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creativity (104 posts)
In Judy Fox's studio, a mermaid stands in the corner. Instead of a fanciful tail, she has iridescent legs, tinted bluish purple. Her hair floats above her shoulders as if swept by the ocean's current, her gaze dreamy, if a little sad. The sculpture is part of Fox's exhibition Out of Water, opening October 25. It will be surrounded by ceramic sea worms and cephalopods, including an octopus with eyes "slightly more human than they should be," says Fox—whose genial, easily amused nature belies the eerie intensity of her work.
For more than three decades, she has drawn from art history, mythology, and world events to create beguiling sculptures, like a series of cultural icons (Friar Tuck, Albert Einstein, Saint Theresa) imagined as babies, or an interpretation of Snow White in which the dwarves embody the seven deadly sins. In the current exhibition, at New York's PPOW gallery, Fox turns her playfully subversive eye to the sea, sculpting oddly sexual worms and mollusks a few surreal degrees removed from nature. "Creating these animals felt like intelligent design," she says. "I got to run my own little version of evolution."
Fox first discovered her affinity for sculpture when she experimented with the form as a teenager during summer camp, and honed her technique as an art major at Yale. "I felt at home in sculpture," she says. She is particularly excited by improvisation, incorporating her models' peculiar traits into her sculptures. The mermaid's awkwardly bent fingers, for instance, derive from the model's own double-jointedness. "That kind of discovery is an almost mystical thing," Fox says. "The model becomes a coauthor of the work."
Fox begins her sculptures of humans by photographing a model in a predetermined pose, then shapes, carves, plasters, and paints terra-cotta in a process so intensive that each adult-size sculpture takes roughly a year. "I spend a lot of time getting the curves right, because they create the rhythm and the mood," Fox says. "Sculpting is like standing on a mountaintop before you ski the slope, thinking about how you'll curve your way down."
I am fond, along with everyone I know, of saying things like, "I don't even have a moment to breathe." But what that means is, "I don't take a moment to breathe." Because there are hidden moments here and there, even in the most hectic life, moments that most of us spend staring off into space, or more often at our phones' glowing informative faces—when we could be breathing, or stretching, or humming a tune, or scribbling down a few choice lines or images on whatever is at hand. The back of a receipt. An envelope.
This was the first thought I had when I heard of a new artist's book that includes facsimiles of Emily Dickinson's "envelope-poems." Now on view at the New York Public Library, this lovely object offers insight into Dickinson's later years and creative process, as well as a celebration of the poet's famous economy: the title comes from Dickinson's manuscript A 821, "the gorgeous | nothings | which | compose | the | sunset | keep." But it also offers a reminder to the rest of us non-Dickinsons in the world. It's not your materials that matter (i.e. "This crappy old laptop is keeping me from writing my memoirs!"), or even your scope. We all have envelopes, and pens, and scattered (and non-grocery-list-related) thoughts. We all have tiny moments we can transform into gorgeous nothings.
Golden moments that everybody gets
Why you need improbable goals
Men! What are they thinking? We can't always answer that, but we'll be posting our favorite glimpses into their world in this space every Thursday.
* Meyers Leonard had an emotional reaction when his brother, U.S. Marine Bailey Leonard, surprised him before a basketball game. After you watch this video, he won't be the only one. (YouTube via Andrew Sullivan)
* Here's a review of the fall collection by The Hill-Side, a men's accessories line, written in GIFs. (Well Spent)
* "Luca Pacioli was a monk, a mathemetician, a magician and possibly, the boyfriend of Leonardo da Vinci." Learn more about him from Planet Money. (NPR)
* Baseball fans are sure to be pleased by Peter Chen's Jumbotron Art—charming prints of the players he grew up admiring, done in a style reminiscent of the era in which they played. (Iconic Ballplayers)
It is, indeed, artwork that makes you wonder such strange things: Birds, fairies, storybook characters, flowers, all manners of figures and shapes, perched in the eye of a needle, or on the tip of a pin, or even on the end of an eyelash. Carved out of, sometimes, a single grain of sand. Created by -- get this -- a regular-sized human.
Willard Wigan's artwork is impossible. I know. I don't believe it either. How? And why? Well, I thought I was going to write here about patience, about how Wigan taught himself to concentrate hard enough to create these astoundingly tiny works. And yes, he spoke at TED about how he has to slow down his nervous system to do his work. He works in between his heart beats, in the middle of the night. He has to hold his breath so that he doesn't inhale the sculptures. (Doesn't just hearing that make you squirm?) Sometimes, as he explains, working on this molecular level means your materials (spider webs, fly hairs, plastic fibers, glass shards) get finicky. Learning his Lilliputian craft -- each eensy sculpture takes up to 7 weeks to create -- has surely been a Brobdingnagian process.
And yet, this very TED talk made me realize that Wigan's story isn't just one of patience and concentration: it's a story of transcendent failure. Wigan is dyslexic, and was routinely humiliated at school. He talks about being 5 years old and smarting from the cruel teacher who labeled him a failure. He would hide away in a shed, where he noticed some ants who, in his magical world, indicated to him that they needed a home. Wigan constructed them a tiny apartment out of wood splinters, and an artistic quest was begun. He found the thing he was good at, the thing no one else could own, the world that was his, and he worked it; as his mother told him, “The smaller your work, the bigger your name." He's since been called (unofficially) the 8th Wonder of the World, so there you go.
You must listen to his TED talk -- he's surprisingly funny, mysteriously inspiring, and his message is an important one for anyone who's ever needed to find their own little corner of the world.
Trading Art for Health Care
Learning to Play Viola at 52
As I stuck the list to the fridge, I daydreamed about the different lessons we would have every week, how I would combine documentary clips and projects and field trips in a totally inspiring and life-affirming improvised homeschooling situation. I envisioned the children and I racing through a meadow, peering at clouds through homemade cloud-viewers and shouting, "Cumulus! Nimbus!" at each other like greetings in a newly-learned language.
Right. So as it turns out, I apparently don't know how to learn about anything other than by checking out relevant books at the library. Each Monday I stare at the list, and think, Right. India. We were going to learn about India. Hm, guess I'll check out a book. What's next? Animal groups. Okay, I'll find a book. Now don't get me wrong, the disintegrating, outdated science textbooks at my local library are great and all. But I know there must be more engaging ways to learn about new things. And now I know where to find them: Learnist.
This new social media site is essentially Pinterest with a point. (No offense to Pinterest!) Users share their areas of expertise, compiling, say, helpful grammar infographics, or the best works of filmmaker Werner Herzog, or (my favorite so far) words that can't be translated into English. Learnist draws you in and around (I was not exactly looking for Werner Herzog, but suddenly here I am, obsessed) the way Facebook and Twitter do, but with more useful content -- lots of resources for teachers, home cooks, sports enthusiasts, basically, everyone.
So I can space out online and actually be compiling an unofficial lesson plan for my curious kid. Or, you know, myself.
Check out Learnist and request a (free, easy) beta invite!
Is Learning Ever Just Plain Learning?
The Importance of Curiosity
Men! What are they thinking? We can't always answer that, but we'll be posting our favorite glimpses into their world in this space every Thursday.
* 50 years ago, James Bond strode onto the big screen. Shouldn't we all age so well? (Vanity Fair)
* Who knew Mitt Romney was such a romantic? Check out the photos declaring his love he sent to his future wife Ann in 1968. (Time)
* "The best use of imagination is creativity. The worst use of imagination is anxiety."—Deepak Chopra shares some great wisdom in under 140 characters. (Twitter)
No, I'm not suggesting any sort of twit-pic-ing. Rather, this is about Blog For Your Breasts Day, a day of internet awareness-raising. Breast Cancer Awareness month can be a tricky time for women; we want to get involved and show how much we care and fight against this awful disease, and we suspect that eating yogurt with a pink ribbon on the top isn't quite cutting it. But we're not, most of us, medical researchers. We're not (all) oncologists. How can just caring make a difference? Well, three years ago the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation started Blog For Your Breasts Day, urging women to reach out to their communities and encourage others to take action too. This year the goal is to direct readers toward the Health of Women study. Here, you and your readers can take part in a study for men and women with and without breast cancer that aims to gain a better understanding of breast cancer and what causes it. (And if you don't have a blog, you can share in a Facebook note, too.)
When you take the pledge to participate in Blog For Your Breasts Day, you will be sent an official BFYBD badge to publish on your site. And of course you can also celebrate the way girls everywhere do -- by wearing lots and lots of pink.
Fabulous Ways to Fight Breast Cancer
Hope-Inducing Breast Cancer Cure Breakthroughs
Do you ever feel as if you just need to be scrubbed clean? As if there were some authentic self there, but you just haven't seen her in a while, distracted as you've been with work and family and the difficult work of maintaining everyday life? Like you know the real you climbs mountains and writes haiku every weekend, but you somehow just haven't found the time to deal with her lately? Like maybe there's something hiding beneath the surface, like, say, a $600,000 lighthouse.
Allow me to explain: according to Art Info's In the Air blog, an 18th century painting attributed to the studio of French painter Claude-Joseph Vernet was recently sent to the cleaner's by an art dealer in preparation for the LAPADA Art & Antiques Fair this week. (Check out the blog for the dingy pre-cleaning painting.) When the dealer got the bright-and-shiny-painting back, he found there was an entire section that had been painted over. There was now a lighthouse completing the composition, which not only changed the whole feel of the painting, but most significantly, revealed the painting to be in fact a work of Vernet himself, vastly increasing its value -- 16 fold.
There's always something exciting about a work of art that harbors a secret. And I love the idea that something so simple as a good cleaning could change a painting's fate, make an art lover a mint, and most of all, reveal a work's authenticity.
If only there were official restorations for people. It would be something between a spa day and a religious conversion, just a good soul-scrubbing, a little life-brightener.
The Power of Authenticity
Cultivate Your Own True Self
September 22 was the Autumnal Equinox, when day and night will be the same length for one strange day, before we slip into that cozy-or-depressing-depending-on-your-perspective darkness of autumn and winter. Every year the equinox inspires a 50/50 night and day of mixed emotions, too. I mean, don't you just love fall, with all its appley-pumpkiny-leafy crispness and opportunities for sweaters? And then there's Halloween, basically the only holiday worth celebrating. And yet there's always that dark, cold, mucky winter-chaser to gulp down afterwards, about which most of us feel less enthusiastic. So what do you do on the equinox? It must be something slightly mysterious, I think, slightly odd, in touch with nature in some askew way. Like, maybe, silent dancing?
Allow me to explain: a friend of mine recently shared this video, AKA the most beautiful, strange, haunting "What I Did On My Summer Vacation" report in the whole land of Facebook. She explained that she was strolling along on a hot summer night in Lisbon when she came across these people silently dancing the tango outside a church. The result is a dreamy spectacle, captured in a hazy camera-phone movie that I've since watched approximately 80,000,000 times, wishing I were one of those dancers. Something about the silence and the darkness make them seem not like individuals but like a force of nature.
So why not dance silent tangos at midnight in the week after this equinox? You don't need a church, just any sacred-ish space will do -- a backyard, or a courtyard, or a roomy fire escape -- and the will to give yourself permission to dance to the moon even when there is no music. Or at least watch this video a few times, while contemplating the mysteries of the universe. Happy Equinox.
The Making of Oprah's Flash Mob
A Democracy of Dancing
In an approximately one-by-two-foot box, Elly MacKay constructs tiny, delicately detailed scenes—mermaids frolicking, a child's hand shadow puppets coming to life, a skulk of foxes traversing the woods—out of little more than paper and imagination. Once these soft-focus flights of fancy are arranged to her liking, MacKay carefully lights them and experiments with various camera filters and lenses to produce an effect of dreamy immediacy in the resulting photograph. "I try to make the work feel intimate, like you're inside it," she says.
MacKay begins each diorama by layering parchment paper, dollhouse wallpaper, Yupo paper (a synthetic, semitranslucent material), or Mylar against the backdrop of the box; she might use several sheets for an opaque nightscape, but only a few for a glowing daylight scene. Then MacKay sketches images—a cherub, a sailboat, an endless sea—with a vintage calligraphy pen, colors them with ink, cuts them out, and carefully hooks these shapes into the diorama using wires and adhesives. Once the stage is set, "I usually take about 50 pictures," she says, "each only subtly different, and then choose the one I like best."
As a teenager, MacKay was fascinated by Victorian paper toys—tunnel books, zoetropes, acrobats that tumble down a slope—and by the age of 15 had begun creating dioramas that adopted the same colorful, playful aesthetic. By 16 she was preparing for a degree in art studies. "In university the attitude was like, You have to stop doing this stuff! It's silly, childish." But giving birth to her daughter, Lily, in 2008 and son, Koen, three years later, only solidified MacKay's love of the nostalgic world of childhood. "Sharing their new experiences is so inspiring," she says, "and capturing that feels like real magic."