Recently, we are able to get out of town for a break, and, not surprisingly, it was great to get away. Having a new to-do list, or no to-do list gets us, at least temporarily, out of our daily routines. Just packing a suitcase creates an opportunity to re-evaluate what is truly essential to our comfort; for example, to ask ourselves why we own so many socks we don’t wear.
Away from our usual surroundings, we fixate on new details and work different parts of our brains. We feel no guilt about spending hours exploring one place, knowing we may not return soon (or ever). Attempting this same contemplation at home, however, feels like an indulgence, or a waste of time, or a reckless shirking of responsibilities. This article at The Onion helped us keep in mind the futility of obsessing over responsibilities when we ought to be having fun. Travelling puts the focus on just being. Not being productive, or responsible, or better, but just being and using our senses to take in our new surroundings.
It’s not always possible to get out of town though, so how do we interrupt our usual mental programming from time to time now that we’re back home? How do we, at least some of the time, gain a fresh perspective on our lives and our work? We don’t all have option of Sagmeister sabbaticals, so is there another way to induce that “away” state of mind? Is there a way to see our hometown through a traveller’s eyes? We’re not sure yet, but we have some ideas to try out and we’ll let you know…
Our collection of children’s books never ceases to inspire us. Whether in the words or the pictures, and often in both, children’s books introduced us to sophisticated esthetic ideas and forms of language when we were young and impressionable. Even if the stories were silly, simple, or at times over our heads, the language reiterated rhythm, melody, and rhyme, while the images exposed us to a range of styles (Cubism, Impressionism, collage, etc) and a range of media (conté, woodcuts, watercolour, Plasticine, etc).
As adults, we’ve also discovered amazing children’s books. A few of the books we return to for their design are from the French publisher Édition du Rouergue, such as the beautiful collage of Mots de tête by Zazie Sazonoff:
For words, it helped to be read to, and it’s always fun to re-read. Poems like Ogden Nash‘s The Adventures of Isabel was one such read-aloud treat that not only featured a bravely pragmatic little protagonist, but also let us chew on the rhymes:
Isabel met an enormous bear,
Isabel, Isabel, didn’t care;
The bear was hungry, the bear was ravenous,
The bear’s big mouth was cruel and cavernous.
The bear said, Isabel, glad to meet you,
How do, Isabel, now I’ll eat you!
(That’s not even the best part, so click through and read it, if you haven’t before.)
With e-readers and tablets, children’s books are allowing for new interactivity, but the original paper ones, the ones that can still be read when the power goes out, the stack we can keep on the shelf for automatic inspiration, will never lose their allure.
We’re still thinking about Wayne White. In the documentary we discussed last week, White mocks the idea that it is strange or preposterous for him to have a new and successful career as a fine artist later in life, after an already successful career in a different medium. He says:
“Who said there’s no second acts in American life? F. Scott Fitzgerald? Fuck you, F. Scott Fitzgerald.”
We discussed that line a lot, especially when anxiety about success and failure and age kept us awake. We wondered why we felt this way, even when we love what we do. Is it just the way our society glorifies youth? Is it all those 30-under-30 lists that are so easy to scoff at when you’re 24, and so grating when you’re over 35?
We got a lot of comfort from Wayne White’s supposed second act. Because White’s “second act” isn’t really a second act; that’s a frame imposed on his life that values ever higher peaks of financial reward or fame for the expression of creativity in predictable or quantifiable ways. After his television success, and before his paintings took off, while he was recovering from a breakdown and beginning to paint, was he a “failure” or just a artist practicing his art in a new medium? He and his partner, Mimi Pond, were constantly creating and raising a family, so at what point did the first act end and the next one begin?
As for age, Peter Ware Higgs went on a “failed camping trip” and when he returned home, wrote a paper on a physics theorem. It was published in 1964, when he was 35. Later that year, he expanded on his theoretical model, and his paper was rejected. He revised it and it was published by a different journal. When a particle was found in 2013 whose properties were consistent with Higgs boson properties, Higgs was 83. So was he a success at 35 or 83? Or was he a failure at camping? And what about the other five physicists who wrote papers similar to Higgs’ in 1964? Are they successes for their work or failures for not having particles named after them?
And speaking of Higgs bosons, there is the writer of the Higgs Boson Blues. Nick Cave has also been portrayed in the press as having two phases of creativity in his life – the heroin-taking louche rocker, and the drug-free family man. But Cave, in interviews, does not disown his past. Instead, he seems to focus on the through-line of writing and music-making that began before the drugs and continued long after. Now 55, neither age nor fear prevent him from trying out different creative paths. When he and members of his band, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, decided to start their side project, Grinderman, Cave composed most of the songs for the album on the guitar, an instrument he barely knew how to play. Besides his musicianship and songwriting, Cave has also written books (that got published) and screenplays (this one and this one got produced).
But it’s easy to remind oneself of all this positivity, and think of various role models, but what do you do with the anxiety? How does one respond to the clock ticking and the nagging sense you’re not doing enough, fast enough, well enough? Maybe we can, as part of our creative practice, chuck the imposed notions of success and the imposed age deadlines, and just keep creating.
Our blog hiatus is over and we are back!
A couple of nights ago we finally got around to watching the documentary BEAUTY IS EMBARRASSING (dir. Neil Berkeley, 2012). It chronicles the varied career of the American artist, art director, sculptor, puppet-builder, puppeteer, and all-around creative guy, Wayne White.
Even if you’ve never heard of White. you’ve probably seen his art direction and the creations he’s built and animated on shows like Pee-wee’s Playhouse and in music videos like The Smashing Pumpkin’s “Tonight, Tonight” and Peter Gabriel’s “Big Time”.
The film documents the highs and lows of his art directing and animating career and also brings the viewer up to speed with his latest exploration through fine art: the superimposing of giant thought-provoking and funny text on otherwise insipid oil paintings. His “mission” he says, is to “bring humour into fine art”, and throughout the film he displays both his irreverence for baseless snobbery and his belief that humour in art is, in fact, deeply affecting, important, and a profound part of the human experience.
White says he stood out in Tennessee like the art freak he was, and moved to New York after college lured by the comic art resurgence going on there at the time. Performing his first puppet show at an East Village art gallery, he met his wife, the cartoonist Mimi Pond, and the two embarked on a wild adventure in the cartoon, animation, television and art worlds, raising a family along the way. “I learned that art could be a 24/7 lifestyle,” he says in the film.
Now living in L.A., White uses his paintings to poke fun at the vanity and ego of the artist, at the reactions he’s received from the art establishment, at the pompous vacuity that is Los Angeles, and, it seems, the Tennesseean voices in his head.
What is inspiring about Wayne White and Mimi Pond is their undiluted, unquestioning belief in their own creative impulses. Their household is a place where the need to create, to craft, build, write, and paint, is taken for granted, and the only thing to be decided is how to navigate around that impulse.
If you have any doubts about your creative process or feel like you don’t always give yourself permission to pursue your weirdest creative impulses, watch Beauty is Embarrassing. It will remind you that you don’t need any permission to create–you don’t even really need to know why you do it–and that the world is as open (or indifferent) to your voice and vision as it is to White’s. He pleases himself by painting and so the rest of us can get a kick out of it too.
You may have noticed that we at Together love looking backward. (We love looking forward too, but that’s another post for another day.) From vintage fashion to our penchant for Mid-Century Modern, we can spend an inordinate amount of time perusing old photos and illustrations. Hollywood classics, family albums, vintage children’s books, or collections of historical works (like those commissioned by the FSA), all of them hold our attention. That’s also why we love websites like Retronaut and Shorpy.
Part of the appeal, of course, is how much or how little we know about the subjects in the photos, and what artifacts of the time period have changed or remained the same. In this photo, Ice Men, for example, we can’t hear the conversations, we don’t know who these men are, or what their relationship is. The photographer is John Collier and the year 1941, but was this before or after the attack on Pearl Harbour? Did these men enlist? Were they good skaters? Notice the two young women who are looking directly at the camera? Notice the 6 or 8 ounce glasses on the table?
Sometimes, Retronaut finds amazing images that allow us to look forward and backward at the same time. Check out these amazing magazine covers created as set pieces for the film Blade Runner:
This cover was meant to be futuristic. From 2013, the design is clearly rooted in the ’80s, when this make-up was still considered edgy, more likely seen at NYC clubs or in music videos than at the mall. For the year 2019, when Blade Runner is set, this “edginess” is presented as new fashion for the mainstream. (I would argue that the designer got this right, as what was once punk or psychedelia is now pop and rather mainstream, like Lady Gaga on the cover of Vogue.) The copy, however, is also not that weird or futuristic anymore. “Genetic Cosmetic” is in progress. The idea of cosmetics influencing genes is currently used as marketing copy for cosmetics; the FDA told Lancome to stop claiming its creams “boost the activity of genes”. The Blade Runner design is also interesting because we are in a current 1980s fashion flashback and only 6 years away from 2019. While the ’80s esthetic might laughable for a futuristic magazine in movie from the 1980s, it actually appears pretty prescient for 2019.
But is all this looking back healthy? At Imprint, Angela Riechers asks, “Has nostalgia become a toxic force in design?” She argues that we have come to rely too much on nostalgic ornamentation at the expense of functionality or progress. Riechers asks, “If years gone by are continually portrayed as better times, how can we hope for actual better times to come?” It’s an important question, but there is also a value to looking back and being able to recognize the progress made by those before you. Plastics heralded amazing possibilities for designers, before biodegradability became an issue. So if an old-fashioned label points the way to a more environmentally-friendly product design, it might actually guide us in the right direction. Meanwhile, here at Together, we aim to move forward, while still keeping a vintage-loving eye over our shoulder for inspiration.