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Blog Action Day 2009 – Choose the Topic

Those who read this blog for a while know that I have been taking part in Blog Action Day since 2007 when it was initiated. In 2008 I even translated their website into Russian and even contributed a short audio in Russian introducing myself and this blog. Visit Blog Action Day 2008 website, to get a complete idea of what is happening on the day. The idea is that ahead of the October date you think about the topic, and then on October 15 the global conversation surges. The previous years’ topics were Environment and Poverty (clicking on each link will take you to my blog post). Because this blog is about Arts I looked at both issues from the Arts&Culture angle.

The BAD is coming down on our virtual universe on October 15 this year, but there are some changes on the way, too. This is the email I received from BAD 2007/2008 coordinator, Collis:

It’s almost that time of year again, and this time I have some exciting news to announce.

When we started Blog Action Day two years ago, we had no idea how large it would become. Now that it’s grown beyond our wildest expectations, we’ve decided that it’s time Blog Action Day had a more permanent home where it can continue to expand.

To that end, we’ve asked the social issue blog network Change.org to take over the project and make Blog Action Day bigger than ever. I’m thrilled to say that they’ve agreed, and their team has already started working on preparing for this year’s event on October 15th.

As a first step, the Change.org team wants to get your thoughts on the selection of this year’s topic. To give your feedback on the topics being considered or suggest your own, click the link below to a short 5-question survey:


If you have any questions, additional suggestions, or want to get involved beyond blogging, email Robin Beck, Change.org’s Director of Organizing, at robin@change.org.

Thanks for all the support – we look forward to having you all involved in this year’s event, and you’ll being hearing more from the folks at Change.org over the coming weeks as we all get ready for Blog Action Day 2009.

Finally, don’t forget to add us on Twitter: http://twitter.com/blogactionday


All this is quite self-explanatory, and I will be looking to team up with BAD as a translator once again (assuming they need that). And this is the list of topics they are considering for this year’s Blog Action Day:

Interestingly, this is not the first time an event is being produced with the help of people who are going to participate in it. Take your time to go through the presentation on socially-outsourced event – a public opening of a renovated square in Manchester’s Ancoats – produced by Manchester-based design and event promotion companies. I think it can give some food for thought to the BAD 2009 organisers, as well.

Blog Action Day 2008: Poverty and Art

I think I took Blog Action Day 2008 message really close to heart this year – for I decided, Los Cuadernos being an arts blog, to research the representation of poverty in art. The research, which was and wasn’t painstaking at the same time, opened up a curious situation, as far as poverty was concerned.

Thomas Nichols’s recent book The Art of Poverty, although an interesting study, highlights precisely this ambiguity in art’s response to poverty. Arguably, there is a difference between pauperism and poverty. They don’t necessarily equal. One may assume that a beggar and vagabond could once be a peasant or worker, but this is not necessarily the case. And so, for my study I chose to draw attention precisely to peasants, house workers and labourers, who don’t beg or wander but are barely making their ends meet.

And here I, who never really researched into sacred (or religious) art, was very surprised and amused to realise that very rarely did painters depict Jesus as a carpenter. In the vast sea of Nativities, Miracles, Crucifixions, and Resurrections there was scarcely an image which would show Our Lord engaged in physical labour. The large picture by John Everett Millais Christ in the House of His Parents didn’t actually show Jesus working, but we nevertheless see him among people who are clearly workers. Surprisingly or not, the painting was decried by none other but Charles Dickens, who found Jesus too ugly, and Maria to be more repulsive than the most repellent tart in Paris. And even though Dickens would later take his words back, his initial reaction survives as the testimony of attitude to both Pre-Raphaelites and – Jesus in the house of a carpenter.

A similar fate in the guise of harsh criticism had befallen Gustave Courbet’s Stone-breakers, which scandalised the Parisian salon of 1850, and Eugene Delacroix’s Massacre of Chios (1824). And the conclusion one draws, after studying all the different images, which timeline spans good six centuries, is that there was a strong inclination to avoid depicting the physical labour and extreme hardships. This is understandable, on the one hand, for man always wants to elevate himself above his quotidian existence. But, on the other hand, art, rather often than not, seems to equal other means of escapism. And therefore, throughout those six centuries we mostly see peasant merriments, bucolic scenes with peasants and shepherds, we see poor classes drinking, resting, smoking, playing cards, and brawling, but very rarely do we see them working physically, let alone actually living, e.g. visiting courts, or taking their children to foster homes.

Poverty and physical labour are inextricably associated, and one is astonished to see that, while imitating life in some ways, painting as art was also masking the areas of life that weren’t pleasant to see. The role of painting can be compared to the role of frescoes in the church: frescoes elucidated the Scripture, while paintings were to elucidate the society.

The images of beggars were a popular subject, for they allowed for a light-hearted humour or moralistic discourses, or else for making the alms-giving people feel good about themselves. However, it seems that it was easier to be either rich – ostensibly or moderately – or to be on the fringe of the society, or indeed, an outcast. Either way, in the nascent or established bourgeois society these two extremes were more favourable, for they clearly showed the degree of God’s love for a subject. The poor classes, like peasantry and workers, seemed to be a difficult case: they worked hard – but were still poor. The art for the most part responded by downplaying their poverty or suffering from it. It may have done so unintentionally, by just describing what was in front of the eyes. In front of the eyes were, indeed, the “jolly beggars”, even when they were actually working. But, transferred onto canvas, the laughing and drinking folk had been taken for granted. And it is perhaps the true irony of the story that the mainstream society chose to draw attention to its extreme – beggars and vagabonds who were outsiders – while practically turning the blind eye to the poorer classes who were nevertheless the members of the society.


Blog Action Day 2008 – Bloggers Against Poverty

Last year saw the first ever Blog Action Day rolling out on October 15th; the subject matter was Environment, and the bloggers, podcasters and videocasters were invited to join the gBlogger: Notebooks – Los Cuadernos de Julia – Edit Post “Blog Action Day 2008 – Poverty”lobal discussion on the topic. In my post “Nature and Memory” I looked at my school lessons in Naturology, my first (and the only) herbarium, and at how children could be taught to empathise with Nature.

This year Blog Action Day is back, and the subject matter is even more serious – Poverty. As the organisers state, there are many systemic reasons for poverty, whereby it has become one of the biggest problems in today’s world. The aim of the B.A.D. 2008 is therefore to generate the global discussion on what and how can be done by individuals, as well as by organisations, to tackle the issue.

As before, online publishers can support the B.A.D. in many ways, including donating one day’s earnings from the blog (that is, if you sell advertisement or products). If this is a publisher’s choice, then Blog Action Day 2008 officially supports The Global Fund who are particularly involved in combatting the AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria as some of the biggest hindrances in the fight against poverty. Another charity involved in the event is Kiva, which is the world’s first person-to-person micro-lending site, allowing individuals to offer financial help directly to an entrepreneur in one of the developing countries. Of course, the publisher can donate the day’s earnings to another charity, in which case they are welcome to send the receipt to the B.A.D. organisers who will tally it to the total sum of the Blog Action Day donations.

Blog Action Day was started by Collis Ta’eed whose passion for the Internet combined with the Bahai ideal of “Unity in Diversity” led him to join forces with a few colleagues and co-thinkers to start the initiative of holding a global discussion on a certain subjest throughout one day. The previous B.A.D. saw the support of the United Nations Environment Programme, the EU Minister Stavros Dimas, Google, and more than 20 millions of blogs. This year is set to see another EU Minister and many organisations joining forces to discuss and debate what can be done to alleviate the conditions of the poor and to rise the well-being of affected people and communities.

There are many ways in which to support the Blog Action Day, and I have used two of these: I added the banner, and I contributed the Russian translation of the website (overall, it seems the site will be available in nearly 30 languages). I have not decided yet exactly what I will write in my blog post on October 15th, but the organisers stipulate that the post on poverty should relate to the general topic of the blog. There are some Resources available to help you start thinking about the problem or how it is being solved elsewhere, or you can read the FAQs, for some tips on what your post or podcast can be about. And if you decide to take part, head over to the B.A.D. site to register and mark October 15th in your calendar as Blog Action Day!

Blog Action Day: Nature and Memory

As decided, on the Blog Action Day we’re blogging about environment. But exactly what shall we say? On occasions like this I’ve always wanted to say something different, yet how different can you be these days when absolutely everyone seems to be aware of the necessity of environmental protection?

JS Herbarium 1988

My problems were solved when my mother scanned and sent to me my first (and only) herbarium. I went to school in 1987, and upon finishing our first form we’d all got this task, to create a herbarium. My mother and I made it together in 1988, and I must be honest and say that it was actually her who made most of the job, although I did have my share. This, for instance, is the title page with my first-form handwriting. This is a poem by a Russian children’s poet, Valentine Berestov, and it tells of the author’s amazement at seeing different flowers out together in herbarium, even though “in the wild” they probably didn’t know about each other.

JS Herbarium 1988

I must admit that I never liked biology or botany at school. I might have mentioned on the blog my Biology teacher, who was a Chemistry teacher by her uni degree, and who actually was up to teaching any subject, including History and Law. Her method of teaching, unfortunately, boiled down to reading from a textbook and drawing tables, and naturally perhaps, the lessons were far from engaging.

JS Herbarium 1988

Believe it or not, but the first time we spoke about the environmental protection was at the English lesson. We had an improvised “environmental press-conference”, over which I presided. I introduced the topics and speakers, from “environmentalists” and “journalists” to “witnesses” of environmental catastrophes. The “speakers” discussed at length the pollution, and the green-house effect, and the animal protection, and the global warming. Yet I should be honest again and say that the only thing that has then benefited from such lesson was my English vocabulary, and not the awareness of the environmental problems.

I think in part the problem may have to do with how the subject of Environmental Studies is taught at schools. In those early years at school I had the lessons in what could literally be translated as Naturology. And I can never forget a quiz we had had when we had to answer questions and tick boxes. One of the question was to classify the objects by their nature – “animate” or “inanimate”. Everything was OK, until I saw “flowers”. I thought of photosynthesis, of everything I knew then about flowers, and ticked “animate”. Turned out, this was the wrong answer. To this day I cannot understand, why. If I go from Latin, it makes sense: “anima” is “soul”, and flowers, naturally, don’t have soul. But neither do animals, one would imagine, yet they do belong to the “animate” world.

And just as I was writing this post, I remember about Hans Christian Andersen again. I was sure he had had a tale about the four seasons, but when I went to look for it I found another tale, which I always used love, it is called The Elder-Tree Mother. The elder-tree tea is a great popular remedy against the cold, but Andersen presented the elder-tree as a dryad, whose spirit told the protagonist, a little boy, wonderful stories. Let me quote this passage to you:

Now the little maiden with the blue eyes and the elder blossoms in her hair sat up in the tree and nodded to them both and said, “Today is your golden wedding anniversary!” Then from her hair she took two flowers, and kissed them so that they gleamed, first like silver, and then like gold. And when she laid them on the heads of the old couple, each became a golden crown. There they both sat, a king and a queen, under the fragrant tree that looked just exactly like an elder bush, and he told his old wife the story of the Elder Tree Mother, just as it had been told to him when he was a little boy. They both thought that much of the story resembled their own, and that part they liked best.
“Yes, that’s the way it is,” said the little girl in the tree. “Some people call me Elder Tree Mother, and some call me the Dryad, but my real name is Memory. It is I who sit up in the tree that grows on and on, and I can remember and I can tell stories. Let me see if you still have your flower.”
Then the old man opened his hymnal, and there lay the elder blossom, as fresh as if it had just been placed there. Then Memory nodded, and the two old people with the golden crowns sat in the red twilight, and they closed their eyes gently and – and – and that was the end of the story….

And so I looked my herbarium, and I saw things I’ve almost forgotten about, or haven’t recalled for years. Indeed, as the works of some historians would prove to us, Nature is the cradle of our Memory. This Memory is living and surviving, from generation to generation, and if this is not enough to persuade us in the necessity of its protection, what else will?


Hans Christian Andersen, The Elder-Tree Mother (in English)
The same in Russian
The same in Danish
The same in German
For translations in other European languages, check Hans Christian Andersen Centre.
Julia’s Herbarium 1988 Photoset on Flickr.

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