Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘interview’

06 MAY, 2013

Love and Art: The Secret to a Romantic Relationship That’s Also a Creative Collaboration

By:

“Relationships are our greatest learning experiences.”

If you, like me, thought it wasn’t possible to admire the writer-illustrator battery of genius behind the recent gem Lost Cat any more, you’re about to be, like I was, promptly proven wrong. In a recent episode of her award-winning Design Matters radio show, interviewer extraordinaire and Renaissance woman Debbie Millman talks to the talented duo — writer Caroline Paul and friend-of-Brain-Pickings Wendy MacNaughton — about their individual creative evolution, their remarkable collaboration, and the secret of not merely balancing a romantic relationship with a professional one but actually making an art of both.

Here are some favorite highlights of the conversation about the intricacies of creative collaboration, our chronic compulsion for control, our capacity for self-transcendence, and the wonderful Lost Cat — a tender illustrated memoir about the quest to find out where Caroline’s 13-year-old tabby had gone and what it reveals about human relationships and the secret of love.

On mastering the balance of a creative collaboration and a romantic relationship, and the secret of how the two fuel each other:

It took a little while for us to figure out, like in any relationship, how to talk about [our creative differences] without taking it personally, and how to end up coming to the best creative conclusion. … We managed to figure out a system, with structure, and then stick to that — so it took the pressure off, so we could make collaborative decisions in an easier way.

On what Lost Cat teaches us about humanity:

The biggest thing I learned is that you cannot know everything about the creature that you love, and you also can’t control that relationship. And maybe that’s okay — because we can’t control relationships. In fact, if we did control them to the degree that we want, it would probably provide us with nothing. Relationships are probably our greatest learning experiences.

On one of my favorite illustrations from the book and how it captures the inner “Tibby” we all harbor:

On what Lost Cat teaches us about human relationships:

On what true love necessitates:

And what humans are capable of when in love, and what it takes to pull ourselves out of a depression:

Wendy, on designing for the first democratic election in Rwanda and why her ad agency dream job turned out not to be so existentially dreamy after all:

I thought that I could, in advertising, make people ask questions and make them think. And advertising is a fantastic thing where you come up with ideas, but it’s not as much about asking people to think than just telling them what to think.

Wendy on why drawing is like a muscle that bridges hand and brain, and needs constant stimulation to prevent atrophy:

Caroline, who spent several years as one of fifteen female firefighters on San Francisco’s 1,500-person Fire Department and wrote an extraordinary memoir about it, on gender differences in the experience of fear:

If you talk about being scared, you kind of become scared… If you’re a woman, and you’re one of the few, whatever you do reflects on all women.

Caroline on the allure of blending fiction and nonfiction in East Wind, Rain, her scintillating novel about the attack on Pearl Harbor, based on a fascinating true story:

The philosophical moral of the Lost Cat story, read in the world’s best voice:

You can never know anyone as completely as you want. But that’s okay, love is better.

Treat yourself to the soul-warmer that is Lost Cat, listen to the full interview below, and be sure to subscribe to Design Matters on iTunes or SoundCloud for more infinitely stimulating conversations at the intersection of creative culture and philosophy.

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

18 APRIL, 2013

David Foster Wallace on Ambition, Animated

By:

“If your fidelity to perfectionism is too high, you never do anything.”

On March 4, 1996, WNYC’s Leonard Lopate sat down with David Foster Wallacecultural critic, articulator of the ineffable, tragic prophet of the meaning of life — to talk about Infinite Jest, the 1,079-page, three-pound-three-ounce novel that catapulted Wallace into literary fame. Now, the wonderful folks of Blank on Blank and animator Patrick Smith have teamed up with PBS Digital Studios to bring Wallace’s wisdom on ambition, education, and writing to life. Highlights below:

Like Neil Gaiman, who famously admonished, “Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving,” Wallace cautions against the lose-lose mindset of perfectionism:

You know, the whole thing about perfectionism. The perfectionism is very dangerous, because of course if your fidelity to perfectionism is too high, you never do anything. Because doing anything results in– It’s actually kind of tragic because it means you sacrifice how gorgeous and perfect it is in your head for what it really is.

Like Sister Corita Kent, Wallace sees learning and teaching as intertwined:

I was a very difficult person to teach when I was a student and I thought I was smarter than my teachers and they told me a lot of things that I thought were retrograde or outdated or B.S. And I’ve learned more teaching in the last three years than I ever learned as a student.

Pair with Wallace on true heroism and why writers write.

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

09 APRIL, 2013

Jackson Pollock on Art, Labels, and Morality, Shortly Before His Death

By:

“Painting is self-discovery. Every good artist paints what he is.”

In 1957, writer, public intellectual, lifelong art aficionado, and self-described “aging anthologist” Selden Rodman collected several dozen of his informal, lively, amusing, and insightful interviews with iconic artists and architects — including Frank Lloyd Wright, Willem de Kooning, and Saul Steinberg — in Conversations with Artists (public library). Among the conversations is one with Jackson Pollockbeloved artist and son of one particularly great dad — which took place eight weeks before Pollock, driving under the influence of alcohol, crashed in his Oldsmobile convertible into a tree and died.

But on that June evening in 1956, Rodman bumped into a tipsy Pollock en route to a dive bar party following the opening of Willem de Kooning’s show at the Sidney Janis Gallery. When Rodman, tipsy as well, runs into Pollock near Astor Place, the painter suddenly reaches out, grabs the runt of a nearby tree, and weaves into an oddly philosophical meditation:

“What’s the use of going further than this?,” he muttered. “The tree’s got everythin’. Leave it alone and it’ll grow and grow an’ be beautiful. … No need to leave New York at all. … Thish tree’s got everythin’ … beautiful … beautiful …!” And he drifted off into the moonlit fog of dawn, dropping a package of matches. I stopped over and picked it up. The words printed on it said: “There are good jobs for everyone in the telephone business.”

About a month later, Rodman calls Pollock — who famously doesn’t answer letters — to arrange a visit. He coordinates with his wife, Lee Krasner, an abstract painter herself. Eventually, he makes his way to the family’s home in East Hampton, where Pollock emerges to greet him “in nondescript blue slacks and a T-shirt, bearded and bleary-eyed, like a bear.” Pollock’s way of conversation, Rodman notes, bespeaks a great deal of his character:

He talks with difficulty, searching painfully, almost agonizingly, for the right word, with constant apologies “for not being verbal.” The sincerity of the man is overwhelmingly apparent. He is uncouth and inarticulate and arrogant and very sure of his place in art and of the importance of the movement with which he is associated, but there is not a race of showmanship or phoniness in his make-up. He is friendly and warm-hearted — though he resists showing it, and no doubt would like to be though ruthless and without sentiment. In respect to his art, of course, he is; and this may be the tragic conflict that both makes his painting what it is and accounts for his inability to carry it further.

Jackson Pollock

When asked “to elaborate on the business of labels,” Pollock grunts:

“I don’t care for ‘abstract expressionism,'” he said, “and it’s certainly not ‘nonobjective’ and not ‘nonrepresentational’ either. I’m very representational some of the time, and a little all of the time. But when you’re painting out of your unconscious, figures are bound to emerge. We’re all of us influenced by Freud, I guess. I’ve been a Jungian for a long time.

When Rodman probes about Pollock’s process, the painter offers a strikingly articulate addition to history’s finest definitions of art:

Something in me knows where I’m going, and — well, painting is a state of being. … Painting is self-discovery. Every good artist paints what he is.

Later in the conversation, Pollock reflects on the inherent duality of human character:

It’s a different age we live in. It’s an age of indeterminacy, perhaps. Morals are indeterminate compared with other times. YOu don’t call a thing or a person ‘good’ or ‘bad’ the way you could one. We know there’s good and bad in everyone. This indeterminacy comes out in our painting. Perhaps it’s why we’re not interested in making portraits. That would be too precise a statement to lend itself to painting as we practice it.

He admonishes against vacant imitation:

When you try to emulate the old masters … you get corn, real corn. Bits of Renaissance pastiche are still bits of Renaissance pastiche, no matter how blurred you make them.

'Autumn Rhythm' by Jackson Pollock, 1950, enamel on canvas

Later, he takes a jab at Frank Lloyd Wright, who had designed the Guggenheim Museum’s iconic cylindrical structure, and the very notion of museums:

As for Wright, he’s a great architect, I guess, but what a *%@#! That museum! We’ve had all this trouble in doing away with the frame — and now this. Paintings don’t need all this fooling around. The hell with museums! Put the paintings in a room and look at ‘em — isn’t that enough? You remember that old building where the Museum of Modern Art started? What was wrong with that? I was in a house designed by Mies once; I felt so taut I couldn’t say anything.

Pollock is equally dismissive of another facet of the art establishment, the critics and the press:

None of the art magazines are worth anything. Nobody takes them seriously. The’r a bunch of snobs.

'The Key' by Jackson Pollock, 1946, oil on canvas (Courtesy The Art Institute of Chicago)

And just when you think Pollock’s delightfully curmudgeonly side has blossomed fully, an incident out of an old Hollywood movie: He invites Rodman to see his studio, but finds it padlocked, with no key in sight. So he does the most natural — at least to Pollock, evidently — thing:

We waited while he went back into the house. In about five minutes he returned, shaking his head. “Lee hasn’t got one either. There just isn’t any key,” he smiled wryly. “There’s something for the analyst!” he said “The painter locks himself out of his own studio. And then has to break it like a thief.”

Before we could stop him he had smashed a pane of glass.

“Couldn’t we force the window?” I said.

He tried, but without success. There were wedges nailed in from the inside.

“Damn!” With his elbow he smashed another pane, and then another, tearing away the wooden strips between them. “Wait. I’ll get a hammer and really go to work on this.” He ran back to the house while we collected the splintered glass in a pile. Returning with the hammer, he finally managed to raise the lower half of the window and, shoving a table covered with dusty sketches out of the way, stepped in. We followed him. The main studio was an extraordinary sight. Huge paintings, some of them twenty or more feet long, demonstrated clearly enough what he had meant. They weren’t French, or even American. They were simply Pollock. Paint laced, slashed or dripped on canvas after canvas, but always arrestingly, authoritatively, as only he can do it: undeniably the expression of a tormented but vital personality.

As the afternoon’s adventure comes to an end, Pollock’s singular blend of single-mindedness and sensitivity shines through:

As we walked toward the window to climb out, he took a look back into the lair of creative devastation.

“These paintings, the ones I’ve kept, are my securities. They’re all I’ve got left.” He leaned out the window and looked at the view of the distant pond.

“Painting is my whole life…”

Conversations with Artists is a treasure trove in its entirety — highly recommended.

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.