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Art history is one of the subjects i took in university for my bachelor as well as for my masters in museum studies. The courses were quite brief and although i read a lot on my own, i can say i covered just a small part of the world’s art history. Recently i borrowed the movie Seraphine (2008) directed by Martin Provost which is based on the life of French painter Séraphine de Senlis. And so, i discovered a new favorite artist.

Séraphine Louis (1864–1942) also known as Séraphine de Senlis was a French naive self-taught painter who got her inspiration mostly from her religious background, stained-glass church windows and religious art. She came from a very modest background and led a very modest life herself before being discovered by the German art collector Wilhelm Uhde. She managed to lead a better life after her paintings started to sell but unfortunately the circumstances of Great Depression and her mental illness led to her fall and eventually death.

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What caught my attention first was the fact that she prepared her colors by herself using exotic ingredients and i immediately thought that would it be possible nowadays to determine the content of the pigments? Wouldn’t it be necessary for conservation? I would really love to see the conservation reports on her paintings sometimes. An excerpt from the film review mentions: So extreme was her passion to paint that the laundress and maid by day would stay up all night in her tiny rented room mixing her own paints, which she made from everyday items: blood stolen from the local butcher carefully poured into a bottle, melted candle wax from votives pinched from church, what appeared to be pigments yielded from fruits and flowers, and home-made red wine. 

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What i really like about her paintings is the vivid colors and fantasy like plants and flowers in which you can see quite clearly the inspiration from the stained-glass. As i have read, some of her canvas are about two meters high, i think it must be really impressive and breathtaking to admire them in the museum. At one point, the paintings also remind me of colorful handicrafts, for example, used in traditional, regional costumes or in different pieces of clothing. The whole beauty of Seraphine’s paintings come from the fact that it’s naive art, it doesn’t involve professionalism and the flowers do not depict in any way the flora of the real nature. The paintings’ individual charm lies in fantasy like forms and you can see very clearly the passion of the artist in the way she combines the colors and her minute attention to detail. The paintings have a certain repetitive pattern but the repetition lies mostly in forms rather than color and at some point, if you look long enough they seem like they are living and moving.

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Photo source: Google images

 

 

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I pressed “Register” button after some hesitation and there i was, enrolled in university level chemistry courses. There were five of them, two dealing with general chemistry, one of organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry and chemistry of the environment. I looked over the syllabus and i panicked. Just to be clear, i did have some basic level chemistry while in school but i skipped most of the classes because i was not into it at all. I didn’t see any purpose in studying chemistry when i was enrolled in a humanities class and i was planning to study in a humanities field further on.

But now i had to find a way of studying the whole five courses of high school chemistry they teach in Finland because otherwise i wouldn’t manage to get even through the first course of general chemistry. I bought the books second-hand (here new high-school books are insanely expensive) and i discovered a great channel Opetus.tv which had very detailed chemistry lessons (a big thank you to the persons who created it and put effort into it). So, during August and September, i spent most of my time watching videos, reading books, taking notes and most of all, solving chemistry problems. Things i’ve never heard of in my life became now very clear to me or at least somehow clear. The most difficult part in learning alone, was that i had nobody to ask when i was confronted with difficulties in solving the problems. Some of the solutions i found online, accompanied of good explanations, some i had to struggle to find a solution for days.

And then i had my first class which started with chemistry of the environment. I remember well up to this moment, i was so nervous about it, i had a knot in my throat and i felt like puking. I was so afraid that nothing will come out of this and i will just give up. This fear of failure made me sick although i promised myself not to come to this point because the whole experience was supposed to be educational and fun.

Then it came the first course in general chemistry, we usually had those on Friday evenings from 17 to 20 and Saturdays from 9 to 17. So, if you wonder how did most of my weekends go last year, there you have it. I’m also really grateful for my work colleagues who covered sometimes my Saturday work shifts when i needed to be in the chemistry class. Of course, it was not compulsory to attend the Friday seminars where we solved problems or Saturday lectures but for me it was crucial to be on set as i was a beginner.

After the first course in general chemistry i found out that all my colleagues had actually a strong background in sciences. I was the only one who had no background at all. All of a sudden, i felt myself so little and out of the place. And after the first lectures and seeing our first homework, i left the class…crying. Yes, i cried half of the way home and a good part at home and asked myself: what the fuck did i get myself into?!

But i didn’t give up. All my free time went into studying chemistry. I re-read the lectures, i took notes, i drew schemes and tried to solve problems. I checked online the things i didn’t understand and even if the result was not correct i tried solving the problem for hours on end and even returned to it before the seminar, trying to solve it one last time. I tried to understand the lectures by myself and most of the times i managed to. Those few times i really didn’t get something during a lecture or i didn’t understand the way one came to a result within a problem, i did ask the teacher.

And now to be honest, i was so afraid to ask the teacher because i was afraid of giving away the fact that i didn’t study chemistry before and i would ask stupid questions and i would be laughed at and not taken seriously. And the teacher would ask: what on earth are you doing here? I was wrong. He never asked me my motifs and he did answer every single of my questions, having the patience to sit with me after class and explain in detail how to solve a certain problem. I did not have the courage to ask in class because i was afraid my colleagues would laugh at me.

Besides chemistry of the environment which was mostly online work, the rest of the courses had exams and i’m proud to say i passed each of them from the very first try although sometimes it seemed impossible. Afterwards i did manage to get higher grades when i re-took some of the exams and realized that upon a second look, things were becoming more clear to me. The courses i enjoyed the most were chemistry of the environment and organic chemistry because it was not that much math involved and since i haven’t studied math in a very long time, my skills were very rusty. I did enjoy though the thermodynamics, kinetics and electrochemistry, some of the subjects i was very good at in physics while in high-school. (Yes, i did have a very passionate love affair with physics in my first year of high-school, believe it or not.)

The courses were not applied in any way to the field of conservation but the main idea was to study the basics of chemistry in order to understand more complex processes. As they were university level courses, the notions surpassed quite a lot what they teach in high-school and sometimes it felt like an impossible mission to keep the pace. High-school chemistry is not that difficult but when you have to cram all the notions in about two months by yourself, you can imagine that the basis i had was not a very strong one. I just barely scratched the surface, not being fully in control of the theory. Even now after the whole adventure, i still feel i need to revise some of the things i learned because i don’t master them completely, especially the pH problems.

What now after the whole business? Well, i can say i don’t regret a bit taking this journey and every sleepless night, effort, tear, frustration, hardship and minute invested in studying chemistry was worth it because it didn’t only teach me precious information but it has made me learn to love a science i once hated, it has opened a whole new world and taught me to think from another perspective. It has given me that precious experience only the people studying science and humanities have it and taught me multiple ways to analyze and see things. On this one i really pushed my boundaries and got way out of my comfort zone. It was very hard and very scary but in those moments i learned to think at the whole experience as a challenge not as a burden. And however difficult things got, there was always a solution, i just needed to calm down, think and find it. And i did.

Was it difficult? It was very difficult but the difficulty was not due to my mental capacities, it was because i ventured myself into university level courses without any previous studies and chemistry is not an easy subject. This was a very crazy thing to do and there were moments when i really wanted to give up and felt so stupid. But patience, work and a change of attitude when looking at things managed to lift me back on track.

Lately, at a lecture within a recent conference i attended, the lecturer talked about neuroscience and the left / right side of the brain as dealing in a very limiting way with science respectively art. Those who are familiar know that this theory categorizes people as having just one dominant side of the brain though being good only at art or science. The lectures mentioned that this theory was wrong and gave as an example well known artists who were also scientists. That was the moment, I’ve had validated my personal thought that being interested in both it’s not impossible. I grew up, and probably many of us did, with the idea that art and science exclude each other and you can study only one at a time. I do think strongly that this is not the case and i would only hope to see in the future humanities degrees combined with science and the other way round.

Where there is will and passion, there are no boundaries.

This august I finally received my diploma for the basic studies in chemistry I undertook for the past year. I came from work and upon checking my mail box it was there, together with a course offer leaflet from the university. I couldn’t believe my eyes and myself because as I mentioned earlier, chemistry was not at all among my favorite subjects. But how did I get to this point anyway? Looking back it seems so absurd and if somebody told me about two years ago that now I would be standing with a chemistry diploma in my hands, I would have laughed in their face. But here I am and the journey started quite long ago.

In 2010, while doing my master’s in Digital Culture, I saw museum studies offered as a side subject so I enrolled myself for the basic courses. The courses were in Finnish and I was a beginner with the language but I could manage to submit my work in English. The lectures weren’t though hard to understand. Museum studies courses and some of my own MA’s courses offered some lectures in preventive conservation and paper conservation. Chemistry was part of them but only at a very basic notion-like level, nothing in depth. I never had a good relation with chemistry because of my teachers who, I think, hated the subject more than I did.

But something in those lectures created a spark. That was not the dry, theoretical chemistry we did in school. It was applied, and it was applied in a field that has always fascinated me, cultural heritage. Chemistry was the key in understanding materials’ properties, deterioration processes and how to prevent or to stop them by relating the properties with outer and inner destructive factors. I understood that paper is of different types, I understood their properties and for example, why light can be so damaging for it. I learned about different pigments used in paintings, their chemical properties and ways to analyze them. I learned about various cases of deterioration of underwater archaeological materials. We also had primary notions of microbiology dealing with bacteria and fungus on historical materials. That was the time I learned the fascinating relation between a field I always loved and a science I never liked. And I started being more interested in it to the point that I decided to study conservation and major in chemistry conservation.

But life has stirred me in a bit of different direction and although completing my studies in museology and working in my field, I never gave up the idea of studying conservation one day. Until last year, when I had an attempt at the only conservation school in Finland. I remained the first on reserve places at textile conservation, a thing that disappointed me a lot. But since the exams are mostly focused on handicrafts and I come from a purely theoretical background this was to be expected. One thing though I was happy about was my chemistry exam grade which was very good despite the fact that I studied chemistry on my own only four months before the exam.

Then while browsing through the list of subjects that our university offered, I got the idea that basic chemistry courses would be perfect for me to get at least a basic education in the field. So, without taking into consideration that the courses were university level and I barely had some high school chemistry knowledge, I signed up for them. And the fun started.

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This is a conversation from a page on Facebook, the initial post was about salary, respect and difficulty for different jobs. I usually do not read comments but scrolling down through them i didn’t help not noticing these two. They are talking about cleaning jobs or blue collar jobs and they assume that if you work these types of jobs, you are automatically stupid.

The first person says that if she (cleaning lady) was smart, she wouldn’t have to clean. She would have more money then and be able to educate herself. He is polite with cleaning ladies but avoids talking to them on complex subjects because they would look at them in a strange way. The second person says that not everybody is smart and must be jobs for stupid people also. But they should be paid decently. (I agree with the last sentence).

This comments left me a bitter taste because as many people do, these two also see things in black and white and tend to simplify life situations a lot. Life isn’t that simple. And to put it straight, working in a blue collar job does not make you automatically stupid. I won’t get into discussions about the present job market and the number of highly educated people who work below their qualifications because they can’t find suitable jobs but they need to make a living. And working in a blue collar job is nothing to be ashamed of. Many of us did it and are doing it in order to earn a living or to pay our studies in hope for a better future. Not all of us are born in rich families or some of us might have the misfortune not to have a family to support us.

By writing this i would like to open the eyes of people who think exactly like the above persons, a mentality which unfortunately, is quite spread in my country of origin. I did deal with similar comments from different individuals because i worked blue collar jobs during college in order to pay my rent. Luckily i didn’t have to pay a tuition fee but life in Finland is expensive and besides it felt very good to earn my own money. Besides that i also learned new skills and a totally new perspective on some jobs that are looked down to. I never looked down and still don’t on blue collar jobs and i can honestly say i met several people with bachelor and even master degrees who cleaned, worked at the grocery store or laundry services in order to earn some money.

Or the situation might be that you move to another country, you barely know the language and that’s quite sure they won’t give you a job as a manager. That is also depending on the field you are working in. In my case, it wasn’t that easy, when most of employers regarded my bachelor studies as useless just because they were done in another country and i did not even get the opportunity to prove my knowledge.

And my last point is that in Finland being a cleaning person requires special training which usually lasts for a year and you learn quite lots of stuff from different cleaning equipment, products, materials to basic chemistry. You can also specialize yourself in different kind of areas like for example hospital or office cleaning. I can talk from my own experience but cleaning in a hospital is very challenging and requires lots of skills and attention. You work in a highly sterile environment and you get in contact with all kinds of sick people and bodily fluids.

I did have a week pre-training before starting and i do admit that sometimes i was amazed at the things i learned that never crossed my mind they existed. I am ashamed to say that i came there with the prejudice that i know everything, this is an easy job, just swipe the floors just to leave with a tone of new knowledge about bacteria, infections, prevention, chemicals, how to dispose of hazard waste, sustainable cleaning or customer service.

Never judge the difficulty of a job by its salary or by the skills you think a person should posses for it. Especially if you never worked a day in your life in that job. Yes, some jobs are easier than others. Does that mean the people who are doing them are stupid? No.

I decided to write here some of my thoughts on presents for loved ones, be it Christmas, birthdays or other occasions. My principle when buying presents is very simple: keep it simple and don’t complicate yourself. For the people I know and sometimes acquaintances I have the following rules:

  1. Keep it minimal. Buy few things but usually quality ones. I sometimes buy just one, maximum two items but I take care that the quality is very good. For example, handicrafts, handicraft shops or fairs are perfect to buy presents. The presents can be also food.
  2. Ask the person. I do that almost all the times in order to avoid buying unnecessary stuff or stuff they don’t like. The can tell me few things and I choose something from those things. Of, course it might now be a surprise but I prefer to offer them something they will really use instead of a disappointing surprise. In case you don’t know the person, money can be a very good idea. At least here, we do that quite a lot. I also received money for my birthday and I didn’t mind because it came in really handy, for example I once loaded my bus card for a month during winter.
  3. Presents don’t always have to be things. I got this idea from my friend who invited me to a cake buffet. You paid a certain sum and ate as much cake as you wanted. You could invite your friend to a restaurant, a concert, a trip, a movie etc. Experiences can make the best presents sometimes.
  4. Gift cards. Different shops have gift cards for different sums of money. This is a bit similar with money offering but it can be used only in that certain shop. It works great for people you don’t know that well and it could be for a shop with a wide profile of products so they can choose from. Gift cards saved me from situations where I was invited to different occasions by people I didn’t know very well. It is an honor that they thought of me but sometimes it can be challenging when it comes to presents.

In the shade of the recent unfortunate events and finding this article online, i decided to write my piece of mind about this matter. Few days ago, i opened my facebook at the sad news that the singer from Linkin Park has died. I did listen a lot to this band while in high school. I never knew though that Chester was suffering from depression. I was sad to hear that but i got sadder and even angrier at the way people talked about depression and suicide. People dismissing depression as just a phase, not a real illness and one can just get over it.

I never suffered from severe depression so i can’t even talk about it but i would never ever dismiss it. Depression is a very serious illness with severe consequences and it destroys lives. I’ve met people suffering from it and what it struck me was actually my incapacity to help them. Because depression is a serious disease and needs specialized medical attention. As a friend you can be supportive but never dismissing. That is one of the worst things you can do, be dismissive. Although to be honest, sometimes i wish i could do more for them than just tell them to be strong.

But, now to be honest, i wasn’t shocked. I was angry, i was sad but not shocked. Because i have gone through the same thing, that means people dismissing and judging me for my illness. And my illness is physical not mental. So, if i was judged because of a chronic physical illness, i can’t even imagine how much shit people with mental illnesses get.

I’m suspected of a chronic auto-immune disease that has no treatment for the moment although I’ve might have had it (according to specialists) since i was a teenager. Because it is understudied, the delay in diagnosis could take up to 20 years and in my case i have not yet a clear diagnosis because i need surgery which for the moment i’m foolishly postponing it because i’m shit scared of it. The only treatment for now is hormonal and surgical which doesn’t sound glamorous at all. Unfortunately, i had to put up with lots of condescending attitudes from people starting from the “it can’t be that bad”, “you are exaggerating”, “it’s just a fuss”, “it can’t be that serious” to people who downright attacked my medication saying that it’s not natural, i’m destroying myself, i should try voodoo medicine and not trust doctors and then explaining to me the side effects as if i am some stupid kid who can’t read the labels or understand them. Funny thing is i don’t even know most these people personally.

Here are some guidelines for these people who like to play the know it all specialists:

  • If you are not sick or never been sick, you have no idea what i’m going through. So before opening your mouth to say stupid things, think. I never open my mouth to give advice to a person with severe depression because i have no idea what they are going through.
  • Are you a doctor? No? Stop giving medical advice. Of course, suggestions are always welcome but don’t talk like a know it all.
  • STOP JUDGING MY MEDICATION! I have been to a doctor for that and i’m sure that after years of studying, they know what they are doing. Much better than you ever will. In my case, the pills i am taking are the only ones who can make me function and keep my illness under control (for the moment). When you find a cure or a better treatment for it, come and announce me. Until then shut up. I know very well what i am taking, i know it has risks and side effects, i know what those are. I’m an adult, not a two year old toddler. Do you think i enjoy taking some pills which have risks of cardiovascular disease, blood clots and other charming side effects? No! We have no choice for the moment.
  • Take off your tin foil hat and stop blaming some conspiracy stuff and big pharma. Yes, i know companies are greedy but without some of the medicines we have now, some of us would be dead. There is no secret maybe but i usually hear this rhetoric from anti-vaxers who see everything a conspiracy out there to get them.
  • Voodoo medicine aka homeopathic. Tried that honey, it didn’t work. I have nothing against it but following the logic of big pharma what makes you think there aren’t the same kind of people who would like to make a profit selling sugar water to desperate people? I do take some supplements along with my medicine but relying only on supplements would be very foolish. I do have some friends though who gave me very good hints (tested ones) from people with same symptoms as i. I appreciate that a lot and of course i’m going to try them. But under no circumstances they dismissed conventional medicine.
  • There is no magic way out, there is no magic pill to make us healthy. Instead of being judgmental, don’t say anything at all if you have nothing supportive to say. I will give you a hint though, what i usually tell my friends who are struggling with an illness. I wish them all the best, to stay strong and if there is anything they need just ask. That’s it. It’s very easy not to be an asshole. 🙂

 

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I thought of writing this article after I got fed up with the endless articles about birth rates declining and the constant blame put on women because they choose to pursue higher education. I thought that we left this behind many decades ago but as I can see this is the number one scapegoat most people around here prefer to point at. I won’t get into the importance of education nowadays because when it comes to pursue one, it’s each to its own, I would say it better to have one than none at all.

The ones who are usually barking so much on the subject are men who complain about their poor peers who remain in the countryside, choose to stay out of school or pursue a professional school and then remain single because those “damn harpies” choose careers and move to the big cities. They usually come up with apocalyptic future scenarios of old spinsters, damnation, cats and loneliness. In addition to that they are also complaining that these women are too picky, too stuck up and that nothing is good for them.

My first thought is, then why don’t you go and get an education yourself? Why are you jealous on a person who wants to build a future for themselves and their world doesn’t revolve around yours? Because believe it or not, you are not the center of the universe and no person owes you anything.  You miss the good old days when women were barefoot, knocked-up in the kitchen? Then be prepared to have a super income because nowadays you can rarely manage on one salary. The biggest problem with these people is that they live in the past, in a world of fantasy.

Being dependent and relying on a guy (of one’s free will) is perhaps the most stupid thing you can do. But again, I also guide myself on “the best person to rely on is yourself” philosophy. You never know when the other one will kick you in the curb or you know, misfortunes happen. I was also taught wisely by my parents that it’s better to have your own finances and never rely on anybody.

Nobody stops you from studying and earning a degree if you want. Not in Finland where (for the moment) there are no tuition fees. But some people don’t want higher education and others are not meant for it. Which is fine. But stop complaining and blaming other people for your incapacities or laziness. And stop blaming the system that it favors girls. If you really want to achieve something, no system will stay in your way. I saw proof with my own eyes and of both genders.

Blaming women that they are too picky is rather shallow I would say. As mentioned before, nobody is entitled to like you. These women have their own preferences, own personalities and own minds and they’d better be picky if it is about something so important as sharing life with somebody. It’s better being alone that be with somebody just for the sake of being and then realize you share nothing in common or even hate each other.

As for the profession part, these “critics” must live underground because lots of us are not hunting for a profession. For me it is a deep insult to hear that I’m a stuck up academic bitch who doesn’t even look at blue collar workers. Profession has never been an issue when I connect with another person because I look at that person as a human being not at a profession. One of my top priorities is mutual respect. If that is missing, I’m sorry to say but it won’t work. I never looked down on any person because of their profession (sadly I can’t say that was mutual, I’ve been humiliated many times while working blue collar jobs). Professions can change but the dynamics between two persons is much more complicated and I doubt that a profession or education has so much to do with it. My partner didn’t even attend high school and I have two MA’s and I must say that it would be quite a shock for these people who can do nothing more but judge. It’s true, I did hear nasty remarks from some that how can I be in a relationship with such a person, pointing out the fact that I’m superior because of my education. Needless to say I cut any ties with these people. If you can’t respect people I care about, I don’t have any obligation to respect you. An MA diploma doesn’t make me superior in any way but the fact that I respect people the way they are and not judge them like you do, yes, that makes me superior to your judgmental ass.

And before blaming women that they are like this and like that and don’t pay attention to you, take a look at yourself first. Do you think somebody would like to be with a person who does nothing but blame others and likes to dictate how others should live? Because I wouldn’t. Before demanding things from others take a look at yourself. Are you worth it?