James T. Green is a conceptual artist, radio producer, writer, and educator from Chicago, Illinois, and now in Brooklyn, New York.

thoughts + feelings

43: A Beauty of the Ordinary

Fall has grown to be my season of hibernation. I was chatting about this on Twitter and I’ve been leaning into it more. In my season of hibernation, I not only dedicate this time to creating, but I also spend a lot more time without headphones and getting lost in a sense of hyperawareness. Back in art school, one of our professors introduced us to this as the activity of the flaneur.

A flaneur was seen as a wanderer, stroller, and a lounger. Originally being a literary type in 19th century France, this person was seen as a connoisseur of the streets and an urban explorer. In Susan Sontag’s “On Photography”, she touches a bit on the flaneur:

“The photographer is an armed version of the solitary walker reconnoitering, stalking, cruising the urban inferno, the voyeuristic stroller who discovers the city as a landscape of voluptuous extremes. Adept of the joys of watching, connoisseur of empathy, the flâneur finds the world ‘picturesque.’” (pg. 55)

While a majority of us are not looking like a scene from Gustave Caillebotte’s “Paris Street, Rainy Day”, my own making time for strolling has made me curious to what it’s like to be a flaneur in the digital age.

If you have an Instagram, Facebook, favorite blog you follow, whatever, go on and open it up and take a swipe. Chances are you are coming across other people’s writings, photos, and things they find interesting along with your own posts that captured your interest. This very letter is an exact example of that. Whereas the flaneurs of the past captured these ideas and had limited methods of sharing them later with slower permeation, it’s interesting that the tools we carry in our pockets and bags allow us to express our inner flaneurs, empowering us to take an idea or moment we discover during an observation or daydream and broadcast it to the world. The Facebook post from my father of a refreshing McDonald’s sweet tea, the Instagram post of a friends’ latte art, and the two-thousand word essay about noticing the mechanical construction of watches are all these instances of someone’s inner flaneur tendencies bubbling to their mind’s surface and sharing a feeling they feel strongly about.

Many times the public will generally shit on the idea of sharing your life through digital methods; it’s been the fodder of think-pieces that litter the barrel of a typical link blog. Let’s flip that idea on it’s head and take a moment to think about what kind of great things these tools allow us to do. It’s one of the things I miss about the early days of Vine(before highly produced videos started to dominate the popular pages). The majority of things posted were beautifully lo-fi, seen on the surface as a mundane moment of life…but to that person it was seem as something that was significant enough to share. A beauty of the ordinary, embracing the inner flaneur without a filter.

So as I’m easing into my season of hibernation, embracing my inner flaneur and adjusting to the new period of making, I’ll be taking a one month hiatus. More or less it will be some time to gather thoughts, sit with them longer, and catch my breath (this is my 43rd week I’ve done this!) Before next week’s break, I want to know what is it that you’ve been working on? What things have you made or explored while being a flaneur in your own life? I’d love to see/read/watch it, then share your works in next week’s letter. Don’t be shy, just hit reply.

Have a great Tuesday and see you next week,

-James

 

What did I find interesting this week?

1) Find Your Beach by Zadie Smith: This piece about the thoughts that came about after observing an advertisement inspired a lot of what I touched on in this week’s letter.

2) Community College Students Face a Very Long Road to Graduation: A wonderfully in-depth interview and investigation into New York’s LaGuardia Community College and how the day in the life on one of the students, an artist named Dennis D’Amelio, speaks a lot about the school system.

3) A Stranger On A Train, A Phone Call, A Man’s Life Transformed: Speaking of observations, this short opinion piece on NPR’s Simon Says segment is well written example of observational writing.

4) The Psychology Behind Costco’s Free Samples: Finally, a bit of explanation behind the joy of browsing through your favorite big box retailer and munching on pizza bagels.

5) Back to Light: “Your brain is very clever. It wraps you up in a cocoon where it can whisper to you in the dark.” I will forever link to every piece of writing by Leah Reich.

James T. Green