Maybe I'm late to this art party, but lately I've been having a hilarious time with apps like Pikazo, Lucid, Prisma, Waterlogged, and Mobile Monet that transform your ugly duckling photos into digital swans. I'm not patient enough for adult coloring books, one of the fastest growing segments of the publishing market, but I did once love Paint-by-Number kits. Now, with the flick of a thumb and a side swipe, I become a museum quality digital painter. Above, look what happened to my mundane photo of arranged flowers with Prisma's "Mosaic" setting on it. Okay, I know it's cheating, but it sure costs less than an MFA.
I was at a Patti Smith concert this summer when a fan tried to hand her a gift onstage in the middle of a song. Her reaction was angry and immediate, "What the fuck are you doing?" she yelled. She stopped singing and had to start again. Both her creative space and personal sense of security had been assaulted by a stranger whose self-justified actions overrode traditional notions of respect.
I thought of that moment today after hearing that Kim Kardashian was robbed at gunpoint in a Paris apartment and pseudonymous writer Elena Ferrante was robbed of her anonymity by an Italian investigative journalist within days of each other. Both actions violated private female space in repellent and troubling ways.
It's not often that we think of Kim Kardashian and the pseudonymous Italian author Elena Ferrante of the Neapolitan quartet as soul sisters. Though Kardashian is a public extrovert whose every last kohl-lined eyelash blink is self-recorded for the public sphere and Ferrante is a private introvert who purposely avoids exposure ("I have withdrawn from the rituals that writers are more of less obliged to perform in order to sustain their book by lending to them their author's expendable image," she told Vanity Fair), they are both engaged with telling a female-driven story. Essentially, Kardashian makes her living by performing those rituals in public; Ferrante, on the other hand, works in solitude.
But despite their different methods, both Kardashian and Ferrante (and, for that matter, Patti Smith) are women who have carved out original spaces where they feel free to create and in control. For Kardashian, that space is more complicated than one might originally think. It seems public, but is it really? Think of her as a successful performance artist along the lines of Lady Gaga, Madonna and Michael Jackson. Not only is the "Kim-ness" of Kim most likely all performance, it is also expendable, as shown by her constantly changing features and lifestyle. It may be that everything she does shields her private life while simultaneously pretending to expose it. Like Elena Ferrante, she has brilliantly created and sold a story while hiding in plain sight.
A woman who successfully maintains her own independent space, creative or otherwise, threatens the power structure and traditional order of male dominance. In that way, both Kardashian and Ferrante are alike. So Kardashian's recent robbery at gunpoint in a Paris apartment drew Twitter sympathy, yes, but also criticism that she had invited it by publishing photos of her big diamond, choosing a discreet Paris apartment (where she could hide from the public eye) rather than a hotel, and not surrounding herself with enough security.
Italian journalist Claudio Gatti also broke into Ferrante's space and stole the jewels of solitude and privacy. Female readers were appalled; we get it. We're also worried that without this essential creative sense of safety she may not write another word. If so, Gatti will have erased her. Like Kardashian, Ferrante will no doubt ever feel as free or safe again. Yet Gatti justified his investigation and the publication of her private salary and real estate details in The New York Review of Books ever so slickly: "But by announcing that she would lie on occasion, Ferrante has in a way relinquished her right to disappear behind her books and let them live and grow while their author remained unknown. Indeed she and her publisher seemed to have fed public interest in her true identity."
In other words, both Kim and Elena "asked for it." Let me just say what should be obvious: they didn't.
Speaking of cool fruit (see my previous posts on Purple Carrots and Jumbo Blueberries), I was struck by the ability of this decaying green apple to paint a Cy Twombly-inspired line. The apple was nailed to the wall along with other fruits and vegetables in the exhibit, "Kitchen Pieces," by German conceptual artist Karin Sander at i8 Gallery in Reykjavik (the exhibit closed September 24, 2016). The veggies wilted under pressure, but this inspired apple took a strong painterly stand. I was pretty impressed by its confident use of positive and negative space, along with its bold improvisation in response to a wall environment. Critics of avant garde art like to dismiss things with "My kid could do that!" Now I might answer, "But could your apple?"
Audiences know that if there is a gun in the first act, it has to go off in the third act. I took this photo of jumbo blueberries near a transparent push pin to show their super sizing (one-inch wide!) but realized I had also made a portrait of dramatic tension. It amazed me how juxtaposition of two common household objects easily suggests a plot. The blueberry's moist, tender skin looks so vulnerable near the tack's sharp steel point that your mind can't help connecting them in unfortunate ways. But, spoiler alert, the pin didn't kill those blueberries in the end. It was teeth that got them.
Silicon Valley would definitely call Athanasius Kircher a disrupter. The 17th-century intellectual's weird inventions included a mechanical singing chicken, a vomiting machine and the original version of this stunning magnetic clock with a goldfish that points the time. My first thought upon stumbling across this magnificent clock in the Lane Reading Room inside Stanford's Green Library was that things do not generally end well for goldfish in college settings. But this little guy should last for eternity in artist Caroline Bouguereau's 2001 recreation of Kircher's missing prototype. To remake the clock, she learned both glass blowing and old-method copper-painting with garlic. Her working clock (which runs on electricity instead of hidden magnets, but no complaints) is so incredibly awesome I couldn't take my eyes off it. No matter how you see the globe–clock, mirror, goldfish bowl?–its design and execution make you reflect on the vast mysteries of time and space, and of course on the flipped reflection itself.
This photo gives new meaning to the term "sofa bed." There's no doubt that succulents have been trending for more than two years now, as this 2014 article in Vogue proves. But until I visited the garden of House Vintage in Solana Beach, CA, I'd never seen a planted succulent couch before. The garden of earthly and other delights sprang from the unfettered and quirky design imagination of Debi Beard, who owns Studio/House Vintage and also runs DIY paint classes from her surf town shop. Check out her youtube channel for more demonstrations of wacky things you can do to furniture. Says Debi, "creativity is a survival instinct."
When you're stuck on a problem—emotionally, creatively or otherwise—the best thing you can do is change your point of view. I learned this the hard way. Rock-climbing in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, I got stuck on a ledge between steep cliff cracks. I looked up both walls and there was no sure way up. But since I had people waiting to climb after me, I headed up again. A few moves in, I slipped and started to fall. The safety rope caught me and I was able to quickly grab a new section of the cliff face that got me right up. My simple change in perspective had done it. I learned that some times action is better than planning. Get going. You might stumble. But if you're lucky, that stumble or fall can open up results.
This happened today when I got stuck in terrible standstill traffic on a bus going up Madison Avenue. I could have gone into total road rage mode, but instead I just got off the bus. Walking west to my destination, I entered Central Park and passed a guitarist singing for change in the shade of a sandstone bridge. It was a beautiful late summer day and I began to love my unexpected park walk.
Leaving the park on its west side, I saw a gang roaring down Columbus Avenue on noisy off-road motorcycles. They shattered my quiet and pissed me off. But then I saw a guy with glasses and a black hat on a small electric bike whip out his camera and shoot them as they rode by. It was the incredibly awesome French photographer and artist JR in action (or a damned close lookalike). Seeing JR make art from a fleeting street moment totally made my day. Here's a photo I took of his 2015 installation at the Aspen Ideas Festival. It speaks to me about the inspirational nature of vision. Change your route and see what happens.