Monoculture: How One Story Is Changing Everything

One of the interesting books that I’ve read for my Annotated Bibliography assignment is this book titled “Monoculture: How One Story is Changing Everything” by F. S Michaels. He explained how monoculture is shaping our lives in 6 different key areas; our work, our relationships with others and the natural world, our education, our physical and mental health, our communities, and our creativity.

The governing pattern a culture obeys is a master story– one narrative in society that takes over the others, shrinking diversity and forming a monoculture. When you’re inside a master story at a particular time in history, you tend to accept its definition of reality. You unconsciously believe and act on certain things, and disbelieve and fail to act on other things. That’s the power of the monoculture; it’s able to direct us without us knowing too much about it.

A monoculture doesn’t mean that everyone believes exactly the same thing or acts in exactly the same way, but that we end up sharing key beliefs and assumptions that direct our lives. Because a monoculture is mostly left unarticulated until it has been displaced years later, we learn its boundaries by trial and error. We somehow come to know how the master story goes, though no one tells us exactly what the story is or what its rules are. We develop a strong sense of what’s expected of us at work, in our families and communities — even if we sometimes choose not to meet those expectations. We usually don’t ask ourselves where those expectations came from in the first place. They just exist — or they do until we find ourselves wishing things were different somehow, though we can’t say exactly what we would change, or how.

Michaels offers a smart and realistic guide to first recognizing the monoculture and the challenges of transcending its limitations, then considering ways in which we, as sentient and autonomous individuals, can move past its confines to live a more authentic life within a broader spectrum of human values.


Available at:

(assessed on 30th December 2014)


The Secret Behind Japan’s 2015 Zodiac New Years Stamp

What an interesting approach for this stamp design where there’s ‘continuity’ principle applied in the design although it took 12 years to see the outcome. Happy New Year!

2003 and 2015 new years stamp

Before and after of Sheep year stamps, 12 years later.

Amongst the many notable New Years traditions in Japan, one of them is sending nengajo, or New Years cards. And despite the number of cards sent being in decline, there are still about 30 million printed. For the design team at Japan Post, one of their most important tasks is coming up with the design for the stamp, which incorporates the zodiac animal of the new year, to be printed on all the postcards.

This year, stamp designer Ayaka Hoshino was chosen to design the stamp. Coincidentally (or not) she also designed the stamp 12 years ago. And if you’re familiar with the zodiac system you’ll know that this means Hoshino was tasked with designing the same animal as last time: the sheep. The design that she came up with is one that captures time and continuity. In 2003 the sheep was depicted knitting a ball of yarn. 12 years later the knitting project was complete! Whether or not this was all part of Hoshino’s elaborate, long-term plan? I suppose we’ll never know.

as highlighted this week in the Japanese TV show Asaichi, here is some bonus trivia about Japanese stamps:

  • the design team at Japan Post comprises 7 individuals, who are responsible for designing all of Japan’s new stamps

  • each year there are about 40 new stamps released

  • the sheep is the 2nd most popular zodiac animal for stamps and the 2015 postcard is reportedly selling well

  • the most popular animal is the rabbit and the least popular is the snake


(visited on December 23rd 2014)

What is authenticity?

Insightful point of view on the perception of authenticity in art.

Research & Enquiry

In an article for the Design Observer, Michael Beirut (2005) explores what makes something look ‘real’ or ‘genuine’. Some designers and illustrators make efforts to include markers of authenticity in their work, such as personal flourishes and imperfections. Postmodern graphic designer, Tibor Kalman, found authenticity in vernacular design. He felt that design produced by those without formal design education (such as signs in shop windows, event flyers, etc.) had a genuine ‘innocence’ that was eroded by learning about ‘good’ or ‘bad’ design.


Beirut seems to equate authenticity to innovation, implying that copying is, by definition, inauthentic. This raises questions about the value of tradition. Isn’t tradition authentic? When designers or illustrators try to achieve an ‘authentic’ style, their first step is usually investigating the historical origins of a style.


The commercial arts (graphics and illustration) have entered an era of cultural appropriation, in which styles are readily borrowed from elsewhere. Borrowing from another…

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Grande Odalisque

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, La Grande Odalisque, 1814.

One of the most prominent art piece that portray the element of ‘Exoticism’ was this art piece by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres called ‘Grande Odalisque’, painted in 1814. Such as interesting piece to study and to get an understanding on how ‘exoticism’ has been applied in paintings from centuries ago. Clearly, eastern influence played a role in this art piece as well seeing that Ingres uses his own imagination to picture how an Odalisque lady is inside the harem.

Grande Odalisque, also known as Une Odalisque or La Grande Odalisque, is an oil painting of 1814 by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres depicting an odalisque, or concubine. Ingres’ contemporaries considered the work to signify Ingres’ break from Neoclassicism, indicating a shift toward exotic Romanticism.

The painting was commissioned by Napoleon‘s sister, Queen Caroline Murat of Naples, and finished in 1814. Ingres drew upon works such as Dresden Venus by Giorgione, and Titian‘s Venus of Urbino as inspiration for his reclining nude figure, though the actual pose of a reclining figure looking back over her shoulder is directly drawn from the 1809 Portrait of Madame Récamier by Jacques-Louis David.

Ingres portrays a concubine in languid pose as seen from behind with distorted proportions. The small head, elongated limbs, and cool color scheme all reveal influences from Mannerists such as Parmigianino, whose Madonna with the Long Neck was also famous for anatomical distortion.

I also found a video from Khan Academy explaining in more detail about this painting.


(visited November 4th 2014)


To start off my research, I needed to understand the definition of ‘Exoticism’. A quick search on the word ‘exotic’ from Oxford Dictionary online gave me this answer:


Pronunciation: /ɪɡˈzɒtɪk

1. Originating in or characteristic of a distant foreign country

2. Attractive or striking because colourful or out of the ordinary

Clearly, an exotic person or object would look unique, like mixture of different elements into one. This was what an essay from The Metropolitan Museum of Art provided in the understanding of exoticism:

European interest in non-Western art was first stimulated by trade with the East in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (17.190.2045). By the nineteenth century, with the advent of the railroad and steamship, lands that were little known to Westerners became easier to access. As more Europeans traveled beyond the established routes of the Grand Tour, their experiences abroad began to influence their tastes at home. Other influences were a result of England’s massive imperial control over lands in China, India, Africa, and the Pacific. By mid-century, many non-Western forms and ornamental motifs had found their way into the vocabulary of European decorative arts.

While English critics complained about the lack of integrity and poor design in the utilitarian goods that were being produced in their factories, they exalted the arts of preindustrialized nations and held them in great esteem as supreme examples of good design. Because of their purity of design, Islamic ceramics, Indian textiles, and Japanese prints were considered aesthetically superior to European goods, which aimed for commercial novelty.

From my understanding upon reading this essay, the Westerners have a definite interest in Eastern art in terms of forms, pattern, idea and technique. I believe Eastern art, especially oriental art still play a big influence in Western art now hence exoticism in art and design can widely be seen all around the world.

I have created a rough mind map to explore more elements on exoticism and as I list down the keywords, I can see that there are many different aspects that exoticism can be found; in art, design, people, food, places, music & architecture.


Fig 1. Rough mind map