I did have the privilege of dining with Azzedine in Paris. With my brother. A pinching-myself-at-the-marvelous-story-I-was-living-kind-of-epic-feast-of-an evening. I have also emptied my wallet to purchase more than one pair of perfectly outrageous Alaia heels and a fringed shearling at the Bon Marché. Not my usual m.o., but his garments were an irrestible thing of beauty, and they, like him, were beacons of taste and integrity. This one of a kind designer and artist tragically passed away earlier this week, and I wrote this for him and those that loved and admired him:
Well made rarely
cut in cloth
of the richest
(not in a papery sense)
but in the exactitude of
Wouldn’t you bet
Evangelista liked laces
defining bounty in a single
Would Prouvé approve
of the firm voices
No matter the opinions
it was a lasting cone
a ragland perfection
from the heavens
and little Azzedine
I have never been a faithful diary keeper. My degenerate handwriting is probably to blame. Or perhaps it is the fact that the written word can fall short as a truth teller- especially for the visually minded.
Over the last few weeks, I have embarked on a new journaling process that is bringing me a lot of pleasure. It is also helping me work through various facets of my creative and emotional life. Each page is an auto-bio-graphic, day in the life, of me- A. Posen.
I was inspired by my kids. Comics are big in my house. Raina Telgemeier looms large, and we all eagerly await the latest version of Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales. My daughter Celeste is even writing her own graphic novella, which will hopefully make an appearance here at The Creative Hours someday.
Needless to say, I fell for the form. With my ipad and ipencil, I have been drawing these autobiographical depictions of everyday life. Keeping it easy, real and unheady- I am visually jotting down observations, sensations, events, feelings, visions, moments, interactions and dreams.
In my last post, Cold Calling Louise Bourgeois, I shared images from “The Diary of The Inbetween”. This was another form of visual journaling- one in which I committed to crafting an art object each day. I then strung them from the ceiling in consecutive order. The result was a surreal musical score of objects chronicalling my inner state and life impressions.
Journaling is whatever you make it to be.
Let’s see what next week brings…
DRAMA by Raina Telgemeier. Callie loves theater. And while she would totally try out for her middle school’s production of Moon over Mississippi, she can’t really sing.
ALAMO ALL-STARS from Nathan Hales’ Hazardous Tales. Hale relays the facts, politics, military actions, and prominent personalities that defined the Texas Revolution in factual yet humorous scenes that will capture the attention of reluctant readers and fans of history alike.
How do you make creativity? Curious minds want to know.
Inspired by a beautiful passage from Toni Morrison’s novel Sula, I have put together a list of 8 important ingredients that foster creativity.
First, the passage and a few thoughts about the author:
“Had she paints, or clay, or knew the discipline of the dance, or strings, had she anything to engage her tremendous curiosity and her gift for metaphor, she might have exchanged the restlessness and preoccupation with whim for an activity that provided her with all she yearned for. And like an artist with no art form, she became dangerous.”
This description of Sula nails the potency of the creative spirit, and the importance of channeling its energy into articulate expression. As human beings, we all have creative spirit rattling around inside of us, trying to push outwards and take shape. Perhaps what defines an artist is the demanding character of this spirit, and the permission to recognize its cues for what they are: The dire need to create.
More than any other writer I can think of, Nobel and Pulitzer prize winning author Toni Morrison knows how to cut to the aching heart of things, and how to turn the invisible into sensual and tangible form. Her novels, which include masterpieces such as The Bluest Eye, Sula, Beloved, Song of Solomon and Jazz, are bountiful with a somatic kind of poetry as they delve into the powerful tales and experiences of her African American protagonists.
For Sula, curiosity and a gift for metaphor are the tell-tale signs of her highly creative soul. Which brings me to the promised recipe, or at least a handful of ingredients:
A Recipe for Creativity
Start with a curious mind and an open heart
An unbiased hunger for studying the world
Compassionate interest in experiences beyond oneself
Attentiveness to all the dynamics, properties, qualities and details that you encounter
You will know if you are on the right track if you can find inspiration anywhere and in anything
Remember that you are building an archive of observations
Metaphoric thinking. Metaphors are the tools of translation for all that you see, hear and feel. Metaphors give us words and ideas with which to hold and define our observations
Last but not least, learn some skills, so that you can easily use your understanding to create and express your heart’s desire.
Toni Morrison knows the secret sauce well. The curious, compassionate and metaphoric strengths of her work are out of this world. There is so much to learn from her.
“I really think the range of emotions and perceptions I have had access to as a black person and as a female person are greater than those of people who are neither…. So it seems to me that my world did not shrink because I was a black female writer. It just got bigger.” -Toni Morrison
This creative exercise is inspired by master storyteller, Toni Morrison. It encourages you to look closely, and apply compassion and imagination throughout your day. Remember to share photos or thoughts! #TCHhands
Further reading: Sula, by Toni Morrison Two girls who grow up to become women. Two friends who become something worse than enemies. In this brilliantly imagined novel, Toni Morrison tells the story of Nel Wright and Sula Peace, who meet as children in the small town of Medallion, Ohio. Their devotion is fierce enough to withstand bullies and the burden of a dreadful secret
Beloved, by Toni Morrison Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this novel transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby. Sethe, its protagonist, was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. Filled with bitter poetry and suspense as taut as a rope, Beloved is a magnificent novel.
“Barely 40 years ago, Pop artists like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein caused a transgressive stir by adopting commercial imagery from newspaper advertisements and comic strips as the subjects of paintings to hang in art galleries. How daring that was, and how dated it is. We are surrounded today by too many images to source or rank.” -Arthur Lubow, from a NYT article on Takashi Murakami
The world is at the mercy of information, imagery and input.
Ever notice that Times Square is ominously boring these days? The place that once shocked the system with electric tugs of attention and vortexes of sparkly seduction, now kind of falls flat. It is largely an issue of relativity. We have changed. We have become acclimated to an omnipresent deluge of media and constant consumption. Midtown’s spattering of LED screens merely joins the new normal spread of our collective psyche.
What does this new normal mean for humanity?
Scientists say that we are stuffing way more data through our system than our brains are built to process. One of the key effects of such surfeit, is that the brain loses its ability to order and prioritize information. In other words, we are in a noisy sea of sameness, and we don’t know where to focus our attention or when to look deeply. Important things, meaningful things, sensitive things get jumbled and flattened with the frivolous, popular and commercial.
In an interview with Sanjay Gupta, Dr. Daniel Levitan explains how information overload effects the brain:
“It puts us into a brain state of decision fatigue. Turns out, the neurons that are doing the business of helping us make decisions, they’re living cells with metabolism, they require glucose to function, and they don’t distinguish between making important decisions and unimportant ones. It takes up almost as much energy and nutrients to process trivial decisions or important ones.”
The artist Takashi Murakami captured this phenomenon when he ordained an art movement called Superflat. Originally specific to Japanese culture and history, his concept seems more and more relevant to the global reality of today.
Coined in 2000 for an exhibition at The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the term Superflat refers to the leveling of distinctions between high and low. Everything is driven by consumerism and there is a virtual flood fill of information. Murakami communicates this state of affairs in his icon-bombed paintings, and through his surreal sculptural mash-ups.
Takashi Murakami came to the Superflat idea partly by reflecting on the missing third dimension that is characteristic in Japanese art history, as well as the critical role that animé and manga played in expressing postwar sentiments in Japan.
“We want to see the newest things. That is because we want to see the future, even if only momentarily. It is the moment in which, even if we don’t completely understand what we have glimpsed, we are nonetheless touched by it. This is what we have come to call art.” -Takashi Murakami
The point is that we are in Murakami’s future now. Information overload and runaway consumerism have spread us thin and made us shallow. We no longer read, we now skim or scroll. We follow power points, rely on headers and avoid complexity. We rarely stop to look closely and reflect.
It makes me think that we all need to work very hard to protect these essential moments of attention and sensitivity that allow for profundity and meaning.
And, is this not the role of art?
If you take the time to look deeply, art will not disappoint.
This whimsical exercise is inspired by the visual bazaar that we live in, Murakami’s paintings and the concept of SUPERFLAT.
Life is short. Paint everything blue. This is the bittersweet story of the artist Yves Klein, from whom we have much to learn about commitment and maximizing our time on earth.
In 1947 three teenagers lay basking on a beach in the South of France. They had become close friends at school while all sharing a love for Judo and the arts. Full of youthful arrogance, these three boys vowed to divide the world between themselves. The young sculptor named Armand Fernandez chose the earth. Claude Pascal chose the domain of words, and Yves Klein committed to take on the sky. If this sounds like a creation myth, that is because, in a way, it was.
With the sky as his mandate, Yves Klein got right to work. Two years after that pivotal moment at the beach, he summoned the infinite with an ethereal performance piece called “Monotone Silence Symphony”. Following the minimalist symphony and a Judo focused sojourn in Japan, Yves Klein held his first exhibit of monochromatic paintings in Paris. For his next show in 1957, he narrowed the focus down to one single hue: the color blue. For Klein, this color represented the concept of the void. He was interested in how its quality of pure energy was in tension with the materiality of the physical art work.
“At first there is nothing, then there is a profound nothingness, after that a blue profundity.” – Yves Klein
Now known as “Yves Klein Blue”, this vibrant color had once existed only in the form of raw pigment. Klein became obsessed with the lapis lazuli like quality of the ultramarine powder, and engineered a way to keep its luminosity while transforming it into paint.
From the get-go, Klein understood how to make an impact in the art world, and in turn his rise to success was astonishingly direct. After the heralded blue paintings, Klein went on to explore the relationship between the physical and the void by staging performance pieces in which he used naked bodies as vehicles for paint application. He also created painted sculptures and other conceptual performance works. In the field of photography, Klein published poetic series called Saut Dans Le Vide, which shows him swan diving into the open air.
Tragically, with a new wife and his first baby on the way, Yves Klein had a fatal heart attack at the young age of thirty four. It is astounding to contemplate the targeted impact that he made with his brief time on this earth. The commitment and focus with which he approached his life and career seems almost prophetic- as if he was well aware that the clock was ticking away, and that he needed to triage the situation.
Throughout his time, Klein stayed profoundly committed to the sky and its metaphysical implications. His mission was to outsmart mortality, and his method was to paint the world the color of eternity.
When I see Yves Klein blue I am reminded of life’s brevity, and the mandate to be focused, courageous and to make bold propositions in life. We are all living out our own creation myths- the question is what piece of the universe will you be responsible for?
This exercise is inspired by Yves Klein’s passion for the color blue.
Join The Creative Hours community. Share your experience!
Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers : With the Void, Full Powers includes examples from all of Klein’s major series, including his Anthropometries, Cosmogonies, fire paintings, planetary reliefs and blue monochromes, as well as selections of his lesser-known gold and pink monochromes, body and sponge reliefs, “air architecture” and immaterial works.
Impressionism is culture’s blockbuster. Dreamy and oh so pretty, it is easy to forget its rebel roots, and amazing to fathom how the desire for artists to essentially cut class and go out into the sunshine started a chain of innovation that led to abstraction, modernism and onwards.
“Beauty in art is truth bathed in an impression received from nature” -Corot
In the late 1800’s, the “Impressionist” artists, including Monet, Cézanne, Morisot, Pissarro, Degas, Renoir and Sissley, were fed up with the authoritarian nature of the Parisian art world. They were disillusioned with traditionalism in art and uninterested in mythological or historical subject matter. These artists were loath to sit inside the Academie’s classrooms and train their skills through mimetic and reverent exercises. To boot, they found the emphasis on minute brushwork and stylistic polish to be a bore.
This motley crew of artists preferred to work outside,“en plein air”, and to let observation be their greatest teacher.
“‘Impressionism’ was the name given to a certain form of observation when Monet, not content with using his eyes to see what things were or what they looked like as everybody had done before him, turned his attention to noting what took place on his own retina (as an oculist would test his own vision).” -John Singer Sargent
While rough impressions, or sketches used to be an early step in creating a masterpiece, these artists recognized that the imprints were an end unto themselves. They saw the vitality in essences and perception and sought to capture the ever-shifting nuances of light, air and color that render one spot endlessly new to observe. They tried to see without commentary, and to let the colors tell the stories. I love Mallarmé’s impression of Impressionism:
“The idea was that ‘nothing should be absolutely fixed’.. ..so that the bright gleam which lights the picture, or the diaphanous shadow which veils it, are only seen in passing, in the actual moment during which the viewer looks at the scene, which, composed as it is of reflected and ever-changing lights, palpitates with movement, light and life.” -Stephane Mallarmé
After nearly a decade of being shut out from the official juried art exhibitions, and after many thwarted efforts to get government support for alternative exhibitions, the artists banded together to organize their own show, which they held at photographer Nadar’s studio in 1874. The exhibition caused a stir and attracted a huge audience. Among the works exhibited, the one by Claude Monet, titled “Sunrise, an Impression” garnered the most attention (not all positive). From his painting and its title, the category of the “Impressionists” sprung, first as a critique, then as an identity, and now as a sacred honor.
This creative exercise is inspired by Impressionism, and in particular by Monet’s wise words about looking and painting:
“When you go out to paint try to forget what object you have before you – a tree, a house, a field or whatever. Merely think, here is a little square of blue, here an oblong of pink, here a streak of yellow, and paint it just as it looks to you, the exact colour and shape, until it emerges as your own naive impression of the scene before you.” -Claude Monet
VIEWS FROM THE WINDOW a drawing and observing exercise
Gather paper and markers (I’ve suggested some types below)
Choose a window in your house with your favorite view
Try sketching your impression of the view
Remember to looking out the window more than you look down at your paper
Do this whenever you have the chance, and at different times during the day
IMPRESSIONISM, Reimagining Art This beautiful book looks at Impressionism on a global scale, from its iconic French masterpieces to less familiar works by Scandinavian, German, British, and North American artists.
Tombow Dual Brush Pens I LOVE these pens. Great for impressionistic and lush drawing styles. This is a secondary color set, which I find beautiful, but there are also primary and portrait sets.
Strathmore Artist Tiles Bristol is a smooth and lovely surface for letting makers glide and play. Square paper tiles are a nice proportion for quick impressions.
I am in the thick of it with The Creative Hours, and am loving the process of research and reflection. Nonetheless, all this deep thinking about creativity reminds me that it is essential to keep a sense of humor about the whole shebang. On that note, I hope you enjoy Groucho Marx’s line from Animal Crackers as much as I do. I may adopt it as a motto for this blog:
“Well, art is art, isn’t it? Still, on the other hand, water is water! And east is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does. Now, uh… now you tell me what you know.” – Groucho Marx
Being willing to be silly is an essential ingredient to creative flow and the survival of an artistic soul. Making fun of oneself, turning reality on its head, and flirting with the lack of meaning is a way of keeping the blood flowing and the molecules dancing. I’d go as far as to say that being at play is the opposite of deathly stasis.
Those who play rarely become brittle in the face of stress or lose the healing capacity for humor. – Stewart Brown, MD, Psychiatrist
While play is a no laughing matter, it is conversely true that humor touches the very deepest of human truths. Richard Avedon reflects this in his SERIOUSLY beautiful portraits of iconic comedians.
Further Reading and Supplies:
Richard Avedon Photographs Richard Avedon: Photographs 1946-2004 includes 125 reproductions of Avedon’s greatest work from the entire range of his oeuvre-including fashion photographs, reportage and portraits-and spans from his early Italian subjects of the 1940s to his 2004 portrait of the Icelandic pop star Bjork.
I find Cunningham’s 1952 portrait “Blind Sculptor” beautiful. Photographer Imogene Cunningham was a glorious treasure to the world in so many ways, and I am excited to talk about her specialness- but first I want to explain what I love about this picture.
Let me start with the presence of touch in the photograph. Look how solidly the sculptor’s left hand cups the shoulder of his creation. In that touch I see the fatherly weight of an artist’s hand as it reassures his creation of its physical actuality. I feel the coolness of the clay, and imagine the contour beneath the sculptor’s ringed pinky-finger. His right hand is Pygmalion- and I am privy to an intimate moment of caressing and exploration. The figure’s head tilts upward with pride, and the artist’s head points down in concentration, inviting me into the hidden picture of his imagination. Then notice the figure’s giant hands which, wrapped Cycladic style, also seem to be confirming its own physicality. Poignantly, the figure has no eyes to speak of.
All photographs speak about the act of sight and creation. What makes this work particularly poetic is the juxtaposition of blindness and visual art- both in regards to sculpture and the photographic medium.
“The formula for doing a good job in photography, is to think like a poet” – Imogene Cunningham
Born in 1883 in Oregon, Imogen Cunningham was a dynamic spirit who braved the sexist tides of her time, and became one of the most innovative and revered photographers of the twentieth century. She came to photography through studying science and processes for developing film. Her work is known for her sensual images of botany, the body and portraits of other artists, as well as experiments in double exposure. She used the technique of Platinum printing, which gave her work a soft and silvery signature style. Her sense of adventure and passion for her work stayed with her all of her life. She died in 1976 at the age of 95.
“Blind Sculptor” is one of many portraits that Cunningham did of other photographers, musicians and artists. I wish I knew more about the astonishing artist in “Blind Sculptor”, but I was unable to find this information.
“One must be able to gain an understanding at short notice and close range of the beauties of character, intellect, and spirit so as to be able to draw out the best qualities and make them show in the outer aspect of the sitter. To do this one must not have a too pronounced notion of what constitutes beauty in the external and, above all, must not worship it. To worship beauty for its own sake is narrow, and one surely cannot derive from it that esthetic pleasure which comes from finding beauty in the commonest things.” – Imogen Cunningham
CREATIVE PROMPT: GET TO KNOW A FLOWER
This creative exercise draws on Cunningham’s photographs of flowers and plants, which were inspired by the demands of motherhood and the proximity of her own garden.
TIP: Digital photography is fantastic for experimentation. Go wild, it costs nothing. Then you can look back at see what you think works or doesn’t work in the pictures that you took
Further reading and supplies: Imogen Cunningham, This publication celebrates the rich diversity of this modernist pioneer, covering Cunningham’s entire seven-decade career–from her abstract shots of plants and nudes and optical illusions created using techniques such as inverted positive/negative images and double exposure, to her iconic portraits for Vanity Fair of artists, dancers, actors, musicians and writers such as Man Ray, Alfred Stieglitz, Martha Graham, Frida Kahlo, Gertrude Stein, Morris Graves and Merce Cunningham. Imogen Cunningham 1883-1976, Spanning all the genres used in her work, the book presents the images which marked Cunningham as one of the early pioneers of the photographic medium from her 1920’s plant images to her speciality, portraiture.
After Ninety: Imogen Cunningham, Previously unpublished photographic portraits as well as selections from Imogen Cunningham’s earlier work confront the condition of old age and testify to the wisdom, dignity, despair, and loneliness of the elderly.
Life is monstrous, infinite, illogical, abrupt, and poignant; a work of art, in comparison, is neat, finite, self-contained, rational, flowing, and emasculate. Life imposes by brute energy, like inarticulate thunder; art catches the ear, among the far louder noises of experience, like an air artificially made by a discreet musician.
– Robert Louis Stevenson
In other words, art provides meaning unavailable to us in the chaotic reality of living, frames a space for us to experience and understand what would otherwise be missed, or even lost, in life’s confusion.
The sickly, Scottish son of a lighthouse designer, Stevenson wrote many of the classics of our time, traveled widely, worked hard, but died young, in Samoa, where a Samoan mourning song was written for him, which is apparently still sung.
A Child’s Garden of Verses is a must-read-to-children book. The poems are magical, mysterious, funny, clever, and express perfectly a child’s world. Children also like sounds and suggestions, they seem to be OK with not understanding poetry–unlike many adults!
“Seeing is a very sensuous act-there’s a sweet deliciousness in seeing yourself feel something”- James Turrell
I remember the first time I saw a work by the artist James Turrell. It was Spring break of my senior year in college. Home in Soho, I was flitting around the neighborhood on a bright sunny morning when I found myself in front of The Barbara Gladstone Gallery. With time aplenty (ah to be young again), I opened the door, gave a shy nod to the gallerina behind the desk, and entered the beckoning tunnel of darkness.
It was hard to say where the tunnel ended and the room began. All I knew was that a lilac apparition appeared before my eyes. The first tingle ran down my spine as this lilac rectangle of light seemed to reach out towards me and then recede into the distance all at once. I slowly stepped towards what I thought might be a glowing canvas. With every step I expected my eyes to clarify the numinous situation, but with every step understanding slipped farther and farther away. What the hell was I looking at? Was it material? Was it far from me? A few steps ahead? Did it lead somewhere? Am I dreaming? Nervous giggles started bubbling out of me as I nudged forward in a state of delighted awe and disbelief.
Not knowing can be a ticklish feeling. It is a sensation that I personally adore, but I know that many find it uncomfortable. As humans, we are wired to make sense of things- to process clues and arrive at an understanding. We crave comprehension, reward logic and believe measurement. This is how we anchor and orient ourselves in the world.
Art, however, invites us to hang out in the unknown. It allows for a different, more spiritual sort of mooring. The poet Wallace Steven’s words express this beautifully:
“Most people read poetry looking for echoes because the echoes are familiar to them. They wade through it the way a boy wades through water, feeling with his toes for the bottom: the echoes are the bottom.”
What is so genius about Turrell’s work is that it subverts our primary sense making system- our eyes- into functioning as a receiver for the liminal and mysterious. One cannot look at a Turrell work, one must be in a Turrell work, and being inside of the work means we are inside a state of wonder.
“The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible”- Oscar Wilde
Orchestrating these experiences require a technical wizardry that Turrell has been honing for years. He began his exploration in the sixties as part of the Light and Space movement in Southern California, which included other artists such as Robert Irwin, Doug Wheeler and Mary Corse. In his artistic practice he continued to research vision, the retinal structure and to experiment with perceptual and psychological phenomenons. While his work has been exhibited and lauded worldwide, Turrell’s most important work is out of the fray, in the middle of Northern Arizona’s Painted Desert. Roden Crater is a volcanic cinder cone which provides a “controlled environment for the contemplation of light.” The vision, ambition and sacrifice that this project embodies is unparalleled, and speaks volumes about Turrell’s depth as an artist who looks for light.
This exercise is about visual attunement, the goal here is to heighten your consciousness around color and light.
THE COLOR OF YOUR DAY, A EXERCISE IN PERCEPTION
Pick a color
Keep a look out for this color throughout your day
Make a mental note everytime you notice that color
Be aware the variations you find- for example: dark red, light red, orangy-red etc
Be aware of how the color appears at different times of the day or in different contexts
Further reading and supplies: James Turrell; A Retrospective Published in conjunction with a major retrospective, this comprehensive volume illuminates the origins and motivations of James Turrell’s incredibly diverse and exciting body of work—from his Mendota studio days to his monumental work-in-progress Roden Crater.
James Turrell; Geometry of Light The first significant Turrell survey in many years, an extraordinary body of work covering several decades is assessed. At the book’s center is the series of works known as Sky Spaces, a signature Turrell conception in which the sky is made to seem “on top of” the room’s ceiling, and which has become a mini-genre unto itself within light art.