Hi, my name is Marija

My name is Marija and I live in Split, Croatia. I am on a learning path to gaining a degree in BA (Hons) Fine Art at OCA.
OCA is giving me an opportunity to deepen my understanding of art and it is a place where I get support in developing my own artistic voice.
This blog is meant to be a learning log where I will be posting my progress of exercises and assignments of the course Understanding Visual Culture.
Advertisements

Exercise 3.6 – Socially constructed misrepresentations

Text snippet taken from Understanding Visual Culture

“One cannot say the world is socially constructed and say there are misrepresentations.”

Exercise 3.6
Reflect on this last sentence in as many words as necessary to form your own judgement.

 

This exercise is about one sentence. So, let me start by analysing the sentence.

“One cannot say” – ‘One’ as any human being capable of conscious thoughts. ‘Cannot’ implies that there is some law, rule or advice that will be broken or not respected if one does not comply to it. ‘Say’ can be taken as an expression of thought, a channel to communicate and idea. It could be any kind of use of words – written or vocal.

Concluding: If you express X you are against the law Y.

“the world is socially constructed” – ‘World’ is everything that surrounds us, material, poetic, emotional, artistical, botanical, social, imaginary and real – everything we can give a name to. ‘Is’, a fact, present, obvious. ‘Socially’ as in something that happens in between people, individuals when they interact, like social dancing or a social gathering. Being social means complying to the rules of the group. Who creates the rules? Everyone who arrived before you. ‘Constructed’ is something that is defined by creation of smaller elements, like a computer is constructed from computer chips.

Concluding: A group of people have decided on the elements and rules of everything we can name, imaginary or real.

“say there are misrepresentations” – ‘There are’ would signify existence, an incarnation of some sort or a presence, the notion of an idea. ‘Misrepresentations’ in contrast with representations. But not the opposite of representation as the real thing, but a failure in representation. In the sense of wrong, when people who suffered form a stroke use the wrong word like “apple” to name another object they see like a car.

Concluding: One can express that there exists a failure in the system.

So you are not obeying the rules of the group of people you belong to, if you say that the same group of people that has decided on the elements and rules of everything we can name, imaginary or real could be capable of making a mistake in defining and using the rules.

Well, you would surely experience some level resistance in any group of people if you start expressing an opposite opinion of what the rest of the group has agreed upon. But who is to say that you are not allowed to try? Someone in the group or outside of the group?

While constructing the world, if we are choosing our own concepts, our own choice of words, our own choice of communication…who is there to say we made a mistake. Are we even capable of recognising our own mistakes. Is there even room for a mistake?

I would say that the human history has been a big line of society changing their mind and reconstructing the world after realising that the current construction cannot remain. The problem with realising the mistakes, the misrepresentations is that the individual who realises it will feel the resistance. The lucky ones will just feel misunderstood or not listened to. The unlucky ones ended up burned on the stake or hung sometimes after a trial where they were found guilty for not obeying the rules of the group, not obeying the constructed reality and trying to construct a new one.

Getting back to the beginning and the sentence of the exercise – are we allowed to admit to our own mistakes? Why would we not be? Failure is a great way to learn and a great way to progress. If you always think you are right, there is no learning, no exploration, no experiment – no growth.

 

Reading list

John R. Searle (1996). The Construction of Social Reality. New York: Simon and Shuster.

Baudrillard, J (1994). Simulacra and Simulation, trans. Sheila Faria Glaser, Ann Arbor, Michigan

 

Exercise 3.1 – Emerson vs. Searle

Text snippet taken from Understanding Visual Culture

Exercise 3.1
Can you see a connection between Emerson’s remarks and the view expressed by Searle in chapter one? Where do their views overlap and where do they differ? You could address this in three columns – one for each author either side of a column of similarities. The differences will be those points that are not similarities.

EMERSON

If our restless curiosity lead us to unearth the buried cities and dig up the mummy pits
and spell out the abraded characters on Egyptian stones, shall we see a less venerable
antiquity in the clouds and the grass? An everlasting Now reigns in Nature that produces on our bushes the selfsame Rose which charmed the Roman and the Chaldaean. The grain and the vine, the ant and the moth are as long-descended. The slender violet hath preserved in the face of the sun and moon the humility of his line and the oldest work of man is an upstart by the side of the shells of the sea.
(Emerson, 1959, 71)

SEARLE

In his book, The Construction of Social Reality, John Searle writes ‘There are portions of the real world, objective facts in the world, that are only facts by human agreement. In a sense there are things that exist only because we believe them to exist. … things like money, property, governments, and marriages. Yet many facts regarding these things are ‘objective’ facts in the sense that they are not a matter of [our] preferences, evaluations, or moral attitudes. (Searle, 1995, 1)

Looking up unknown words

abrade – ware away – https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/abrade

venerablemade sacred –  https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/venerable

ChaldaeanSemitics – https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Chaldean

upstart – to jump up – https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/upstart

Comparison

 

Emerson Similarities / Differences Searle
 Questions the sacred value of man made things in comparison to natural phenomenons.  Both compare and judge things produced by humans with things found in nature.  Compares constructed concepts with the natural, the brute facts.
 Natural phenomenons like roses have been admired by civilisations trough out history – i.e. they outlived many historical cultures  Both acknowledge that there are things in this world that existed before and could exist regardless of human presence.  He does reference e.g. Mt Everest as an example and other natural sites that existed without and before humans.
 Plants and animals are at least as old as human civilisations. We have known about nature since we have become conscious beings. Have they existed as such before or did we “invent” these concepts e.g. what is a “plant” but a human categorisation of forms we encounter?  Emerson seems to almost equalise the human perception of plants and animals with constructs in human culture – he is concerned with physical manifestations it seems. Searle however differentiate ideas and meaning from the physical representations i.e. socially constructed facts from hard facts (money vs. paper money is made of). People have given names to things and created meaning around them. The names and the meaning are highly dependent of human existence.
 A humble flower has remained humble and same regardless of external factors but remains undervalued. A species that remains the same for thousands of years. Emerson compares the value and gives conclusion of what is considered more valuable. While Searle shows how value is a constructed fact.  Searle does not give value to  brute facts or natural phenomenon. He goes out to explain how we use natural materials as a basis to construct our realities.
 Ancient man made things have been valued more and more the older and worn out they are.  It seems from the paragraph that Emerson adds value to old things as is. There is no word of constructed, agreed value. Searle lays his case completely on agreement and construction. There is no assumption except that everything is subject to human perception. He attracts attention to the human intention in agreeing about constructed facts. So we might call something valuable,

Exercise 3.7 – Koons and the simulacrum

Text snippet taken from Understanding Visual Culture

Exercise 3.7
Write a paragraph on a single work by Koons according to what you understand of the simulacrum. (400 words)

 

Koons – Play-Doh

To communicate my understanding of what simulacrum is I choose Jeff Koons Play-Doh sculpture. It is made of polychromed aluminum in dimension of 123 x 151 x 137 inches
(312.4 x 383.5 x 348 cm). The image can be found here.

play-doh

With this work it is important to be aware of the title of the work while experiencing it in space. The title represents a brand of a compound made for kids to play with and construct different creations. It is a toy. Sold in small containers and the compound comes in different colours. The whole brand is revolving around different tools to make clean and reproducible creations and shapes like flowers, spaggetti, theeth, cookies…etc. The name of the brand Play-Doh with the sounding effect of the words remind of playing around with bread dough. This is not incidental as the doh is a non-toxic compound with mostly elements you would use to make bread like flour, salt and water. Koons twists the sensations of playing around with Play-doh by creating a huge shape of aluminum. He trics the visual sense with the shape but touching the sculpture reveals the trick. The shape is an oversized representation of the moment of cleaning up all the Doh left over after a playful afternoon. That moment of sticking small pieces of different colours into one big mash, never to be completely parted ever again. It is a simulacra because it represents something soft, metamorphic, of small size by a crude material in a size overwhelming to look at. Like a giant consequence of a creative game staring back at you. The shape of the mash-up is realisticaly represented, the size is juxtaposed to get a feeling of smallness, maybe to be reminded that feeling of physical smallness we all had as childeren. Never toll enough to reach, never old enough to get permission, never big enough to feel safe. A simulacra of childhood. The cracks could be mistaken by broken rock strucktures, but the color is there to lure you back again into the childhood fantasy. It is like jumping into a pile of pillows – you want to dive in slowly, you want be emerged into softness…but then the floor beneath you surprizes you with it’s hard surface and unexpected quickness to hurt you. You want to climb it like a rock or a tree, get to the top and stand up like a winner…but it’s Play-Doh…will it eat you like quick sand? You want to lift it, the aluminum should be light right? But if it is really Play-Doh it would weight a ton. Koons creates and itchy feeling of want and hard reality that awaits behind fulfiling the want. (408 words)

Exercise 3.3 – Meta-painting

Text snippet taken from Understanding Visual Culture

Exercise 3.3
Find and collate 10 diverse examples of meta-painting from the 17th century to the present.

 

  1. Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez, 1656, Medium Oil on canvas, Dimensions 318 cm × 276 cm (125.2 in × 108.7 in). The painting is a meta painting as it is about painting, plays around with the viewer and the recognition of reality.

 

720px-Las_Meninas,_by_Diego_Velázquez,_from_Prado_in_Google_Earth

(By Diego Velázquez – The Prado in Google Earth: Home – 7th level of zoom, JPEG compression quality: Photoshop 8., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22600614)

2. Las Meninas by Pablo Picasso; year 1957, Medium Oil on canvas, Dimensions 194 cm × 260 cm (76 in × 100 in), Location Museu Picasso. It is a meta painting as it depicts the already done painting by Velázquez but in a different style.

PabloPicasso_Meninas

(Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1721744)

3. Uncle Sam by Oleg Shuplyak which is more of an optical illusion painting but referencing a known image of Uncle Sam.

 

8626417

4. “Woman holding a balance” by Johannes Vermeer with the picture inside the picture which could be “The Last Judgment” by Backer.

 

vermeerfullimage3

 

5. Mona Lisa. Andy Warhol (1928-1987). Synthetic polymer and silkscreen ink on canvas. Painted in 1978. 127.3 x 101.9cm.

1770789.jpg

 

6. Alex Alemany self portait

14-surreal-painting-by-alex-alemany.preview

7.  René Magritte 1933 Oil on canvas 100 cm × 81 cm (39 in × 32 in) National Gallery of ArtWashington DC

 

René_Magritte_The_Human_Condition

 

8. Desire Obtain Cherish: conjoined canvases pays homage to Warhol, Mondrian and Pollack.

p1020452-e1394665256839.jpg

9. PHILIP COLBERT Mondrian with Saw, 2014 MIXED MEDIA Sequins, bead embroidery and acrylic on canvas 12.20 x 14.76 in (31.0 x 37.5 cm)

philip-colbert-mondrian-with-saw-800x800

 

10.  Escaping Criticism by Pere Borrell del Caso – 1874

display_image.jpeg

Today I learned – Superbad

I stumbled upon this blog post about a movie a really enjoyed some years back named Superbad: https://apro24.wordpress.com/2010/04/14/superbad-blog/

Some of the scenes/motives that I found to be Postmodernist were:

  • Cops are not acting like cops. They in fact break the stereotype of the law abiding fighters for justice and bring in a fresh image of regular guys on the job. Sometimes lost in their own procedures but quite happy to help a young teenager make “a man of himself” at a party.
  • Seth, one of the main characters who is underage walks into a store to buy drinks. The reality scene is changed for a fantasy he is imagining. It is an almost a Tarantino kind of a blood shed with a pun at the end where he tries to pay with an 80 dollar bill (that does not really exist).
  • Evan (the other main character) and Becca (his secret crush) are talking about the boys night out. While Evan is sharing a completely false story of being at a party with grown ups and then going into a club downtown, the scene is backed up by motions of the actual events where Evan and his friends got drunk and embarrassed themselves in front of a night club guard. This parallelism of spoken word and contrasting visual effect was a very comic moment.

 

Assignment 2 – Action items for improvements

Here is a distilled list of action items for improvements of Assignment 2. The full review of my tutors feedback can be found in this post.

Action items list:

  1. Nineteenth century salons to linear approach of displaying – I did not reference on exactly these two ways in the assignment. I found the combinatorics of display overwhelming as there are many possibilities. This is a potential ACTION ITEM for V2 improvements.
  2. Challenging ideas around artistic and monetary value – This in an interesting point to take into. What is the value of the painting is a complex question. I am unsure that I would like to go deep into this area with this assignment. However it seems like a potential ACTION ITEM for V2 improvements as a point to mention as part of the artist analysis.
  3. Working on further or dismissing the chart is a definite ACTION ITEM for V2 improvements. I need to see if the text and comments on “May I Help You?” performance were enough and no extra is needed or do I want to develop this visualisation further.
  4.  I focused more on the discussion if the monochrome was a painting at all. I think I got stuck more on the model: 1 color – 1 canvas and missed the point of assessing the absence or presence of a certain topic in the painting. definite ACTION ITEM for V2 improvements is to look up my notes on critics again with a new mindset.

  5. Subject Matter – is it possible to avoid it? What substitutes it as content?

  6. Different ways of display – challenging the ideas of artistic agency

  7. Removal of saturated colour – removes viewer’s ‘reading in’ to the work.

  8. Confront ‘signifying’ what the painting might be – a reference to the practice of painting.

  9. How McCollum’s work throws the viewer back onto their own resources and be in tune with decisions made by the artist.

  10. Review the past monochrome artistic expressions and make a clearer comparison between some of those works and Surrogates.
  11. Link the Surrogates to sculpture as they “walking” between painting and sculpture teasing Greenberg’s ideas with it
  12. I always feel bad when I mess up these references – cause that part should be at least simple, right? I guess that’s why a “second pair of eyes” is needed for any type of work. ACTION ITEM: review references. (form “chapter X” to “Foster, 2017, p?”)

  13. The “heightened sense of awareness” is definitely something that I found as an interesting point during my reading about various artists. It reminded me of yoga and meditation. Like being in a completely quiet room and realising that there is a lot of noise still there…like one’s breathing, heart beat, subtle sound of air flow…etc… I did not reflect on that bit in the essay as I did not really find a flowing moment for it. I will make a note of a potential ACTION ITEM to look into “significant marks”.

Assignment 2 – Reflections on tutor’s feedback

It has been quite a while since I submitted my assignment 2 for tutor review. Even though my tutor was fast as usual in writing up her feedback, I took almost 2 months of pause since submitting and before writing up this post of reflections and analysis. It took me that long for two reasons:

  1. I wanted to get enough temporal distance from the intellectual and emotional investment into the essay. It was somewhat of a brain melting experience and I invested a lot of my energy in researching and writing that I had “zero battery” to do a review and rewrite.
  2. With the winter season I had some illness and family emergencies that slowed my progress down.

During the break from assignment 2, I did take upon some reading and reflecting which I will be commenting in separate blog posts.

Below I have taken snapshots of the full tutor’s feedback and made my comments in italics below each paragraph.

image9

I am happy my effort and focus on the assignment got through to my tutor via my blog and assignment essay. I found the whole task challenging but very inspiring to get my brain around it. I detected my lack of knowledge and followed my tutors feedback from assignment 1 to get the best results.

 

image6 

This part of the feedback made me extremely happy. Actually it took me to the point of realizing that I am not just playing around but I am in fact on the path of getting one of my dreams fulfilled and becoming a reality. This did create some pressure in my mind that now I feel responsible to commit even more and achieve the goals of this course so I can continue with my studies. I have managed to transform the pressure into active reading energy and I hope to do so further.

image16 

McCollum is luckily a contemporary artist so it was not difficult to find his own words about his work and realise his intentions.

image13 

In this part of feedback I recognise two points I would like to reflect on:

  • Nineteenth century salons to linear approach of displaying – I did not reference on exactly these two ways in the assignment. I found the combinatorics of display overwhelming as there are many possibilities. This is a potential ACTION ITEM for V2 improvements.
  • Challenging ideas around artistic and monetary value – This in an interesting point to take into. What is the value of the painting is a complex question. I am unsure that I would like to go deep into this area with this assignment. However it seems like a potential ACTION ITEM for V2 improvements as a point to mention as part of the artist analysis.image14

I read a lot of material for this assignment and many of them including Fried helped me construct the context of the Surrogates. I found that the Beholder is being put into the central focal point instead of the artwork which is an interesting twist.

The chart itself was not so much related to the Beholder but rather a comparison between the real and meta world. Taking a temporal distance and seeing it after a while I have to say I completely understand that I did not really convey my thought clearly. This is in direct correlation with the fact that I was not 100% clear with what I wanted to say with it. It was an attempt to formalise an abstract feeling.

Working on further or dismissing the chart is a definite ACTION ITEM for V2 improvements. I need to see if the text and comments on “May I Help You?” performance were enough and no extra is needed or do I want to develop this visualisation further.

 

image8 

This paradox of the monochrome representing the absence and fulfilment of the void was one of those aha-moments that one could just sink in and enjoy it forever. But I had to move on with the topic so I did not dwell on it too long.

 

image2 

This paragraph points me to look into Greenberg and Kant with a new mindset and focus more on the subject matter. I focused more on the discussion if the monochrome was a painting at all. I think I got stuck more on the model: 1 color – 1 canvas and missed the point of assessing the absence or presence of a certain topic in the painting.

A definite ACTION ITEM for V2 improvements is to look up my notes again with a new mindset.

image11 

In this paragraph I recognise a few definite ACTION ITEMs for V2 improvements:

 

  1. Subject Matter – is it possible to avoid it? What substitutes it as content?
  2. Different ways of display – challenging the ideas of artistic agency
  3. Removal of saturated colour – removes viewer’s ‘reading in’ to the work.
  4. Confront ‘signifying’ what the painting might be – a reference to the practice of painting.
  5. How McCollum’s work throws the viewer back onto their own resources and be in tune with decisions made by the artist.

 

image17 

During my investigation of McCollum and his work I found that repetition was a key element but he also played around with it in a way that not all Surrogates are exactly the equal shape. He makes his mark a discrete one giving more room to the idea of industrial production, but keeping it close enough to his own signature so that we can still admire the differences. I did not realise so much that the “lack of ‘the hand of the artist’” is a Postmodern strategy at the time of writing the essay. However I did read a bit more on Postmodernism to understand that there were more than 1 aspect that make the Plaster Surrogates postmodern:

  • Clear reference to a known past art “type” – the monochrome. Maybe this is even an intertextuality of some sort. Where the “text” is actually the color and shape.
  • Lack of noticeable signs that the work was produced by one person in their own authentic and personal manner.
  • Simple production that makes simple reproduction.

 

image10

When I first read these comments I did not really understand it. After reading some more on Visual Culture and trying to remember Mitchel and “What do pictures want?” I realized that everything visual can take role of some image or some sign. The context of where we see it gives it new meaning as well. E.g. seeing an ear in an otorhinolaryngology doctor’s office  is completely of different significance than the ears in the “Target with Plaster Casts”.

I am taking this paragraph as an example of how someone played around with signs. Just like McCollum played around with coming up with a “sign” for an easel painting. I hope I understood my tutor’s hint well.

image5

Well, this comment about numbered fire bricks and their little bags was both amusing and brain melting! It is as if a mother gives birth to dozens of children at once and sees them as equals but gives them different names to distinguish them. From a spectator’s perspective unless the numbers, names and other differentiating elements are quite visible or part of the actual artwork it remains a bit of an artist’s OCD-like expression. Being aware that the artist cared enough for each and every element and treated it in a ritualistic manner might add some magic to the work and spread a feeling of respect for each element.

image17 

Here I take in another Postmodern aspect: handing responsibility to the viewer for their own construction of the experience. Before embarking onto the UVC adventure I heard many times that people would refer to contemporary art as “this is garbage, I could have painted that, …etc…”. Now knowing that some of these reactions were actual fulfilments of the void left by the artist to the public to take care of – it makes me think of it all differently. I actually enjoyed walking into museums and galleries and making my own stories around non-classical pieces. At the time I was not aware that the artists actually “wanted” me to do that!

What is worrying is: I am unsure that the message of “here, create your own interpretation” was loud and clear enough for the average viewer. This is not so much a question for Assignment Two – but it is an interesting question in context of communication and bridging gaps between different sign systems.

 

ACTION ITEMS recognized here:

  • Review the past monochrome artistic expressions and make a clearer comparison between some of those works and Surrogates.
  • Link the Surrogates to sculpture as they “walking” between painting and sculpture teasing Greenberg’s ideas with it

image1

Art critique and other open-ended type of discourses are tempting to think that many times the writer is expression their own preferences supported by excellent writing skills and reference-kind-of-evidence. Coming from an engineering background I am still struggling with reading, writing and understanding texts that are not algorithmic and supported in exact evidence. I take it now as: one man’s perspective is true in the limits of their own context. I found no universal truth or system but many interpretations of the same. I guess that is what makes it different to think about art vs. physics.

 image4

I always feel bad when I mess up these references – cause that part should be at least simple, right? I guess that’s why a “second pair of eyes” is needed for any type of work. ACTION ITEM: review references.

 

 image7

Thanks dear tutor for letting me know I am on the right path. Working alone and without feedback for while causes self-doubt and uncertainty if I am getting where I am supposed to get. The “heightened sense of awareness” is definitely something that I found as an interesting point during my reading about various artists. It reminded me of yoga and meditation. Like being in a completely quiet room and realising that there is a lot of noise still there…like one’s breathing, heart beat, subtle sound of air flow…etc… I did not reflect on that bit in the essay as I did not really find a flowing moment for it. I will make a note of a potential ACTION ITEM to look into “significant marks”.

 

After detecting some ACTION ITEMS from the feedback, I stand here challenged again how to incorporate it all and still remain in 1500 words – but I will not give up and fight the writing battle to win the war.

 image15

I always appreciate my tutors suggestions for reading as it helps me pick out the relevant books from the reading list.

Baudrillard – I read in the meanwhile. I made notes and have some impressions that I will be sharing in my blog. I have to say that I am unsure Baudrillard and I are “speaking the same language”. In short: I feel he is a bit too poetic for my taste. But I think I might find myself heavily referencing it in Assignment 3.

 

Noth – I ordered it but it did not arrive yet. I really should ask for my tutor to recommend books sooner as I “live in the middle of nowhere” so sometimes books travel for weeks to my house.

 

Borzello – I’ve read it and found some of the essays quite interesting. The selection was a good one for a reader of my background and I could find some similar patterns in the essays.

 

Bryson – I did not manage to acquire the title recommended. Instead of that I started reading Davis’s ‘A General Theory of Visual Culture’ to get more insight into Visual Culture and how it came to be.

image12 

In the meanwhile I started writing up an outline for Assignment Three. I will attempt to stick to visual stimuli but from context’s I am familiar with and that is the business world of IT. Let’s see how it turns out. I will accept the risk of missing the point completely and having to rewrite the essay afterwards.

Here is the end of my reflections of the tutor’s feedback for Assignment Two. I will be distilling this feedback to get clear action items for improving the essay.

 

 

Today I learned – Earth Girls Are Easy

A new milestone achieved: I found a movie on TV last night that I started watching almost by accident. In the first few minutes I suspected it had elements of postmodernism so I continued watching it. As the movie continued I recognised more and more elements and felt proud of myself that I finally managed to recognise postmodernism when I saw it. The movie was Earth Girls Are Easy by Julien Temple.

The story line starts by 3 extraterrestrials crashing into a pool of an L.A. Valley girl. It has a borderline parody effect as the aliens are getting excited by images of stereotypical 80s Californian women and commenting that they are still quite attractive even though they lack body hair. The aliens are covered in fur – each in his own colour which will later be subtly emphasised but some racial puns.

It has a lot of references to pop culture e.g. the main character explaining why the aliens did not have last names by saying a common phrase as “you know, like Cher” referencing a popular singer famous for her unique name at the time.

Embedded advertisements are laid into the context of the movie so in some scenes frames if taken out of context one could easily think that it was a billboard or newspaper ad.

Intertextuality i.e. segments of movies and TV shows are displayed in the movie directly or reacted again as part of the story line. The dream or better yet nightmare of the main caracter in black and white with references to various SF movies or storylines depicted in other movies (e.g. the robot from The Lost Planet).

Parody elements with the song about the blonde at a beach in California is mocking the stereotype of blonde women that get what they need without effort and based on their beauty where in fact the same stereotype is used in the movie itself as part of the story line. It was somewhat a funny moment where the movie contradicts itself by making a mockery of an image that the movie is also using as part of its construction.

I might not have been very impressed by the story line of a human female falling in love with a Mr. Right who, well happens to be, an alien – but the fact that I recognized postmodernity elements in it, I had fun watching it by naming those elements in my head.

 

Today I learned – Deadlines in IT projects

In my efforts to understand postmodernism better I got back to reading Beginning Postmodernism by Tim Woods.

I did not start my reading list for Part 3 just yet but since my tutor suggested to start with Baudrillard first I immediately noticed when Woods referenced him as something I should take in with more depth.

In the book there is a comment:

…Baudrillard’s position offers reality which is wholly constructed by signs and images with no outside referent, and Norris’s position argues that a knowledge of the real world which lies outside the discourses used to describe it is possible.

Christopher Norris and Jean Baudrillard were on opposed sides as to where reality for an individual is rooted: in the material or in the constructed.

This reminds me of a long going discussion in my company. We work on building a software product and basically define our own scope and deadlines for the versions we publish to the public i.e. our customers.

Just to give this some context by contrary examples: some companies work in a way that the customer is the one giving out the deadline and the software vendor makes due and does their best to meet the deadline.

Either way – deadlines are stressful. For many reasons. When it is externally given it means that if you miss it you might not get payed or you will be penalised somehow. When they are constructed by the vendor’s team, missing it means you might disappoint your team or get into discussions why we did not plan our work properly. Both situations can harm the reputation of the individual or the company – so it is quite understandable that everyone feels stressed by them.

Deadlines are a constructed fact. In the natural world they have no meaning. Rocks, plants, animals do not rush to do things to meet a specific sunset or sunrise. They are wired to follow their own biological impulses. But for humans they mean a lot more – it can mean a difference between great and really bad living conditions. If you for example do not pay your bills on time because you missed a deadline and your customer did not pay you for your work – a constructed reality just hit your biological reality like a storming elephant in a glass shop.

Many times in the last year I was involved in discussions about these deadlines and why we have them. Mostly because I was often playing the role of the project manager and was forcing some people outside of their comfort zone by asking for information about when will they be done and assessed with them how will their individual progress affect the overall project timeline. This caused a conflict with some individuals because their “fighting back” the stress led them to start a philosophical discussion about why we have deadlines. I understand that sometimes it is easier to talk than to work – but it bugged me always from a critical stand point why were we not being able to find a consensus.

Now that I am learning more about “professional arguing” i.e. criticism and philosophy I realised something. The two opposing sides in my company – ones that were *for* deadlines and ones that were *against* deadlines were living in the same physical reality. I.e. if we fail as a team and a company we will stop getting payed and loose our material security. But we were living in different constructed realities.

The ones *for* deadlines have constructed the reality that if an end date for a project is published that means we are agreeing and constructing a situation where we all are working in the same time frame. We need to figure out a frequency or rhythm of work where we all agree to match our physical realities to it (using our brains in a certain activity in the same period of sunsets and sunrises). We can adjust *what* we manage to produce to a fixed *when* are we going to produce it.

The ones *against* deadlines have constructed a reality that the fact when we produce something is not as relevant as to *what* we are producing. In their mind we have all agreed that we are going to produce high quality software. We should all figure out how to aim and converge into a version of software that we are all happy about and we believe in doing. We need to figure out a mindset and state of positive energy in which we can match our physical realities to it (finding a space where everyone can use their voice to express their current state of physical, emotional and intellectual state).

Even though I do realise the difference of our constructed realities that were in conflict – I still think we need deadlines to finish projects because without them everyone would work in their own pace individually. Without any constructed facts about what are the points where individuals meet and join the same reality – society, companies, teams…would not exist.

 

Today I Learned – Innocent Eye in Software Testing

Yesterday I had a meeting with two students form the local university. They asked me and one of my awesome Quality Assurance team mates to prepare a Quality Assurance and Software Testing workshop for a group of students they are engaging into a student association.

Since the people who are joining did not have much exposure to the topic of Software Testing let alone Quality Assurance in software development we decided to keep it very basic.

During the meeting, I caught myself explaining what critical thinking is and how you have to practice not believe everything you see.

In my mind I had the image of Ruskin and Tansey with the whole analysis of the innocent eye. Even though I did not reference Tansey’s painting and Ruskin’s quote from Assignment One having it in my mind helped me convey my idea better. The fact that I had the experience of writing that essay and the whole thought process behind it – I had a new vocabulary I could use to bring the topic closed to a new audience.

Software Testing is a practice that is used in the IT industry to make sure that the software one is producing is meeting predefined standards. The tools used and the process used varies from product to product and company to company. The thing that makes a tester or quality assurance engineer great is having an innocent eye. You have to forget all you know about the thing you are testing and approach it as a child would and see how many glitches in the software can you find. Forgetting all you know and at the same time keep the knowledge you need to do the job is a balancing act.

In case the reader of this blog post is not too familiar with the topic I will use an example that is more close to home: a spoon.

If I ask you how can you test a spoon? What would be your answer?

Maybe you will come up with something like this:

  • put it in a hot soup – see what happens?
  • put in the dish washer – see what happens?
  • put it in your mouth – see what happens?

If I ask you – ok and not try to test the spoon as if you were a 2 year old child. How many ideas are you getting now? 🙂

The students eyes lid up and I knew I got them one step closer to understanding what software testing is. I guess when you find a way to speak to someones inner child it is always fun.