Complexities in America (if not the rest of the world)

President Dwight D. Eisenhower coined the Military/Industrial Complex.

What are some other examples of these good, “Industrial” and bad, “War” complexes continue today? *I use war instead of defense or military, because that’s a real outcome to the industry. Understand that we associate being industrious, and making things as a good productive venture. However, it is not to say these industrious elements have their shortcomings and in fact compromise the good of our environment and people (economic status, health, education). Keep in mind though; every defense maker has a facility in just about every state of the union. This secures not only their industry, but jobs. Every congressperson wants to be re-elected and will do anything to ensure there is a defense contract. In fact, someone close to me, who used to be a Navy pilot, worked in the defense industry, and is very conservative; called it the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex.

Here are some other examples to consider:

Education/Test– Consider the big industry of testing today. Some parents, most teachers and now colleges are opposed to the standardized testing. Testing is big business; preying on the fears that our children are not getting the education they need to compete in the world. This of course is not true and because of testing, we rank lower every year compared to other countries that don’t emphasize tests in their education program.

Automobiles/Oil– This relationship is impossible to break. These two industries have been working together for over a century and it seems like it will never end. There are technologies being suppressed by the oil industry, where automotive makers have in fact made extraordinary fuel-efficient cars or alternative fuel vehicles, which mysteriously never make it to market. There were battery-electric cars at the beginning of the Twentieth Century, and if they were developed the same as the internal combustible engine, we would have remarkably high performance cars running on some form of high tech rechargeable battery.

Which brings me to Energy.

Energy/Oil, Coal and Natural Gas– The worse part of this, we need energy to keep us warm, cool, freeze and cook our food, and give us electricity. The problem, all these fossil fuels damage our living environment. Energy is a good thing, as it enables us to be industrious and even save lives. However, the way we use these three main fuels, harm our own lives, even worse than good. People still burn oil in their homes for heat. Not all of the oil burns clean, and there are residual carbons being released in the home and the air as a whole. Coal is horrendous and burns the dirtiest, but this is the way we get most of our electricity. Look at modern day Poland:

Last, but not least, Natural Gas: Even though this burns the cleanest (there are natural gas cars) the damage is being done by how natural gas is found and drilled through fracking. Fracking not only creates air pollution itself, releasing unused gas into the atmosphere, it spoils the ground, the water beneath the earth and because of the shattered bed of earth, creating an unusual amount of earthquakes.

There are alternative energy resources present today that are constantly being suppressed by traditional energy companies; through lobbying and the free market (see politics below). Wind, solar and remarkably, hydroelectric plants are fighting an uphill battle to create marketable, sustainable and even profitable energy.   If clean air acts were in fact imposed or enforced through our laws, we would see a great shift to clean air energy.

Here is a list of many other things to consider as for the good, but bad at the same time.

Politics/Lobbying Complex

Christmas/Toys Complex (Plastic toys create billions of tons of plastic waste in our landfills. Plastics are petroleum base and leech chemicals back into the environment. Really think about how much your kids play with their toys)

Halloween/Candy Complex (Love sweets, but this is a bad recipe of overindulgent habits and actually increases our chances to buy more candy for the wrong reasons)

Grocery/Farm Complex (Think of the waste of food compared to those who are hungry)

Sports/Injury Complex

I would like to learn more, so if you can think of any complexities, please share.

Our Grave and Deteriorating World

Preface: I wrote this article for a company newsletter years ago when I worked as an interior designer for IKEA. These are not the opinions of IKEA, nor are they responsible for anything I wrote. This was an informative essay on a book and articles I had recently read and still find pertinent today. This by no means has any association to IKEA other than I used to work there and write about design in our store newsletter. This was also written at the time American soldiers (including relatives of mine) were entrenched in battle in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other parts of the Middle East. I mention the war there, as opposed to the war we have with saving our planet. I mean no disrespect to our fighting men and women, who are still fighting today as they did over 7 years ago when I wrote this article. We have wars on many fronts and our environment is another battle we must confront as citizens of the world and the United States of America.

Original Preface and Article begins here:

When I mentioned to our editor I was writing on our global environment, he was shocked and stammered, “You’re not writing about interior design?” I generally write about design as a whole and I explained to him that a book inspired me for designers on ecology, “Cradle to Cradle”. This book not only informs people on the environment, but also encourages architects, apparel, and industrial (product) designers along with their manufacturers to develop eco-friendly products for our planet. What has been the most difficult thing for me, is organizing information, which I’ve learned in the last few months researching and writing this article. Consider this an introduction to a global problem caused by the industrialized world. I can only provide a little information (what I know) and where you can begin on your quest to create a better life for yourself and your neighbors.

I wish the title of this article were an overstatement. Unfortunately it is not. I use the words “grave and deteriorating” coined by the specially appointed non-partisan Iraq Study Group, to emphasize an even greater war. The battle we should be tactically inclined to encounter and win is protecting our planet. And we must fight the toughest of opponents, a great enemy, ourselves.

First, I’m of a mind to judge myself above any fellow humankind, criticizing my habits. I’m not doing enough to truly stop the damage of our only home on the home front. I own a house, which creates harmful CO2 gases through my use of energy (gas and electric). I enjoy eating beef (steaks and burgers), which is responsible for more noxious CO2 caused by grazing cattle flatulence (not just mine). And I also make mistakes with weekend errands, creating unnecessary pollutants driving my car due to poor organizing and planning. I also used to pollute by smoking a pack of Marlboro reds daily for more years than I care to admit. These are just of few things I’ve done or still do which damage our atmosphere. I haven’t included all the useless things I’ve bought or which I neglected to recycle, now resting somewhere in a giant landfill.

Next, I’m beginning to discover something now as an adult; I need to start acting like one. I need to be even more responsible for my action and take into account the way I live. I’m learning to be “greener” and try to develop an eco-friendlier lifestyle. The problem remains my habits and many of us need to acknowledge how ones life affects the many. I’ve noticed already that it takes a considerable amount of effort to do this and that’s good. It may be an indicator that I must simplify my life to avoid more work ahead. I reflect on all the boxes and paper I recently recycled during the holidays. Breaking down boxes to a specific dimension for curbside recycling took a lot of my energy and I should reconsider this next year. Other elements to mull over include recycling all my paper, separating plastic, metal, glass from rubbish. Composting cut grass and raked leaves instead of bagging or burning is obviously a better alternative. And am I driving the best vehicle achieving a 30 Miles per Gallon fuel efficiency or better for my DAILY commute? These are questions we all must ask ourselves to win this war for our homeland. Also, we need to recognize ourselves as inhabitants of our planet, not an entity above and beyond the world where we exist. We are every bit a part of it like other living creatures and such here on earth. We share the same air, water and soil. However humankind seems to be the real destructive element in the larger scheme of things.

Another problem I’m encountering to this agenda of being greener is familiarizing myself with all the new words and phrases used to describe eco-friendly living. I’m confused by so many of the new green diction and wonder what it all means. As I learn this I’m able to see the correlation to design itself. Many of my IKEA coworkers may recall my fist article on Basic Design. I mentioned how design is a system of organization for the benefit of function or survival and how aesthetic or beauty, almost by accident, evolves from those principals. This is what we all must do; organize ourselves a system, which will improve not only our way of life through economics and health, but create a beautiful environment at the same time.

Here are some sources I can share with you along with some of the terminology I’ve discovered recently. I hope this is a springboard for all of you to improve all of our lives. I assure you that I’m trying, even here at work. I’m using more of the energy efficient light bulbs in the room sets to familiarize our customers to the look (which matters). Also, IKEA will soon be offering Environmental training classes for all coworkers. I hope to participate in this program in the near future. And I just want to add, I just mentioned the word future. This is generally a positive notion of time, or at least is used to be. I can recall it culturally as a positive thing, space travel, and an equal and democratic society, a vision of well being for all. I fear that we have all become a little cynical and even jaded by the idea of progress (and I know many obstacles hinder this vision). I hope we can change our attitudes to create a better place for all of us. We need to adjust our own outlook on life and look to improving our own self and our habits if we are going to win this war to save our home. You can count on me and I hope I can rely on you too. Like soldiers in a bunker, uncertainty taunting us, we need each other now, to win.

Thank you and take care.

Biodegradable- able to be broken down into a non-harmful product usually through microorganisms and serve as a nutrient for other living things, food and paper byproduct can be integrated into the soil as a nutrient (fertilizer) for plant life.
Cradle to Cradle- waste which equals food. Our own breathing (good CO2) is used by plants and trees to grow. It in turn purifies our air. Also, products which are biodegradable also serve produces food from its own waste. We need to produce more post industrial products which don’t take up landfill dumps, but benefit our lives and surroundings.
Cradle to Cradle- the primary problem we have today; creating products that end up as useless waste or Crude Products. These are products which are a waste of space and often incinerated at various industrial plants for fuel, producing pollutants and carcinogens into the air (bad CO2).
Crude Products- Products that are not designed particularly for human and ecological health are unintelligent and inelegant. Generally these products fulfill the manufacturer’s desires and some customer expectations as well.*excerpt from “Cradle to Cradle”

Carbon dioxide (CO2) – Two major forms to this colorless gas, there’s a good form; our breathing. The bad type is through burning or combustion (factories, power plants, planes, trains, boats and automobiles, oh and my fav; flatulence.

Downcycling- the reducing quality of a recycled product over time such as steel, when over recycled, can lose its inert properties and tensile strength. Also, painted metal can release unforeseen toxicities through recycling.

Eco-Effective(ness)- Seeking alternatives to present problems concerning the environment. Using energy efficient appliances, light bulbs, collected rain water for gardening and lawn, fuel efficient cars (hybrids and full electrics) are all examples of this. However, these are only short term solutions; we really need to change how we are living, what we are producing and create less pollution and waste on a broader scale than we are now.

Leaching- whenever a pollutant or toxin is released into the environment; pollutants can enter into soil and leach into an underground water supply such as a well. Another harmful form of leaching can be what you where. Synthetic fleeces made from recycled water/soda bottles have antimony (a heavy metal toxin) only produced through recycling or downcycling and can be released onto your skin when sweating. Antimony can also be released into the air when incinerating these bottles. This is found in the polyester material and the gas released is considered bio available, available as a carcinogen (cancer causing) fume. IKEA products are unfortunately in this category. Read PIA facts and also notice how much environmental information is missing. Why?

Cradle to Cradle, Remaking the Way We Make Things, William McDonough and Michael Braungart, North Point Press, New York, 2002.

Documentary DVD and book, An Inconvenient Truth, w/ former Vice President Al Gore.

WIRED magazine, May 2006 issue 14.05. Several articles on the environment including an article on An Inconvenient Truth.

Statement from my recent curatorial and exhibit: Digital Diversity

From its inception, Steve Jobs knew a personal computer needed to be more than a monitor, keyboard and a closet size hard drive. For decades, computers had been used in business, government and research, replacing personnel at a cold efficiency never before seen. However, when Jobs started Apple, he knew what personal meant and the way into individuality was creativity itself.

Apple computers gave us computers with icons instead of codes, a mouse to move those icons or place cursors, and give us new typefaces to create better graphics. Apple also gave us a drawing tool, allowing us to have a virtual pencil, or create simple shapes.
We have had the personal computer for over 25 years and art has been there all the way.

Digital Diversity is a unique celebration of how people in our own community and abroad have used the computer in their personal artwork. In this exhibit, you will see, in no way, the art is alike. The medium, process and product are all different and reveal the variety of artistic sensibilities of each individual artist. Every piece is tied to the computer; digital photography, video, and computer-drawing tools (free Internet downloadable programs and programs which cost thousands of dollars). Some artist use the computer to sketch or for inspiration and others use it in every step of the creative process, often integrating multiple programs to create their art. The creative process and thinking here, is no different than when our ancestors first dragged their finger across the dirt to draw, just as computer pioneers always intended:

Todd Elliott's, Desert Run 1, Adobe Illustrator / Photoshop, Photo Lamination onto Polycarbonate, 8"x!0", 2013.

Todd Elliott’s,
Desert Run 1, Adobe Illustrator / Photoshop, Photo Lamination onto Polycarbonate, 8″x!0″, 2013.

Carolyn Janssen, Adobe Photoshop, Archival Inkjet Print.

Carolyn Janssen, Adobe Photoshop, Archival Inkjet Print.

Krzysztof Mathews, No Retreat, Adobe Illustrator, Rhino 3D, Found objects, Archival Digital Print, 20"x16".

Krzysztof Mathews, No Retreat, Adobe Illustrator, Rhino 3D, Found objects, Archival Digital Print, 20″x16″.

An old poem of mine.

This was for an exhibition I did in Boston. Most of my paintings then consisted of zeros and were inspired by gas station or fast food signs, traveling and warm southwest American climate.

There are places where I think I want to be.
It is warm like summer, sometimes-early evening,
a vacation spot, winding down into night.
Perhaps I’m watching the drama of a sunset.

I’m not sure why I’m painting zero(s).
I thought there was some compositional aim,
a motive to manipulate type or numbers without it meaning anything
(zero mathematically represents nothing).

The [sic] titles came when I realized something,
[sic] can be used to indicate that it exactly reproduces an original.
In terms of my paintings, I thought of pairings,
and how difficult it is to make one zero look like the other.

I like the two zeros together,
emblematic logos, a sign.
Often, I think the more I paint the zeros,
The less I know or understand them.

Traveling without leaving the studio,
here are imaginative places reflected on colorful surfaces.
The clear skies with crisp open horizon and zeros signaling,
“nothing doing”, “nothing much”, or “nothing ahead”.

Undoubtedly, there are aesthetic obscurities about zero(s) and me.
But I know the roads I like to travel, and the ventures of places, which I’ve never been.
And from that unfamiliar exit come diversions of new experiences,
Hoping to find something from nothing.

Todd J. Elliott
January 29, 2004

My Teaching Philosophy

Teaching Philosophy: Drawing, Design and Painting

Studio derives from the Latin word studium, a place to study. Any environment can be a studio where students and teachers embark on a cultural venture of dialogue, instruction and experimentation. The role of the teacher is to create a studio and establish a balance between information and discovery through the studio work and critique.
Drawing is the most immediate and intimate form of visual representation. With that, it not only informs the audience, but like a reflection, the artist individually. A dialogue develops through the medium and the process of drawing. It is a vehicle to self discovery. Using accessible traditional mediums, methods and techniques, will enable students to investigate drawing languages through gestured lines and marks. It’s not only what you draw, but how you draw it.
I imagine the first person to draw, used their finger as the tool and plowed an image into dirt. Then sticks were used where varying thickness and points refined those tools. How about a charred tip of a stick from fire dragged across a rock? A drawing class should eventually demand the same quality of invention. Students could create new tools along with a technique indicative and inherent of themselves and their culture. What is significant? How do you live? The remaining assignments of my drawing class will require investigating a new medium, technique and tool developed to coincide with a subject or image.
Overall, design is about organizing oneself or environment, to survive. In its visual properties, design is the construction and placement of color, form and objects in a two or three dimensional space. We also find design in literary structure, music composition, as well as many other disciplines throughout culture and society. We as people have the capacity to do this in a varying degree of talent and perfection. All of humankind is organized one way or another. We are just a small part of a greater designing force called nature.
Nature has its own system of design. There are patterns which micro-organisms, plants and animals have adapted and developed over millions of years. The perfection is found in their mere survival. This is where aesthetics and function work together and create a fascinating form. Often, beauty is the result of function itself, like a flower where petal pigment and scent assist in its own survival through pollination and reproduction. Or perhaps it’s a person as designer developed sense of the human figure in space which creates a chaise for ergonomic comfort, relieving stress from the body and mind of those who require relaxation. Design is an enormous subject matter, but one of its intrinsic elements is the ability to organize or realize oneself in a complicated world. Students will begin with simple elements, black and white forms and evolve into elaborate principles of color theory, form interrelationships, division of space, texture, et al. I’ve traditionally taught this course using acrylic paint, but I would like to introduce other medium and computer graphic assignments. Students will organize and discover the essence of design elements through each project.
Painting utilizes both drawing and design, however it’s another beast altogether. Unlike many things in life, it’s difficult to understand painting. However, I recall visiting a painting class in Pasadena, California about eleven years ago. This was a Mission: Renaissance studio chain started by an artist named Larry Gluck. I was struck by the fear to paint each student had that day. All waited for the instructor to come to their easel to get them started. The process of painting was similar to the Venetian style starting with the value under-painting first, then glazing color on top. It must’ve felt daunting to the housewives, retirees and young adults who should’ve been in college or adult education courses. My advice would’ve been, don’t fear painting. Are there mistakes? I believe there are experiences and obstacles, but paint is a medium which enables one to confront and work through to a level of less frustration or even clarity. Does one complete a painting? I’m not too sure; however a painting can be continued to another one. I believe some artists stop a painting one step before a completed stroke or stage, to keep it alive. Varnish is unique, it not only protects a painting; it shines like wet paint, gives color greater depth and it’s a method to keep painting alive as if in the artist’s studio. This sort of reminds me of an embalming process. Perhaps it is a good thing for a museum, but some painters don’t varnish at all, and that reveals unique qualities of paint, texture and other elements concerning the surface.
There are common threads to all forms of painting, but one of the most intriguing elements today is seeing how computer graphics has influenced painting. Along with en plein aire, still life, figure from life, and various forms of abstraction, the computer has become another approach for painting. It presents many opportunities and with that newer complexities. It is a challenge specific to the burgeoning computer world. We now see a generation of students who have always remembered living with a personal computer in the home. It is a part of the young artist life and an instrumental part of life as a whole. It is already having an impact on painting and the rest of fine art and design. It must be integrated into a painting program if not already, either as a preparatory stage to painting, or a final medium.
Lastly, painting is a humbling exercise inside and outside the studio. I wish I could be satisfied with it, but I’m often not. It isn’t upsetting only in front of the art, but in many other aspects of life as well. In all, I continually learn new methods, materials and techniques in painting. There is great satisfaction in discovering new aspects to painting even if it’s another point of transition in an otherwise endless journey. The expression from Dr. Samuel Johnson, “pursuit of happiness” comes to mind; and I wonder like many of us; if it’s the happiness in pursuing and not necessarily gaining or achieving a reward at some end. It is just one of the many mysteries of painting, being an artist and being a person.

Self Evaluation as a Rugby Player on a Drive Home

I will never be as good a player as my teammates. I came to the game of Rugby too late and too old. However, I accredit the game as lifesaving, giving me a new purpose and joy. The very depth of athleticism, intelligence and spirituality is nothing short of art or life itself. It is a commitment in preparation and a sacrifice of oneself for a greater cause, teamwork. It is the personal given by all individual talents, integrating within a scheme of moving parts and advancing toward the goal of victory.

As a teacher, I remember telling my students (all boys) that it’s easy to be destructive. It’s easier to tear down, break, or hurt someone or thing. It takes a man to create, to make something happen; and that’s the message I’m giving myself today. It’s easier to say what you are going to do to your opponent, “Destroy them!” and it can be motivating, especially in a violent game. However, I have learned that this is a game of opportunity, with space, and with the skills, I can make things happen. Creativity is about leaving your mark and a rugby player can leave their mark on the pitch. The field is the canvas and my body from head, shoulder, hands down to the cleats of my boots, leaves a mark behind. My actions are recorded and impressed into not only the field, but also my opponents.

Winning a cup or plate is hardware, and reminiscent of only receiving it, and it sits in a glass case like a corpse on display. The real memory of victory is out on the pitch. It’s not only the memory, which you will recall, but also the impression you leave with your opponent, giving them the memory of you. The pitch is the embodiment of who you are; you leave your self, your soul on the turf. The field collects all the souls like a battlefield. Your ghost will haunt the grounds, recalling the game.

I remember from the Prayer of St. Francis, in a more peaceful sentiment, “it is in giving, you receive”. In rugby, give all you can give and you shall receive victory.

Undermining Our Constitution

A long time ago when I was an art student, I disciplined myself to wake up every weekday morning, sit calmly on the floor, as if about to pray, and create an aphorism. I would record it with a Dictaphone and date it and follow it by writing it in a journal. One morning I came up with, “Over and over will undermine us all.” This stuck with me over the years and even jokingly thought of having a rug made with these words.

This morning, in a less than disciplined living as a (near) middle-aged dad, I was sitting on the couch watching the political show, “Morning Joe” with Joe Scarborough. One of the guests was Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin. He was prompted by the co-host Mika Brzezinski, to talk about the ‘babies’ in congress, as it was the cover of the Bloomberg magazine.  Senator Johnson began to rant about the dysfunctional Washington (D.C.) and preceded to slip inour government is too big. This is and has been a rallying cry by Republicans and Tea Party members for years, at least since President Obama has been in office. This is the same ‘too big’ government we’ve had even when we had Republicans in the White House. How is a big government impacting the decisions and abilities for representatives to work in Congress? This is a mystery to me; I see no correlation between the two. I do see another element however, and this could be a problem Senator Johnson may very well be a part of in his possible tenure.

What really has troubled our government from working is special interests. Banking and industry lobbyists have set a stranglehold on Washington more than ever. Senator Johnson, prior to his new government role, is an industrialist. He worked in his (wife’s) family owned plastic company.  And despite his company offering some ‘eco’ friendly blister packaging, he has scoffed at the idea of ecological issues like global warming.  Also, most plastic requires petroleum to produce, so he has interests in oil resources.  As a culture, we are being undermined to vote for people with ‘executive’ experience into public office under the false pretense that businesses run far more efficiently than our supposed overgrown government.  This is wrong of course.  I have, over the years, seen the directions companies, industries, manufacturers have taken, and I think we all would agree it is the wrong approach: especially for government.  We have seen the layoffs to the detriment of American workers, jobs sent overseas and corporate leaders getting overpaid and with no accountability as they get fired and rehired in a wicked game of musical chair, except, there’s always another chair and the severance packages bleed money out of those companies.  I’ve seen it, I’ve lived it and it still happens today.  I venture to say, this is undermining our Constitution if we allow businesses to infiltrate our government.  Those who want to profit financially will only compromise the interests of American citizens.  We will in turn, lose our happiness, health and liberties.

If Republicans continue to vent, over and over again, that government is too big, then who will pick up the job of our government?  Companies.  They want to enable companies to control all of our lives.  Presidential candidate Mitt Romney was quoted saying, “Banks are people too”.  When our Constitution was penned, we had no industrial revolution or military industrial complex.  We had no companies polluting our environment or destroying our environment by prospecting polluting subterranean resources like coal, natural gas or oil.  We now want the barons of industry to take over our United States?  Companies, corporations and the like, do not run more efficiently.  They are cheap, and when they need to profit for a good standing on the stock market, they lay off workers and send more jobs overseas.  I believe if this continues, we could be calling a federal office in India: similar to when we need assistance with an home electronic item today.  Could we possibly see advertising flip-boards behind the House Speaker when congress convenes?  I believe so.  This rampant commercialism has already overthrown special events and venues across America.  Do you know there was a time you could go to a sporting event without seeing advertising; race cars with no sponsors, and athletes free to eat or drink whatever they wanted?  Now there’s a lost of liberty, a sellout.  I noticed this past year, and we had a great Christmas with gift giving, Wall Street was disappointed with sales for the holiday season and considered them abysmal.  Excuse me for not spending more money, are you kidding?  Measuring the birth of our Savior against profits?  As a Catholic, I’m offended and I know Jesus could care less about us exchanging gifts in his name.  He would rather us take care of those who don’t have what others do.  Don’t sellout America.

Be aware, these litany of complaints by Republicans can weaken the protection and sanctity of our Constitution for individual rights.  This was unfortunately compromised when the Supreme Court agreed that corporations had the same, if not more, rights as you and me.  Before we have the rug pulled out beneath us, let us make sure we don’t lose our rights from big businesses.  Government too big?  Don’t you think there are banks and corporations too big?  Remember too big to fail?

God Bless America.