Art and design in Turkey is unexepectedly modern but also traditional

Turkish clapping spoons at the Viva Europe! festival April 7 in Gainesville, Fla. The spoons, also called a kasik, are a traditional percussion instrument.

At a recent festival, I came across some Turkish “clapping spoons.” Not only were the spoons beautiful, but they were unique in that they weren’t for eating or simply for decoration, they were a percussion instrument traditionally used in Turkish culture. 

Turkish art has been on the rise since the 80’s, but recent factors like efforts to become part of the European Union, and a rise in independent collectors who have made contemporary art trendy, caused a boom in the contemporary art scene

Although Turkey seems like it would draw mainly on Asian and Middle Eastern influences, Turkish contemporary art actually draws more on European influences rather than Middle Eastern.  

“Turkish contemporary art definitely deals with issues of the day, be it Turkish domestic issues such as Turkey’s problems with the PKK, Turkey’s problem with the EU, problems of urbanization, [or] Turkey’s relationship with Europe,” said Isabella Içöz, an adviser to Sotheby’s on Turkish contemporary art. “But then there are more general issues that the artists cover, such as the war on terror, gender issues, the role of women, [and] gay rights.”

And while most of the Turkish contemporary art scene seems to revolve around fine arts, Turkey is also producing furniture and decorating designs that exude a strong modern, Scandanavian influence.

The influence of Europe is not new to Turkish art. Even traditional art drew on both Eastern traditionalism and Western secularism because of its location between Europe and Asia. And while contemporary art is on the rise in Turkey, there is still a place for traditional art and its old-world beauty that adds elegance to interior decor.   

People in Turkey use small cups, like espresso cups, for their coffee. The designs on the cups make them beautiful pieces of decor.

In addition to Oriental rugs, handmade lace and tiny and elegant China cups, which were mentioned in the above article, traditional elements of Turkish culture can be used differently than they originally were, which further puts a modern spin on traditional art.  

The clapping spoons, which really only seem to be used as instruments in Turkey, can be used to add a strong cultural element to interior decor. Hung on a wall they could add spice and liveliness to a kitchen, and placed among an eclectic collection of items on a living room shelf they add earthy culture.

Also, the traditional Turkish technique ebru, which is “a marbling technique using a rectangular bath and special acrylic paints to create a design on water,” can be used to create more contemporary designs but still capture a very old and traditional piece of Turkey.

Perhaps the new style will completely combine the new and old, giving credibility to the contemporary and hip, visual attraction to the traditional.


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Typography — It’s not the name but how you write it

I have to admit, when I learned about typography and heard that there is a whole community of people out there with a passionate love for it, my first reaction was, “What kind of silly people fall in love with type?”

But then I saw examples of creative uses with typography, watched videos using typography and looked at how typography can even be used in simple ways to add quality to a message, and I fell in love.

That I would fall for typography shouldn’t surprise me. I spent the majority of my hours in high school writing different words that I liked over and over in different type designs.

Type has been created and considered a type of art for hundreds of years. Today, there are still professionals who design and distribute type what I don’t want to call basic designs, but compared to some of the more creative types that go beyond serif vs. sans serif or bold vs. script, they are pretty basic.

Computer programs make the creation of any typeface easier and quicker, but they also allow for typefaces with letters that themselves are creative and artistic. The letters in these artistic typefaces could be used to represent a single word, and the word could easily have an artistic impact that goes beyond the impact of simplicity that’s so commonly associated with a typeface like Helvetica.

Individual words and letters grouped to form an image.

When the basic typefaces are used as a combination of letters and words, with color and arranged to create a bigger picture and represent a larger idea, then they break the ordinary mold and also become graphic art.

This is the part of typography that I love, and it seems to be the part that many others love too.

While the actual stories behind certain typefaces are interesting, I feel that the art of choosing styles and arranging them — of actually designing with words and letters — is so much more interesting.

When it comes to the graphic design of typography, even images can be used to represent letters and give an even more emotional touch to a design.

Sometimes an image can help serve as letters. But the typography still plays an important part in telling the story.

As seen in the “Jaws” design, letters alone can be quite graphic, but using an acutal image can give more context. In the “Cool” design, the message is able to take on a sense of irony because of the taped glasses, and the contrast between the o’s made by the glasses versus the actual letters is visually intriguing and modern.

Typography has so much depth that versatility. Even just the way words can be bold, more or less transparent, and stand alone or among others helps tell a story. It’s pretty fascinating.

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Glass — Hard to imagine something could be better than plastic

The beauty of glass lies in its ability to serve both artistic and functional purposes.

When used for function, it adds an elegance. And when used for art, it has a quality that allows it to brighten and open a space simply by being there. When glass is used to combine art and function, as with a light pendant, a flower vase or even a statement window, the piece infuses a room with both elegance and brightness.

As a little background, glass was invented hundreds of years ago and it was expensive to buy for the majority of those years. It was hand-blown, and while it could be used for functional items like containers, it was still a hand-made art form.

Today, technology has allowed glass to be mass produced and it’s no longer expensive, but unlike many other handmade crafts that died out with the industrial revolution, handblown glass is still very popular thanks to the “studio glass movement” in the 1960’s.  

My fascination with glass is the way that it appears so clean, it can take on any shape, and the way it shows artistic flaw through bubbles and imperfections. 

In the past I’ve etched glass, painted glass plates and made decorations with pieces of broken glass. Most recently, I painted a Patron tequila bottle because I love that they’re handblown and have bubbles, and I also think they also have an interesting shape.

Glass bottle hand-painted by Emily Burmaster with acrylic paint.

Since painting my Patron bottle, I’ve come across some sites that provide good tips for painting on glass, and even a site showing only crafts involving a Patron bottle (which I wish I’d looked at before painting because some ideas are pretty cool).

I included the video about cleaning the glass surface before painting because that was an issue I encountered with my bottle. Washing the surface is important, but removing the soapy film is probably even more important. 

The paint didn’t stick well to my bottle, and that forced it to look chunky. But it turned out to be an interesting texture nonetheless.

On the more functional side of glass, large glass windows are perhaps one of the most architecturally artistic statements a designer can make, but they’re also strongly functional in that they provide building structure. The New York Times topic page for glass links to a slideshow article with images of glass used structurally in buildings.  

"Cortona" by glass artist Ann Cavanaugh. Cavanaugh fused layers of glass to create the piece.

The photos show how the material can be so intriguing and challenging to designers. Glass provides a way to play with light, transparency, a non-traditional building material and with the creation of space that doesn’t feel confined.

On a more purely artistic side, much like painters can mix colors and even materials on their canvases, glass artists can fuse different pieces of glass together to create modern, fresh pieces. A simple red, glass plate is elegant and even functional, but add pieces of broken blue, white, yellow, green, etc., and the plate becomes funky, artistic and probably put on display rather than on the dinner table.

It’s that ability to transform and take on different functions, colors and shapes that allows glass to lend itself to so many industries and catch the attention of so many people — and stand the test of hundreds of years.

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Using X-rays and blacklight, the hidden layers of art are revealed

Any University of Florida student who’s heard about the graffiti wall on 34th street knows that what was painted one day can very well be gone the next.

But less commonly known is that X-rays can be used to expose covered paintings, so what might appear to have been lost forever can once again be revealed.

The murals on 34th street aren’t always rich with artistic technique, but when it comes to famous paintings like those done by Picasso, exposing the original paint layers gives insight into what the painter originally painted, whether the work is an original or a copy, and details that were worn away with time and poor methods of resoration.

Piece of the graffiti wall on 34th Street in Gainesville, Fla., on May 7, 2011. Photo by Christopher Sessums.

Weirdly, I really have thought a lot about those layers of paint on 34th street. In a way, it’s always felt so disrespectful to me to cover someone else’s work.

But when I read about X-rays in an article about the grant awarded to the Guggenheim in New York from the Bank of America’s Art Conservation Project so that Picasso’s “Woman Ironing” and the hidden “ghost figure” could be further studied, a whole new area of the art world was opened up to me.

Art isn’t disrespected and forced to disappear when it’s painted over. The piece that’s been painted over becomes part of the composition; it’s a layer that adds depth and meaning to the surface piece as well as the overall work.

Picasso’s piece “Woman Ironing” has has been X-rayed, that’s probably how it’s become known that there was another subject on the canvas before the woman who is now depicted, but the Guggenheim plans to use the grant it’s received to do research beyond that. According to The New York Times article, Carol Stringari, the Guggenheim’s chief conservator and deputy director, said the museum hasn’t had the resources to analyze the painting properly until now.

The article doesn’t specifically say what new resources will be used to analyze the painting, but I’ve read about a very scientific-sounding process called gas chromatography-mass spectrometry that could probably be an option.

The actual machine, called a gas chromatography-mass spectrometer, can be used to “study the organic chemistry of old master paintings to understand how paintings were made and how they have changed over time.” The article said that scientists were able to use the GC-MS to “study the characterization and composition of paint binding media, additions to paint media such as resins, and the composition of old varnishes.”

It feels like using these research advancements to learn about art is like turning the painting into a book. It seems to become 3-D, with depth and a story, rather than a 2-D painting with just one layer.

Similar to the secret paintings that lie beneath the layers of new paintings, is the hidden paintings in Scarlett Lacy’s blacklight art. She doesn’t want to explicitly show nude images, so she uses paint that only appears in the dark.

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Mixing musical genres becoming more the norm than the exception

Usually I write about something in the news relating to art, music, dance or design, but that’s because I don’t regularly have interactions with those subjects. At least not in ways worth writing about.

However, I went to a small show for the musician Scott H. Biram on February 4 at a venue called The Social in Orlando, Fla., and was thrilled to have a topic to write about that I’d also been part of.

Scott H. Biram playing at The Social in Orlando, Fla., Saturday, February 4.

I knew nothing about this artist before going to the show, but was immediately drawn to his sound because of the way it mixed different genres. Changes in his voice, guitar rhythm and lyrics in general brought in a range of blues, country and rock.

Many artists incorporate other genres into their songs, and apparently the idea has famously been part of music since Aerosmith and Run-DMC composed “Walk This Way,” but recently more and more genres seem to be “mashed” together by more and more artists. 

Sometimes the most unexpected pairings make pretty interesting sound. While rap and rock aren’t the most unexpected sounds to be mixed, and they are actually the genres that were mixed by Aerosmith and Run-DMC, listening to the two together still has a surprising freshness everytime I hear a new hit incorporating the two.

A mix that does catch me off guard every time I hear it, however, is rap and country, or similar to Biram’s sound, rock and country.

When you think about it though, most people, including artists, probably don’t listen to just one musical genre. A rising musician probably draws from multiple influences, and perhaps those influences are often from various, seemingly unconnected points on the musical spectrum.

American culture isn’t the only culture to mix music. In fact, much like we’ve begun to consider rap/rock it’s own genre, a music style called “world fusion” has been a phenomenon in different parts of the world for a while now.

World fusion is “cross-cultural musical collaborations that fuse Western pop with indigenous pop and folk traditions from around the world,” and has a pretty extensive history and brings together a wide array of music.

Cyro Baptista plays percussions for the Brazilian band Beat The Donkey (English translation), which blends Brazilian sound with hip hop, jazz, funk and more.

The New York Times wrote a review of a world fusion show that describes both the music and the atmosphere pretty well. With such worldwide popularity, it seems surprising that there aren’t more reviews of these shows and that most videos posted online are grainy and unrefined.

But maybe that’s the look and appeal to this type of music. It involves rustic musical influences, and perhaps the artists wish to keep that feel to the music as a whole.

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Go big or go home — Advancements in 3-D-projection mapping spark urban video mapping art scenes

Computers have been part of modern art for a while now, but the relationship has reached a new level with advancements in 3-D-projection mapping.

Video mapping projection by Petr Kratochvil on York Minster in York.

Video mapping is an art scene popping up in urban areas across the world that uses 3-D-projection mapping to “create the illusion of multidimensional movement across or around the contours of any surface, regardless of its shape.”

The really interesting aspect to the projections is the 3-D image created. “How would it be, if a house was dreaming,” by Urbanscreen, a company based in Germany, very effectively shows the capabilities of the program. 

With so many possiblities, the program has inevitablely entered art realms other than urban projection. The “Video Mapping Theater” video shows how it can combine drama and modernity to tell a story that incorporates components of theater and a computer-generated movie.  

The video mapping theater also reminded me of a dance team that appeared on “America’s Got Talent.” The team, Team iLuminate, also combines a traditional art, dancing, with modern computer-programming technology.

The new dimension that’s added to traditional art with computer programming is incredible. Not only must scripts still be written, dances still be choreographed and images still be created, but a matching computer performance must also be programmed and conducted.

After seeing such innovative art, I wondered if it was becoming harder to be an artist. It felt like art was being overtaken by technology, and to keep up, artists would have to channel their creativity into that medium.

But then I realized that technology is only another medium to possibly use. It’s not a forced path, it’s only another starting point.

Artists have to think out of the box to keep their creative juices flowing, so why would the opportunity to experiment outside the box be thought of as reigns rather than a new release?

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Recycling parking lots to fit new needs

There’s something attractive about a vast, clean parking lot lined with an abundance of spaces.

But parking lots are more than places to park vehicles. They are spaces Americans encounter daily, and they have the chance to either please us aesthetically with good design, or they can simply lie as pavement beneath our tires and feet.

 And once a shopping plaza with a sprawling lot goes out of business, what should become of that parking lot? Is that also an opportunity for design?

The New York Times article “Paved, but Still Alive” touches on the lack of sustainability in the design of many parking lots, but it also draws attention to abandoned parking lots and how people are thinking of them as multipurpose spaces rather than deserts of pavement strictly for vehicles.

There are two aspects to parking lots and sustainability. One is thinking green when designing new parking lots, and the other is figuring out what to do with them when they’re out of use.

The positives of good aesthetics aside, lots are harmful to the environment if not well-designed.

According to, “The metal mass of numerous vehicles sitting on the black top surfaces collects and radiates heat, creating a less than pleasant experience for the driver and passengers.  In fact, the heat collected by vehicles and the black top surface itself create heat island effect, a serious consequence of modern infrastructure that can damage micro-climates.” 

The article also brings attention to wastewater from parking lots, “Cars sitting on cement bring grease to the lot, which is captured by storm water runoff that contaminates municipal collection systems…”

The author of a global awareness blog also touches on these points in the post, “Parking lots outnumber drivers 3 to 1.” Pollution and effects of heat are brought up again, and issues with flooding and over-creation of spaces are introduced.

Some solutions to these sustainability problems are to create shade, capture storm run-off, and harness the heat that does exist so clean energy to power buildings and charge electric vehicles can be produced, according to

But what about solutions to abandoned blacktops?

It seems that abandoned lots naturally turn into places for people to start farmers markets, flea markets and just gather in general. Citizens are designing new uses for lots by thinking of alternative uses for vast space, and designers are picking up on that notion of transformation rather than recreation.  

One group in Baltimore, Maryland turned its abandoned lot into a community garden.

Another futuristic idea from Osborn Architects proposes to “overhaul” asphalt surfaces with “productive skins that generate energy with solar and piezo-electric membranes. These vertical urban forests would sequester carbon and filter pollution, as well as store water.”

The New York Times article featured architecture and planning firm Interboro, which had the vision of transforming a parking lot in New York that had been abandoned in the traditional sense.

“The parking lot was quietly being used as a depot and stop by bus lines,” said the article. “A hot dog truck had set up shop there. Patrons at a drive-through McDonald’s ate in their parked cars. Truckers slept there overnight. The Fishkill flea market took over on weekends, and a graphic design firm and a couple of banks and a post-office processing center converted vacant mall stores into offices.”

The transformation would include installing a fitness and day care center; creating a nightclub, beer garden and recycling facility; beginning a used-car business; and setting up a hiking trail entrance.   

The design wasn’t given life because the developer didn’t take up that plan, but it still sheds light on what communities can do to redesign and liven up what looks like wasted space.

There are even organizations like Depave, which is based in Portland, Oregon, that are devoted to removing unused pavement and can help communities redesign the space.

The new ideas circulating parking lots involve design and thought, and they involve transforming old spaces into new spaces with more functionality than a simple car lot.

In a way, maybe the Gator Nation should be proud of its lack of parking spaces. Perhaps this campus is ahead of its time.

Fun articles that feature parking garages that prove it is possible to have green parking spaces can be found here: Treehugger: A Discover Company and TheCoolist*.  

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