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Art (60 posts)
We could all use a little more happiness in our lives. But sometimes the universe forgets it's supposed to be our accomplice, and dumps hail storms AND droughts AND babies smashing cameras AND immediately-spilled iced lattes into our laps all at once. Anyone looking for an infusion of happiness would do well to visit Stefan Sagmeister's The Happy Show. If you happen to be in Philadelphia you can view the show at the Institute of Contemporary Art this week before it closes. Otherwise, the evidence of the show is archived for all to take joy in -- thank you Internet! -- on Flickr, Tumblr, and Twitter. Sagmeister's show features the graphic designer's own rules to live by, based on his ten-year exploration of the topic of happiness, like so:
But the Happy Show also, crucially, invites participants to weigh in by drawing their symbols of happiness (like the heart-cloud above), and answering questions about what makes them happy. For example: What is the happiest word? As the ICA blog points out, the answers often create a kind of poetry:
"What Did You Do to Make Someone Else Unexpectedly Happy?
I took care of a dog last summer. I emailed pictures of her every day to her owners with funny captions.
I admit, these questions, even the idea of the symbols of happiness, seem anodyne until I actually try to answer them in my own head. What IS the happiest word? What WOULD I do with a year off? I can rattle off lots of foods that make me happy (probably too many), but what is my symbol of happiness? It seems like we should know what makes us happy, or how to make others happy. But as the need for such an exhibit, and the outpouring of response they've received via social media, proves, these are not questions we as a culture find easy to answer.
The exhibit doesn't profess to be able to provide happiness either. But it does provide insight, and most meaningfully, a way to connect. Which, when you think about it, might just be a road to happiness in itself.
Arranged and photographed by Congdon, an arrangement of vases looks like a group of girls standing around at a party. Her drawing of vintage baking dishes resembles a small flock of expectant boats. Browsing through the blog offers the singular pleasure of readjusting your vision to see the beauty of every day objects (who knew tape measures were so beautiful?) And I especially love that she's included "imagined collections." What could be better than an imagined collection? No storage. No dusting. No limits.
Check out more of Lisa Congdon's whimsical work at her site. (Oh yeah, and for all you print media collectors, Collection a Day is a now a book.)
What Our Cookbooks Say About Our Lives
Collecting Advice from the Antiques Roadshow Experts
Of the many ways to cool off on a muggy day—visiting the pool, perfecting the floppy-hat-look, downing mint juleps like a character in The Great Gatsby, or my personal favorite, hiding out somewhere air-conditioned—the most creative we've ever seen has got to be watermelon carving. This is a pastime like carving a pumpkin, but with more delicious pulp-goop to scoop; like an ice-sculpting but without the need for dry ice and chainsaw.
The website of Japanese artist Takashi Itoh claims that each astounding carving takes about an hour, and that anyone can learn how to make one in about a week. Hmm. I'll just say I appreciate the modesty and optimism, respectively. Look at some of this watermelon-master's work:
I'm proud of myself when I actually cut a watermelon into slices that are somewhat uniform, but okay. Here's the extremely cute, eater-friendly hedgehog from, who else, The National Watermelon Promotion Board. (Instructions for creating your own little melon-pet are on the site.):
And then let's not forget (but how could we?) the Melounovy Festival of Watermelon Carving, which apparently produces some truly wonderful specimens, including this much-blogged, slightly threatening but still kind fun, watermouthen:
An internet search for even more images of carved watermelon is guaranteed to provide you with hours of nice, cool, air-conditioned fantasizing. Or get motivated and make one of juicy creations as a barbecue centerpiece. The only downside? You're going to give your lumpen potato salad a complex.
Mouth-Watering Watermelon Recipes
Sheryl Crow's Watermelon Margaritas
More Food Art We Love
How to Express Yourself With Food, Art, and More...
Cohen, 30, has been captivated by older women for as long as he can remember—especially his late grandmother, Bluma, with whom he'd spend hours watching old movies and poring over faded scrapbooks. "I was struck by how elegantly everyone was dressed," he recalls of Bluma's Depression-era snapshots. "The women didn't have money, but they had amazing clothes." Not long after his grandmother died, in 2007, Cohen moved from his hometown of San Diego to New York; Bluma, a graduate of Columbia University, had told him all creative people should live there. He landed a job supervising a bookstore. And in his free time, he took long walks around neighborhoods like the stately Upper East Side, marveling at the "independent, well-dressed older people" he encountered and snapping pictures. While dozens of so-called street-style blogs were chronicling the cutting-edge sartorial statements of the city's youth, Cohen couldn't help noticing that septuagenarians were strangely invisible on the Internet. Hoping to change that, he launched his own blog in August 2008. "I wanted to create something positive and inspiring," he says, "and to show younger women that they don't have to be afraid of getting older."
In 2010 Cohen quit his job to focus on the blog full-time. These days Advanced Style attracts up to 50,000 page views daily. Earlier this year, he published a coffee-table book of favorite images; next up is a documentary about the women to whom he's dedicated his life. "We go to movies together, we talk about plays, we go to concerts. We're collaborators, in a way," he says. "Some of them refer to me as sort of a grandson."
Unleash your creativity: How to start any project
"You can find just about anything on my paintings," says Mae Chevrette. "Old maps, lengths of tape measure, vintage sheet music. I moved last year to an industrial part of Boston, so lately I've incorporated tack nails onto the edges of my work." These found objects typically encircle an arresting quote, such as Emerson's "Live in the sunshine, swim the sea / Drink the wild air" or Tennessee Williams's "Make voyages! Attempt them! There is nothing else."
Chevrette starts with a printout of one of thousands of photos from her travels, which she adheres to a canvas. Then she embeds ephemera and applies broad strokes of paint. "I keep layering until the piece matches what's in my head," she says. Finally, she adds the quote. "These are words that have been helpful in my life," she says. "I don't want to forget them."
Chevrette was 18 when she embarked on a cross-country drive from her hometown of Seattle to Massachusetts for college. To calm her nerves, Chevrette jotted a note to herself: "It is in all of us to defy expectations, to go into the world and to be brave...." The words became the centerpiece of To Be Brave, now Chevrette's most popular print. Subsequent trips have also informed paintings: The real coffee stain on The Road is a shout-out to the small-town diners she visited in Wyoming and South Dakota, and American West features snapshots of the power lines above Route 66. "I want to get across a feeling of wanderlust," says Chevrette. "I want to convey the sense that our lives are filled with possibility." (Prints start at $20; maechevrette.com.)
Unleash your creativity: How to start any project
Angelica Dass's ongoing project Humanae offers a thoughtful way of looking at this puzzle of skin color. She photographs a colorful array of humans and then matches their skin tones to the Pantone color system. And it's no exaggeration to say the results will reconfigure anyone's color-vision. Look how pink and peach and rose and beige and mahogany and coffee-colored we are! What's most surprising is the endless variety -- if color is supposed to be divisive, then the sunburned and the very pale must be going to war -- and how beautiful every single shade is.
One Movie Star's Complexion Aha! Moment
Helping an Adopted African Daughter to Love Her Skin
If there’s one played-out idea I love anyway, it’s the staycation. Vacations are just so very much WORK, what with all the planning and the packing and the paying of the money. When really, we can get so much of the same lovely eye-ball-refreshing, the same much-needed brain-scrubbing, by just looking at our usual surroundings through a different lens. But it’s surprisingly hard to do: even as you set out for an aimless stroll through a part of town you don’t usually frequent, don’t you find yourself wandering, as if magnetized, toward the places you always go? Toward the park you know you like, or the building you’ve always admired, or even just the path you usually walk the dog?
Well, consider this prolific artist named James Gulliver Hancock, who has made it his mission to draw every building in New York City. His site is fascinating to click through, whether you’re an urbanite or a totally-not-that – the scratchy little lines, the loose sketches that suggest a boozy evening or else a quick stop on a crowded street, the more organized and tightly-constructed portraits that call out details you might have never noticed otherwise.
Here is his drawing of the Hearst Tower (Oprah.com headquarters!):
Hancock's virtual sketchbook makes me think, how might I see the structures around me a little more clearly? What would focus my vision and force me to look around rather than, let's admit it, at my phone?
Here then is an assignment for me, and anyone else interested in taking the world’s easiest staycation, practically guaranteed to make things seem fresh. You don’t even need to leave your neighborhood. All you need is a pen and notepad. It doesn’t matter if you can’t draw, that’s not the point. The point is to walk and look, really look. Go somewhere new (but stay safe!), or go somewhere you see all the time but never really SEE. Pick a building. A house. A rec center. A dog house. And draw it. Who knows what we will start to see?
21 Rules for Everyday Senseless Joy
3 Ways to See the World With Fresh Eyes
We've all heard it before: There are no new stories, but only new ways to tell them. Which is why when there is an actually new presentation of the Big Themes, it's completely arresting. This miniscule, minute-long movie, aptly named Tiny Story, pretty much says it all, with just a dot; it's basically instructions for living well. Begin. Dream. Listen. Learn. Wait. All you need to know to live a good life, in under a minute. There's nothing tiny about that.
Take a Whimsy Break
An Animated Meditation on Kindness
A Personal Fireworks Display
As an only-abstractly ambitious high school senior, I eschewed useless topics such as science, math, and whenever possible gym, in favor of the practical-life-skills-building Advanced Placement Art. Auspicious, I know. And yet, thanks to Facebook, I know that two of the girls (well, women now) from my class have gone on to support themselves as straight-up artists. They were both talented from the get-go, but they weren't the only or even the most talented artists in the class. They were, however, the most driven. Now, one was an excellent draftsman (draftswoman?). She was the only person I ever knew who could draw a horse. She makes her living as a graphic artist, and she's very good at what she does. The other girl, in my teenaged estimation, not the best at drawing. Her stuff didn't look like stuff. She couldn't really draw a horse. But she had ideas. She had crazy, amazing, creative ideas. She would tweak the assignments we were given and create, well, works of art. And, you guessed it, she is now a real, honest-to-god, gallery-showing painter. She's one of those painters with ideas, with vision, with Creativity with a Big C.
Even as a student I knew that though my paintings of cups and things were sort of nice, I did not have what this girl had. This ability to innovate, to really see things in a whole new way. Because that's the nature of creativity, isn't it? It's not strictly creating something to paint its portrait; to truly make something new you must see things in a unique way, which is a harder skill to learn than, say, shading something to make it look round. Which leads me to this: the 3-D Alphabet.
Ji Lee's site Please Enjoy is full of projects as clever as they are masterfully handled, and most have this element of, dare I say, genius -- that strange combination of being at once so unique you would never think of them, and so deceptively simple-seeming that once you've seen them you suspect you might have almost thought of them once... though you never actually would. It's that whiff of inevitability that makes the 3-D alphabet such a delight. Of course! Each letter rendered in 3-D! Why didn't I think of that? Reading a word "written" in the 3-D-ized letters becomes a brain-twisting pleasure; the whimsical space-age robot world created from the 3-D word building blocks becomes the most fun kind of puzzle.
The 3-D alphabet is fun for what it is. But it's also fun for what it reminds us: that a creative mind can transform anything.
The Creative Commandments
Unblocking Your Creativity
Quotes to Inspire Creativity
Graphic designer Milton Glaser claims that what he does is "move things around until they look right" and that he's been doing it "for centuries." The creator of the "I [Heart] NY" graphic -- which has become so iconic it's hard to imagine it ever had to be created at all -- shares his thoughts on creativity in this great video, and what he says is relevant to all of us, artists or not: "Anything I've ever discovered has come through the act of work or making things... the act itself is the path to discovery."
To master anything, says Glaser, we need to move toward what we don't know. "Most significant works come out of misunderstanding," he goes on to say. "It is the path to attempt to understand that is what you're looking for. The path by which you arrive at understanding is the whole point of the game, not the arrival." We know this, of course we do, but when faced with a big challenge at work, or any problem that demands creative solutions, it's all too easy to lose the nerve to search, the possibility of risk.
The On Creativity site has more designers, cartoonists, and artists of all kinds sharing their thoughts on creativity -- each says something worth writing down and pinning to the wall near your work station. An installation artist admits to a fear of the blank wall. A renowned designer decrees: "Use what is essentially you." No losing-of-nerve allowed. Go forth, into your future, embracing the possibility of failure. As Glaser puts it, if you're the best at drawing cocker spaniels...try to draw a goldfish. Good advice for all of us cocker-spaniel-drawers.
More on Creativity:
How to Start Any Project
How to Beat Procrastination
How to Get Out of a Life Block