Broadening the mind…one step at a time

“Travel broadens the mind.” A well worn idiom that is so over used as to be meaningless. That said nothing could be more true, that is of course if you do it right. Maybe I’m a bit of a snob, but to me going from airport to hotel to tour bus on repeat, with a few photos in front of some famous landmarks is NOT travel. Travel is about immersing in a place and experiencing something new and different from your everyday life. With the right attitude, a trip to the supermarket can qualify if you take the time to slow down, open your eyes and ears, and take notice of what’s going on around you.

But, of course, for most of us, our day-to-day lives are too busy to have time for that kind of indulgence. We need to remove our selves from our lives, even if only temporarily. When we travel, we use all of our senses to the full, it’s tiring but also exhilarating. This is why we are alive.

Followers of my Instagram account (@bookblog76) will have seen pictures taken on my most recent overseas adventure. My intention was to try and convey, through a visual medium, a feel for what I was experiencing. For me, while the usual sights in those places were wonderful, it was more the small details that I loved the most.

The fact is every time I travel all it does is remind me how great the world really is, and how much there is to experience. I’ve been home a couple of weeks now, and already the cogs have started turning planning the next great leap into the unknown. At the same time though, it’s important focus on the here and now. With my senses still open and engaged it is a chance to notice the small, but wonderful things that I take for granted.

I know from experience that this feeling won’t last long. All too soon, the real world will take over and I will be back to being fully immersed in the mundane and the underwhelming. So if you don’t mind, I’m just going to got out into the world for a bit longer, while I can still see it.

Blind Spots

When it comes to reading, I’ve always considered myself to be broadminded when  deciding what to read next. Take a collection of words, stick them on a pile of paper and bind the whole, and I will happily give it a go. I might not necessarily like everything, but I don’t have any preconceived ideas about a book until I’ve at least read SOME of it’s contents.

At least that’s what I thought. It turns out I have one blind spot. A slab of the world’s collective library that I ignore. I’m talking about books that fall under the admittedly broad umbrella of romance.

Just this morning, I was trawling through my emails;I get a lot from various publishers and bookish sites.Today I had one spruiking for some kind of romance novel. It had all the usual hallmarks of this kind of thing. The elegant cursive writing for the title. The picture of a good looking couple, gazing longingly at each other. I think you know what I mean. The book was pitched to me as a great story, by an accomplished author. Apparently this woman is not a novice, and her previous works have been well received.

If this had been anything else, I would have been tracking down a copy to check it out for myself. After all, if you were to ask me what I look for in a book, it’s a good story that is well written.

But, not this time. I looked at it, laughed at the silly cover art and dismissed it as trash. As trash! Not as something that I simply didn’t feel like reading right now, but as something that was rubbish and beneath me to even look at at.

It got me thinking. Why is that? Could it be that the few that I HAVE read in the past tend to be a little formulaic and predictable? If that were the case I would never read another ‘Whodunit’ ever again. No that wasn’t it. Maybe it’s because I have been burned by previous attempts? Again, I’ve never let one poor quality work, or author, influence my opinion of an entire genre. It’s not even that I’m not a romantic, I am. It’s just that I tend to focus more on ‘romantic’ fiction that also lays claim to being ‘classic’ fiction.

I’ve been pondering the matter all day. I can’t come up with any answers except that I have this huge, unjustified prejudice against a whole lot of books. Maybe I’m missing out? The only way I can really find out is to give them a go. So, I’ve decided that the next one that lands in may lap, I’m not going to dismiss as trash. I’m going to read it and give the genre the chance to change my mind. After all, isn’t that what reading is for?

Masterpiece or Eyesore? Street Art and the Battle for Public Spaces

Spend any time in a city of even modest size and chances are you will have been confronted by the abundance of visual stimulation that surrounds. It seems that everywhere we look we are bombarded with images screaming for our attention. It can be incredibly noisy.  In amongst the din, some real gems come to light. I am talking about street art.

Professor Alison Young is an expert on the subject of street art, and has made it the focus of her academic career. She has written three books on the subject. Her most recent Street Art World delves into this fascinating subject and tries to answer a number of questions. Questions like what is street art? Is it the same as graffiti? Does it have to be in a gallery, or at the very least officially sanctioned to be regarded as art at all? These questions are not new, and while this book doesn’t definitively close the debate once and for all, it provides an interesting and compelling salvo on the side of urban artists.

Often derided as vandalism and banished, street art brings a vibrancy and an energy to a city. It provides tangible proof that living, breathing, and feeling human beings occupy the space; and not just soulless corporate automatons. Without street art our public spaces would be completely monopolised by the McDonald’s and Nikes of this world. Our world would be sterilised and airbrushed beyond all recognition from reality.

Aside from the aesthetic, street art, as with any art, challenges us to think. Whether it’s a commissioned mural, a cheeky stencil or a statement scrawled across a wall street art provides an insight into the collective psyche of a populace. It is a snap shot of the prevailing feelings and controversies of the day. Take for instance the current wave of so called ‘bollard art’ popping up across Melbourne. In response to a number of incidents both locally and abroad, it was deemed necessary by the powers that be to erect concrete blocks in places where people gather in large numbers. Within a day, local artists began anonymously turning the grey concrete from depressing eyesores into interesting pieces of art. In addition to making the blocks more attractive, the beautification project raises the question about what citizens will tolerate in the name of their ‘safety’.

For your ‘To Read’ List:

Alison Young- Street Art World (2016) (Aus)