Seemed appropriate…someone threw a major wrench in the works of my life right now.
Yesterday upon the stair
I saw a man that wasn’t there.
He wasn’t there again today.
“To some, ‘steampunk’ is a catchall term, a concept in search of a visual identity. To me, it’s essentially the intersection of technology and romance.” Jake von Slatt put this in a way that fit some of my descriptions quite concisely. It is important to me in my evaluation of Steampunk to show what I find and what is there, not to codify and define it; I seek to analyze and evaluate not limit the reality. As Alan Watts Said “The whole point of Zen is to suspend the rules we have superimposed on things and to see the world as it is.” “There be those who say that things and places have souls, and there be those who say they have not; I dare not say, myself, but I will tell of The Street.” – H. P. Lovecraft. I agree with this sentiment and this is more my goal than a definition – to describe and show what I find and see. “The true purpose (of Zen) is to see things as they are, to observe things as they are, and to let everything go as it goes.” ~ Shunryu Suzuki
Individualism is not the first thing you think of when you think of Zen, but much of the teaching revolves around knowing yourself, seeing yourself as you really are, hearing your inner voice, and living in now. Previous essays have discussed the prevalence of an individual spirit and focus in both Steampunk and the age it arises from. For this particular discussion the whys of that direction are not needed, but we will look at them later. Louis XIV said “There is little that can withstand a man who can conquer himself.” This is an important distinction when you are looking at Zen related to Steampunk; Zen is not about giving into to self but knowing self and being in control of self. Act on needs not wants, as one quote says: Be master of mind rather than mastered by mind.
In both cases you see an active choice to seek the answer inside rather than from the voice of any governing group such as religion, government, society, or science. G.I. Gurdjieff said “Without self knowledge, without understanding the working and functions of his machine, man cannot be free, he cannot govern himself and he will always remain a slave.” Religion, science, government, and society made drastic changes, leaps, and changed focus based on this and similar concepts, it did not always stick, but the creative leaps possible during that time are impressive themselves. As one Zen quote says “If you do not get it from yourself, where will you go for it?”
Machines, automata, and development are critical to Steampunk and were what made the Victorian age what it was. “As machines become more and more efficient and perfect, so it will become clear that imperfection is the greatness of man.” – Ernst Fischer. Willingness to take a leap, create something, build something, experiment without knowing what will happen – these are all things that made the development then what it was and that many people feel has been largely lost today. “If you want something you can have it, but only if you want everything that goes with it, including all the hard work and the despair, and only if you’re willing to risk failure.” – Philip Pullman, Clockwork.
Look at Zen and the adage telling you not to simply follow the paths of others: “Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the men of old; seek what they sought.” – Basho This quest for knowledge is something dear to the heart of some of us. As Zen says “When an ordinary man gains knowledge, he is a sage; when a sage gains understanding, he is an ordinary man.” Are we in Steampunk seeking an aesthetic or a wishful nostalgia, or are we seeking a possibility, a chance that with risk and a new path, we could see something different. Perhaps it isn’t escapism as much as opening the mind to possibilities, paths, and knowledge.
The place of the mind, reason, and imagination is the place of strength, development, and expansion. You cannot achieve what you cannot conceive anymore than you can succeed without risk. “Therefore the Three Realms are only mind” Ma-tsu Tao-i. In research and scientific advancement, one critical point to true advancement and real science is to not approach a test, experiment, theory, or idea clouded by opinion or expectations. Look again to Zen: “Do not seek the truth, only cease to cherish your opinions.” Science then and now often sought to make life better and to serve humanity but “The machine does not isolate man from the great problems of nature but plunges him more deeply into them.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery. But the changes are what stabilize society, stagnation kills any society. “Life is change, change is stability.” Change is not final, even when to destruction, another change will follow.
Vast emptiness, nothing holy! Bodhidharma
Previously, we briefly touched the topic of Steampunk embracing the development at all cost attitude of colonialism and imperialism but eschewing the technology that became the dominant development. As Kurt Vonnegut said, “Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why.” The ethics were not relevant. “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”
—Rumi. This is somewhat where Steampunk and much fiction lie, as does much science. But this reaching outside society and the restrictions of others to open the mind and imagination is what allows development, creativity, and innovation. “A civilized society is one which tolerates eccentricity to the point of doubtful sanity.” – Robert Frost
I am not entirely satisfied but tried a couple of new things I want to practice. I am also going to write a bit now about Why and How Steampunk.
My father was here looking at my site the other day. I was explaining why I started this and how mom influenced the project, my art, and what I am thinking about with this, even my choice of subject matter. I had to explain several terms like Steampunk and automaton to him and it got me thinking about the differences in our family and in reading or artistic people in general. Dad is very well read and educated but rarely reads things unrelated to something he is doing and he doesn’t read fiction, never has. Mom did, she introduced me to several of the classic science fiction and Steampunk fathers like Asimov and Jules Verne. But the difference is in how they viewed fiction and writing in general. Fiction, for mother, was not superfluous, it was a way to write about or examine an issue or situation in a somewhat more disconnected and less immediate manner. Fiction authors have always tackled the issues of society from social to religious, scientific to governmental. Science fiction is especially known for this practice. The depth of what-if evaluation in genre such as science fiction, Steampunk, cyberpunk, or alternative history (which can fall into several genres) is often intense if focused on one issue or development. Steampunk reaches many of these topics but focuses on what-if of technology based in steam, gears, and style rather than electronics, efficiency, and computerization. Mother appreciated good writing, science, and educational material in most forms and genres. Dad must be shown the connection first and then is unlikely to connect personally to a fiction writer; it just isn’t how he thinks. My brothers on the other hand all read fiction and many other types of books, but each approaches them differently, as did my sister. I approach everything as an opportunity to learn, grow, enjoy, and experience; books are just a favorite experience for me. I will enjoy reading about a place almost as much as going there if it is well written. On the other hand, a poorly written story, however good the story itself is, will never engage me and will likely irritate me. Steampunk is something only mom and I enjoyed as far as I know, and for her it was because of the quality, the evaluation, the lessons, the imagination, the depth, and the style; it was never a major thing, just something she knew and had a style she liked.
This returns me to a topic from weeks ago and the broad appeal of Steampunk. My mother was to most people the most unlikely candidate to have read or discussed Steampunk. But topics like that gave her connections and relatable points to people she may have not been able to reach otherwise. Individualism and intelligence was important to mom, so what-if scenarios were somewhat of a hobby. She had a project for all of us every time you spoke to her. More often than directly discussing Steampunk, we discussed related concepts and ideas, which is why I have issue with something requiring use of a term. Gears, steam, Difference engines, other ancient types of computing devises, architecture, Victorian or related styles, how things adapt, what things could have changed each aspect or would have simply faded these are all aspects in Steampunk that are of interest and value to people completely unconnected. Historical and cultural evaluations are often enhanced using fiction and what-if scenarios. Artistic and architectural studies are enhanced using fiction or scenarios to understand its place in society and how it was both impacted by and impacted each facet of society. Writing, reading, drawing, or working in a genre like Steampunk helps you understand culture, society, people, technology, materials, art, history, development, government, religions, architecture, and why each of these things develop. A well written Steampunk story will not just keep the same style if it is a what-if future story or even near present. Because it must examine the impact of the change in technology and style on the culture, government, religions, styles, development, population growth, and use of resources and environment. If it simply rote uses technology in an unchanged or shallow cultural development, it is not well written and it misses the what-if part of Steampunk. The depth you go into in that evaluation is different and depends on the story, but the small details are impacted by how much of that detail and depth you have considered. Dune is an example of an author with way more background, development, and depth than are directly written in. It is obviously there, and it makes the story a rich pleasure of immersive fiction and knowledge. This is what I love about what-if stories and the cultural and scientific study inherent in them. Even a simple drawing or piece of art has part of this background. Why the placement, materials, style, why the clothes, colors, lighting, or architecture are used in inherent to the depth of the view and evaluation.
Much like every other aspect of Steampunk, when is a challenge to answer accurately. The reason for this is you first need to define what aspect you are defining the beginning of. First use of a term is a common modern designator for the beginning of a genre; personally, this seems inaccurate, though understandable for non-interested parties. In some genre you see a designation from when someone within the genre and someone unconnected used the descriptor term; this is not necessary in Steampunk. First appearance of solidly representative works is another common time factor. Discussing Steampunk in particular, you see disagreement on this one, not based on difficulty placing writers in the genre but of disagreement when the genre began and what it is. Several 19th century authors are pivotal to Steampunk and for many people define the genre, yet most people say they are precursors and not Steampunk. Several works from the 1950’s and 1960’s are undeniably Steampunk and even reached into mainstream production and popularity. Metropolis from 1927 is a major Steampunk work, often considered, as Wikipedia puts it, “the single most important early film to represent Steampunk as an emerging stylistic genre.”
Given these time references and that representations continue through present, it is interesting that many listings designate Steampunk as having emerged in the 1980’s as a sub-genre of Cyberpunk. First use of the term in a title did not emerge until the 1990’s but that is hardly a key point other than to say it was in common enough use by that point authors were taking advantage of the connections and connotations of the word in a title rather than using the work to show genre. I have trouble with the concept that you need to use a term to fit a genre; it should be obvious on its own. Also, a term usually comes about after a genre is established, simply because there is nothing to describe until it is established. Given this, the genre obviously was in place prior to use of the term, yet even I would be challenged to actually choose a start point for the genre. One point to agree with not beginning the genre in the 19th century is that they were using current and speculative technologies to consider what-if not what many consider outdated or bypassed technologies. Overall, what I see is a distinct and enduring disagreement with no clear answer. If you read my earlier essay about the development of Steampunk and cultures in general, then you will see part of why I find it unlikely a clear and accurate designation of when it began is possible.
on a side note – I missed yesterday due to husband’s birthday and plan an extra project tomorrow to fill, we shall see.
Long Day, just a GIMP mod.
Kept it a bit simple today. I see a number of distinct differences between the styles of drawing between these first two. The eye shape in particular and the skin and eye details are quite different even before painting or GIMP. This one also gives me an idea for some masks.
I decided to do a series of the Steampunk Vision. They may not all be done immediately, but I continued the theme today.
Again, the tiny canvas is my base for the drawing. I do not have time today for the 2 part project of drawing and painting, but I did a GIMP version. The GIMP version will be nothing like the painted version. Main difference being, the painted version will try to accentuate each piece and the inter-connectivity. The GIMP version is a piece of art and accentuates other details and aspects. the focus of a piece changes quite a bit when going paper to canvas to computer. The three medium lend very different styles for me.
Okay, I really like the tiny canvases my husband bought me. I did a drawing on one today, I prepped it a few days ago. I then painted it. Having never painted anything with a human part, I am extremely pleased with it. I liked the drawing.
Lots of images today, be warned if you have a slow connection.
If they are not lists, match positions on the images to pair quotes.
I considered a one to one image for each pair but that would have made a huge collection. I will single them out if I use them later in essays and such. Let me know if they are clear, they seamed to change slightly when I saved to jpg.
I am going a bit different direction today; I updated my site, submitted it for publication on another site, and am evaluating why I am doing this and why I chose my topic. If you have read my updated about section some of this may be more clear if I miss a connection. My mother, my life, my husband, and my stress were the major proponents in me beginning this.
1. Technology. I have learned to work a blog, as mom tried to get me to teach her for several years. I am also learning new programs and styles. Research, of historical and potential technologies is obviously a major part of this and many of the pieces include significant research that eventually leads to me writing an essay. Technology is fascinating to me in most forms, modern, antique, old, future, potential, fictional, and speculative. I like cutting edge, out of date, practical, and simply aesthetic – it all has appeal. I restore motorcycles and do artistic ventures of a wide variety of forms, many involving technology from various ages.
2. Insomnia. Lack of sleep is high on my list of problems with having a job, working at home, and doing a project every day but it is nice to have an accomplishment at the end of the day. Insomnia has, over the years, helped my creativity, and hindered it. I have many great ideas but often lack time, awareness, tools, place, or health to work on them or finish them. Somehow Steampunk is one of the things associated with sleeplessness for me – books and video games maybe, imagery maybe, research projects possibly, I’m not sure.
3. Relationship. My husband is both supportive and suggests sleep instead, but he has been a huge help and I think this will prove good for us. He also frequently has ideas on how to turn something into a smaller size or staged project to meet my deadline. One suggestion was the mini canvases at Hobby Lobby. He is also a major active person in Steampunk, but has a very different approach, view, and concept of Steampunk. This byplay of views and information is very helpful and engages us when we are busy. This was one thing that prompted my evaluation and research of the various views on Steampunk and why they vary so much and are so strongly embedded.
4. Evaluation. A requirement to finish a project each day requires constant rethinking of my concepts on the subject, my art, what fits, how to do something, why to do something, and what I think about. Evaluation of Steampunk and the total genre allows a thorough evaluation of all areas of my creative approach and my work. I am evaluating the history, the culture, the style, the art, the technology, the fashion, the people, any aspect that strikes my heart, mind, or work.
5. Meditation, focus, creative development – very connected things in this project. Years ago, I meditated regularly and actively worked on my focus. I have moved a very long distance several times in the last year and was feeling very loose and unstable. This gives me a combination of things to help that: a focus, a constant sense of accomplishment, a steady cord, visible development. My art tends to change significantly when I move and having moved quite a lot, I was feeling displaced and am needing a chance to develop my identity, style, strengths, ideas, and courage as an artist. This focus is on a topic, a project, a short term and a long term goal, and a commitment. My art develops as I use it, learn new things, research, and try things. Doing a project every day allows me to try things I might have put off or not done.
6. Learning. I am developing a deeper understanding and relationship to my topic: Steampunk. I am a researcher at heart and am learning art forms, history, materials, culture, people, and more. I have been a great subject of study for myself. Steampunk is a fascinating culture with rich history and development. The current and future state of Steampunk is an intriguing study. Beyond that you have the study of the actual periods, the period works, the speculative works, the social and historical evaluations, the relative connections, and the spin-offs. Steampunk offers art forms, technology, research, and ideas galore.
Stress. Life is very stressful right now and the ability to turn away from that and have something guaranteed to be there and to have an accomplishment means a lot; even when it leaves me tired and irritated with the piece. This project produces great stress when I am way to tired and trying to work with tiny gears or found objects, or I am researching a topic I planned on being a quick essay and has extended to near midnight. Working too many hours then expecting myself to be creative is not something I ever considered a good idea but I am finding that the key is to just start. Work on this, the rest will happen or it won’t.
8. Acceptance. Learning to accept things not going as planned and how to deal with overestimating what I could get done is good for me. I am still working on this, but see a difference already. (The corner shelf painting image is an example, I vastly overestimated the time I needed and the time I had, I was not able to finish and had to decide how to deal with that.) Research, art, technological projects, missing tools, lack of materials, so many things can go wrong. Steampunk tends to include many aspects, parts, information,detail, and materials that I may not have or may not have time for – how do I work with that? I am learning. This is good for my balance and focus on the now not later or before. Just work and think about the rest later.
9. Input. Outside input and comments are hard for me to accept on my art. There tends to be a lot of me in my work and a comment that feels negative I do not respond well and considering at the time how to respond does not happen. Should I be accepting, open, angry, questioning, cautious defensive, disregard, consider, evaluate, or respond? I am having to learn this now. This also causes me to pay attention to my comments more. I intend to return to more frequent commenting on interesting posts as I work into this and figure out the scheduling or pushing…something. I know input is good for art and creativity, even if many people say otherwise. You don’t have to act on it, but strengthening your understanding, emotion, and your view of it helps you. A one sided perspective is not a long lasting focus – it becomes very flat and tired. Working from one perspective itself is strengthened by knowing the other perspectives. We learned that in writing classes – to know your argument, study the opposing arguments, really understand and be able to argue for their side to effectively stand against them. Sometimes, as in my study of Steampunk you simply develop or alter your view of the subject, but that depends on many factors and is unlikely to happen if you were not open to that when you began.
As I go I intend to answer the major questions Who, What, When, Where, Why, How from multiple perspectives, directions, and focus regarding Steampunk. Today was a personal look at me, Steampunk, and this project, I could continue for some time, thus will just send this now and hope you like it.
I want to redo this and some of my others when I have a way of making good rivets that allow functioning gears and precise placement. However, I like this one using a Triumph pin my husband gave me when I had my Bonneville some years ago. The magnifying glass is free enough to be used on things if needed and focuses on the Coin. It swings a bit more than I would like, I would fix that if I redid this one with the riveting. All connections are copper, as is the back gear. The others are brass and bronze. The pin is silver. Not sure what the stone is. I also like triumph cars, so the gear on the left serves duel purposes for me. Setting the gears so they fit together and spin was a challenge lacking the rivets, they are held motionless for the picture.
How do cultures develop? If you have ever asked that question, it seems unlikely you would ask someone to define a culture or subculture. As a gamer I create and explore worlds unlike the dominant culture all the time. When developing a world you do not begin by describing, defining, and structuring the cultures, religions, or other social constructs. First, they are just that – social constructs. Thus they develop from and through environment, interaction, climate, changes, and any influences having even the smallest impact. One of the first stages in an in depth world is the geography. You may start with other ideas or maps, but you need geography and geology to develop the culture. Whatever social construct is there in the early stages must be open to develop and change as you flush out the details and expand the world and the history. This is actually a good view of the development of a culture, and a sub-culture is still a culture, simply one divergent from the regional dominant culture.
Let me look at an example using the geology I mentioned before. A location with no metal to be mined will have a different development. Science, technology, military, and economy will be based on other things or they will focus on either trade or expansion to obtain the materials they need. Religions developing in this region will also be impacted, thus further influencing the culture and science. Developmental stage of neighbors encountered and the political climate as they expand will further impact every aspect of the culture.
What does this have to do with Steampunk? Let’s look at the period it reveres for a minute. The Victorian age was a time of expansion, colonization, empire, and rapid development. Economy grew at alarming rates to crash in many places. Expansion to obtain material, power, and land was happening at a furious pace. Religion was on a precipice from war and expansion causing middle classes to turn to new faiths, thus an explosion of sects and religions occurred. Science and technology was exploding in wild directions and new things showed up frequently. Production and development was growing faster than cities were prepared for and pollution and exploitation ran rampant in places like London. Luxuries and entertainment were increasingly available to a broader section of society – a segment that was beginning to have increased impact on society. What would you expect of a culture arising from this?
Who defines the rules in a setting like that? Individualism was on the rise. Imperialism was dominant, and people wanted change, new, better, shiny. Brass and wood are not war materials but are practical for finery, many technological needs, and handmade developments. Constructed materials were showing up, there will always be a divide on what should be developed and what should be discarded. Here is where we see Steampunk arise. What should we have developed? Where should we have focused? What science would have served us better? What technology would have been more attractive, efficient, effective, entertaining, and socially constructive? What should the focus have been and be now? What-if is what Steampunk is all about. This brings me back to my discussion from several days ago that Steampunk will remain divers – as it should. Each of us brings our influences, our preferences, our education, our experiences, our fears, our needs, our hopes, and our aesthetic to Steampunk. This does not confuse the issue and damage the genre; it strengthens it, develops it, expands it, delves into the unexplored aspects of it, and reaches our hearts and minds.
This being said, I need now to explore details of Steampunk and where I fit. Knowing myself and my work, I will say up front – that depends on the day and what I am working on.
Zen has been on my mind today. This is a topic and combination I will explore more both in writing and art.
I designed this unit off a modular shelf unit I saw some time ago. I used gears instead of tubes and designed 3 possible shelf sizes to fit however is needed into the gears. Each gear can be added or removed separably for reconfiguration of the unit. The units are 1 foot in depth and internal diameter but could be any size, even mixed sizes, because they are gears, they can be fitted more solidly than tubes. You could do the gears out of metal and the shelves in wood or reverse.
Today is a day for musing. 12 hours at work, running day camp and walking dogs and home to my husband and the cats I sit wondering why it is we are drawn to Steampunk. When you read discussions about Steampunk, especially from non-Steampunk people, you see at first a certainty of its briefness, and now bafflement in its longevity and growth. Why is that shocking I wonder. The other thing I see is a complaint that it is poorly defined. Genres and sub-genres are rarely defined, specified, structured and then developed – they just happen and grow. Natural growth is what creates a genre and what keeps it alive and thriving through time. It is an oddity of human nature I think to want to define, categorize, and label everything.
This seems one of the very things Steampunk is rebelling against – the strict categorization of life, science, religion, people, and culture. When those in Steampunk fight this, they could be leading themselves into a frustrating pattern. Does this mean there are no boundaries? Of course not, but it is a concept, a theme, a style, a need, a creativity that by its nature reaches into several other genres at least.
What I see is that Steampunk, by its very nature cannot be a sub-genre, it reaches into too many genres even without leaving the written and cinematic focus.
Cyberpunk is strong and clear but it doesn’t have the potential reach and longevity of Steampunk for several reasons. One, it is based in present and future. Present issues and technologies are not as well known, not universally relatable or understood, not pervasive, and not connected to an emotional part of people. Future is nebulous and potential not universally agreed upon or accepted. On the other hand, Steampunk has its core in a period known very well and deeply connected to cultures around the world by the very nature of what went on in that time. Key terms like Victorian evoke immediate imagery, feelings, and thoughts in everyone even if they are widely varied. This is another reason it will remain varied and branching in styles and focus. Two, the basis of what might have been is very different and emotional to people than what is going on or where we are going shown in darkness. Don’t get me wrong, I love Cyberpunk in every form I have dealt with it, but sentiment of what might have been or what could have been is natural to most people. In their personal lives or families people often speculate on that very thing, thus drawing on a strong natural sentiment anyway, Steampunk has a good chance of touching them if they give it half a chance. Three, simple aesthetic appeal cannot be ignored. Cyberpunk has a strong, deep impact and visual strength; but it is not a universal appeal. Steampunk on the other hand has elements to appeal to a hugely diverse audience. The materials, the style, the ethics, the creativity, the science, the culture, the mad-scientists, the history, the reality blended with wild fantasy these reach out and find their targets and touch minds, hearts, and imaginations.
Almost Victorian is really a better description than Victorian, and that is why it is appealing – the differences are just out enough to draw you in.
Individual achievement, individual ability, individual strength, individual rights, individual identities are all incredibly important in Steampunk. People in need of something will often find this appealing. People already holding these concepts as important are obviously going to see the appeal. Why are they important in Steampunk? Scientific development, scientific leaps, acts of heroism, and creative actions are done by individuals not committees. A person willing to step out of the boxes of others, and leap into an idea will risk more but has great potential. Risk is inherent to the point of almost being irrelevant in Steampunk – of course one willing to step out is under more risk, why discuss it. Some say Steampunk is hopeful and ignores the ills of society, but I do not agree, it simply focuses on those people acting, doing, changing, developing not on those destroying, wallowing, following, or changing from within the box. If you focus on society you are not focusing on Steampunk, you are using Steampunk in a fiction about society. Yes the dark reality is there, but what might have been? Besides, there is always people at every level of society, which ones have the materials or funds to actually build Steampunk devises in most periods the stories are set in? You cannot break the logic of the story to create a false focus. It is a what-if not what was or what is, just accept that and work within that and you could get a more realistic view of reality.
Many of my furniture designs are done taking a piece of material or a piece of furniture I have or see and modifying it to fit my idea or a theme. This one is just a small wood spice shelf, seen in the center of the piece. It could be done with that piece or be redone in metal in the same color or tone. I have been redesigning pieces we have to fit the Steampunk Alice theme. I have not really been able to work on making them yet, but will have all the designs when I do. Not sure why the sides look so Klingon but they kinda do. The lines and the idea of the lines came from a gate or castle in Alice I think, not that it was like this at all, just where I went with it. Somewhat of the mirror mirror tone looking at it now isn’t there? Lots of influences and things blended. Maybe not strictly Steampunk but the materials and lines fit so it goes.