Friday, August 12, 2022

Pan Cosplay

I recently made a cosplay of Pan and I daresay it's my greatest costume to date.


For those not in the know, Pan is the Greek god of shepherds, flocks, and the wilderness.

However, in The Gods of the Greeks by Karl Kerenyi, it's noted that "Pan" can also refer to any satyr-like creature who's partying with Dionysus: "In the retinue of Dionysus, or in depictions of wild landscapes, there appeared not only a great Pan, but also little Pans, 'Paniskoi,' who played the same part as the Satyrs."
I made this costume for Labyrinth of Jareth (one week away!) and I started with the idea of liking wine a lot and looking very androgynous.  They say play to your strengths, y'know?
Note the staff topped with an artichoke.  This is a thyrsus, and I made it myself!

Friday, August 5, 2022

Color Blindness, or Memory Blindness? The Curious History of Crayola and the Color Chartreuse

Hi there, blog!  It's been a minute (or, more accurately, about four months) since I've written anything personal, as I've been busy with private commissions, but today I have a topic I've touched on before: memory.

Specifically, the malleable nature of it, and the Mandela Effect.

Memory is surprisingly plastic and not nearly as reliable as you might think.  Every time you remember something, you're actually remembering the last time you remembered it; in other words, remembering something is making a Xerox of a Xerox.  For this reason, it's easy to implant memories using the power of suggestion.  In one study, college students were convinced they'd been arrested... in as little as three hours.  

This brings me to the Mandela effect.  The Mandela effect occurs when a group of people remember something differently than what actually happened.  A collective false memory.  The term was coined in 2010 by Fiona Broome, who claimed she remembered Nelson Mandela dying in prison, with lots of news coverage and memorial events.  But Mandela didn't die in prison; he was in prison for 27 years, released in 1990, and went on to achieve presidency over South Africa in 1994.

Broome was not the only one to have "remembered" Mandela dying in prison in the 1980s.   According to Broome, thousands of other shared her memory-that-was-not-a-memory.

Broome wrote an entire book about the Mandela effect and I'm sorry to say that her conclusion about her false memories was that it was evidence of "alternate realities" or of "reality shifting," a dimensional break.

The reality is, in my opinion, more disturbing; our brains have the ability to suggest an idea, and then, each remembrance causes the idea to be embellished, until it's no longer a hypothetical but an actual "memory," one detailed enough to be indistinguishable from other memories.



What happened with Mandela?  Simple: after being in prison for 27 years without updates, people made the (reasonable) conclusion he had died.  And then they brains filled in the gaps: if he'd died, surely there'd been a funeral?  Surely it had been televised?  Surely they'd heard about it?

It's no coincidence that many people's false memories, or Mandela effect experiences, occur in childhood, when the brain is more plastic.  I wrote an article previously about childhood memory and perception.  (Incidentally, the "Lost Episode" of Sesame Street has since been released, and you can view it here.)  And it's not surprising that people can "share" a false memory, since people agreeing on something they're not actually sure of makes it so that both are more likely to consider it correct.  (This is why investigators don't ask "leading" questions; people are inclined to agree when not sure, and search for context clues to "figure out" the truth.)

When it comes to the Mandela effect, usually the memories aren't entirely false; they have a basis in some reality and can be traced or attributed to a false news article, misprint, or similar thing that "actually" happened (even if it didn't).

An example is people "remembering" that the Berenstain Bears were the Berenstein Bears. This did actually happen; the name was very frequently misspelled in TV Guides and on unlicensed toys, so they likely did see it spelled as "-stein."


I have experienced the Mandela effect only once, but it did lead me to a feeling of recollection vertigo.

My Mandela effect: for a long time, I and many others thought that the color "chartreuse" was red.

It's actually green.


I'm not the only one who thought of chartreuse as red, but if you read this excellent article (also linked above) from The Paris Review about the color, you'll see no such confusion existed in the heyday of the color.  Named in the 1880s, the height of its popularity was in the 1920s.  Most people who think of chartreuse as "red" were born between 1970 and 1990.   What gives?

Well, I did my research and discovered that the confusion seems to come from Crayola, which released a red-orange crayon in 1972 named "chartreuse." In 1990, the crayon was renamed to "Atomic Tangerine" but the confusion remains for Gen Xers and older Millennials, who associate "chartreuse" with red hues.

Curiously, although the crayon was more orange than red, and had a fluorescent / neon hue to it, most people who remember chartreuse as red describe it as a dark brick, burgundy, or maroon.  But there's a simple explanation for this.  The color derives its name from an alcoholic drink and that people get their wires crossed and think of it as being some kind of French wine.  A lot of people claim it "sounds" red.  I believe that's another case of crossed wires: there are other red colors, like cherry and cerise, with similar names.


Let 's jump into a Crayola timeline for a better look at chartreuse.

Crayola began in 1903 with eight colors in each box.  Coincidentally, in the same year, the French government took over the Chartreuse distillery.  Jury's out on just how connected these two things are, but my intuition tells me "completely."

Anyway, in 1949, nearly fifty years later, Crayola released 40 more colors, which directly led to the collapse of the Berlin War forty years later.

Just kidding, although it's worth pointing out that one of the colors released in 1949 was "Prussian blue," and this was changed to "midnight blue" in the '50s.  (The company figured no one would remember the color as being the color of a Prussian uniform post-WWII era.)

So bear this in mind: Crayola can and does change color names.

In 1972, with 64 colors on the roster, Crayola introduced eight more.  The 1972 "fluorescent" line contained an ultra orange, ultra yellow, ultra green, ultra pink, ultra blue, ultra red, combo-breaking "hot magenta"... and chartreuse.

In 1990, ultra orange became outrageous orange, ultra yellow became laser lemon, ultra green became screamin' green, ultra pink became shocking pink, ultra red became wild watermelon, and chartreuse became atomic tangerine.  

However, Crayola still retains a "chartreuse" crayon (#FFFF66).  In a search for the legendary red chartreuse, I came across a list on Wikipedia, which claims that "chartreuse"was actually changed to laser lemon and "ultra yellow" was changed to "atomic tangerine." It makes little sense to me that a color called "yellow" would be changed to "tangerine."  And all other sources seem to think that chartreuse and atomic tangerine are the same. 

Here's a picture of "atomic tangerine" next to laser lemon, and as you can see, they are completely separate colors, and laser lemon is yellow, not red-orange:


I am forced to conclude that Big Crayola is manipulating the Wikipedia page to cover their tracks.

It's worth noting that Crayola's most senior crayon maker, Emerson Moser, who worked in a crayon plant pouring the waxes into molds and putting said molds through the papering machines, who made over a billion crayons in his 37-year-long career, was color-blind

His year of retirement? 1990.  The same year that "chartreuse," a pale green that would be indistinguishable from orange-red with someone with colorblindness, had its name "fixed."  (Nowadays, chartreuse is called "green yellow.")   

It's possible the "chartreuse" mistake/inconsistency can be directly attributed to him, but Crayola has never offered an explanation.

Thursday, March 31, 2022

It's Not Just You: Why People Hate "Corporate Art Style"

This article was originally written for and published by the Grand Geek Gathering on March 30th, 2022.

You’ve probably seen it and you probably hate it.

It’s corporate art style, and it was originally developed for Facebook, but is now in use by just about every other big tech and start-up out there: Google, YouTube, Airtable, Hinge, Uber, Lyft, GrubHub, and Airbnb, to name a few.

What is this art style, and where did it come from?  More importantly, why is it so universally hated?

Jump in the world of inoffensive pastels, noodly arms, and flat, 2-dimensional vector drawings as we examine what makes Corporate Art tick!

What is it?

There are many features of Corporate Art.  Often described as “minimalist” or “flat,” its major distinguishing features include use of primary shapes, uniform line widths, minimal line work, little texture, and minimal tonal shadows to convey depth.

The humans depicted by Corporate Art have non-representational skin tones, often pastels or cool colors like blue and purple.  They also have long, oversized limbs or other exaggerated features, which often have a “wiggly” or “flowing” movement when animated.  While the arm and legs have uniform length and width (with only the slightest taper to the stubby fingers), the heads are small compared to the body, and the eyes are dots with lines for eyebrows.

Examples of this art, from an actual Facebook artist’s portfolio, can be found here.

Where did it come from?

It goes by many names, despite having little variation.  Corporate Art Style, also called Big Tech Art Style, Flat Art, Globohomo Art Style (short for “globalized homogenization”) and Corporate Memphis, was developed for Facebook in 2017 by a design firm called Buck.

Specifically, the design is heavily credited to artist Xoana Herrera and animator Esteban Esquivo.


An early example of the duo's work

This art style was originally called “Alegria,” Spanish for “joy.”

“Corporate Memphis” was coined in 2018 and refers to the Memphis Group, a widely-loathed postmodern Italian architectural group from the 1980s whose designs typically included flat, geometric, and colorful features.

The characterization of Corporate Art online garnered notice from a Twitter account @HumansOfFlat, which amassed 6,000 followers and collected examples of the art to criticize and ridicule it.  The account was suspended in 2019.

But this particular account wasn’t alone in its hatred of the style.  On August 21st, 2019, Aiga Eye on Design blog published an article titled "Don’t Worry, These Gangly-armed Cartoons Are Here to Protect You From Big Tech," which remains one of the first Google results when you search for corporate art style analysis, and is also the first citation on Wikipedia when you visit the Corporate Memphis page.

On February 6th, 2021, YouTube channel Solar Sands posted a video decrying the art style as “fake.”  It received over 2 million views in its first month and currently sits on 3.8 million views.

Watching the video myself, I was treated to an ad for Google Fi that used– yep, you guessed it– this very same art style.  It’s everywhere.  I'm pretty sure I even used some stock images in my last article.

Why do tech companies love it so much?

For tech companies, corporate art style is incredibly useful.  For one thing, the art is vector-based and easily replicable.  This means that instead of needing to pay one artist, you can have a whole team of graphic designers who make uniform, consistent art.  This art style renders the graphic designers easily replaceable.  What’s more, it can be rapidly created in programs like Abode Illustrator with little effort or time.

The non-representational skin tones are both inoffensive and “inclusive.”  And the minimalism, paired with the movements depicted, makes for exciting, “playful” art that does a good job of representing what the companies are trying to communicate about themselves: that they are accessible, fast-paced, and fun.

Unfortunately it’s very quickly become despised by most people.

Why do we hate it so much?

A lot of artists and graphic designers have chimed in to offer opinions on why this art style, which is designed to be inoffensive, seems to have had the opposite effect.

Some suggest it’s the “grotesque” proportions of the people, which trigger an uncanny valley response.  Others have said that the art style is “obnoxiously joyful” and that the “constant motion” causes visual fatigue.  Still more believe that the issue is that people are aware that the non-representational skin tones are tokenizing and that, in its efforts to be inclusive and diverse, the people end up representing no one at all, leading the audience to feel pandered to.

But all of this, to me, falls into a bigger issue, which is that the art doesn’t feel like authentic art.  This art carries no emotion and conveys no message other than to hype a product.

The art is definitionally “corporate” with no underlying message

But it doesn’t have to be.  The truth is, minimalist art is often very good.  But the corporate style has so thoroughly saturated the market that we tend to see it, immediately identify and associate it with Big Tech branding, and then dismiss it as "noise" without considering its artistic merits, if any.

The truth is, flat, minimalist drawings with tonal shadows, exaggerated limbs, soft colors, and primary shapes is a legitimate art style.  We’ve seen it used with finesse in the Bauhaus and Art Deco schools of art, and indeed, I’ve heard it said that this style is a natural evolution of Art Deco and builds on the kind of art made by A.M. Cassandre (who, it should be noted, famously made his art for advertisements).

An example of A.M. Cassandre's work.
Vintage globohomo?

In fact, one of my favorite paintings of all time is a minimalist vector piece of art, which has several similarities to Corporate Art: minimal line use, exaggerated features, tonal shadows.


"Two Hours Past Bedtime" by Shag

But the thing about this piece of art is that it tells a story, and conveys an emotion.  It’s not trying to promote any product other than itself.  Like all good art, it’s representational and thought-provoking.

And that’s precisely what corporate art style lacks.

But there's good news!

The extreme dislike of Corporate Art has prompted people to create creative parodies which are, in fact, art.  Ironic and satirical, the parody art makes a statement and evokes emotion: humor at the image, annoyance at the style, and appreciation for the commentary.

Two of my personal favorite pieces of Corporate Art parody include a recreation of Francisco Goya's Saturn Devouring His Son, and of Artemisia Gentileschi's Judith Slaying Holofernes.  The "pleasing, soothing" minimal and color scheme, paired with the violence of the imagery, makes for an unsettling and comedic piece of true art.

So perhaps not all hope is lost for this flat, minimalist style.  We may hate it because we associate it with unskippable YouTube abs, but we can't deny that it's exerting a powerful influence over how we consume and respond to art.

Friday, March 25, 2022

Content Dump: I Dislike Tik-Tok.

I'm not a huge fan of TikTok.

Actually, no, scratch that, I hate TikTok.

Aside from finding the interface really busy and unpleasant to look at because of what a sensory overload it is, I think TikTok's culture is incredibly toxic.  Like Facebook, it's a polarizing social media platform that allows people to go on short video diatribes about their "hot takes," everything from science denial to extreme social justice posturing.

Here's a link to the article.

This meme has a typo.  Deal with it.

I don't want to say TikTok has no redeeming features.  It's given us some degree of creativity, such as the revival of sea shanties.

But my big problem with it is that it seems to really push a "mental health awareness" narrative that has resulted in a ton of people self- and mis-diagnosing.  Now, I don't want to simply invalidate every self-diagnosis.  If they're used to communicate something meaningful then I'm all for it. But if they're used to excuse or justify toxic behavior then I'm not. I guess I care less about where the label came from and more why someone is using it... if it helps me to understand a person better then I don't care whether or not they've got a slip of paper from a doctor. 

But diagnoses have a purpose.  The purpose is 1) to characterize a disorder to better understand what the person who suffers from it is experiencing, and 2) to formulate a treatment plan that alleviates the symptoms.  It's not meant to be used for clout, as many of the people on TikTok do, presenting their mental health as "quirky" or "fun," a stand-in for personality.  And, again, it's not meant to excuse toxic behavior, which I've seen as well.  I know two people who use TikTok and both have, over the course of the last year, begun to explain away bad behavior by dropping a slew of acronyms on me.

On TikTok, mental illness on social media is treated the same way astrology is.  You make a highly relatable and broad post about how "people with X experience Y!" and then make the experience into an incredibly vague, general human experience.  A classic example is sharing a picture of misaligned tiles and claiming that it upsets your "OCD." People with OCD can certainly find it annoying, but it's not exclusive to them, nor is it diagnostic criteria. 

There are many people, especially easy influenced teens who can't even be diagnosed with personality disorders at their age, who "find their own" diagnosis, go to doctors with a confirmation bias, and end up with a diagnosis and treatment plan that is deeply harmful and will follow them for the rest of their lives.
What's more, the "movement" of "mental health awareness" on TikTok has become so cult-like that there's terminology for people who call out bad behavior.  These people are called "fakeclaimers" and that's a fancy way of saying that they're suppressive persons whose questioning of any TikTok featuring a person with a disorder is inherently problematic.  This cult-like behavior is not dissimilar to what we see with the "body positivity" movement, a thing that could have actually been good and uplifting but has ended up with such extreme viewpoints that it's become extremist and dangerous.

This has solidified my dislike for TikTok and I was glad that the GGG let me write the above article on it, because I know it's a bit of a hot take.  I enjoy having the creative freedom to be able to express my opinions, and it's something I wish more TikTokers would employ instead of leaning on the sensationalism or glamorization of possibly-misdiagnosed mental disorders.  

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Heave, Ho: an article on sea shanties and other things I'm up to.

Recently I wrote an article about sea shanties.

You should go read it.  It's very informative, because I happen to be a big fan of sea shanties.  I'm not sure why but lately, in particular, they've really been resonating with me...

Anyways, in unrelated news, I recently got a new job at Whole Foods.  It's a little part-time side hustle working in wine and cheese, which is very bougie, I know.  It's a way for me to get some much-needed time out of the house so I stop writing articles gate-keeping sea shanties.  So far I love it; I got hired at an on-site job fair I stumbled into accidentally.

Directions unclear; ended up with a wage job.

I've found all of the other team members to be enthusiastic and welcoming people, and the work, while relatively simple, is extremely satisfying to me in the way simple, manual labor often is (when you're opting in, that is).

That being said my commission work has also been going splendidly (which is why my posts here are getting shorter... sorry, blog, but you don't pay me because you're proudly ad-free and also no one actually reads you).  I've got one client in particular who is a darling to work with and whose stories and characters are really fun to explore and frankly very risqué.  Unlike with kids or dogs, I can absolutely choose favorites and S is my favorite client to work with, hands-down.

So, here's to you, patron S and Whole Foods, for keeping me physically and intellectually stimulated, productive, and gainfully employed.  May the two of you never, ever intersect.