Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘Maira Kalman’

04 JUNE, 2014

Maira Kalman at TEDxMet

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What teenage Vladimir Nabokov has to do with the spiritual power of shoes.

There are few artists today whom I admire more wholeheartedly than Maira Kalman. In addition to her magnificent books and projects — including the especially glorious The Principles of Uncertainty and Various Illuminations (Of a Crazy World) — she is also a bottomless well of wisdom on life, with a penchant for the endearingly quirky and a special gift for children’s books.

In this wonderful short talk from TEDxMet, Kalman traces the timeline of her life as an artist, delivered with a hearty helping of her immeasurably gladdening sense of humor.

Walking is the antidote to a lot of misery and boredom. Whatever you do, you should always try to walk somewhere before you do it.

Complement with Kalman on the power of not thinking and the two keys to a full life, then revisit her recent collaboration with Daniel Handler and MoMA, the charming Girls Standing on Lawns.

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06 MAY, 2014

Girls Standing on Lawns: A Quirky Collaboration Between Maira Kalman, Daniel Handler, and MoMA

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A celebration of the art of seeing and being seen.

Besides her incontestable talent, what makes beloved artist and illustrator Maira Kalman such a singular creative spirit — full of wisdom on how to live fully and why walking sparks creativity — is her idiosyncratic lens on life. To wit: She is a lifelong collector of vintage photographs fished from flea markets and netted around specific themes — hats, animals, chairs, etc. Among them is “girls standing on lawns,” a category whose delightful richness Kalman discovered in the world’s best-curated flea market for such esoteric gems, the collection of “vernacular” images — everyday snapshots never intended as works of art, made by amateurs and professionals alike — at the Museum of Modern Art. Kalman was so captivated by these photographs that she sent a selection of them to her longtime friend and collaborator Daniel Handler, perhaps better-known under the irreverent persona Lemony Snicket, and he wrote back with simple, charming haiku-like responses to the photographs. Kalman immediately sensed the poetic potential of this impromptu mashup and decided to paint a series of watercolors based on the images.

The result is Girls Standing on Lawns (public library) — the first in a series of enchanting three-way collaborations between Kalman, Handler, and the MoMA, celebrating the art and act of seeing, the poetics of the mundane, and the charm of the esoteric.

One morning we found some photographs. One morning these girls stood on lawns. We looked at the pictures and we got to work.

There’s no use standing around. You should do something.

This is the whole thing.

Forty vintage photographs from MoMA’s collection became the catalyst for Kalman’s impossibly wonderful watercolors and Handler’s lyrical short texts — interpretations, projections, and playful imaginings of the larger lives condensed by these photographs into mere mementos, forgotten and contextless. Under Kalman’s brush and Handler’s pen, these static moments blossom into a dynamic contemplation — isn’t that the definition of art? — of themes like childhood and family, social mores, womanhood, and belonging.

Meet me on the lawn, I want to take a picture of you.

Her sister asked her, maybe. I am making things up. A brother, a sweetheart. He told her how pretty she looks there on the lawn.

He’s not in the picture now.

Perhaps she stood there so she could stand still.

We are all standing for something on this lawn.

It doesn’t have to be a lawn, even. It doesn’t matter. Something else.

Girls Standing on Lawns is absolutely delightful in its entirety. Complement it with Why We Broke Up, a very different but equally captivating Kalman/Handler collaboration, and 13 Words, their lovely children’s book.

Images courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art

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12 FEBRUARY, 2014

Maira Kalman on Curiosity, Courage, Happiness, and the Two Keys to a Full Life

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“What protects you in this world from sadness and from the loss of an ability to do something? … Work and love.”

Maira Kalman is one of the most beloved illustrators working today and one of my greatest heroes, a singular spirit living at the intersection of art and philosophy. In this fantastic talk from India’s INK Conference, Kalman takes us on a journey into her wonderfully idiosyncratic mind and expansive soul, revealing along the way the poetic and profound universalities of our human triumphs and tribulations. Highlights below — please enjoy:

On the outlook her mother bequeathed her, a beautiful affirmation of why the capacity to wonder drives culture:

You don’t really have to have knowledge — what you have to have is curiosity.

On the psychoemotional cycles of life, something Kalman explores with magnificent dimension in The Principles of Uncertainty:

You’re constantly battling with the idea of loss and grief in this lifetime, and then continuing with optimism and courage to continue your work.

Kalman adds to modern history’s notable meditations on the meaning of existence — including ones by Carl Sagan, David Foster Wallace, Anaïs Nin, Henry Miller, Richard Feynman, Charles Bukowski, Arthur C. Clarke, Annie Dillard, John Cage, and others — by considering the fundamental necessities for a full life, which she explores further in And the Pursuit of Happiness:

The question that we ask ourselves is, what protects you? What protects you in this world from sadness and from the loss of an ability to do something? For me, what protects me … is work and love. And I think that those two things cover pretty much every single thing. Because what you do, who you love, what you love, and what you do with your time is really the only question that you have to answer.

For more of Kalman’s wisdom and creative brilliance, treat yourself to some of her magnificent books, including her illustrated editions of classics like Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style and Michael Pollan’s Food Rules, then see her reflections on happiness and existence and art and the power of not thinking.

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