Landscapeito: first attempt

Today I watched John Muir Law’s lesson about drawing 5-minute landscapes and got inspired to draw one myself. I went to the park near my house and picked a corner with a couple of trees. The sun started to shine nicely right as I started drawing, so that it made better shadows. I took longer than five minutes, but not more than fifteen. Here is the result:

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I am quite happy with the result! The subject in itself is not so exciting, the drawing is far from pretty, but I am proud of having been able to watch the video, grab my sketchbook and pencil, go outside, find a subject to draw, and actually draw it. I could have stopped anywhere in the process – I could have thought: yeah it’s late for today, there is not much light, there are no nice landscapes around my house, this sketch is not looking that good, I’m not going to finish it… instead, here it is!

I hope this inspires you to do the same, find a small art task like these 5-minutes landscapes, complete it and feel proud of your achievement. Any journey starts with a small step!

On Hayao Miyazaki’s movies

Today I wish to talk about what I love of Miyazaki’s work, and hopefully transmit some of his passion.

In 1985, Hayao Miyazaki co-founded Studio Ghibli and produced animation movies who quickly became popular in Japan and abroad.

I must say that the first movie I saw (Ponyo) left me quite cold. I tried to follow the plot and was disappointed that it sort of lazily meandered around. I watched some other films from him and then re-watched Ponyo, and only then I was enchanted by the superb drawings, colors, movements, details, music and humour that pervaded the whole movie. I think that I truly appreciated Miyazaki’s movies when I stopped watching them to see what happens, and began to watch them to see how things happen. In this perspective, the movies look incredibly deep, rich, witty, attentive, meaningful and optimistic. I like Miyazaki’s decision to put a lot of details for you to decide which ones to follow, and that satisfies my joy in watching movies many times to spot something new every time.

I recently watched a video of Studio Ghibli’s backstage, when they were producing Spirited Away. I saw him and his team putting an insane amount of work behind every single drawing – but a meaningful work, an incessant exercise of observation and care, that is moreover visible in the final product, and makes these movies so valuable:

One important part of these movies is the music. Most soundtracks have been composed by Joe Hisaishi, who mixes elements of many genres and writes powerful, complex and rich music that perfectly matches the scenes.

Most comments to these videos and this article talk about strong positive emotions that this music evocates. There is a sense of peace, purification, even humanity in these notes, that I feel like a call to become a better person.

I hope I inspired you to watch Miyazaki’s movies, or at least sparked some joy 🙂

“Nature connection through deliberate attention and curiosity” – John Muir Law’s TEDx talk

I was introduced to John Muir Law‘s learning materials for natural illustrators by fellow participants of NHI101x, bought his book “Nature Drawing and Journaling”, enjoyed the bubbling stream of ideas and excellent illustrations (I’ll write a review as soon as I finish it, stay tuned!) and now I follow his blog, where he regularly posts drawing tutorials and other useful tips. Today I watched his TEDx talk about enhancing the quality of our observation of nature, by the means of simple and effective methods that unleash our curiosity on natural subjects. I find it a brilliant summary on the art of observation – a compact starter kit like very few others. Enjoy!

Random act of kindness

Today the weather was so nice that I took a book and went to read in the park. A lady who was walking by my bench greeted me with a smile and gave me a bag of chocolates. I was really surprised but I managed to thank her before she moved on and gave another bag of chocolates to a child strolling with her mum. I think she had many more presents for the people that were today at the park.

I felt so happy for this unexpected present, even happier to think that this woman went to the shop, bought some chocolate and went around distributing it. I feel invited to do the same, for the simple joy of seeing other people smiling. It makes me feel connected to fellow humans like I didn’t feel for so long.

We can discuss on the details of such actions, that can make a gift more or less welcome or appropriate; still, I want to think that everyone of us can be touched by one or many forms of this sincere generosity.

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Winter School of Ethics and Neuroscience – day 2: introduction to ethics

The second day of the winter school was split in two tracks, one focused on philosophical matters, the other on practical applications. I chose to attend the philosophical track, where we talked at first about definitions of ethics, morality, judgment, and so on.

The discussion was not easy, especially for me as a newbie of the field (except for some memories of high school’s philosophy class). In these discussions, words are sharp weapons – I felt that every sentence needed to be composed with care, in order to minimise misunderstanding or ambiguity (the fact that we discussed in English and that it was not the most fluent language for most participants did not help). This reminded me of Quantum Psychology and its aim of making English less dangerous when talking about ethical principles and everyday facts.

 

Trolley problem

 

We talked about standard ethics exercises (trolley problems), but the reasoning got quickly overridden by emotions. It is not surprising, as the trolley problem is a way of putting a lot of pressure to make the “right” decision about other people’s lives. I personally could not really get into the mindset of that experiment, because lots of variables were missing or were unrealistic (the people on the tracks were all equal and unknown to me, the trolley could not be stopped in any way, I was the only one able to do something, etc…). That left space to a lot of “moral noise” and to amusingly absurd ideas.

Source: knowyourmeme.com

During the session, I thought that it is theoretically possible to separate ethics from emotions, but ethics would become inhumane. I moreover thought that the effectiveness of emotion-aware ethics lies in the ability to emotionally connect with the involved parties in a given situation. Of course a more detailed knowledge of every possible influence of an action would make its outcome mathematically more positive, but it would take longer to compute and it would be dependent of an objective evaluation of everything, that is often impossible.

Nevertheless, I understand the questions raised by philosophers about the nature, origins and utility of ethics. It enables people to understand what is going on within them instead of acting solely on emotional bursts. I still value emotional input as much as reasoning, because I consider that emotions have been fundamental for the survival of our species (and maybe others too, but it’s hard to prove without doubt or bias), by shaping our decisions in conflictual situations. What I see is that modern humans are challenged on problems that are so huge and complex that our emotions, that helped us solve local, small group problems, are sometimes inaccurate or problematic. So I think that studying ethics and morality in theory is a way of better understanding our decision-making processes, and help us make more informed decisions.

More about this in next post! Stay tuned 🙂

Music recommendation: “La Guerre” by Janequin

I would like to present you a chanson from ClĂ©ment Janequin, a famous French Renaissance composer. He was one of the first composers who added noises and effects to songs – bird chirps in Le chant des oiseaux; market sellers’ advertising their goods in Les cris de Paris; cannons, trumpets, horses and shouts in La Guerre:

On ChoralWiki you can find the French text and its English translation.

I listened to this piece many times, discovering its many layers: at first I was captivated and amused by the sounds that animate the battle, then amazed by the musical skills of these singers, then by their joy in singing this piece, and then  by the sound of Renaissance French and its nowadays odd pronunciation. It is nice to note that modern Canadian French contains visible traces of Old French – and that makes this song look so unbelievably Canadian to me, especially the last part where the singers shout: Victoire! that they pronounce: VictouĂ©re! – it makes me smile, but also think of the centuries that have slowly passed and shaped French language, as a river digs a canyon. I feel connected with the mind of Janequin through the centuries, thanks to the countless people who kept this piece of music alive. Enjoy!

In the kitchen: moelleux

Yesterday I had a bit of inspiration for baking. I fancied something chocolatey and muffin-like, so I browsed my cookbooks, especially “La ciliegina sulla torta” from the famous Italian blogger Jessica Leone. This book is a present from my mum, who bought it after reading her blog, tried her recipe for Belgian waffles and adopted it as her default one. That’s huge. My mum used the same waffle recipe for decades (with unanimous approval) and went so far as swapping it for a new one. So when I found a soft chocolate cupcake recipe, I was sure it would come out great.

Moelleux is the French name for a chocolate cake with soft center (see this page [in French] for a great description). It became the favourite word of my geeky friends when we attended FOSDEM earlier this year and feasted on moelleux at our reunion dinner.

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I edited the recipe a bit, because I didn’t want to use butter. I used coconut oil and coconut paste instead. I added too much flour and I compensated that with a spoonful of soya yoghurt and one of almond mousse. The recipe suggested to bake them for 15 minutes for a soft centre, or 20 for a firmer texture. They ended up in between a moelleux and a brownie, with a hint of coconut.