Friday, July 22, 2011

Alexander Calder, Mobiles, and Encouraging the Kids

If you use Google, you've probably seen today's Google Doodle, and know that today's sculptor Alexander Calder's 113th birthday.

Turns out, the doodle's got a secret:

"Google's Calder Doodle Reacts to a Moving Laptop"
Eric Mack, PCWorld (July 22, 2011)

"Google is commemorating the 113th birthday of sculptor Alexander Calder with a new, funky doodle that replaces the company logo with one of Calder's mobile sculptures. Like many previous Google doodles, there's also a hidden Easter egg feature, and you'll need an accelerometer-equipped laptop to find it.

"The use of the representation of one of Calder's more famous hanging mobiles comes courtesy of the Calder Foundation, and the doodle version responds when a laptop with the right equipment is tilted. It also rotates and sways in response to clicks and drags. Interacting with the doodle, especially when trying to do so via an accelerator-enabled device, seems to work best in a Chrome browser...."

Some of the 'cultural' sort in America seem to have gotten a little less stuffy over the last half-century. At least, the Lemming's noticed Minnesota's public radio announcers saying something like 'remember, all music was once new' a few years back.

Maybe residents of Hoity-Toity Lane are getting over the notion that something has to be bug-ugly and overpriced, or a hundred years old, to be called "art." If so, maybe there won't be much fuss about Google's messing with Calder's 'great art.'

Calder Made Mobiles? Big Deal??

In some parts of America, if things haven't changed too much, folks may think of mobile sculptures as a sort of elementary-school craft project. 'Big deal.' 'Kids' stuff.'

Two things:
  1. Change happens
    • These days, fast
      • As in "blink, and you'll miss it"
  2. Calder established mobile sculpture as "art"
From the Calder Foundation's website:

Calder Foundation

"Alexander Calder was born in 1898, the second child of artist parents—his father was a sculptor and his mother a painter. Because his father, Alexander Stirling Calder, received public commissions, the family traversed the country throughout Calder's childhood. Calder was encouraged to create, and from the age of eight he always had his own workshop wherever the family lived. For Christmas in 1909, Calder presented his parents with two of his first sculptures, a tiny dog and duck cut from a brass sheet and bent into formation. The duck is kinetic—it rocks back and forth when tapped. Even at age eleven, his facility in handling materials was apparent.

"Despite his talents, Calder did not originally set out to become an artist. He instead enrolled at the Stevens Institute of Technology after high school and graduated in 1919 with an engineering degree...."

Alexander Calder was a hydraulic engineer and automotive engineer before he got back to sculpting: as a serious career, anyway.

Hats off, by the way, to Calder's parents: who encouraged their child to create.

Given the Lemming's, ah, diverse job history, Calder's experiences make good sense:
  • Learning to be
    • A hydraulic engineer
    • An automotive engineer
    • A timekeeper in a logging camp
    • A fireman in a ship's boiler room
  • Taking art classes, which led to
    • Doing commercial newspaper illustrating
      • Drawing pictures at a circus

More Than Mobiles

There's more to Calder's art than mobiles - the Calder Foundation ( does a pretty good job of breaking his work out into bite-size pieces.

As for the 'my kid could do better than that' attitude toward 'modern art:' the Lemming sympathizes. For every Calder, there seem to be a hundred alternatively-ethical con artists with a knack for separating wannabe sophisticates from their money. And that's another topic.

Finally, maybe your kid can 'do better than that.' Alexander Calder almost certainly wasn't the last creative kid. Encouraging kids to do what they're interested in doing - and good at - is, in the Lemming's opinion, part of what parenting's about. Even if the kid wants to paint, or sculpt, or flip burgers.

Related (?) posts:


Brigid said...

Wait... What? "If the notion that something has to be bug-ugly and overpriced, or a hundred years old, before residents of Hoity-Toity Lane say it's "art," maybe there won't be much fuss about Google's messing with Calder's 'great art.'"

A little awkward: "con artists whose talents seem to be mostly having a knack for"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian Gill said...


Oh, boy: I think I've fixed the first. The second - all that was required was a little 'chain-saw editing.'


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