Ugly food, and art curriculums

Ugly or Beautiful?

Today is a mixed bag indeed. Today I have seen news that once again makes me wonder. Once again makes me put my head in my hands, and once again raises questions which run deeper than "what is the meaning of life?"


In addition to two portraits of Jacqueline Picasso, more than 60 other works are believed to have gone missing from a storage facility in Paris suburb. This would make a great script for a film, the art gets stored in a storage facility, word gets out, the heist is planned, and then the art is sold to a private collector. If I owned a Picasso, I'm pretty sure I would store it not in the suburbs of Paris, but in a climate controlled vault. This is one story I will be keeping an eye on over the coming months.


Chinese artist Dai Jianyong has been detained for posting a photoshopped picture of the country’s president, Xi Jinping, on social media and could receive up to five years’ prison time if convicted. The digital artist slapped a mustache on the Chinese leader and contorted his features into Dai’s signature “chrysanthemum face.” (The flower’s name is slang for anus.) The incident points to more severe “crackdown[s] on artistic expression” in the country, effective since last October. (via The Independent).


Now for a total twist, now for the issue that has made me once again put my head into my hands. Have you ever noticed how symmetrical fruit and vegetables are in the grocery store? Have you ever grown your own and then had a shock that the potatoes look like they have had a bad nose job when you dig them up? There is a reason for this. Apparently there are rules about selling misshaped fruit. In the UK, a European directive covers the situation down to the degree of a bananas bend.


When I was younger I would always go for the apple that had the extra bit. More apple, seems logical. Not once can I remember getting hung up over the fact that I picked the ugly kid from the fruit tree. Neither were the apples sprayed with a bazillion chemicals. You just avoided the ones which had living creatures attached to them, or the ones that had been part eaten by a monster bug.


However, it appears that these kinds of rules are prominent throughout the Western world. Every year in the U.S. Six billion pounds of ugly fruits and vegetables are wasted because they don't meet visual standards. The unused product suck up 20 gallons of water per pound as it grows, and releases methane when it is dumped in a landfill. Neither are particularly great for the environment which we obviously care so deeply about. Apparently we are judgemental about the food we eat, but should we be?


In the U.S. A Bay Area-based startup is selling crooked carrots and the ugliest potatoes directly to consumers. They are partnering with farms and where odd looking non conforming produce usually gets separated and thrown out to rot, the start up, Imperfect rescues the ugly fruits and vegetables to sell them in a CSA-style model at discounted prices. And the discount is huge. 30-50% less than supermarkets. They say the approach benefits the farmer and the consumer, improves food security and saves a huge amount of wasted food and water.


It appears that they're not alone. The European Commission declared 2014 "the year against food waste". This I find I little ironic given that EU rules on food produce counter to some extent the ideology of reducing food waste. The same goal is echoing in the U.S. where groups like have created campaigns, complete with hashtags and social media presence, to sing the praises of slightly ugly food.


Adding in my experience of ugly food, I can tell you that I would sooner have a badly shaped natural strawberry over and above anything that has been modified, sprayed, and engineered. I also wonder if this is the way we think? Is this approach to ugly food connected to the preconceptions some people have about people too?


Back to art, and once again I have totally digressed from my main focus of the arts, I came across an interesting story about a gentleman by the name of Adarsh Alphons. Be warned, I may reach out for the soapbox once again.


Whilst growing up in India, Adarsh Alphons was expelled from school for doodling. He continued to draw at his new school but the reaction was much different. His new principal said, "'you know what? Just keep drawing in every class. Draw on the walls, when you're done, go to the next class and draw on those walls too. Paint the whole school.'"


Shortly after, Alphons had the opportunity to present a drawing to Nelson Mandella and he was later commissioned by the Vatican to do a painting for Pope John Paul II. He's now an artist in New York. Alphons was disheartened to hear that nearly three in ten public schools lack even one full-time arts teacher.


That seems to be a trend that isn't just sweeping the USA, it's also sweeping other Western nations too. If there is a requirement for a school to deliver math, it's usually the arts tutor that needs to provide cover. Not that Math isn't important I'm sure it is, but since becoming an artist who sells his work, I have learned way more about match since I left school than when I was in school.


Now, not only do I have to work out pricing, but with me creating my artwork digitally, I need to work out exactly how many pixels are needed to fill a 20x24 canvas at 200 pixels per inch, or 150 pixels per inch depending on the medium. Not something that my math teachers ever taught me. Probably because they didn't know what a pixel was back in the day.


Budget cuts across the board are having an affect on the arts. This is a real shame for the children of today particularly if they have a passion to study art. When I was in school we only had an arts class once a week but it was always a double session and the curriculum wasn't solely about painting.


I remember being introduced to Picasso at the age of 11 or 12, these days it seems that the focus is generally on the ability to draw. That's not exactly what children need to focus on when taking the arts as a subject. A good arts education should also include a deep history of the arts. This is something that children get when they reach university, but the theory that my daughter receives at the age of twelve, simply won't prepare her if she decides to go down the creative route later in life.


I know a number of arts teachers who deliver a decent curriculum, but it seems that they too get frustrated when there's no cover. They tell me that if they need to take leave, the children usually end up drawing, but there really is no theory. Any theory delivered is usually succinct, covers only the masters, and doesn't include the emerging arts such as digital. This is why we need good arts teachers and a budget to back a real curriculum. We need more arts teachers too.


Art is not just the ability to draw, great if you can, but it should never exclude the theory which would broaden the appeal to others who find drawing a struggle. I know at least three people who admit that as youngsters they couldn't tell one end of a pencil from the other, but all three went on to find successful employment in the arts industry. Where did they get the skills? They self taught, they always loved looking at art and continue to have a real passion today. They still cannot draw today, but they can validate an original Matisse against a fake.


This is the difficulty, there seems to be an expectation by children when considering their options at school that in order to take art they absolutely need to be able to draw. I would argue that this isn't the case. If someone has a passion for the arts, should they really be excluded on the basis that they cannot draw? Maybe it's time to review the entire arts curriculum in schools. Or at least start lowering expectations a little. If a child wants to learn about the arts rather than art, that should be deeply encouraged.


There are vocational and academic routes to business studies and such like, they're important, but shouldn't we have a similar academic programme for the arts that encourages young people into the industry? The time has arrived where additional funding should be given to providing structured vocational and academic arts in schools. A review of cover that makes art just as important as other subjects and not handing the subject over to a physical education teacher the minute the arts teacher is unable or unavailable to teach.


A teacher I know who teaches science once had to cover an arts class. He made the kids draw the periodic table. That is all he was trained to do in his discipline. He admits that he knows nothing about the arts and also that it was one of the most difficult classes he had ever had to prepare for and teach. He was stunned by the variations of the periodic tables presented to him.


We need to encourage the next generation to take a place in the industry. If they have a passion, we should support them. We should also support cover teachers so that they can at least provide an additional perspective and not feel quite so ill prepared as my friend did in his first ever step into the arts.


One good thing however did come out of the experience, my friend has introduced a partnership with the arts department which is encouraging lots more kids to consider science. The reason is because he's making his class a little more edgy and hip with brightly coloured posters produced by art students, and he is using art materials to figure out chemical compositions. It's a lot more fun, it's a lot more messy, but the approach is working. The students have even produced some great new mediums to paint with.


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