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Bukowski’s Letter of Gratitude to the Man Who Helped Him Quit His Soul-Sucking Job and Become a Full-Time Writer

Bukowski’s Letter of Gratitude to the Man Who Helped Him Quit His Soul-Sucking Job and Become a Full-Time Writer

“…They call it “9 to 5.” It’s never 9 to 5, there’s no free lunch break at those places, in fact, at many of them in order to keep your job you don’t take lunch. Then there’s overtime and the books never seem to get the overtime right and if you complain about that, there’s another sucker to take your place.

You know my old saying, “Slavery was never abolished, it was only extended to include all the colors.”

And what hurts is the steadily diminishing humanity of those fighting to hold jobs they don’t want but fear the alternative worse. People simply empty out. They are bodies with fearful and obedient minds. The color leaves the eye. The voice becomes ugly. And the body. The hair. The fingernails. The shoes. Everything does.

As a young man I could not believe that people could give their lives over to those conditions. As an old man, I still can’t believe it. What do they do it for? Sex? TV? An automobile on monthly payments? Or children? Children who are just going to do the same things that they did?

Early on, when I was quite young and going from job to job I was foolish enough to sometimes speak to my fellow workers: “Hey, the boss can come in here at any moment and lay all of us off, just like that, don’t you realize that?”

They would just look at me. I was posing something that they didn’t want to enter their minds.

Now in industry, there are vast layoffs (steel mills dead, technical changes in other factors of the work place). They are layed off by the hundreds of thousands and their faces are stunned:

“I put in 35 years…”

“It ain’t right…”

“I don’t know what to do…”

They never pay the slaves enough so they can get free, just enough so they can stay alive and come back to work. I could see all this. Why couldn’t they? I figured the park bench was just as good or being a barfly was just as good. Why not get there first before they put me there? Why wait?

I just wrote in disgust against it all, it was a relief to get the shit out of my system. And now that I’m here, a so-called professional writer, after giving the first 50 years away, I’ve found out that there are other disgusts beyond the system.

I remember once, working as a packer in this lighting fixture company, one of the packers suddenly said: “I’ll never be free!”

One of the bosses was walking by (his name was Morrie) and he let out this delicious cackle of a laugh, enjoying the fact that this fellow was trapped for life…”

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Western Art History: 500 Years of Women Ignoring Men

Screen Shot 2014-06-10 at 8.03.44 AM

“I think she’s really into it. Another set?”

“Yeah, she’s definitely really into it. Let’s play another set.”

shoulder

“Heyyyy.”

“Hi.”

“What are you doing?”

“Writing a letter.”

“Haha, yeah, I can see that, awesome, that’s awesome…who are you writing to?”

“My mother.”

“Right on, right on…” [stretches] “So what’s new?”

“I’m actually going to be busy for a while, writing this letter.”

“Sure, for sure.”

“Can’t really talk right now.”

“Oh, it’s no problem, I can wait.”

guitar

“Oh, my God, is he still there?”

“I don’t know, but — oh my God, don’t look up, don’t look at him, he’s going to start playing again. Christ.”

flute

“Okay, but did you like, really hear the difference between the two versions?”

“No, I definitely did, I totally see what you mean –”

“I’ll play it again.”Screen Shot 2014-06-09 at 11.39.34 PM

“Oh, my God, Tess, don’t encourage him. You’re terrrrrible.”

“No, I’m serious! That was so good! Can you play another one? You’re, like, really good at this.”

Screen Shot 2014-06-09 at 11.40.21 PM

maybe if I pretend to fall asleep he’ll get the hint

flute2

“What? No, I’m just — it’s really good flauting. I’m just so impressed by how good it is, your flauting. Flaut some more.”

suitor

“I would love to go out tonight but I’m…I’m dying.” [coughs weakly into handkerchief]

“Oh, my God.”

“Yeah. It’s consumption, so.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“No, it’s fine.”

“I will stay and nurse you.”

“No, you won’t.”creeper1

“Hi, I just wanted to tell you, I thought you looked really beautiful out there tonight.”

“Oh, thank you.”

“I don’t know if anyone’s ever told you that before, but I really felt like there was a sadness to your performance that maybe not everyone noticed, but I noticed it.”

“Thank you!…Sorry, how did you get backstage?”

“I just wanted to tell you, in case you thought nobody had noticed.”

“Okay, well, thank you — sorry, I think that’s my dress — I have to go finish dancing now.”

“Right, of course.”

“So maybe you should go back to your seat.”

“Oh, I’m fine right here.” chatty3

“I’m so sorry, I no speak ze English.”

“Ah! That is no problem to me, I also speak French.”

“I speak no French.”

“But I just heard you –”

“I speak no French, monsieur. Good day to you.”

creeper2

“Hey. Hey. Hi. Hey. Yellow. Girl in the yellow dress. Can you hear me? Hey. Hey. I’m talking to you.”

“Yes?”

“So do you come to court a lot or what”chatty2

“Hi, sorry, this is a women-only balcony.”

“Women’s balcony, sorry.”

“Male balcony’s over there, this balcony is all-women, sorry!”

chatty

okay just look like you’re listening and look at his eyebrows”

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June 12, 2014 · 5:23 pm

Thoughts on Life and Art

I’ve had a lot of time to think in the past couple months, mostly due to my general unemployed-ness (I’ve been picking up a few odd part times jobs here and there to pay the bills, of course, but I mostly consider myself unemployed).

And one thing, among many, that I can’t help but notice is the apparent continuation of the contemporary trend I wrote my thesis* on: western society’s overwhelming transfiguration of “the other.” Or, in more simple terms, our glorification of, adoption of outward form and appearance of, and transformation and attempt to constructively collaborate with “the other” (aka other ethnicities, other genders, other sexual orientations, and so on and so forth).

This trend first developed in the world of “high art” as a response to the deconstructive-ness of postmodernism. Postmodern artists deconstructed the hierarchical western canon, claiming, for example, “Hey! Black and women artists are just as important as those old white guys!”

But once the canon was turned upside down, artists were left feeling a bit lost. It’s like emerging from a bomb shelter after a nuclear war and realizing that all is chaos. Thus, artists started returning to the basics, the building blocks of how living things interpret and experience their environments.

This caused artists in the 60s and 70s, for example, to start exploring the five senses and performance art; how the audience directly experiences a piece of art.

Some artists have started to glorify and exalt “the other,” effectively starting the transfiguration movement. One more contemporary, popular culture example of this is the 2004 film version of Phantom of the Opera with Gerard Butler as the Phantom.

In the 1909 book, the Phantom is an ugly, terrifying creature. In the 1925 film and the 1976 musical, he is human, but remarkably deformed. In the 2004 film, he is a downright sex object. He is viewed as a valid romantic interest for Christine and we, as the audience, are encouraged to empathize with him.

Other artists glorified the imperfect human body since the western canon had previously only accepted the idealized human body The imperfect human body, here, is considered “the other” simply because it had been previously ignored or sugar-coated in art. This includes artists like Jenny Saville and Kiki Smith (see below images).

 

High-res →

Jenny Saville – Hem
oil on canvas – 1998-1999

 

“Semen” — part of “Untitled”, Kiki Smith, 1987-90.

In the second phase of the transfiguration movement, artists wish to change their own outward form and appearance to adopt the appearance of “the other.” This includes artists like Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gomez-Pena (see below image.)

But this phase also includes more contemporary artists like Iggy Azalea and Lady Gaga when they dress in Middle Eastern and Indian garb (see below images).

Some would argue that the above artists are involved in cultural festishization, but that is a discussion for another time.

In the third phase, artists wish to transform global perspectives and encourage constructive collaboration across cultures. They do this in a variety of ways, some involve the audience in the artwork giving the spectators the chance to become the art-makers (performance art) and some attempt to understand the world from “the other’s” perspective.

Take the picture above, for example, that is a perfect example of the internet’s response to the infamous Shark Week. We are encouraged to place ourselves in the shark’s position, an animal typically feared or “other-ed.” But instead of fearing the shark, we empathize with it.

This phase is also evident in recent Disney movies like Finding Nemo and Shrek. No longer are sharks and orges scary monsters, but relatable protagonists.

 

image

 

This transfiguration movement is not just cultural, either, it has extended into politics and society at large. It is seen in the LGBT movement, the movement to accept those with mental, emotional, and physical disabilities, and, in the popular culture world, the hipster movement; it is now hip to be geek.

I see instances of contemporary transfiguration every day, and every time I see one, I want to scream out “There! Look, people!” Because art is no longer separate from culture. And culture is no longer separate from politics and societal movements.

I now use Tumblr and Facebook as my primary news sources, with a little New York Times and NPR thrown in for fact-checking. I no longer need to subscribe to fashion magazines because it’s all here.

That is what makes the regulation of the internet so troubling for some. How can we control the flow of knowledge and information if everything is available to all? Who can hold power?

That is exactly why I’m excited and scared by the future at the same time.

At this moment, actually, I’m staring at the Tumblr-suggested post to the right of my screen (if I can, I will reblog it once I finish this post, but I can also describe it for you guys just in case).

It’s a drawing of a computer (laptop?) and emerging from the screen, breaking the fourth wall as we call it in theater, are three raised fists. One is white, one is yellow, and one is green. And there are two sets of three “action” lines on either side of the hands. I see these as the hands of people around the world, sharing, learning, collaborating, and exalting through the computer, the internet.

I think I read somewhere that recently some organization gave a bunch of laptops to a poverty-stricken town in a third world country in Africa. They rigged the laptops so that they had limited capabilities for the people in the town, so that the people “would use them for the right reasons.” The people received these laptops, the first computers they’ve seen in their life, and within hours they had hacked into them and deleted all the restrictions the organization had programmed into them.

That is exactly what people in power are afraid of: giving the oppressed, the poor, the uneducated unlimited access to the information of the world.

I realize this post has veered off course, if this were an academic paper I would be agonizing over how the fuck I was going to conclude this in any logical way. But, hey, I just wanted to get my thoughts out of my mind and this is what happened.

Call it art. Call it bullshit. Call it what you will.

Welcome to Claire’s (unemployed) mind.

*thesis can be found at: https://www.academia.edu/1504353/Contemporary_Post-postmodernism_Transfiguring_the_Imperfect_Human_Body

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August 8, 2013 · 9:35 pm

Kids These Days

Ezra Klein, Samantha Shannon and Alexander Wang are some of this generation’s 20-somethings who took great risks and are experiencing even greater successes.
PHOTOGRAPHS By HANNAH STARKEY; STYLED By KATE LANPHEAR and JASON RIDER

 

“Bill Gates was 20 years old. Steve Jobs was 21. Warren Buffett was 26. Ralph Lauren was 28. Estée Lauder was 29.

These now iconic names were all 20-somethings when they started their companies that would catapult them, and their enterprises, into some of the biggest successes ever known. Consider this: many of the truly remarkable innovations of the latest generation — a list that includes Google, Facebook and Twitter — were all founded by people under 30. (Mark Zuckerberg, technically, started Facebook even earlier, when he was 19; at 20 he moved to California to turn it into a business.) The number of people in their mid-20s disrupting entire industries, taking on jobs usually reserved for people twice their age and doing it in the glare of millions of social media “followers” seems to be growing almost exponentially.

So what is it about that youthful decade after those awkward teenage years that inspires such shoot-for-the-moon success? Does age really have something to do with it?

It does. And that leaves the rest of us — even those of us just a little older — at a bit of a disadvantage.

The conventional wisdom is that young people bring fresh eyes and a new perspective to confronting problems and challenges that others have given up on. Michael Moritz of Sequoia Capital, a venture capitalist who backed Google, Yahoo and YouTube, once described the phenomenon of 20-something entrepreneurs as a generation of people “who see no boundaries, see no limits, see no obstacle that they can’t hurdle — it is the most stimulating environment that you can ever be in.” Vinod Khosla, another venture capitalist, goes further. “People under 35 are the people who make change happen,” he said at an international conference. “People over 45 basically die in terms of new ideas.”

That may or may not be true, but it’s only part of the story.

Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal, and now an investor who was an early backer of Facebook, has another, colder theory that may explain it: Ultimately, it’s about money.

“How many people do you know who said when they were young that they planned to work for a couple of years, put some money in the bank, so that they could later pursue their passion and start a new business or strike out on their own?” he asked me. “It almost never plays out that way in practice. What seems to happen is that after some period of time, people are making good money and they’re typically spending all of it and it becomes really hard to dial that back. If you bought a house or have all sorts of obligations of one sort or another it may be very difficult.”

In other words, it’s the young people who have nothing to lose, with no mortgage and, frankly, with nothing to do on a Friday night except work, who are the ones often willing to take the biggest risks. Sure, they are talented. But it’s their persistence and zeal, the desire to stay up until 6 a.m. chugging Red Bull, that is the difference between being a salaried employee and an entrepreneur.

And with the steady march of technology, young people have gained an even greater sense of credibility among their elders — still worried that they themselves don’t “get it.” Since the 1960s, and especially since the rise of the computer era, older people have been more willing to give opportunities to the most talented 20-somethings as the office politics of old break down. Could this latest crop of entrepreneurial success stories have made it in a pre-Twitter era? Sure. But the rapidity of this digital age has hastened their ascent.

That’s not to say that most 20-somethings are finding success. They’re not. The latest crop of über-successful young entrepreneurs, bloggers, designers and authors are far, far from the norm. In truth, unemployment for workers age 16 to 24 is double the national average. “Gen X” and “Gen Y” have far less wealth than their parents did at the same age, according to the Urban Institute.

One of the biggest challenges facing this next generation — and one that may prevent more visionary entrepreneurs from succeeding — is the staggering rise in the level of debt college students have been left with. If Thiel’s theory is right, it is going to be harder and harder for young people to take big risks because they will be crushed with obligations before they even begin. 

If you’re over 29 years old and still haven’t made your world-changing mark, don’t despair. Some older people have had big breakthroughs, too. Thomas Edison didn’t invent the phonograph until he was 30. ANDREW ROSS SORKIN

CHRIS HUGHES

Facebook co-founder; publisher and editor in chief of The New Republic

It was once said — by Michael Kinsley — that Al Gore was every old person’s idea of what a young person should be. It surely applies to The New Republic’s latest editor in chief and publisher, Chris Hughes. He was Mark Zuckerberg’s sophomore roommate at Harvard, a key bridge between the tech world and regular human beings, and made a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars from his tiny share of the company. He moved on to lead the Obama campaign’s groundbreaking use of the Web in 2008.

There’s a confidence about him that I certainly never had — when I, another young gay man, was handed the editorship of that august magazine at the age of 27. We’ve only met a couple of times in coffee shops and, despite my 20 years on him, I felt as if I were a kid talking with a grown-up. His hair is slicked down and neatly coiffed, his attire almost fogy, his young, clear, freckled face open.

Why on earth would an Internet multimillionaire rescue a boutique political and literary magazine that has almost always lost money? Hughes’s answer — he wants to “convene conversations” that help change the world — seems a little jejune, but sincere. There’s a vagueness that immediately evaporates when he turns to the object of his desire: “I love print,” he says. “Because it’s an incredible technology in its own right. It’s colorful, it’s cheap, it’s disposable, it’s sharable, it’s an object.” And when you pick up the new New Republic, you can see the love: the hefty solid paper pages, the superglossy cover, the thoroughly designed interior, the graphics, the use of art and photography in ways the magazine never aspired to before. Because it was too expensive.

As The New Republic turns 100 next year, it says something about its 29-year-old editor that he is seeking to make new what was recently seen as the very definition of old: paper, print, words, meaning. He is the young person’s idea of what a publisher should be. ANDREW SULLIVAN

HELEN OYEYEMI

Author of four novels, and the forthcoming “Boy, Snow, Bird”

The daughter of Nigerian immigrants, Helen Oyeyemi, 28, wrote her first book, “The Icarus Girl,” when she was 18 and still in school. It was met by the British literary scene with amazement and respect. Since that debut, she has written three more novels, her latest being “Mr. Fox,” about a complicated love triangle between a narcissistic writer, his wife and his fictional muse. The book is a bold experiment in storytelling, combining realism and fabulism, humor and darkness, and a new take on folkloric fixtures like the murderous Bluebeard. It’s a heady brew, but Oyeyemi is so fluent with narrative that she seems to revel in its conventions and pick them apart at the same time, fragmenting and reframing in the manner of a Jeanette Winterson. Her age, as fun as it is to report, has really never been a window into her writing style. Besides, she’s seemed wise beyond her years from the very start. Her next book, “Boy, Snow, Bird,” exploring the archetype of the wicked stepmother, comes out in 2014 from Riverhead Books. “I’m still climbing around inside stories we all know, or think we know, and I’m enjoying that,” she says. Oyeyemi is modest about her rise. “The more forcibly I’m made aware of the fact that I’ll never be the kind of storyteller I most admire, the less I’ll be troubled by that,” she says. “I’ll probably just become more myself.”AIMEE BENDER

ALEXANDER WANG

Fashion designer of his namesake label; creative director of Balenciaga

As a teenager, Alexander Wang was working in a San Francisco boutique after school and remaking thrift finds for his sister and friends. “I’d hardly call them ‘hits’!” he says. Today, he sits atop a multimillion-dollar business that bears his name, and he was recently appointed the creative director of Balenciaga, one of the most storied French houses in the world. Skeptics of the 29-year-old designer might say that his press savviness, youthful good looks and Asian-American roots — after all, China is fashion’s next big frontier — have served him exceptionally well. But since he left the Parsons School of Design to introduce his own line in 2007, his swift ascendancy has been defined by a marked pragmatism that’s made him a success with retailers and women alike: capturing the nuances of urban cool with merchandise that’s delivered to stores on time at an accessible price. With his Alexander Wang label, he’s picked up the baton that Calvin Klein and Helmut Lang carried before him, infusing sportswear with an erotic edge that suggests there’s more to life than office rigmarole. At Balenciaga, stepping into Nicolas Ghesquire’s very big shoes, he’s proven he can do a lot more than dress the downtown set. In his debut, Wang has brought a demure elegance to Balenciaga’s architectural heritage, taking classic silhouettes like high-waisted petal skirts, molded peplums and oval-shouldered coats, and toughening them up with paint-crackled mohair, marbleized silk, punkish velvet lace and pristine ivory soutache. Excelling at two very high-profile jobs is a challenge, but this is where the boundless energy and risk-taking nature of youth is at its best. “I’m a believer in going out there, working for yourself and being very proactive in getting what you want,” Wang says. HARRIET QUICK

BENNY BLANCO

Songwriter and music producer

There are a couple of ways to determine if that sound percolating out of your radio is a song by Benjamin Levin, the 25-year-old songwriter-producer who goes by the name Benny Blanco. First, there’s Blanco’s telltale sonic tang: the sugary chewiness of bubble gum, salty hip-hop, rock crunch and a sprinkling of other, often surprising musical ingredients. Then there’s the law of averages: if the radio’s on, it’s probably playing his song. In the last five years, Blanco has become one of pop’s most reliable creators of chart-topping records. He has co-written and co-produced dozens of hits, including 15 Billboard No. 1s, by some of the world’s top artists: Rihanna, Katy Perry, Kesha, Maroon 5, Britney Spears. It’s a startling track record for someone whose career began so unpromisingly as a third-rate would-be rapper. “I think somewhere along the way I realized, O.K., no one’s gonna care about a chubby Jewish dude rapping,” Blanco says. “I realized I’d be better behind the scenes.”

Blanco accomplished that career transformation in the time-honored manner of chubby Jewish dudes everywhere: with chutzpah. While still a teenager in the Virginia suburbs, he charmed — or rather fibbed — his way into the record industry. “I would cold-call record labels and pretend I was someone else,“ he says. “If I patched my way up to the top, I’d be like, ‘You’ve gotta listen to my mixtape!’ ” Eventually, he released a critically lauded collaboration with the Baltimore rapper Spank Rock, and came to the attention of the powerhouse songwriter-producer Dr. Luke, who installed Blanco as one of his go-to collaborators. The rest is Top 40 history. “It’s a great time to make music,” Blanco says. “It’s becoming harder and harder to decipher the line between indie, pop, country, alternative. On the radio, listeners want to be familiar with the sound that they’re like, ‘O.K. That doesn’t make me uncomfortable.’ But they also want to be like, ‘Daaaaamn! What’s that sound?’ ” JODY ROSEN

EZRA KLEIN

Washington Post columnist; MSNBC and Bloomberg View contributor

Don’t ask Ezra Klein for a pithy anecdote about how he got to be America’s pre-eminent Wonkblogger. “I don’t really believe in background stories,” he says. What he believes in is data — so let’s start there. Klein’s Wonkblog, hosted by The Washington Post, gets more than 5 million page views a month. His chart- and graph-heavy analyses — like a recent 4,200-word dissection of a health care experiment for elderly Pennsylvanians — are routinely among the most popular stories on The Post’s Web site. Wonkblog is something of an experiment itself, out to prove that a quantitative approach to Washington can be compelling to a mass audience. “What we’ve been trying to do for a long time,” Klein says,”is figure out how to cover the political world through the lens of policy.” “A long time” is relative; Klein is 29. He graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2005 with a degree in political science and, more important, with hundreds of blog posts to his name. He blogged his way into a job at The American Prospect and then came the call from The Post, where Wonkblog will turn two in September.

What he wanted to do on his first day — make the “actual work of government” comprehensible — is what he does every day, almost as often on television (he’s a contributor and a frequent fill-in host on MSNBC) as on the Web. An MSNBC anchor slot seems inevitable, seeing as how the channel’s president, Phil Griffin, is among his biggest fans. 

But what he sounds most excited about is grooming his fellow Wonkbloggers, all of whom, he swears, are smarter than he is. He lets out a laugh. “I didn’t think I would face obsolescence this quickly.” BRIAN STELTER

SAMANTHA SHANNON

Author of a forthcoming literary fantasy series; college student

Could an unknown 21-year-old Oxford student named Samantha Shannon be the next J. K. Rowling? Three years ago, Shannon was an intern in the office of the prestigious London literary agent David Godwin. That experience came in handy when, less than a year later, she had a manuscript for “The Bone Season,” an ambitious novel, the first of a projected seven-part series, that she had somehow written between lectures. Blown away by the book’s inventiveness, Godwin promptly sent it to the editor in chief of Bloomsbury, Alexandra Pringle. “Seven hours later I was still reading it,” Pringle recalls. “I just fell completely in love.” Bloomsbury gave Shannon a six-figure advance for the first three books, an unprecedented show of support for such an untested first-time author. “The Bone Season,” which comes out in August, is about a 19-year-old clairvoyant named Paige Mahoney, who roams the streets of London, circa 2059, until the secret police send her off to a penal colony that looks a lot like Oxford. “Her imagination is so extraordinary,” Pringle says. “She reminds me of the Bront sisters — the world she’s created is absolutely real.” Book rights have sold in 18 countries, and three major studios fought over the movie rights. (Britain’s Imaginarium Studios beat out Hollywood.) Shannon, now in her last year at college, is juggling writing with her studies like she did for the first book. “I had to cut down on going out with my friends so I could squeeze in writing chapters,” she says. “There was a lot of coffee involved.” LIESL SCHILLINGER

MIKE KRIEGER & KEVIN SYSTROM

Founders of Instagram

Compared to the many programming marvels clogging the iTunes App store in 2010, the offering unveiled by a pair of Stanford grads one October day didn’t really do that much. It simply let you take a picture with your smartphone (nothing novel about that) and post it online (ditto).

But putting these two commonplace functions together somehow made both of them feel fresh. It was, in the words of the Instagram founders Kevin Systrom, 29, and Mike Krieger, 26, “like a chemical reaction.”

Neither of the partners had a typical background in computer science or design. They describe themselves as “torn between the world of art and the world of technology.” But in that middle ground they struck pay dirt, and the product instantly became a breakthrough hit. Two years after its debut, the app was one of the iPhone’s most popular applications, with a user base nearing 30 million, success that prompted Facebook to scoop the company up for a reported $1 billion last spring.

What was Instagram’s secret? Looking back, the founders made a few key design decisions that proved critical. First, they removed the choice of portrait (vertical) or landscape (horizontal) by limiting images to a square (both). Steve Jobs’s famous insight that good design is less about what’s added than what’s subtracted has never been more amply demonstrated. Second, Instagram let you “design” the emotional tone of a photo through instant effects — bringing the power of Photoshop filters to the mobile generation and giving the most mundane of snapshots the instant nostalgia of an old Polaroid.

Instagram has transported users back to the carefree days when a single, simple button and the right subject matter was all you needed to share a magical moment with family and friends. It put good design in all of our hands, and helped us make our photos — maybe even our lives — seem a little more memorable. JOHN MAEDA

CREDITS: Hair by Enrico Mariotti for Kérastase at See Management; makeup by Justine Purdue for Chanel Beauté at Tim Howard Management. Fashion assistants: Alex Tudela and Angela Koh.”

 

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/05/30/t-magazine/02-twentysomething.html?smid=fb-nytimes&WT.z_sma=TM_KTD_20130603&_r=0

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The Pace of Productivity and How to Master Your Creative Routine

by 

““When you work regularly, inspiration strikes regularly.”

We seem to have a strange but all too human cultural fixation on the daily routines and daily rituals of famous creators, from Vonnegut toBurroughs to Darwin — as if a glimpse of their day-to-day would somehow magically infuse ours with equal potency, or replicating it would allow us to replicate their genius in turn. And though much of this is mere cultural voyeurism, there is something to be said for the value of a well-engineered daily routine to anchor the creative process. Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind (public library), edited by Behance’s 99U editor-in-chief Jocelyn Glei and featuring contributions from a twenty of today’s most celebrated thinkers and doers, delves into the secrets of this holy grail of creativity.

Reflecting Thomas Edison’s oft-cited proclamation that “genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration,” after which 99U is named, the crucial importance of consistent application is a running theme. (Though I prefer to paraphrase Edison to “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent aspiration” — since true aspiration produces effort that feels gratifying rather than merely grueling, enhancing the grit of perspiration with the gift of gratification.)

In the foreword to the book, Behance founder Scott Belsky, author of the indispensable Making Ideas Happen, points to “reactionary workflow” — our tendency to respond to requests and other stimuli rather than create meaningful work — as today’s biggest problem and propounds a call to arms:

It’s time to stop blaming our surroundings and start taking responsibility. While no workplace is perfect, it turns out that our gravest challenges are a lot more primal and personal. Our individual practices ultimately determine what we do and how well we do it. Specifically, it’s our routine (or lack thereof), our capacity to work proactively rather than reactively, and our ability to systematically optimize our work habits over time that determine our ability to make ideas happen.

[…]

Only by taking charge of your day-to-day can you truly make an impact in what matters most to you. I urge you to build a better routine by stepping outside of it, find your focus by rising above the constant cacophony, and sharpen your creative prowess by analyzing what really matters most when it comes to making your ideas happen.

One of the book’s strongest insights comes from Gretchen Rubin — author ofThe Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun, one of these7 essential books on the art and science of happiness, titled after her fantasticblog of the same name — who points to frequency as the key to creative accomplishment:

We tend to overestimate what we can do in a short period, and underestimate what we can do over a long period, provided we work slowly and consistently. Anthony Trollope, the nineteenth-century writer who managed to be a prolific novelist while also revolutionizing the British postal system, observed, “A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules.” Over the long run, the unglamorous habit of frequency fosters both productivity and creativity.

Frequency, she argues, helps facilitate what Arthur Koestler has famously termed “bisociation” — the crucial ability to link the seemingly unlinkable, which is the defining characteristic of the creative mind. Rubin writes:

You’re much more likely to spot surprising relationships and to see fresh connections among ideas, if your mind is constantly humming with issues related to your work. When I’m deep in a project, everything I experience seems to relate to it in a way that’s absolutely exhilarating. The entire world becomes more interesting. That’s critical, because I have a voracious need for material, and as I become hyperaware of potential fodder, ideas pour in. By contrast, working sporadically makes it hard to keep your focus. It’s easy to become blocked, confused, or distracted, or to forget what you were aiming to accomplish.

[…]

Creativity arises from a constant churn of ideas, and one of the easiest ways to encourage that fertile froth is to keep your mind engaged with your project. When you work regularly, inspiration strikes regularly.

Echoing Alexander Graham Bell, who memorably wrote that “it is the man who carefully advances step by step … who is bound to succeed in the greatest degree,” and Virginia Woolf, who extolled the creative benefits of keeping a diary, Rubin writes:

Step by step, you make your way forward. That’s why practices such as daily writing exercises or keeping a daily blog can be so helpful. You see yourself do the work, which shows you that you can do the work. Progress is reassuring and inspiring; panic and then despair set in when you find yourself getting nothing done day after day. One of the painful ironies of work life is that the anxiety of procrastination often makes people even less likely to buckle down in the future.

Riffing on wisdom from her latest book, Happier at Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon a Project, Read Samuel Johnson, and My Other Experiments in the Practice of Everyday Life, Rubin offers:

I have a long list of “Secrets of Adulthood,” the lessons I’ve learned as I’ve grown up, such as: “It’s the task that’s never started that’s more tiresome,” “The days are long, but the years are short,” and “Always leave plenty of room in the suitcase.” One of my most helpful Secrets is, “What I do every day matters more than what I do once in a while.”

With a sentiment reminiscent of William James’s timeless words on habit, she concludes:

Day by day, we build our lives, and day by day, we can take steps toward making real the magnificent creations of our imaginations.

Entrepreneurship guru and culture-sage Seth Godin seconds Rubin and admonishes against confusing vacant ritualization with creative rituals that actually spur productivity:

Everybody who does creative work has figured out how to deal with their own demons to get their work done. There is no evidence that setting up your easel like Van Gogh makes you paint better. Tactics are idiosyncratic. But strategies are universal, and there are a lot of talented folks who are not succeeding the way they want to because their strategies are broken.

The strategy is simple, I think. The strategy is to have a practice, and what it means to have a practice is to regularly and reliably do the work in a habitual way.

There are many ways you can signify to yourself that you are doing your practice. For example, some people wear a white lab coat or a particular pair of glasses, or always work in a specific place — in doing these things, they are professionalizing their art.

He echoes Chuck Close (“Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work.”), Tchaikovsky (“a self-respecting artist must not fold his hands on the pretext that he is not in the mood.”) E. B. White (“A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”), and Isabel Allende (“Show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up, too.”), observing:

The notion that I do my work here, now, like this, even when I do not feel like it, and especially when I do not feel like it, is very important. Because lots and lots of people are creative when they feel like it, but you are only going to become a professional if you do it when you don’t feel like it. And that emotional waiver is why this is your work and not your hobby.

Manage Your Day-to-Day goes on to explore such facets of the creative life asoptimizing your idea-generationdefying the demons of perfectionism,managing procrastination, and breaking through your creative blocks, with insights from magnificent minds ranging from behavioral economist Dan Arielyto beloved graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister.”

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June 3, 2013 · 5:24 pm

Masterworks for One and All

Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Rembrandt’s “Night Watch” (1642) on display in the Rijksmuseum.

 

By NINA SIEGAL
Published: May 28, 2013

“AMSTERDAM — Many museums post their collections online, but the Rijksmuseum here has taken the unusual step of offering downloads of high-resolution images at no cost, encouraging the public to copy and transform its artworks into stationery, T-shirts, tattoos, plates or even toilet paper.

The museum, whose collection includes masterpieces by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Mondrian and van Gogh, has already made images of 125,000 of its works available through Rijksstudio, an interactive section of its Web site. The staff’s goal is to add 40,000 images a year until the entire collection of one million artworks spanning eight centuries is available, said Taco Dibbits, the director of collections at the Rijksmuseum.

“We’re a public institution, and so the art and objects we have are, in a way, everyone’s property,” Mr. Dibbits said in an interview. “‘With the Internet, it’s so difficult to control your copyright or use of images that we decided we’d rather people use a very good high-resolution image of the ‘Milkmaid’ from the Rijksmuseum rather than using a very bad reproduction,” he said, referring to that Vermeer painting from around 1660.

Until recently, museums had been highly protective of good-quality digital versions of their artworks, making them available only upon request to members of the press or to art historians and scholars, with restrictions on how they could be used. The reasons are manifold: protecting copyrights, maintaining control over potentially lucrative museum revenues from posters or souvenirs and preventing thieves or forgers from making convincing copies.

There is also the fear, as described by the critic Walter Benjamin in his 1936 essay“The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” that a piece can lose its aura, or authenticity, when it is reproduced so often that it becomes too familiar — cheapening the “Mona Lisa,” for instance.

In recent years, though, as the Google Art Project has begun to amass a global archive of images with the cooperation of museums and the Internet has made it impossible to stem the tide of low-quality reproductions, institutions are rethinking their strategy.

“We’ve gotten over that hurdle,” said Deborah Ziska, a spokeswoman for the National Gallery of Art in Washington. “I don’t think anyone thinks we’ve cheapened the image of the ‘Mona Lisa.’ People have gotten past that, and they still want to go to the Louvre to see the real thing. It’s a new, 21st-century way of respecting images.”

The National Gallery has so far uploaded about 25,000 works to share with the public. “Basically, this is the wave of the future for museums in the age of digital communications,” Ms. Ziska said. “Sharing is what museums need to learn to do.”

The Rijksmuseum has been able to put its works online more quickly because much of its collection predates Dutch copyright laws and its staff had an opportunity to digitize the collection when museum was closed for renovations. (It reopened last month after a 10-year makeover.) The digitization project was financed by a million-euro ($1.29 million) grant from the national BankGiro lottery, which provides money for the arts and cultural groups.

“The old masters were born and died before we even had copyright law in the Netherlands,” said Paul Keller, a copyright adviser for the Amsterdam-based instituteKennisland, who advised the Rijksmuseum on the plan. “For modern art museums, what they’re doing would be largely impossible.”

Rijksstudio has logged more than 2.17 million visitors since its service went online in October, and around 200,000 people have downloaded images. As a result, the Rijksmuseum won three international “Best of the Web” awards last month in Portland, Ore., at the annual international conference known as Museums and the Web. The prizes are based on peer evaluations by museum professionals.

Rijksstudio is unusual among digital museum projects in that it provides online tools for manipulating, changing or clipping the images, said Jennifer Trant, a co-founder of Museums on the Web. The online studio asks people to refrain from commercial uses and sells images of an even higher resolution that are more suitable for that purpose.

Museum policies on the downloading of images vary from institution to institution.

At the National Gallery in London, the collection of 2,500 artworks has been digitized and made available for academic purposes, but the museum has not provided free downloads. “Everyone understands that open access is the way to go, but organizations are in different places, and we’re facing a conflicting set of challenges,” said Charlotte Sexton, the head of digital media at the museum. “On the one hand, museums are still making money from the sale of images. That income, though, has been decreasing. You have that commercial concern butting up against this desire to go for free access.”

The Smithsonian Institution in Washington has 137 million works in its coffers and has chosen 14 million of those for digitization, said a spokeswoman, Linda St. Thomas. It has made about 860,500 images, video clips, sound files, electronic journals and other resources available online, but the images of artworks are all low resolution — again, to discourage commercial use.

For the most part, Mr. Keller and Ms. Trant said, museums still tend to view their online collections as a kind of virtual catalog for the visitor rather than a bank of images that can be put to other uses.

But Mr. Dibbits of the Rijksmuseum maintains that letting the public take control of the images is crucial to encouraging people to commune with the collection. “The action of actually working with an image, clipping it out and paying attention to the very small details makes you remember it,” he said.

To inspire users, the Rijksmuseum invited the Dutch design cooperative Droog to create products based on its artworks. Its designers used part of a 17th-century flower still life by Jan Davidsz de Heem as a template for a tattoo, for example; it used a 3-D printer to create a white plastic replica of an ornate 16th-century centerpiece designed by the German silversmith Wenzel Jamnitzer and to adorn it with magnetic miniatures of items from the Rijksmuseum’s collection. .

Are there limits to how the Rijksmuseum’s masterpieces can be adapted? Not many, Mr. Dibbits suggested.

“If they want to have a Vermeer on their toilet paper, I’d rather have a very high-quality image of Vermeer on toilet paper than a very bad reproduction,” he said.

 

A version of this article appeared in print on May 29, 2013, on page C1 of the New York edition with the headline: Masterworks for One and All.”

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May 30, 2013 · 8:39 pm

A Pollock Restored, a Mystery Revealed

Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

James Coddington, left, chief conservator of the Museum of Modern Art, gained a new perspective on Jackson Pollock’s “One: Number 31, 1950” at the museum’s conservation lab. 

 

By 
Published: May 27, 2013

Jackson Pollock’s unconventional working methods — spreading a piece of unstretched, unprimed canvas on the floor of his Long Island studio and then pouring, splattering and literally flinging industrial paints across its surface — have long been part of his myth, performance art executed without an audience.

“On the floor I am more at ease,” he once wrote. “I feel nearer, more part of the painting since this way I can walk around it, work from the four sides and literally be in the painting.”

During his lifetime Pollock was famously photographed creating these seminal works, known as drip or action paintings. His process and his canvases have been so extensively studied that it would seem there could be nothing else to learn. Yet a 10-month examination and restoration of his “One: Number 31, 1950,” by conservators at the Museum of Modern Art, have produced new insights about how the artist worked. The conservators also revealed a mysterious missing chapter in the painting’s history.

Restoring “One” has been on MoMA’s to-do list since 1998 when the work — often called a masterpiece of Abstract Expressionism — was featured in a retrospective. Seen in the context of paintings from the same period, “One” showed its age, with its canvas yellowing and years of dirt and dust in its crevices.

But it wasn’t until last July that work finally started. And almost a year later, on Tuesday, “One” will be rehung in its place on the museum’s fourth floor, considerably cleaner and its conservators a bit wiser.

The process began, as most restorations do, with a feather dusting. From there, James Coddington, chief conservator, and Jennifer Hickey, project assistant conservator, began to tackle the decades of grime covering the large painting, which is 9 feet high by 17 ½ feet across. They used sponges, moist erasers and cotton-tipped swabs soaked in water and a gentle, pH-adjusted solution.

Pollock’s drip paintings are complex, highly textured compositions with multiple coats of dripped and poured paint. In some areas paint is applied so thinly it seems to just stain the canvas. In others the paint is denser, with colors blending, swirling and bleeding together. There are also places where the paint has a smooth, glossy surface, and places where Pollock applied paint so thickly that it dried like curdled milk, with a puckered, wrinkled surface.

But when the conservators started to study these layers with X-rays and ultraviolet lights, certain portions of the canvas didn’t resemble Pollock’s style of painting at all. The texture was different, suggesting repetitive brush strokes not seen elsewhere in his work.

Another kind of paint was used in these areas too, one that “didn’t have the typical characteristics of poured house paint that we know Pollock used,” Mr. Coddington explained. The style of painting, he said, had a kind of “fussiness that has nothing to do with the way Pollock applied paint.”

He and Ms. Hickey then took microscopic paint samples from various parts of the canvas. They found household enamel paint known to have been used by Pollock, but they also discovered a synthetic resin that Pollock was not known to have used.

How had it gotten there? Records showed that nobody at the museum had touched the painting since it entered MoMA’s collection in 1968. And there was no evidence that it had been restored before coming to MoMA.

Museum officials did know that “One” had once belonged to Ben Heller, a dealer and a close friend of Pollock’s. The painting had also been in a traveling exhibition in the early 1960s. When they began researching that show they unearthed crucial evidence: a photograph taken in 1962 by a scholar in Portland, Ore., revealed that the painting had none of the questionable, uncharacteristic areas they had discovered.

“That meant they were added after 1962,” Mr. Coddington said. “And since Pollock died in 1956, those photographs confirmed they were put there after his death.” It is still unclear, however, who added them and why.

“We presumed it was to cover up some damage, but we didn’t know how extensive it was,” he said. Studying these areas with an ultraviolet light, the conservator saw small cracks below the surface of the paint. Presumably the later painting was an attempt to cover the cracks, perhaps to make the painting more salable.

That wasn’t the only surprise. When examining the painting with scholars and curators it became clear that some of the brown drips in the center and bottom of the canvas could not have been painted while “One” was on the floor. “They’re vertical drips,” Mr. Coddington said of the downward trickles of paint.

They then examined photographs of Pollock in his studio taken by Hans Namuth, who photographed many artists, and these showed how Pollock hung paintings toward the end of their creation. “They’re like final edits applied late in the game,” Mr. Coddington said of the downward drips. “They showed that the artist was not just looking at these paintings as the big gestural achievements that they appeared to be.”

To Mr. Coddington this indicated that these canvases “were really carefully conceived compositions.” Pollock he said, “looked at these paintings with a level of detail that was so great even we can’t understand it.”

Once they felt confident about Pollock’s original intentions, Mr. Coddington and Ms. Hickey painstakingly removed the paint that was applied after Pollock’s death. But they also made sure to preserve certain quirks in the painting, like a fly, still intact, stuck in the right-hand corner and tiny blobs of pink paint that they believe landed on the canvas by accident; there is no pink anywhere else in the composition.

When the cleaning was complete and the extra paint removed, the white and black underneath suddenly became visibly sharper, and fine, spiderlike skeins of paint appeared “like strands of silk,” Ms. Hickey said. So did more pronounced areas that almost look marbleized.

Toward the end of the restoration there was one final step: the conservator wanted to put the painting flat on the floor to “see it as Pollock did,” Mr. Coddington explained.

On an early May afternoon, three art handlers, two curators and the two conservators gathered as the giant painting was taken off the wall of the conservation studio and gently placed on the floor.

Not only did the canvas suddenly appear smaller, more human in scale, but Ann Temkin, MoMA’s chief curator of painting and sculpture, pointed out that when looking at the canvas on the floor, it was possible to see the rhythm Pollock created with areas of bare canvas where the eye could rest before taking in the complex, layered ribbons of paint. “Now that it’s been cleaned, the white and the black are far more pronounced,” she said. “There’s more electricity.”

Only when it was on the floor did Mr. Coddington discover what he described as “toasty” areas, darker portions deep in the middle of the canvas that still need to be cleaned. “We have to see how it looks upright first,” he said. “That’s how it’s seen.”

He added, “The point is to bring it back as close as we can to how it was when it left the studio.”

 

A version of this article appeared in print on May 28, 2013, on page C1 of the New York edition with the headline: A Pollock Restored, a Mystery Revealed.”

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May 30, 2013 · 8:34 pm