Origami Friday

The Art of Origami

The Art of Origami

It’s a bit hard to explain the allure of origami to the uninitiated. You take a piece of colored paper, fold it into convoluted geometric patterns and somehow (perhaps through a bit of black magic or a blood pact with Cthulhu) you end up with a paper thing that sort of resembles a not-paper thing. It’s not exactly rocket science, but when most people face the terribly complicated world of squash folds, waterbomb bases, and “sinking the tip,” it is easy to cry “Impossibluh!” and accuse enthusiasts of this ancient Japanese art of being paper-folding sorcerers hell-bent on hoodwinking the populace into frustrating itself as countless would-be origamists throw their crunched up ball of paper into the wastebasket after a disastrous attempt at making a crane.


For most of my life, I have viewed those people capable of such a confusing art as somewhat inhuman, as if only a demigod could decipher the baffling code of vague instructions that was origami. But yet I was still absolutely fascinated by the pictures I saw of brilliantly colored flowers and animals and boxes all made out of paper. They were beautiful and intricate and I longed to be able to create such gorgeous artwork out of nothing but a square of paper and my own two hands. It was like magic watching the videos of skillful fingers folding the paper into simple creases over and over again until they fashioned something incredibly complex. It was like witchery, how such effortless movements could produce such beauty.

I vowed to myself that I would learn this art, but lacking an instructor, special paper, or even a particularly coordinated set of hands, the odds seemed to stack loomingly against my favor. Thus I turned to the ultimate source of knowledge, the almighty Google, for help. A few keystrokes later, I was on an origami instruction site browsing the instructions on how to make a simple bird.

It helps to have great nail color!

It helps to have great nail color!

Armed with my raggedly cut square of copy paper I had pilfered from the printer, I followed the first step in making the bird, which was folding the paper into a triangle. Easy enough! I said to myself with a smug grin. I have been folding triangles since pre-school! Maybe this whole origami thing isn’t so hard after all! I looked at the screen of my computer for the next step.

“Now squash fold the triangle to create the square base.” The instructor in the video calmly said as she made a quick movement with her hands and suddenly magicked the formerly triangular piece of paper into a square piece of paper. I was flabbergasted as I rewinded the video and tried to make sense of whatever trickery the instructor had done to make her square.

Maddie teaching Ms. Jean    Michelle

Maddie teaching Miss.Jean & Michelle

“Squash fold” she repeated as I kept on replaying the same two seconds trying to spot what on Earth she meant as her disembodied hands made the movement over and over again. I finally managed to smoosh my paper into a vaguely square-ish shape and continued the video onto the next step.

The Fold Is Everything!

The Fold Is Everything!

“Now fold the four flaps of your square diagonally to create a kite shape.” She said as I desperately tried to find the flaps. Unfortunately, my square wasn’t squash folded so those flaps didn’t exactly exist in my realm of reality. I tossed my paper and started fresh with a second piece. This time, I managed to fold the square base and summon the four flaps into this dimension. I had a kite that looked like a similar, if messy version of the one on the video.

“Now open the flaps of the kite back out and fold them in.” The instructor insisted. I was taken aback by this as I had just been gloating over my victory over the nefarious folded flaps and I was now being instructed to unfold them. This is kind of futile, isn’t it? I thought to myself, all this folding and unfolding. But I obeyed the instructor and reluctantly unfolded my flaps.

“Now we are going to do a petal fold and bring the flaps inside the kite.” The voice ordered. The instructor opened up the paper and did a confusing maneuver and suddenly the flaps were on the inside and the paper was diamond shaped. I grimaced and tried to copy the maneuver but I ended up opening my paper completely up and folding it into a sort of bizarre rectangle. As this current incarnation of folded paper was never going to look anything like the one in the video, I quickly crumpled it up and I hung my head in defeat. I’m never going to be able to do this! I fumed as I tossed my aborted creation into the trash. I looked back at the picture of the haughty completed crane that seemed to be laughing snootily at my inability to copy it. It was mocking me with it’s elegant, perfectly folded wings, graceful arched beak. It was daring me to quit. I furrowed my brow and narrowed my eyes at the infernal paper bird on the screen.



“I am going to make you, you stupid paper crane!” I hissed. Taking a third sheet of paper and praying fervently, I replayed the video, stopping it at each second mark to copy the instructor’s motions with almost fanatical exactness. I mastered the squash fold and narrowly overcame the petal fold until I had the base of the bird completed to look exactly like the one in the video.

I bit my lip nervously as I clicked on the play button. I had never come so close to completing the bird and the tension was running high.

“Now take the right leg of your base, and diagonally inner fold it to the top.” The voice instructed, completely unaware of the mounting suspense I felt as I copied the motion. The picture of the completed bird taunted me to mess up and my fingers were practically shaking as I slowly folded my crane into being.

Ok, careful now Maddie! I whispered to myself as I folded up the head, you’re almost there, don’t lose it now. The head was up now all that was left was the tail.

“You can’t do it!” the crane in the picture jeered. “You stink at origami!”

You’re wrong Origami Crane! I mentally retaliated, I can do this!

You Can Do This!

You Can Do This!

Then in one smooth motion, I lifted up the tail of my crane and to my amazement it went to the right place. I whooped in delight as I held my completed paper creation in my hands. I was rough all right, and compared to the crane in the picture it looked like one of the after-pictures in a drug PSA, but it was a bird and I had made it and my sense of personal achievement was undiminished.

In that moment, I decided that origami was possible and that I liked it. Placing my crane on the top of my computer I clicked on the next video for another design. My parents came home that day to a kitchen covered with a myriad of paper creations and I furiously folding long into the wee hours of the night.

Once you start...

Once you start…

The cool thing about origami is that it is all about making something out of nothing. All you have is your hands and a flat piece of paper, but with a little bit of folding and a lot of prayer, you can create something really lovely. There is so much to make and figure out! Happy Folding!

Father's Day crane for my dad. Look close, Happy Father's Day written in every space!

Father’s Day crane for my dad. Look close, Happy Father’s Day written in every space!


Caveman Art?

Courtesy of faculty.umb.edu

“Hall of the Bulls” Lascaux Cave. Courtesy of faculty.umb.edu

An open letter to the person in the black Maxima that was driving in front of me this afternoon on our way home from the library: I noticed you had a couple of  bumper stickers on the rear of your car. Now as far as bumper stickers go, yours were pretty basic inflammatory-generalizations-that-you-force-random-strangers-to-read-while-they’re-stuck-behind-you-in-rush-hour-traffic. Now among your plethora on political slogans, fiery non sequitur quotes, and declarations about the current socio-political climate, I noticed one of your numerous opinionated buzzwords was the phrase “Advertisements are the new cave art.”

Now I am not one to judge your opinion on the expansive and diverse world of advertising, nor am I to know the reason you decided to broadcast that particular statement to the world, but I was rather disturbed by your proclamation that advertising (which I assume you deem as idiotic based on the context of the other obviously anti-consumerist stickers you placed on the back of the car) is like cave art.

In this statement, you are obviously implying that advertising is lowbrow, ignorant, and uncultured, like prehistoric cavern drawings. Now I will not deny that advertising can be quite bawdy and often downright trashy, but I’d hardly equate it to the prehistoric art of our ancestors. I find that quite slanderous to say that the beauty and sophistication of Paleolithic artwork is stupid or simplistic.

But then again, I realize that many modern-day Americans are quite unaware of how awe-inspiring Paleolithic art is. I know before school started, I believed that all cave art was “primitive” little stick figures scrawled on walls by dumb cavemen, without meaning or style. But in this past month alone I have studied over 30,000 years of Art History with my fantastic art teacher Ms. McHugh and have been enlightened to the wonderful and evocative images that our ancestors created on the walls of caves so many millennia ago.

"Hall of the Bulls" Lascaux Cave. Courtesy of wmich.edu

“Hall of the Bulls” Lascaux Cave. Courtesy of wmich.edu

Take this example of Paleolithic (meaning “Old Stone Age”) art found in the Lascaux Caves in France. This is from the gorgeous “Hall of the Bulls”, a huge cavern that has an entire ceiling covered in absolutely fantastic paintings of horses, bison, bulls, aurochs (a prehistoric cow) and rhinoceroses all captured in breathtaking detail. Looking at pictures of the Lascaux Caves, you can practically hear the thunderous clattering of hooves on stone as the horses leap from wall to wall, their powerful dynamic movement expressed in bold oranges and earthy browns, forms outlined with rich black charcoal. The fur of the shaggy horses is expertly contrasted the smooth hides of bulls, who dance from one rock outcropping to another in a graceful balance of color and texture. These paintings are estimated to be over 17,000 years old! Some of the bulls are over 17 feet long and there are over 2,000 figures that grace the ancient walls. These wonderful images were created with only the light of torches, using the simplest of materials, burned sticks, natural pigments from berries, and minerals found in rocks to express their world.

Horses at Lascaux Cave. Courtesy of popular-archaeology.com

Another exquisite collection of cave art is found in Altamira Cave in Spain. Here, beautiful red bison and spotted horses stand serenely on the expansive cave walls. When Altamira Cave was discovered in 1880, historians were in an uproar because no one had ever imagined that supposedly simple prehistoric man could have produced such breathtaking art. Some historians even accused Altamira’s discoverers of having forged the images. But science in the form of uranium-thorium dating proved that these glorious images had been painted over 30,000 years ago.

So yes, Ms. Black Maxima, you are not to blame for your mindset that prehistoric man was a simpleton. Even the greatest minds of the 19th century thought beautiful art was something our ancestors were incapable of. But it has been over 120 years since Altamira was discovered, and over 50 since Lascaux. Why then, as modern Americans, are we so unfamiliar to the fantastic art of our forefathers?

Do we think it is unimportant? Some silly doodles splatted onto walls of stone tens of thousands of years ago? Do we think that these paintings are not important to the history of mankind? Think about it, these people, simple hunter-gatherers who lived their short lives on the very edge of death in a frantic and never ending race for survival, took precious time out of their all-consuming fight for the right to live to draw these “silly” pictures on the walls. They infused their life, their soul, their very being into what they drew on those dark stone walls. Why did they do it? What is the use of drawing a picture of a bull when you must go out and slaughter one?

Bison from Altamira Cave. Courtesy of archaeological.org

Bison from Altamira Cave. Courtesy of archaeological.org

I believe that these people, these cavemen, who had no written language to pass down their stories, had to make their children’s children remember. They had to write their lives on stone and keep their stories and their way of life from being forgotten. These people, these human beings gave us a slice of their life, a tiny sliver of how they thought and what they valued. Their entire lives centered around the hunt and that is what they showed us, the magical beasts who gave them sustenance in a perilous world.

Why should we care, you might say? Well, all the people who painted those walls, who lived in those caves, and were buried in that ground are dead now and we cannot remember a single one of them. Even if we miraculously find their bones, we can never know who they were, what their personality was like or even their names. These paintings, these “primitive scrawlings”, are all we have left of them. These walls are the last legacy of the people who are our great to the millionth power grandfathers. We would not exist if they hadn’t existed so I think they deserve a little bit of respect.

In conclusion Ms. Maxima, if you equate advertising to cave art, then you are basically saying that Burger King peddling a Whopper Junior is the same as our forefathers’ final testament to the beauty and hardship of their lives.  I guess the moral of the story is, don’t stick a questionable bumper sticker onto your car if it concerns art history because then you’ll get a thousand word rant from Maddie Kurtz.

Handprints from Cueva de las Manos (Cave of Hands), Spain. Courtesy of fineartamerica.com

Handprints from Cueva de las Manos (Cave of Hands), Spain. Courtesy of fineartamerica.com