Illustration, Life Lessons, Textile Design, Work In Progress

So this is what my subconscious comes up with after listening to Alan Watts lecture about our brains, the universe, reality, God…

Inspired by eastern art and philosophy…

Just an internal conversation…

Converse Neuronal Bling (Arlene Ellis, 2014)

Converse Neuronal Bling (Arlene Ellis, 2014)

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Life Lessons

My spirit needs art like my lungs need air

800px-Sagrada_Familia_nave_roof_detail

Sometimes you don’t realize your heart is aching. You don’t realize that it’s waiting, seeking, and hoping for some glimpse of the divine. Then you witness something as heartbreakingly beautiful as Antoni Gaudí’s La Sagrada Familia.  Suddenly your heart is filled with hope and humility. Hope that perhaps if you just don’t give up, if you keep exploring the questions lining the inner walls of your gut, you’ll be able to explain who are. You feel the sting of humility from doubting the capabilities of the human spirit, for dismissing its quest for meaning as meaningless, and for ever succumbing to the ego’s nihilistic tendencies.

What is art and why do we need it? How do I—from another time, country, ethnicity, sex, race, class—feel the weight of Gaudi’s vision? For what reason should my eyes fill with tears and my stomach feel as if it has descended into my womb? ART is the reason.

For me art is the language, the vessel by which inner worlds communicate across time and culture. My spirit needs art like my lungs need air.

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Kindness Chronicles, Life Lessons, Quotes, Science

QUOTABLE: EINSTEIN REMINDS US TO WATCH OUR PRIORITIES

Albert Einstein's Quote About Success

Albert Einstein’s Quote About Success

When the stress piles on, it can become difficult to stick with your ideals. But if those ideals sustain your love for the world and in turn yourself, then hold them close. You’ll encounter countless cynics, sycophants and critics along the way. But they’ll have no lasting power over you, if your mission is not rooted in ego. Nature—your muse, teacher, provider, and your reflection—needs you. You need you.

You are the cosmos, the air, the plants, the light, the energy. You may sometimes feel divided, but your existence represents a united world. From your DNA, to your proteins, to your organelles, to your tissues, to your organs, you are a walking billboard of unification. You feel apart because your perceptions fool you.

Your mental and anatomical borders are an illusion like the horizon is an illusion. There are no borders or outlines; you flow just like the air and sea around you. When you remember this and hold it close, the manipulative embrace of your ego will loosen its grip and your priorities will become clear once more.

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Life Lessons, Marketing and Branding, Sustainable Design

How does a non-profit accidentally harm its mission?

As an animal lover and owner of an adopted pet, I really admire the mission of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).  However, I have ambivalent feelings about their recent collaboration with Ralph Lauren for Adopt a Shelter Dog Month. Apparently someone from Ralph Lauren called Nancy Novograd of “All Tame Animals” to collaborate on an event that promoted the adoption of shelter dogs and this was how The Dog Walk campaign was born. The online campaign featured adoptable dogs in Ralph Lauren’s Fall 2013 Accessories Collection showcase. So here’s why I’m ambivalent…

The Ethical Implications of the ASPCA + Ralph Lauren Corp Awareness Campaign

PROS

  • Increased awareness of the ASPCA mission: the Ralph Lauren Corp is immensely successful (2013 revenue so far is 16.9 billion USD) and has a powerful voice in the marketplace
  • Increased fundraising for the ASPCA: the Ralph Lauren brand exudes luxury, exclusivity, leisure and premium quality
    • This will attract more wealthy donors and “aspirational” donors (people who aspire to be a part of the Ralph Lauren brand tribe)
    • This will lead to more partnerships with “aspirational” brands (brands who aspire to be on the same level as the Ralph Lauren brand)
    • The partnership will make philanthropy look chic, cool and fun
  • Animals will get loving homes and help the ASPCA “rescue animals from abuse, pass humane laws and share resources with many shelters across the country”

CONS

“We believe that animals are entitled to kind and respectful treatment at the hands of humans, and must be protected under the law.” -ASPCA

Inadvertently Promoting Animal Cruelty: Because the Ralph Lauren has such a powerful voice in the market place, they have the power to influence trends. For instance, do we want leather dog bags to become a fashion trend? The bag in question, one among many other leather accessories featured in The Dog Walk campaign, was made in Italy. I’m not sure how the leather industry is regulated in Italy.

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  • Short-term gain at the cost of the ASPCA’s core values: while the ASPCA will definitely get a huge financial and PR gain from this collaboration, they have also inadvertently condoned a cruel practice that goes against their own mission. Using animal parts in art and fashion is not going to disappear anytime soon, but this does not mean we should stop thinking critically about the issue.

ASPCA Missed an Opportunity

The ASPCA and Ralph Lauren could have showcased premium quality products not made of animal parts. While the ASPCA can’t tell Ralph Lauren Corp to never use leather, they could have collaborated on a leather-free collection.  Obviously the Ralph Lauren company had already created this collection before reaching out, but the ASPCA could have stuck to their values and declined. They could have proposed a beautiful cruel-free collection for the following year. Ralph Lauren certainly has the design talent to pull off a leather-free accessories collection.

No brand partnership is perfect. People and organizations are flawed and filled with moral contradictions.  Furthermore, every one of us has our own ethical line. For years I used to only buy leather shoes, because I rationalized that no part of the cow was wasted and the products lasted longer (saving me money and reducing consumption). Now that I live with an animal and have focused more on creating art that helps protect nature, my ethical line has shifted. I have become almost a vegetarian (I occasionally eat sea food) and I no longer buy leather. (Unfortunately, I cannot afford any new shoes right now, so I have to keep wearing my old leather shoes).

I’m not sure if there is a right or wrong answer to this situation. Life is not that clear-cut. As an emerging artist and entrepreneur interested in social responsibility, I find these scenarios extremely useful to study. They help me prepare for the ethical dilemmas awaiting my brand.

PETA’s Shopping Guide to Compassionate Clothing: Companies That Sell Some Leather and Fur Alternatives

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Illustration, Life Lessons, Marketing and Branding, Science, Work In Progress

I’m a generalist, in other words I’m going to starve!

Over the past several weeks, I’ve realized that I need to reevaluate how I’m branding myself and my company, Organic Lyricism.  Although my friends and family are very familiar about my passion for art and science, I have a nagging feeling that my passion is not resonating online.

The Brand Gap by Marty Neumeier

The Brand Gap by Marty Neumeier

A couple of days ago I reread one of my favorite books on branding, The Brand Gap by Marty Neumeier. In the book, Neumeier forces you to answer these THREE LITTLE QUESTIONS:

  1. Who are you?
  2. What do you do?
  3. Why does it matter?

Over the upcoming week, I will try my best to answer these questions. In the meanwhile, this is what I am now…

Arlene Ellis Overview, September 2013

Arlene Ellis Overview, September 2013

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I’ve been told that I’m stubborn. I stubbornly disagree, of course. I’d like to think I’m open to alternative approaches, provided I respect your reasoning. Let’s see, what else have I been told?

  1. “You need to focus, focus, focus!”
  2. “You think too much!”
  3. “You over analyze everything.”
  4. “Well, you’re just interested in everything. Aren’t you?”
  5. “Your illustrations are really out there! Are you sure you don’t take psychedelics?”
  6. “You’re too uptight, logical and practical. Relax a little!”
  7. “You’re definitely a Type A!”
  8. “You have a good heart, but you have to censor your ideas.”
  9. “You’re brave for pursuing your art.”
  10. “You’re naïve for pursuing art.”
  11. “You need to be more humble.”
  12. “You need to be more confident!”
  13. “You’re smart, but how can you help me?”
  14. “You need to stop caring what people think!”
  15. “I admire your passion and idealism, but you’re going to stave.”
  16. “Good luck with your dreams. You’ll need it.”
  17. “Why be anti-corporate, you’re not going to change anything.”
  18. “Stop being so practical!”
  19. “Start being more practical!”
  20. “It’s admirable that you care about human and animal rights, but nothing’s going to change.”

How I could be perceived as both too pragmatic and not pragmatic enough, is beyond me! I can’t get too annoyed by all the concerned opinions people throw my way. Most of the people who tell me these things care genuinely about my survival.  I don’t think I’m that unfocused. Nor do I think I’m interested in everything:

Main Interests Over the Years
Ages 6-14:
Fashion and Visual Arts
Ages 15-17: Biology
Age 18: Fashion and Visual Arts
Age 19: Visual Arts and Writing
Age 20: Biology
Age 21-22: Neuroscience and Visual Arts
Age 23: Medicine and Graphical Arts
Age 24: Graphical Arts and Medical Marketing
Ages 25-27: Medical Marketing and Medical Copywriting
Age 28-29: Medical Copywriting, Visual Arts and Fashion
Age 30: Visual Arts, Fashion, Biology

Call me crazy, but this list of interests does not seem to include “everything.” It looks to me like I’ve always been interested in art, fashion and biology. Over the past few years, I’ve been advised to pursue graduate degrees in these professions. “Have you thought about earning an MFA? Why not pursue a degree in fashion or textile design? You should get your Ph.D. in biology.”

A generalist species is able to thrive in a wide variety of environmental conditions and can make use of a variety of different resources… A specialist species can only thrive in a narrow range of environmental conditions or has a limited diet. Most organisms do not all fit neatly into either group, however. -Wikipedia

As of now, I’m not interested in pursuing graduate degrees in the visual arts, fashion or biology. Why? Because I would be miserable. I understand the need for specialists;  however, I also think generalists are vital too. Generalists are the people who can mine useful insights buried across multiple disciplines.  Many writers are generalists. I suppose one could argue that writers have specialized in the craft of writing, but the craft is a merely a means to an end.

It’s not about writing, painting, sewing, drawing, etc. These are modes of communication. It’s about the idea. Ideas are what change the world.

My illustrations are not simply about depicting natural phenomena through a decorative lens. They are about revealing the interconnectedness among all species. They are intended to inspire an appreciation and hopefully a desire to protect our natural world.

My bird Illustrations over the years (Arlene Ellis, 2013)

I’m not sure when I developed a thing for birds, but apparently I’ve been drawing them since 2010! I thought it would be interesting it to see how my illustration skills have evolved over the last three years.

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Illustration, Kindness Chronicles, Life Lessons, Quotes

George Saunders’ speech reminds us to be kind

Last week, George Saunders’ convocation speech to Syracuse University graduates went viral. He didn’t espouse the usual advice (e.g. follow your dreams), instead he focused on an often overlooked trait in the business world: kindness. I’ve been musing about his wise words for the past few days and decided to share some of my thoughts.

"George Saunders’s Advice to Graduates"

George Saunders gave a wonderful convocation speech to the graduates of Syracuse University

Sometimes it’s hard to be kind. It’s hard to endure the shallow insights of an egotistical corporate PowerPoint-bullshit-artist and not tell him to go rehabilitate his soul. Being conscientious isn’t usually compatible with having corporate ambitions. Obviously not every corporate employee lacks a soul; some of the most conscientious people I know work for corporations. What is disturbing though, is that being kind, honest, generous, fair, and introspective may win you love from peers, but won’t lead you to the executive suites. It seems those rungs on the corporate ladder are mostly rewarded to the servile, arrogant, narcissistic, abrasive, selfish, manipulative, and/or shallow characters. Now you may ask, where does competence come into play? Well, it depends on the goal you are competent at achieving.

George Sunder's Quote on regrets, photo by Arlene Ellis

An excerpt from George Saunders wonderful convocation speech to the graduates of Syracuse University (http://6thfloor.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/31/george-saunderss-advice-to-graduates)

If the corporations’ goal is to create profit for profit’s sake, then how an employee helps meet that goal is not that important. Who cares if Bob is known for berating and backstabbing his coworkers? Do the clients love him? Yes. Will the clients give us more business because of Bob? Well, yes. Are we getting richer because of Bob? Yes. Well then, he’s staying! There are those who may argue, “Well, without profits people will have no jobs, be forced to live on the streets, and have to sell their organs to help pay their light bills!” I guess that scenario could happen, so Bob should just keep being a jerk—or more accurately a charitable jerk.

George Sunder's Quote on why we're not kind, photo by Arlene Ellis

An excerpt from George Saunders wonderful convocation speech to the graduates of Syracuse University (http://6thfloor.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/31/george-saunderss-advice-to-graduates)

Here’s something to consider, we have a limited amount of moments on earth, why not try being kinder now? Yes profits are essential for jobs, but can a little be sacrificed for the sake of integrity and compassion? Most of us wouldn’t want our wrath to be the last experience someone endured moments before death; nor would we want to experience someone’s wrath right before dying.

By the way, I’m writing this primarily to my present and future self, but I think lessons are more powerful when shared. I’m certainly not a role model for kindness. I’ve said hurtful things in moments of anger and exhaustion, or during that wonderfully hormonal time of the month. I’ve also felt very guilty about saying hurtful things and I’ve decided to hold myself more accountable. I’m learning how to take preventive measures, how to measure the consequences of my words before releasing them.

Mother Teresa quote about kindness, photo by Arlene Ellis

More and more I am believing in the power of kindness. When I was younger I endured frequent bouts of depression stemming from internalizing traumas. I used to blame some of my abrasive behaviors on those traumas. But we’ve all experienced various degrees of pain and it doesn’t justify being mean. I’ve often rationalized that I was only rude to bullies, but honestly I was sometimes short with loved ones. Yet my loved ones still forgave me and were still kind to me. It was their compassion that rescued me from despair.

Mark Epstein quote about trauma, photo by Arlene Ellis

Excerpt from the Opinion page of the New York Times, “The Trauma of Being Alive.” http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/04/opinion/sunday/the-trauma-of-being-alive.html

Several days ago I reconnected with a professor who wrote to me that she cried when she reviewed a Christmas card I made for her ten years ago. I didn’t remember the card and asked her to email me a copy. I was curious to read the voice of my 20-year-old self. After reading it, I realized the archival quality of kind gestures. I discovered that a simple card, made in a  moment of gratefulness, would still be moving someone’s heart ten years later. Try to be kind today.

Handmade Christmas Card from 2002 (Arlene Ellis)

The front and back of a handmade Christmas card I gave my professor in 2002. Apparently I was into quotes back then too!

Handmade Christmas Card from 2002 (Arlene Ellis)

The inside of a handmade Christmas card I gave my professor in 2002. Apparently I was into quotes back then too!

Apparently, I wrote her a poem too. Oh the poetic days of my early twenties 🙂

Poem from 2003 (Written by Arlene Ellis)

It’s cool to see that even back then I was into textiles inspired by biology.

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