Always wandering, always lost. Mostly quite happy.

 

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[Scroll down for English translation.]

私は研究者です。大学卒業以来研究関係の仕事しかやってこなかったので、去年はしばらく研究者の仕事を休んで、一年間コーディネーター関係の仕事をしました。やっぱり、私には研究のほうが向いていると気づきました。現在は研究に関する仕事を得るために就職活動をしています。

研究者にはいくつかの特性が有ると思います。まずは、好奇心です。何を見ても質問が出てくるーー例えば、その状況はどうして発生したのか?そのデザインはなんのためなのか?この過程はどうすれば一番良いのか?子供たちはたくさんの疑問を抱き、質問をします。それと同じで、私たちは誰もが研究者としての素質を持っていると思います。でもその問題が面白いか、分析価値があるのか、他の研究者はもう結論を出したのか...問うべき価値があるかどうかなど、いろいろなことについて考える必要があります。

次に大切なことは、答えを導き出す根気があること。長く結果が出ない時もあるので、忍耐力が必要だと思います。答えを見つけるまで、考え続けるタイプのひとに向いています。でも頑固な性格は周りのメンバーに嫌われる時もあるので、気を付けなければなりません。

最後は、方法です。別々の分野の人々は、世界を理解するために 、それぞれのフィルターで物事を見ています。理系と文系は同じ世界に暮らしてますが、別の世界を見ています。だから、同じ問題を研究していて、別の答えになったとしてもおかしくないです。その 方法や手順 が科学的である限り、問題はありません。研究者は適切な手順を使って、一つ一つ問題を解決します。

研究とは、科学的な方法で地道に答えを見つけ出していくことだと思います。 したがって、 研究者はそのような仕事を楽しんでできる人に向いていると思います。

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I am a researcher. Upon graduating from university, I had only done research-related work - so, last year I took a break from research and tried out coordination work instead. Through that, I realised that I am still more suitable for research. Therefore, right now I am looking for research-related work.

In my opinion, I think that there are a few characteristics that the researcher should have. First is curiosity. Questions emerge from everything you see - for example,  why did that situation happen? What is this design for? What is the best way to do this? Connected to the observation that children usually have many questions, I think that everyone has the potential for being a researcher. However, there is still a consideration of whether the questions are interesting, if they are worth investigating, or if some other researchers have already come to a conclusion to the question [note: I have more thoughts on this but I didn't want to elaborate in Japanese - basically even if other researchers have come to a conclusion, if you get a good angle of the research question it may still be worthwhile to investigate it, maybe even debunk the original conclusion. But if you are studying a question that already has a pretty well-established answer, and come to the same answer... well, that might not be the most interesting study.]. There is a difference between a good research question and a lesser one.

Secondly, is the ability to work for a long time until you get the answer. As there is a possibility of not arriving to a conclusion for a long time,  one needs to persevere. Research work is suitable for those who cannot stop thinking about the problem until they solve it. However, a stubborn character might annoy the colleagues working around them, this is something that we need to be mindful about.

Lastly, the important thing is the methodology. People from different fields see the world differently, with different filters. Scholars of the arts and the sciences live in the same world, but see different ones. Therefore, it is not strange for the same research question to have different answers. As long as the methodology and procedures are scientific, there is no problem [comment: well, here there may be some dispute on what is considered scientific methods in different fields, but that's a can of worms that I don't want to open.]. The researcher needs to use appropriate procedures, and answer the question step by step.

Research is about using scientific methods to systematically and gradually find the answer to a research question. A researcher is therefore someone who finds this kind of work interesting, I believe.

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Note: I wrote the above in Japanese first, and did the translation later on. It is interesting to observe that something that I feel runs quite smoothly in Japanese doesn't have the same ring to it in English - and the resulting translation sometimes either sounds clunky, or has to lose some nuance that it had before when it was in Japanese. Which is to say, when I write in Japanese I think differently from when I write in English. This is nothing new in the psychology of linguistics, but I thought that it was quite interesting, experientially.

Note 2: Featured image is what I made when I was doing my PhD, with the angst and self-doubt of a researcher, no technique, and possibly lots of wine.

josef koudelka

I've been on a persistent high the last few days. Sunday was when it started. I had a long conversation with my art teacher K - we didn't do any art in class that day, but just sat and pored over the works of artists, Impressionism and post, while another student and I listened closely to K's commentary on them. With Google Arts and Culture, it is possible to look at thousands of pieces of high definition masterpieces, zooming out and in, from Cezanne's landscape and still life compositions to Van Gogh's individual brush strokes.

We did exactly that. And while I was earnestly absorbing the visual buffet with my amateur eyes, we also discussed technical and philosophical questions of art. What constitutes good structure and composition? Why was Cezanne considered the father of modern art movements such as cubism and abstract art? And the one that has been occupying my mind a lot - what is the point of art? Is it too optimistic to imagine that, through finding the meaning of art, we might also find the meaning to life?

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Paul Cezanne - The Basket of Apples (circa 1893)

Classes are supposed to be only two hours, even though K never really enforces it. By the end of four hours, we had sat through a two-hour storm in the poolside pavilion where we usually have our class. The other student had left an hour ago, and I was nursing my lukewarm tea, with a million thoughts racing through my head, each one deserving and competing for my attention. The sudden expansion of information to digest took up all the brain space that I had, the pieces fusing into each other and I couldn't remember where each piece started and ended. It was all very confusing - but satisfying.

K believes that art is a tool for self-expression, an innate need that humans have had since the age of the cavemen. To communicate something that is within ourselves, to create something from nothing. Within a technically adept painter may not necessarily live an artist. They may be excellent at portraits and landscapes, but remain at most draftsmen that are mostly good for commissions (I sense some quiet contempt there). The point of art is therefore not to please others. It is through art that we can understand more about the world and about ourselves, and through that achieve freedom.

gauguin self portrait

Paul Gauguin - Self portrait with portrait of Bernard, 'Les Miserables' (1888)

To K, art is freedom. It is the ability to make full use of our senses, and to then translate all of this into a piece of unique work. A true artist has philosophy behind her work, not only technique. She draws not only with her hands but also with her mind. Upon further research at home, I can see through some quotes from Paul Gauguin, an artist that K adores, the philosophy that he might hold. Here are some that I found endearing, encouraging or wise.

  • Art is either plagiarism or revolution.
  • There are two sorts of beauty; one is the result of instinct, the other of study. A combination of the two, with the resulting modifications, brings with it a very complicated richness, which the art critic ought to try to discover.
  • Out in the sun, some painters are lined up. The first is copying nature, the second is copying the first, the third is copying the second... You see the sequence.
  • A critic is someone who meddles with something that is none of his business.
  • I have come to an unalterable decision – to go and live forever in Polynesia. Then I can end my days in peace and freedom, without thoughts of tomorrow and this eternal struggle against idiots.
  • There is always a heavy demand for fresh mediocrity. In every generation the least cultivated taste has the largest appetite.
  • Art requires philosophy, just as philosophy requires art. Otherwise, what would become of beauty?
  • Go on working, freely and furiously, and you will make progress.
  • With practice the craft will come almost of itself, in spite of you and all the more easily if you think of something besides technique.

VanGogh_Bedroom_Arles

Vincent van Gogh - Bedroom in Arles (1889)

I am increasingly convinced that, art is but a tool to communicate one's truths and emotions. The better we get at it, the more robust our ability is to express ourselves, accurately and exactly as we see it. Through writing my Japanese essays I have become painfully cognisant of the fact that I have at times had to embellish what I originally intended to say, only because my arsenal of Japanese vocabulary and grammar is insufficient to explain the nuances of what I had wanted to express. Far more rarely, but it does happen - is when I want to say something in English that would have been easily said in a phrase in Japanese, yet in English it comes out feels clunky and unnatural.

From the top of my head, an example: 来てくれたんだ roughly translates to "You have come for me (in this statement there is a slight nuance of appreciation - thanks for making the effort for coming to see me/attend this event because of me)" but I can't think of an English equivalent that is as succinct as the Japanese phrase, that doesn't fall flat on its face.

Hokusai_Katsushika-No_Series-Court_Lady_and_Young_Woman_with_a_Foreign_Telescope_repro-00029596-020224-F06

Katsushika Hokusai - Two ladies with a telescope from the series "Seven habits of grace and disgrace" (1798 - 1811)

However, the real and bigger question does not lie in how well our craftmanship or mastery of language is, since that is something that can be acquired over time with lots of practice. No. The real and bigger question is that, do I have something worth expressing? I believe that this may be the key of how art links to life. Perhaps the most pressing mission that an artist has is to find that burning something that she has to shout out to the world, her emotions, her struggles, her worldview... and that comes from a life with meaning.

What then, is my life's meaning?

Is art then, an invitation to open this door to self-exploration, of introspection, of listening closely to the murmurs of our souls? Am I up to the task of finding the authentic me, even if it might yield an answer of disappointing mediocrity, of a life not worth communicating?

The thinking continues.

Featured image by Josef Koudelka. K said that a good composition is when every element within the picture is essential, taking away something will render it ineffective. Incidentally, I watched Amadeus last week and that was what was said about Mozart's composition - it is perfect, as is. Add or take away a note, and its beauty is diminished. 

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I'm now writing a blog post in Japanese every week from now on. It's part of my (self-imposed) homework for a tutor that I got through italki. Every week I meet Kimie-san on Skype and she corrects my essays and we talk for about an hour. So far I've done one proper lesson (and a trial lesson before that), and she has exceeded my expectations in being a responsive and caring tutor who takes down my questions during class and sends me extensive answers through Skype afterwards even when it's not on paid time.

When the teacher is good I get super motivated to work harder, and that seems to motivate them to teach better as well - so it's a virtuous cycle right there. Anyways here is my first (corrected) Japanese blog post and a translation of it beneath.

絵を描くことについての感想

最近絵を描くことにハマっている。多分いい美術の先生を見つけたから、頑張れる気がする。子供の時は絵を描くのが大好きだったが、大人になってからほとんど描いていません。なぜでしょう?自信がなくなったとか、時間がなくなったとか、いろいろな理由があるかもしれません。

久しぶりに鉛筆を手に取って紙で線を描くのは、気持ちいいです。先生は美術は言語だと言っていました。線は言葉です。もし言葉の使い方がうまくなかったら、伝えたいことも通じない。だから、線の描き方をマスターすることはとても重要です。次に、色の観察です。光はどこから?影はどこまで?色は冷たいか、温かいか?それらを表現できれば、画家の気持ちを観る人の心まで届けられる。

名作を観る時、絵の構成や色の使い方や筆の動かし方を、丁寧に観察するべきです。その後、学んだことは紙で試して、よく練習します。こうすることによって、テクニックとセンスがよくなります。

Translated:

My thoughts about drawing

Recently, I have been into drawing. It is probably because I found a good art teacher, which has encouraged me to work harder. I used to love drawing when I was a child, but after I grew up I didn't do it much anymore. Why is that? Maybe I lost my confidence, maybe I didn't have time anymore... I suppose there are many reasons.

After a long hiatus, it feels good to be holding a pencil, and drawing a line on paper. Art is a language, said my teacher. Lines are the words. If you do not use words well, you will not be able to communicate what you want to say. Therefore, it is very important to master the use of lines. After that, it is the observation of colours. Where does the light come from? Where do the shadows end? Are the colours cool or warm? Through expressing these well, the artist's feelings can be transmitted to the hearts of the viewers.

When we look at a masterpiece, we should carefully observe the painting's composition, its use of colours, and the master's brush strokes. After that, we try out on paper what we have learnt, and practise it over and over again. If you do this, your techniques and artistic sense will get better over time.

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I drew the featured image based on a photo from NatGeo. See more at @juneysketches.