m not proud of my first tattoo, although neither am I embarrassed or ashamed by it. My first tattoo is a piece of flash which was chosen right off of the wall with hardly more consideration than I had probably given that day’s lunch. The placement is horrible and unflattering to the art (such as it is), and was chosen because the artist said it wouldn’t be a very painful location to have tattooed. To be fair, at the time I envisioned my entire torso covered in ink by the time I was in my mid-20s – at the least the area reasonably covered by a work-appropriate skirt hem, a short-sleeve shirt and a modest neckline.  I remember thinking that if the first tattoo wasn’t great, then I could hide it or incorporate it into a more complex piece later down the line.

About a year later I purchased my second tattoo. It has much more personal meaning to me, but it was still flash – this time picked out of a book while a mountainesque woman sighed impatiently over my shoulder and waited for what she probably thought was a spontaneous college girl to decide on a pattern that she had etched onto dozens of other spontaneous college girls. She in fact had me dead to rights; I had driven from Winona where I attended WSU to LaCrosse specifically to get a tattoo from that shop, which means I gave the whole process about two hours of cogitation, and that includes the 30-minute commute. When I walked in and told her that I wanted to get a tattoo, she said “Been drinking?” I said “No ma’am.” An hour-and-a-half and $120 later I had my second tattoo.

I haven’t gotten any more ink since that time. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to, it’s just that I want my next tattoo to be original art, and that means finding an artist and commissioning a piece. And that means money. I have ideas for future work, but no real desire to seek out an artist with whose work I connect. I also want a larger piece – no more attempting to capture grand ideas in one-frame comic-sized daubs of ink.

If I had wads of money to blow, I’d probably continue getting new bits of art here and there, fulfilling my younger dreams of covering my body in art. But I don’t want to hire more strangers to put impersonal marks on me. I’d love to have tattoos from powerful events and moments in my life. I’d get tattoos from people who mean a lot to me,  for all of you special people to leave physical signs on my skin to go along with the emotions and memories you leave in my mind and heart. But…ahem…I’ve seen some of y’all draw, and uh…you ain’t coming near me with a sharpie, let along a permanent tattoo gun!

These thoughts of tattoo came about after reading a neat article in Jezebel about Jessie Knight (article by Irin Carmon, tweeted by @ClinicEscort), a British female tattoo artist who practiced in the 1930-60s. There are some great photos in the article, and when I went looking for more information about Ms. Knight, I found this YouTube video – replete with classic 1950′s “little woman” music. The video manages to be charming, patronizing and inspirational all at once.

Books – How They Work

I’m out of town traipsing around the woods this weekend, so I’ll most likely be unable to respond to comments and the like (we’ll see how good the 3G is in the state park this year). But I do have a few posts queued up until I return to regular blogging on Monday (or so). Have a great weekend.

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The is one of the most motivational Demotivation posters I’ve ever come across:

Seen on Facebook via J.Blaze Ward. Original source is demotivation.us

I can haz camera?

I would love to graduate from my point and shoot camera. I did move up when I bought my HTC Incredible smartphone. With 8mp, I have twice the resolution of my old 4.1mp Sony Cyber-Shot. But I want a camera that can take action shots (multiple frames per second – the fast click, click, click of fancy cameras), the ability to capture images in low-level lighting, and multiple lens options for wide angle shots and super-crazy zoom.

I haz no dinero for camera. *sniff* Suuuuure, I could swing it. But we’re trying really, really hard to get out of the debt. But when I am reminded of what a fancy camera can do it makes me want to look a little more closely at the no-interest for 12-months loan they were offering at the Ritz Camera I visited not too long ago.

And I was recently reminded of what a fancy camera can do.

Last Saturday I visited Como Park Zoo in St. Paul with Craig from the Minneapolis Skeptics for Darwin Day. He owns a Nikon D7000. It looks like this:

Image source

*drool* He was using a zoom lens and took bunches and bunches of photos. I was having fun snapping along. I have a pretty good eye for composition, but I think I’ve reached the limit of my current technology. Have a look – what do you think?

These small photos do not do Craig’s photos justice. I encourage you to click on his photos to see the incredible detail on his flickr stream.

Monkeys in the primate house. Challenges: Low, filtered light, fast-moving subjects, thick glass with reflections.

My photo – HTC Incredible, Auto settings, camera lens pressed to the glass to avoid reflection.

Craig’s Photo:

Emperor Tamarin DSC_1664

Snow Leopard enclosure. Challenges: Dark subject against snow, outdoor natural light – cloudy, fast-moving subject, fencing.

My photo, zoomed in as far as possible (unable to get close enough to fence to place camera between links):

Craig’s Photo:

Snow Leopard DSC_1920

Yeah, I’m jealous.