That Morning… A Dream Derivative

Many of you, I’m sure, have had similar experiences: waking up from a dream that was so vivid and intriguing that after you woke up, the dream (or what remained of it) stays with you as part of your memories.

So this day, many years ago, I had a strange dream about waking up in an exotic hut by a lake/sea. And in the dream, when I woke up, I wasn’t myself anymore. For some reason, I woke up in a completely different body and a completely different place and was utterly confused. (It’s worth noting that in the dream, I hadn’t lost my identity as the real me here, I lost my identity as the random fictional character I’ve made up in the dream. That is, a dreamed character lost his identity for some other dreamed-up character.)

And that’s it. That was the extent of the dream. I mean, that’s what dreams are, right? Hardly logical, always random, and always in bits and pieces.

But this dream left a strong enough impression on me that I told myself, one day I’m going to turn it into an actual story. In the years after that, every once in a while the dream would float up in my mind, and I’d be telling myself, “Gotta start on that one of these days.” Typical procrastination, of course.

Until two years ago, when I decided that I really ought to start writing short stories, even if I couldn’t afford the time to write longer ones. And what else to write for the first story but this dream that had been lingering in my mind for years?

And so I started writing the story on my OneNote (as I’m doing now) at a café (can’t remember which – Starbucks maybe?) as I always do, and whipped the story out in an hour or so. I’ve finally turned the dream into an actual story – with a few changes: first, the character became a female. For some reason, when I wrote the first lines, I found myself unable to write on and empathize with the male character. But once I switched to the perspective of a female, the story poured out of me.

Second, the story had a beginning, middle, and end. Which makes sense, of course. “A man woke up in a strange place as a different person” is not a story – at least not a complete one. No matter how bad or open the ending is, a story always needs an ending.

Finally, I added an additional character into the story. Guess that’s obvious too – hard to make up a story with just one character huh.

But you know what the most interesting thing is? While the dream had indeed assumed the concrete form of a short fiction, and it no longer surfaces in my mind every now and then as if to remind me to write it down, in actuality the dream and the story are now two different things. The dream, still vivid in my mind now, portrays a distinctly different scenario than the one in the story. Probably due to the need to tell a proper story, I had subconsciously added elements to the dream that, as a result, transformed it into a completely different story. For better or worse, the dream will probably stay lodged in my mind forever, private to myself, while its derivative the short fiction finds its way to actual readers.

Anyway. Enough talk – if you’ve read this far, you probably want to know what the final, written form of the dream is, so here it is. Though very different from its source, I still like it a lot, enough to publish it online. And so I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. (Warning: my fictions aren’t exactly bedtime stories, so be prepared for some vulgarities and whatnot.)

A Letter to Web Designers.

Once upon a time, I proclaimed myself a web designer. For what else was I? I worked on slicing PSDs provided by graphic designers, and coded HTML and CSS that the programmers didn’t care to write. (Or wrote poorly, using the abhorred <table>tags.) I was proud that my HTML and CSS were sufficiently decoupled, aimed for pixel-perfection, and used Flash and the occasional Javascript snippets to insert interactivity. This is a fun job, I told myself, and I was proud of it. The graphic designers couldn’t do CSS and HTML for sh**, and the programmers knew better than to step into those murky zones. We web designers had an edge and a special niche, and we were on the way to building a more beautiful Web, despite the challenges thrown at us by IE.

Right now, ten years later, my official job title: frontend web developer. I still write HTML and CSS, but now I write a lot more JavaScript. In fact, I use Knockout.js everyday, and my job scope is less about beautifying the web and more about building functionality on the frontend. At the same time, more and more programmers are moving into this area, hastening the change on the frontend side of the web – React.js presents us with a new way of working with the DOM, by not working with it directly. Babel and Typescript offer us ways of working with better (?) versions of JavaScript, and running task runners via the command line is now a basic task we ex-web designers do daily. And you have to have been coding under a well not to have written functions in SASS or LESS to manipulate your CSS.

Times are A-Changin’.

I’d like to say that the hardcore programmers and engineers are polluting the Web with their engineering mindset, but I know better. The truth is, all these is just a phase, a natural process of programmers taking what rightly belonged to them to begin with: programming the Web, only now they use Javascript a lot more. It is us, the web designers, who invaded their turf, and with what limited training as engineers, started writing fluffy frontend JavaScript code that real programmers couldn’t bear to read. For a few years now, the boundaries were blurred by us: we could be a frontend developer without knowing how to write a recursive function, or a regular expression. (jQuery counts as Javascript, obviously.) But now the programmers are marching back into the field, and we have to decide: dive all the way down and join their camp, or stand your ground and stay faithful to your roots: web design.

Know Thyself.

I’m not saying web designers shouldn’t know JavaScript; anyone who’s working on the web needs to know Javascript, just as web programmers can’t possibly evade CSS through their careers. But if the engineers can write a brilliant recursive function that calls itself levels after levels to compose multiple levels of HTML views, and your feeble attempt to write something similar results in a “maximum call stack reached” error, then it’s time to accept the fact: let everyone focus on what she’s great at.

Of course, a title is just a title, and there’s no stopping people from crossing domains. But one needs to know his strengths and weaknesses. By having the courage to say, “I can’t write code as terse and rock-solid as the Scala programmer, but I can lay out a beautiful responsive page,” you’re also helping your team identify who to turn to when a specific problem arises. More importantly, by admitting to yourself your strengths and weaknesses, you can focus on expanding your strengths and preventing yourself, down the road, to become that “master of all none” who isn’t very valuable to any team or company. And with the Web becoming more complex by the minute, there will be one day soon when it is no longer feasible to be good at everything. And if by then, you’re still confused (understandably?) about your strengths and weaknesses and writing feeble Javascript that the industry will no longer put up with, then you are in trouble.

Web Designer, Redefined.

That being said, the whole definition of a web designer is changing too. If you’re a web designer, you may or may not be a pro at Bezier curves, but you most likely know how to organize your SCSS or LESS files into manageable units. You may not be able to write unit tests for your viewmodels, but you know how to employ the correct HTML5 tags and attributes to describe a view appropriately. And, given a messy HTML template full of data bindings, you’re bound to be able to cut through the mess and manipulate the code so as to style it the way you want.

In short, you’re that unique individual smack right between an engineer and a graphic designer.

We’re a Special Breed.

In that sense, we’re not that different from who we were a decade ago. The web may have changed a lot since, but we’re still that in-between person who’s neither into hardcore data crunching nor treats a webpage like an immutable A3 paper. And the Web, ten years after, still needs us. For without us, who’s going to take the graphic designer’s visions and bring them to life? Without us, who’s going to ensure a web application is accessible to all?

Even better, when the graphic designer is off sick and the team needs a new icon now, the web designer will be able to open up Sketch (Illustrator, Photoshop, whatever) and come up with something. And when the fronted engineer has no problem rendering data into tables but can’t for his life make the tables look as pretty as the mockups envisioned, the web designer can say,”I’ll handle this”, and dive into the code to add the classes and ids needed to make the design come alive.

We’ll Strive.

If you’re like me and you’ve been feeling a little less than confident about yourself amidst this changing industry, I hope the above offers you a little assurance.

The industry may now be caught up in all their Javascript fanciness, but they won’t be able to forget how indispensable we’re. So don’t be afraid to admit that you’re less interested in the latest Javascript framework than the potential creative possibilities of CSS Filters. And don’t hesitate to show off how much of a breeze it is for you to align components on the page perfectly. Take pride in your vocation as a web designer, coz’ it is up to you to ensure a beautiful and accessible Web. You may not be wearing the web designer job title anymore, but you know who you are. You will always be the person in the team who’s most concerned over image resolution, color contrast, leading and line length, browser/device compatibility, etc. So join or stay in teams that know to appreciate your skills and passions, and march right into the future knowing you don’t have to know everything.

All the best, and Godspeed.

Why This Blog?

I’ve made more than a few half-hearted attempts at writing and maintaining a blog, ever since the time when blogs were “in”. But I’ve never managed to sustain any of them, in large part because there was no real motivation behind. Indeed, as a professional in the tech industry, I have always found the web flooded with blogs written by fellow developers and designers, so much so that I never saw the need to add my voice to the already crowded space. “There are already too many tech blogs”, was the key reason that deterred me from keeping a blog.

Even after reading Mark Llobrera’s thoughtful post, I hesitated and procrastinated. I’d have loved to blog, but what for? What’s the motivation behind it that will sustain the blog for me? Am I going to write a few blog posts simply because I want to move to a new company and I want to impress them? Am I going to drop my blog the moment I join the new company, the way I failed to maintain my past portfolio sites?

Something’s Missing of Late.

Lately, though, I noticed one thing: I’ve stopped keeping up with the many blogs I used to follow in the industry. I still visit A List Apart every now and then, but more often than not I am no longer interested by their posts. Smashing Magazine I was never a huge fan of, and again I found myself losing interest in most of their articles. Stuff and Nonsense is my favorite tech blog, but Andrew Clarke hardly updates it anymore, so I’m effectively left with nothing interesting to read. Joel on Software is another good blog that I’ve missed reading.

That was when I recognized this: that more than anything, I am constantly looking for personalities to learn from. It’s not the industry standards and the newest technologies that I want to read about, it’s how people are using them. That is why A List Part’s articles are starting to bore me (frankly, it’s beginning to read more and more like a industry journal, the dry and boring ones), and why Smashing Magazine never won my favor to begin with. They may be great references to the latest tools and trends in the industry, but they are simply lacking the personal touch. In Andy Clarke’s posts, on the other hand, I see a passionate designer developer who’s into Planet of Apes, and I see a vulnerable person just like myself who’s wary of new stuff like Node.js and who’s anal over typography. From Joel Spolsky, the blogger of Joel on Software, I learned so much about software development and recruitment and even investment into the right chairs. Joel has strong opinions about a lot of things in the industry, from hiring the best developers to how to measure the effectiveness of a team, and that’s what makes him unique. If the above tips have come in a dry “10 Rules on Better Software Development” article written by someone with less personality, I wouldn’t have read a single word.

And when bloggers like Andrew and Joel stopped updating their blogs (presumably because they’re too busy with their successful careers), readers like myself are naturally bummed. Can’t anyone else fill the gap?

When in Doubt, Step Forward.

And then Mark’s post came to mind, and I realized, that maybe, instead of waiting for some other bloggers to come in and fill the void, I can step up and contribute something. So many years I’ve been taking from generous people like Andrew Clarke and Joel, it’s probably time I give back. If we want the Web to stay amazing, then we need to do our part. I’ll clearly not be able to be another Joel or Andrew, but I can certainly be myself.

It also helped that a while back, a young friend asked me for some career advice. That’s when I remember, that yes, when I was a student, I had similar doubts about my career path and future. Now that I’m a somewhat experienced professional, I’m sure I’ll be able to give some advice and perhaps even provide inspiration to others.

And that’s how this blog began.

This Ain’t (Exactly) a Tech Blog.

When it comes to the latest information about web technologies, there are so many amazing resources out there I won’t even try competing. Instead, my goal to this blog is to keep it totally personal, totally opinionated, somewhat random, and completely unapologetic. I’m going to write about my web design and development processes and my thoughts about the industry, and then cross my fingers and hope that you can learn something from my perspective. I’m also going to insert random posts on a few things I am passionate about, from modern art to writing fictions to cinema and even (!) relationships.

In short, this blog is personal, and I intend to keep it that way. I hope you’ll like it nonetheless. Cheers.

Emacs Narrowing: A Feature Show Off

When working with code, there are times when you want to find out if a certain variable/class name/word is being used within a function or a segment of your code. The tedious way to find out will be to start at the beginning of that segment and slowly (or not) scroll down the page with your eyes trained on the code, being careful not to miss the keyword. Not only is this time consuming, but it’s likely not very accurate. Of course, you can instead search for the keyword in the whole file, but then there’s a good chance there are a number of them, and you will have to go through each of them and find the one that’s inside the region you’re interested in. Not that fun.

With Emacs’ narrowing, this task becomes way simpler. Simply highlight the segment you want to focus on, then “narrow” the page so that the page now consists of that segment alone, and search for the keyword in question. Easy peasy.

A picture speaks louder than words:

A GIF demo of how easy it is to focus and search within a region in Emacs
Assuming I am looking for the keyword “Thanks” within the validateComments function only, this is how I can do it with Emacs.

Ok, done bragging. Signing off for this post.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Umbrellas of Cherbourg is a 60s French movie that overturned my expectations about what constitutes a musical film and inspired me to be ever more adventurous in future creative endeavors.

Do you like musicals?

I do – my favorite ones so far are Chicago, Mary Poppins, and Singing in the Rain, just to name a few. Bollywood movies are great, too, obviously. I don’t know who came up with the idea of having people dance and sing in movies randomly, but whoever did is undoubtedly a genius.

But my idea of a musical film was completely overturned when I watched Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) by Jacques Demy. As usual, I went in the theater with only a vague notion of the film, namely that it is a 60s French film that’s also a musical. Imagine my surprise when the first line in the film was sang out by the lead guy, and every subsequent line in the film too.

Yes, this is not so much a conventional musical film where people suddenly break into singing and dancing in between normal dialogue, but one where every single line is sung. After the first few lines, during which I needed to make sure I wasn’t hearing things, I was grinning from ear to ear. How can one not smile at the daring stunt the director pulled here? How can one not be amused by a movie where everyone sang to one another?

I’ve always been impressed by directors who dare to challenge the norm (I’m thinking actors looking directly at the camera in À bout de souffle and 400 Blow‘s open ending), and Jacques Demy’s daring move was no less impressive. Where did he find the courage to put such an absurd idea into practice? Wasn’t he afraid the audience would hate the idea? More importantly, how did he manage to pull it off eventually?

Coz I have to admit, after the first moments of ecstasy, I grew a little tired from hearing people sing out their every line. Interestingly, though, after that stage of mild annoyance, I started to accept the singing as an integral part of the film and followed the plot like it’s any other movie. I guess you can say Jacques Demy’s trick grew on me, most likely with a little extra effort on the script, the score, and the singing.

All in all, I did end up liking the film. In fact, it seems to be very well received by critics – it won the Palme d’Or in 1964, and even earned a score of 98% on Rottentomatoes, more than fifty years after its release. I’m personally not going to put it on my top list of musicals, mostly because it’s not as fun a film as I imagined it to be, but it’s still undoubtedly a good, moving film. And thanks to Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, I will never make the same assumption about what constitutes a musical film again.

(On a side note, don’t you think Ellen Farner is way cuter than Catherine Deneuve? I wouldn’t have fallen for Geneviève in the first place, if I were Guy. Just saying.)

For the Poor Folks Who Are Still Debugging IE9 in 2016.

I know – checking for browser compatibility is one of the most basic tasks of a frontend developer/designer, and I really shouldn’t be whining. Plus, IE9 is actually a whole lot more cooperative than its predecessors – that’s a fact we can’t deny. Still, if you’re debugging pages on IE9 in 2016, I’m sure, like me, you will be frustrated at how the most simple functions you’re expecting out of the web inspector doesn’t bloody work.

So to save you the agony I faced, here are some tips:

Can’t select the damn elements even though you’ve clicked on the arrow icon in developer tools?

Try clicking on the blue refresh icon first, then on the arrow icon. Now you should be able to select elements.

The refresh icon on IE9's inspector
Unintuitive? Duh.

Unable to see elements’ styles after selecting an element?

Close the developer tools, refresh the page, then reopen the developer tools. Now you will be able to see related styles on selecting elements.

IE9 not loading your compiled css?

Nope, clearing the browser cache ain’t gonna help. Close and then reopen the bloody browser. Now you will be able to see the latest CSS changes.

Styles appearing weird on IE9 alone?

Try checking on the render order of your CSS. There’s a good chance IE9 is not respecting the load order of your CSS and just jumbling up your CSS styles as it likes.

That’s all I have for now. If you have anything important that I’ve left out, feel free to leave a comment and I will update the post asap. Thanks in advance.

So, Are We Compatible?

Finding the right company to work with, I realize, is often very similar to finding the right life partner. Frighteningly so, in fact.

Parallels include the high hurdle of getting into a prestigious company compared with that of getting a popular person of the opposite sex; how cold calls to these companies usually don’t work because there’re simply too many of them, and how the same can be said of men /women who have been bombarded with flirty messages; and how knowing the right person gets you easy entry into a popular company as well as the good books of a popular person of the opposite sex.

The above examples aside, today I’m going to focus on the question of responsibility.

At work, as with in life, we make mistakes. There’s no way around this fact, because we’re all flawed individuals. The key is to act in an appropriate manner when mistakes are made, and that often marks the difference between individuals. (Note that I’m trying not to tell you which approach is right and which wrong, though I have a strong bias towards what I think is the correct approach.) And in my opinion, people and teams who deal with mistakes in different ways will do better not to be together. I.e. there is a fundamental compatibility issue that can’t be resolved.

Take for example a company. Any company, regardless of its size. Your company, for example. Then imagine someone – you don’t know who – made a mistake and screwed things up. And you’re somewhat tied to this screw up. How would you react?

I know in some companies, that the first thing people do is to start fending off responsibilities and playing the blame game. “It’s not me, I was out meeting a client/ working on a separate branch/(insert alibi here)!” “It’s Ben, he was the last person to have talked to the customer/ to have committed the code/ (insert accusatory reason here)!”

I personally think that’s a very sad reaction to mistakes made. On the other hand, though, I think I can imagine why they act the way they did. In all likelihood, it’s because of the culture that has been fostered in such companies – because these companies spend a lot of effort tracking down the owners of mistakes and penalizing them for it, people are – understandably, perhaps – inclined to first defend themselves.

Are you working in such a company?

Coz I’m really glad I don’t, and I have probably only worked in one so far. I don’t think it’s because I’m lucky, it’s more like that my sensitivity to such companies often led me to stay away from them. In most of the companies I’ve worked with so far, the general reaction to mistakes is to solve them. Quick. For who cares who made the mistakes to begin with when the pressing issue is to correct them? And who cares who made the mistake since most of us make mistakes? (Like someone smart once said, the only person who doesn’t make mistakes is someone who doesn’t make anything. I don’t want to be that someone, for sure.) And afterwards, if we happen to know who did it, we’ll simply tease the person a little and laugh it off. After which, business as usual.

Imagine a newbie who comes to my company and spends ten minutes yelling,”It’s not me! I didn’t do it!” and trying to prove his innocence when something bad happens. We’re just gonna shake our heads and ignore him while trying hard to save the fire. And this newbie surely isn’t going to leave a good impression, because instead of doing something to help out, he’s simply wasting energy on what cannot be reversed.

Now imagine if I join a company that focuses on mistakes and where people spend much of their time defending themselves when a screw up happens. I’m going to be so frustrated because there I was, working hard to salvage the situation, when the rest of the team simply stand around pointing fingers and penning email-theses defending themselves.

The same can be said of finding the right partner.

A long time ago, I was working with an attractive girl on a project. Well, I said she’s attractive, so clearly I was interested. But when there was a minor hiccup and I pointed it out, attractive girl’s first reaction was not to think about what should be done to deal with it, but to start defending herself, “It’s not me! It’s XXX!”

Such a turn-off.

I imagine a woman who likes to get her hands dirty and solve problems as they come is likely going to be disappointed too, if all her man does in a crisis is to evade responsibility.

On the other hand, I imagine a couple who loves playing the blame game might just be very happy together. Each time something wrong happens, they’d simply team up to attack others in their defense. Couple bonding at its best, I’m sure.

Anyway. Conclusion: find the right partner or company for yourself by making sure you handle issues of responsibility in the same way. Otherwise, life is going to be pretty painful for you.

Emacs and I: A 10th Anniversary Post

Have I mentioned how I swear by Emacs when it comes to web development/design? Dubbed “the editor of a lifetime”, Emacs has been around for over 40 years now and is the default editor of many experienced coders. That, in fact, was the reason I decided to give Emacs a shot to begin with. In 2007, I was sick of hopping between the paid but underwhelming Dreamweaver and (equally unimpressive) open source alternatives like Bluefish and Kompozer. It was also a time when I was increasingly convinced that WYSIWYG editors are crutches for amateurs and that professionals need something more solid.

Everyone in the industry had heard of Vim and Emacs, obviously, and for some reason I took a look at Emacs first. After reading through the reviews and the tutorial, I learned that Emacs had a good reputation among professionals and is likely to be supported for the rest of my professional career. (By then, there were veterans in their fifties who have used Emacs for decades.) Sure, the learning curve seemed steep, but I went ahead anyway – I had no better alternative in any case. Every single day for months, I learned and practiced a command on Emacs and slowly started to love it.

Among the things I loved (still do) about Emacs was the fact that it was customizable (green text against black background looks so cool, I decided), can be split instantaneously into multiple windows loading a different file each, can be used as a notepad (I no longer had to open up Notepad just to take notes), an organizer (supporter of Org mode till OneNote), a calendar, a calculator, a terminal, a browser, and lots more. It is also open source and extensible, with hundreds of contributors contributing add-ons to enhance Emacs. If you find something cool on other editors, chances are that the feature is being ported to Emacs, or is on the way.

I must admit that if you are new to Emacs, the commands may seem very unintuitive. (E.g. saving a file requires pressing CTRL + x followed by CTRL + s, instead of the standard CTRL + s.) Then again, it’s like a Windows user who says Macs is unfriendly because it uses different commands. I say, give it a proper try and judge for yourself, especially if you’re unhappy with your current editor.

By now, Sublime Text seems to be the default editor for frontend developers. I’ve tried it myself, and my CTO has tried many times to persuade me to move to it, but it just doesn’t cut it. I mean, I admit Sublime Text is pretty cool, and a very good editor. But, say for instance, when I want to refer to a line at the top of my long JavaScript file, I have to use the mouse (!) to scroll up, remember the code there, then scroll back down to where I was and – if I haven’t forgotten the snippet already – type it out, or hope that the editor will give me the matching hint as I type. It’s at these times that I know: this just ain’t Emacs.

And to prove my point, check out just how easy it is make visual comparisons within the same file on Emacs:

A GIF demo of splitting windows on Emacs on the same file

So I was going to assign the form’s serialized data to the variable formData, but I couldn’t remember what variable name I had for the jQuery object that stores the form. So I split the the window, find the variable that was assigned at the top of the file, and copy it over.

I think I’ve said (bragged) enough. At this time of writing (2016), if you haven’t tried Emacs yet, it’s probably unlikely that you will, given so many cool and totally solid alternatives like Sublime Text out there. So I’m not about to convince you to try. But, just to show off, and to give you something cool to look at, I’m going to publish gifs of how I work on Emacs every now and then, like the one above. Even if you’re not a fan, you’ll probably still end up thinking, wow, now that’s pretty cool.

Copy-and-paste Design.

I’ve seen so many cases in my field of work whereby people want a certain feature – say an Ajax loader – and the first thing they do is to google, pluck something that’s free out there, sometimes customize the colors, apply it on their own website, and call it done.

We’ve all heard of copy-paste programming, but copy-paste designing is pretty darn common these days as well. Now I’m not saying copying tried and tested design ideas is bad. I’m saying that as long as you have a website or a product, it deserves its own look and branding. Throwing any old loader on your site isn’t necessarily going to make it look worse, but it ain’t exactly enhancing things either. At the very least, without some rigorous efforts in customizing and testing the copied component so that it becomes a seamless part of your website, it ain’t gonna help your website and its branding. In fact, one might argue that any part of a product that isn’t congruous with the rest is going to bring down the overall standard of the product.

Unless, of course, your entire website is a bought template anyways – in which case, well, I rest my case.

A Tale of Two Museums.

In a recent trip to Luzern, I had the chance to visit two museums – the Museum Sammlung Rosengart Luzern – and the Kunstmuseum Luzern. Frankly speaking, I was pretty torn between the two museums in the beginning. It being my first time in Luzern (and Switzerland, in fact), I wanted to limit my museum visit to just one time, and damn, it was hard to choose between the two. Rosengart Museum has all the big names: Picasso, Cézanne, Paul Klee, Matisse. That alone made me want to dive into it from my hotel (which, incidentally, was right beside it) and devour all the great works. On the other hand, it sounded like I should at least take a look at contemporary Swiss artists’ works since I was in Switzerland. I can always catch Picasso and Matisse somewhere else, no? I thought.

Luckily for me, we had a change in itinerary so I suddenly had an afternoon to myself, just to visit the museums. Even then, I thought to myself, I probably can only visit just one of them, given the time constraint. My argument for giving contemporary art a go won, and I headed for the Kunstmuseum Luzern (aka KKL Luzern) right after lunch.

I was disappointed.

To begin with, I’m not a fan of conceptual/ installation art, so I wasn’t carrying high hopes. Then again, I respect installation artists and their intentions and never intended to put them down. When I see installation art, I suppose, the only thing I need to decide if I like it is whether I feel a connection. Sadly, in the case of the art works in KKL, nothing spoke to me. (Though the works of Katinka Bock did leave an impression.) In two hours I was done, and after having coffee at the gorgeous cafe – the museum itself was an architectural beauty – I found myself able to visit the Rosengart.

And the Rosengart turned out to become one of my favorite museums.

Besides its impressive collection of works by Picasso and Paul Klee, the museum itself was serene, understated, and cozy. Unlike the KKL with its state-of-the-art architectural backdrop, the Rosengart building is old with a touch of the grand, the staff formal and polite, and the fuss-free, technology-free crumpled notes for each visitor were quaint but helpful references for the enthusiastic visitor.

And the fact that it was quiet also meant that I often had an entire section to myself. And so there I was, poring over the notes and finding that piece of work which was so carefully annotated in the paragraph I was reading, and scrutinizing each of Picasso and Paul Klee’s works to my heart’s content. And there was hardly anyone behind me trying to look over my shoulder and not-too-subtly indicating that I was blocking the views of others.

For an arts lover, there’s no better afternoon spent like that.

In a way, the Rosengart Museum itself is like the works of art it exhibits – quaint, personal (the founder of the gallery apparently had personal connections with both Picasso and Paul Klee), and with character. Just as each stroke on the paintings reveal the character and the feelings of the artist behind it, so does the Rosengart Museum betray its personal affiliations with and its bias towards the artists. Which is totally fine, really. The KKL, on the other hand, is glamorous and trendy, but it is too impersonal. With the installations, I couldn’t – as much as I tried – grasp the internal struggles and emotions of the artists behind them from the pieces, and thus I couldn’t find a connection. Similarly, KKL was simply a huge modern space that housed the works and was itself (I may be exaggerating here – bear with me) cold and oblivious to the kind of works it housed. This was another one of the main reasons I did not enjoy the visit. Funny how two museums within the same town can be so different.

* * *

There is no conclusion to this post – I’m mainly revealing my feelings towards two very different museums. Though I guess I can say, if you happen to be in Luzern, that I wholeheartedly recommend the Rosengart Museum. And unless you have spare time to kill, you probably don’t need to worry about visiting the Kunstmuseum.