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Archive for the ‘beauty’ Category

Why “I hated it” doesn’t count as cultural criticism

In art, beauty, behavior, books, culture, design, film, photography on July 19, 2014 at 12:11 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Early this week, a Broadside reader — thank you!! — generously gave me a ticket to see Elena’s Aria, a work from 1984 by Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker at the Lincoln Center Festival, an annual event.

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The auditorium was packed and I saw many dancers sitting around me, some leaning forward in their seats. The piece was an hour and 45 minutes in length, with no intermission and if you left, you would not be re-admitted.

Commit or else!

I didn’t hate it, but it was a challenging piece in a number of ways:

— It was really long

— It was very repetitive

— Much of it was performed in silence

— Much of it seemed to focus more on movement than pure dance

– It included black and white vintage film footage of buildings being dynamited to shards

I was very curious to read the New York Times’ review:

Made in 1984, it was her first dance to use spoken text and film. The program note describes it as a result of self-questioning, a search for a way forward. And on Sunday at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater, when it was performed in New York for the first time since 1987, that’s what it looked like: the work of a young artist who has hit an aesthetic wall and hasn’t yet discovered how to get past it…the overall impression of the work is less of emotional implosion than of expanding boredom. At the end, the women, seated in chairs, cross their legs and run their hands through their hair as part of a Mozart piano sonata plays…As drama, the dance cuts off empathy, but as these women fidget, you know exactly how they feel.

I’m glad I saw it, even if I didn’t love it. I was around the same as the choreographer in 1984 and, like her, had had some terrific early professional success. I remembered what that felt like.

I remember 1984.

I’ve only walked out of one play, as its themes were simply too painful for me personally. And I walked out of the terrifying film The Exorcist as I couldn’t take it.

Generally, I stick around. (Not a boring or poorly-done book. That takes up too much time!)

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One reason is that I know what it takes to create a work of art or literature or dance or theater — usually years of training and rehearsal and guts and time and money and ideas and financial backing. Even if the result is atrocious, and it can be, it’s also the result, in many cases, of tremendous effort.

I don’t need to love everything I read, hear, see or listen to as long as there are some useful or intriguing ideas within it. Nor does it have to be quick or short.

It just has to make me think.

How about you?

How do you respond to art or cultural works that make you uneasy, uncomfortable or bored?

Summer pleasures

In beauty, behavior, domestic life, life on July 13, 2014 at 12:19 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Cold slices of watermelon

Juicy peaches dripping down your chin

Eating in a restaurant’s backyard patio; here’s a list of Toronto’s best

Almost anything grilled

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Cherries!

Corn on the cob — round food!

Eating dinner in your (wet) bathing suit

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Making sand castles at the beach

Sleeping in a tent and waking up to sunshine poking through the mesh

Air-conditioning on the most of humid of days, a gently-whirring fan for the rest

A temperate climate — while friends in the desert are baking, and not in a good way

Showing off your fresh pedicure

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Swinging in the hammock

Teaching your kids to swim

Driving a convertible

Sundresses!

My handsome hubby, Jose

My handsome hubby, Jose

A seersucker suit, preferably with white suede bucks

Teaching your sweetie to swim/kayak/canoe/sail

Plunging into a secluded swimming hole

Making pina colada kulfi popsicles; recipe here

Watching fireflies spark the landscape at dusk

The call of a loon across still waters

Running through the sprinkler

The gurgle of a paddle pushing cold lake water

The clang of a halyard against a metal mast

Plucking gorgeous flowers or sun-warmed vegetables and herbs from your garden

A frosty cold beer

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Fresh gimlets, (possibly accompanied by very good potato chips)

Snoozing in the sun

Going Garbo-esque behind fab sunglasses

Sitting in a crowded beer garden or outdoor movie or concert, surrounded by hundreds of happy strangers

Playing with your pals until sunset — as late as 10:30 p.m. or later for lucky people in the North

When getting dressed takes five minutes and one layer

Sexy sandals (see: fresh pedicure)

Wearing crisp summer fragrances like L’Eau de L’Artisan, Cristalle, O de Lancome or White Linen, classics all; for men, Eau Sauvage or Penhaligon’s Blenheim Bouquet

What are some of yours?

 

20 more things that make me happy

In beauty, behavior, culture, domestic life, life, nature on July 4, 2014 at 12:10 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Hearing a loon call — and it’s someone’s ringtone

Touring an Ontario heritage site hosted by a young ranger, D. Fife, whose mother is Ojibway and father is Scottish — classic Canada

Scoring a gorgeous teapot at auction

$31. Score!

$31. Score!

Paying a lot of tax on vacation purchases in Canada — knowing that it helps to pay for cradle-to-grave health care for everyone there and supports Canadian students’ $5,000/year college tuitions.

The scent of sun-warmed dried pine needles

The sun back-lighting a garden, iris glowing

Sitting very still in an Adirondack chair watching Lake Massawippi

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Hearing French spoken all around me, and on the radio, and speaking it myself

A bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich on toasted whole wheat bread, with mayo

Stocking up on Big Turks

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Floating alone in a swimming pool, motionless and silent

Eating butter tarts,  peameal bacon and smoked meat while home visiting Canada

Reading a terrific murder mystery set in the Eastern Townships, with a chapter that begins “‘Tabarnacle,’ whispered Beauvoir.” Quebec slang! Written by a former Canadian journalist living within a few miles of where I was reading her work

A very good professional massage

Huge squishy pillows covered in soft white cotton

Driving through Vermont in the rain listening to U2′s Joshua Tree

Awakening to birdsong

A pretty new cardigan in ballet-slipper pink at Ca Va De Soi, a knitwear firm with shops in Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto — and also soon online

Feeling so well-loved by dear old friends who welcome us back into their homes, year after year

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A badly-needed 10-day vacation — then returning to multiple freelance assignments and teaching gigs

Bonus: Having two countries I’m legally able to belong to, and to work in: Canada, where I was born and raised and the U.S., where I have lived since 1988 and am lucky enough to have a “green card”. I get to celebrate my two countries in the same week each year –

Happy Canada Day! (July 1) and Happy 4th of July!

Two sets of fireworks!

 

 

 

If you could time travel, where would you go?

In beauty, behavior, culture, entertainment, History, life, movies, television, travel on July 2, 2014 at 3:17 am

By Caitlin Kelly

 

Time to let go, at last

Of all the super-powers — flight, amazing strength, invisibility — the ability to travel through time has always fascinated me.

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My home is filled with items from the past: rush-seated wooden chairs from the 19th century; scraps of early textiles, pieces of porcelain from the 1700s , and I dream of owning an ancient Roman, Greek or Egyptian object — a coin or statue or piece of bronze or glass.

One of the attractions of the HBO series Game of Thrones — despite its gore! — is the feeling of losing myself in a long-ago, far-away world, filled with thrones and knights and huge stone castles.

Of course, time travel to any period deep in our past also means losing cool contemporary stuff like antibiotics, general anesthesia, a woman’s right to vote and own property, reliable, safe contraception…oh, and telephones, television, cars and computers…

But — riding in a sedan chair! A barge down the Nile! Doing the Charleston! Watching the Wright Brothers try out their first aircraft at Kitty Hawk!

(True, I don’t long to be a mud-covered serf in some filthy field. Have to be a little specific about this stuff.)

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

If I could time-travel, some of the times and places I’d like to (safely!) visit:

Paris, pre/during/post Revolution

medieval England

ancient Egypt

London, circa 1800

Paris, 1920s

Canada, 1700s

The U.S. during World War II when women took over “men’s work” in the factories

I have less curiosity, oddly perhaps, about the future.

I’d also like to go back to Rathmullan, Co. Donegal, and meet my paternal great-grandfather, who taught there in a one-room schoolhouse I visited and where I even saw his handwriting in its ancient ledgers. And to turn-of-the-century Chicago to meet my maternal great-grand-father Louis Stumer, who helped develop a gorgeous white office building in 1912, still standing downtown, the North American Building.

How unlike one another they were, and yet I’ve got bits of both of them, intellectually and genetically.

If you’ve never seen the fantastic film 1981 British film Time Bandits, check it out! So fun.

I enjoyed The Time Traveler’s Wife as a book, less so as a film.

One of my favorite stories by legendary American writer Ray Bradbury is about time travel, A Sound of Thunder. It’s so eerie and so smart, first published in 1952. I read it when I was 12 — decades ago — and have never forgotten it! It’s the most re-published science fiction story ever, according to Wikipedia.

Here’s a fun post by fellow writer Leslie Lang, with links to some great books on the topic.

Where would you go and why?

Dance: doing it, making it, watching it, loving it!

In beauty, cities, culture, entertainment, life, music, travel, urban life on June 30, 2014 at 5:15 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

Obsessed!

One of the best things about living in or near New York City is access to great dance, whether excellent instruction, places to do it for fun and world-renowned companies coming to perform — the Bolshoi will soon be here, and later this year, The National Ballet of Canada, from my home and native land.

Last week I finally attended Midsummer Night Swing, a fantastic annual NYC event that lasts only three short weeks, with a different band each night, and a different kind of music, from soukous to swing. I went with my husband for the disco night, took a jazz dance class the following morning then went to the swing dance night Friday with a band led by my friend Elizabeth Bougerol, The Hot Sardines.

They are an amazing young band, formed only a few years ago, but soon to release their first album. They play music of the 1920s and 30s, classics like the St. James Infirmary. Elizabeth, who is half French and half Canadian, sings and plays the washboard.

MNS is held in Damrosch Park — with a huge, temporary dance floor constructed just for the occasion — and tickets are $17. Typically Manhattan, the park is ringed on the south side by Fordham Law School and fancy apartment towers, while on the west side are public housing projects. You can check your bag or backpack for $3, eat some barbecue and dance your heart out!

It’s a wild and touching scene: dapper African-American men in three-piece suits and porkpie hats; hipsters in linen suits; slim young women with twirly skirts, (one in a black neoprene knee brace). Parents dance with their little children and people in their 60s, 70s and beyond dance with one another, smoothly practiced after decades in rhythm.

From "Bella Figura" by Czech choreographer Jiri Kylian -- the first bare-breasted ballet I've seen

From “Bella Figura” by Czech choreographer Jiri Kylian — the first bare-breasted ballet I’ve seen

Then, Saturday evening, I went back to Lincoln Center for the third night in a row, this time to see the Boston Ballet for the first time. I scored excellent seats — third row in the second ring — for $70 each. No, not cheap, but fully worth every penny: excellent sight-lines. full orchestra, terrific dancing, a wide range of choreography — and the timeless beauty of the theater itself, one of my favorites, (and on whose stage I performed as an extra with the National Ballet of Canada in Sleeping Beauty); here’s my blog post about it.)

The first program included the extraordinary brief ballet, Afternoon of a Faun, created in 1912 to music by Debussy and then considered extremely shocking. The dancer who performed it was Altan Dugaraa, from — of all places — Mongolia.

The Boston Ballet is extremely diverse, with dancers from Cuba, Canada, Kazakhstan, France, Italy, Albania, Armenia, Japan, Spain, Bulgaria, Hungary. It’s a young company! Only one dancer has been with them since 1993 and a few from 1999 to 2003. Their names! Dusty Button (a woman) and Bo Busby (male.)

The 2,586-seat theater, designed by Philip Johnson, was built in 1964 and is still lovely: airy, elegant, both simple and graceful. Here are some photos I took when I went back yet again on Sunday to see the second program, led off by a fantastic piece, The Second Detail, by William Forsythe, my favorite of the three dances that day.

Here’s a 4:04 video of it, with the odd, percussive score by Thom Willems.

There are five "rings" or balconies. The view from the second ring is terrific! Note the diamond-shaped lights.

There are five “rings” or balconies. The view from the second ring is terrific! Note the diamond-shaped lights.

 

 

The railings have lacy, gilded dividers and the diamond-like lights repeat in the exterior and hall interior

The railings have lacy, gilded dividers and the diamond-like lights repeat in the exterior and hall interior

I recently finished a six-month weekly class in choreography and wrote about it for Rewireme.com. I found it has radically changed how I think, how I perceive my body and my relationship to it, and it helped me begin to realize a dream I’ve had for years, to choreograph — a daunting fantasy for someone with a still-limited dance vocabulary, even after many years of studying ballet and jazz.

And here’s a very cool new app for choreographers. Now I’m eager to try it.

As someone who writes for a living, every word I publish, anywhere, is carefully considered and revised many times before I expose it to others’ views and opinions. But choreography class demands a wholly different way of thinking, creating, and responding to others—it’s intimate, instant, spontaneous, and public. Even with an audience of only two, I felt awkward at first, scared of being judged and deemed clumsy and foolish.

As a writer, my audience typically remains safely distant and invisible. Here I had to look someone in the eye, and see myself in the mirror, expressing my ideas without words, using only corporeal language. Would my teacher and classmate be able to hear me, to—literally—see my point?

In the studio there’s no time or space for foot-dragging, procrastination, or perfectionism, all of which writers are prone to. We could easily lose 20 to 30 minutes of valuable class time if we allow ourselves to be passive or ambivalent about our ideas. It’s better to just put something out there and mess with it.

- See more at: http://www.rewireme.com/explorations/choreography-class-opened-eyes/#sthash.jz1HCba4.dpuf

As someone who writes for a living, every word I publish, anywhere, is carefully considered and revised many times before I expose it to others’ views and opinions. But choreography class demands a wholly different way of thinking, creating, and responding to others—it’s intimate, instant, spontaneous, and public. Even with an audience of only two, I felt awkward at first, scared of being judged and deemed clumsy and foolish.

As a writer, my audience typically remains safely distant and invisible. Here I had to look someone in the eye, and see myself in the mirror, expressing my ideas without words, using only corporeal language. Would my teacher and classmate be able to hear me, to—literally—see my point?

In the studio there’s no time or space for foot-dragging, procrastination, or perfectionism, all of which writers are prone to. We could easily lose 20 to 30 minutes of valuable class time if we allow ourselves to be passive or ambivalent about our ideas. It’s better to just put something out there and mess with it.

- See more at: http://www.rewireme.com/explorations/choreography-class-opened-eyes/#sthash.jz1HCba4.dpuf

As someone who writes for a living, every word I publish, anywhere, is carefully considered and revised many times before I expose it to others’ views and opinions. But choreography class demands a wholly different way of thinking, creating, and responding to others—it’s intimate, instant, spontaneous, and public. Even with an audience of only two, I felt awkward at first, scared of being judged and deemed clumsy and foolish.

As a writer, my audience typically remains safely distant and invisible. Here I had to look someone in the eye, and see myself in the mirror, expressing my ideas without words, using only corporeal language. Would my teacher and classmate be able to hear me, to—literally—see my point?

In the studio there’s no time or space for foot-dragging, procrastination, or perfectionism, all of which writers are prone to. We could easily lose 20 to 30 minutes of valuable class time if we allow ourselves to be passive or ambivalent about our ideas. It’s better to just put something out there and mess with it.

- See more at: http://www.rewireme.com/explorations/choreography-class-opened-eyes/#sthash.jz1HCba4.dpuf

Skinny doesn’t make you smarter or kinder

In beauty, behavior, blogging, culture, food, Health, life, women on June 28, 2014 at 12:11 pm

By Caitlin Kelly
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Great, lucid post from Joshua David at Jezebel:

Being thin is a priority for some people. This is a fine and perfectly valid thing. But your priority is yours and yours alone, and the ease with which one can make this a priority is irrelevant. It’s obvious if you make the same arguments about any other lifestyle choice that it’s absurd on its face. You know what’s easy? Being really knowledgeable about film and film theory. It’s something that I make a priority in my life. I don’t go to the gym; I go home and watch French New Wave films. But people aren’t crashing the comment section of reviews for Michael Bay movies to tell fans how easy it is to hang out and watch François Truffaut films and how much better you’ll feel, if you just make it a priority.

If you place a great deal of importance on being thin and athletic and in amazing cardiovascular shape, I think that’s just swell. You made something a priority in your life and you are doing things you enjoy. That’s great and I encourage you. But you’re no better than the person who doesn’t place a priority on those. Your choices aren’t better than the person who is fat and in great shape (I ran a half-marathon at 275 pounds, I know from being fat and in shape), or who is thin and in terrible shape, or even the person that’s fat and out of shape. Those people have different priorities than you, and to suggest that their priorities are inherently and obviously lesser, whether with outright nastiness or couched in pseudoscientific – hell, even solid scientific – concern trolling, is high-minded arrogance.

As someone trying to slim down — preferably by early September  when I start teaching two college classes a week, (i.e. being more publicly visible than working alone) — this hit home.

Again.

I admit it. I’d easily shed 30 pounds in a few months if I immediately stopped consuming: alcohol, cheese, any sweets, bread/pasta/rice — and made time to exercise vigorously for an hour every single day.

Bah.

I’d rather weigh a larger size and enjoy my life.

Me, a cover girl -- even at size 16

Me, a cover girl — even at size 16

I lost some serious weight a few years ago by going on a super-strict diet, the kind where you measure everything you consume, eat no fruit and in which my only allowed “snacks” were a tiny handful of almonds or sour, wet, cold, unflavored o% fat yogurt.

Neighbors were asking my husband: “Is she OK?” Meaning — the weight loss was so quick and noticeable (and I enjoyed it, believe me), they assumed serious illness.

But it wasn’t sustainable.

Women’s bodies are used every day in our toxic culture to shame us into silence and submission, as though wearing a smaller size of clothing somehow makes one of us more valuable in the world than another.

Which is bullshit.

Some of the nastiest women I’ve ever met were petite and chic, and some of the kindest are pillowy and zaftig.

And some women simply have no time or no money to focus all their energy on the size of their ass.  And/or they work multiple jobs and/or face underlying health issues and/or are helping needy family members — all of which make getting and staying skinny a much lower priority than mere economic and emotional survival.

Here’s a lovely and inspiring post about taking a photo of herself  — while overweight — by a professional photographer, L.A.-based Stephanie Simpson. As I did for the AT cover shoot, she had the services of a make-up and hair artist and a pro shooter to do it.

When the AT team of five (!) — makeup/hair, photographer, art director, stylist and assistant — came to my one-bedroom apartment, flying in from Chicago and Atlanta to NY just for me — I was excited and happy. I could have been terrified but I really enjoyed it.

I think my confidence both surprised the team and made the day, and the photos, much better than we probably expected.

I’ve modeled twice now at this size, both times for pro photographers, one time (yes, really) in a bathing suit, albeit with most of me underwater demonstrating water aerobics. It was a lot of fun.

Yes, I would like to be thinner. But until I am, I do not measure my sole value in the world — whether to friends, family, work — by the size of my ass.

The size of our hearts — as evidenced by our acts of compassion and generosity — and our brains’ ability to create art and science and music and dance and solve difficult problems — matters most.

 

A brief meditation on the Restoration Hardware catalog

In aging, beauty, business, children, culture, design, domestic life, life, Style, US on June 14, 2014 at 2:45 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

And so it arrived — all 4.5 inches of it — and all seven editions:

Have you seen it?

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For those of you living beyond the U.S., RH offers one-stop shopping for all manner of weathered, patinated objects, from enormous replicas of German lighting and railway clocks to a wall-hung glowing ampersand. (Do I really want to sleep beside a piece of punctuation?)

The tone is regal, imperial, seigneurial — and the scale of many of the objects and furniture designed for people who inhabit extremely large homes and estates. Their catalog named “small spaces” offers tableaux named for a Chelsea penthouse and Tribeca loft, each of whose entry point is about $2 million, in cash.

It’s exhaustingly aspirational, and references abound to “landed gentry” and “boarding school”, clearly meant to appeal to people who have experience of neither. (As Downton Abbey’s Lady Mary said, witheringly, to her self-made suitor, Sir Richard Carlisle: “Your lot buys things. Mine inherits them.”)

What to make of it all?

1) Fly into shopping frenzy, wanting allofitrightnow!

2) Read the descriptions in wonder and dismay:

“Crafted with Italian Berkshire leather…” — it’s an ice bucket, people. And it’s $199.

3) Sneer at the hopeless addiction to more stuff it inculcates and rewards

4) Dog-ear a few of the pages, however guiltily, because some of it — yes — is really gorgeous, like this bed, oddly featured in the baby and child catalog.

5) Wonder why our possessions are deemed “treasured” and whether or not they even should be; (see: Buddhist teachings and the ideal of non-attachment)

6) Consider attending an auction to watch the detritus of a hundred other lives, wondering when this stuff will end up there, too

7) Might children raised in these formal and fully-designed rooms, amid thousands of dollars worth of wood and linen and velvet, emerge into the real world of independence and employment with overly hopeful notions of pay and working conditions? Let alone college dorm facilities?

8) If a baby projectile vomits or poops or pees onto the immaculate washed linen and velvet beds, chairs and cribs shown here, how elegant will they really look (or smell)? Much as I love the idea of refined aesthetics (not pink or plastic everything), this seems a little…excessive.

9) I love their restrained neutral palette — pale gray, cream, brown, white, black — and their industrial designs for lighting. But if I were six or eight or 14? Maybe not so much. Your kids have decades ahead of them to stare at wire baskets and faux-Dickensian light fixtures.

10) Have you ever noticed the echt-WASP names included in these catalogs, as would-be monograms or examples of personalization? You won’t ever find a Graciela or Jose or Ahmed or Dasani here, my dears. Instead: Addison, Brady, Lucas, Mason, Ethan, Grace, Charlotte, Chloe, Sarah. Such a 19th-century white-bread version of “reality” ! Am I the only one who finds this pretentious, silly — and very outdated marketing? Many people of color have money to spend on these items as well. My husband’s name is Jose and he’s got great taste and good credit. Include him, dammit!

11) OK, OK. I admit it. I love this chair. After a long crappy day, even a putative adult might enjoy the soft and furry embrace of a stuffed elephant.

12) “Understated grandeur” and “Directoire-style daybed” — in a nursery?!

13) People put taxidermied animal heads on your walls to prove that: a) you  know how to shoot accurately; b) you own guns; c) you can afford to spend time in some foreign land on safari; d) you enjoy killing things; e) you have no shame showing this to others. Putting up faux images of wood, paper and metal like these ones seems a little beside the point.

14) Do you really want to eat your food with a replica of the cutlery used aboard the Titanic, and named for it? What’s next — the Hindenberg armchair?

15) As someone addicted to great fabric, I do think these linen tablecloths are both well-priced and hard to find. And their glass and metal bath accessories — dishes, canisters and jars — are handsome enough to use on your desk or in a kitchen.

16) Dimensions? It’s a total time-suck to have to go on-line to determine furniture sizes.

17) For $25, this is the chic-est beach towel you’ll see this season. (I bought one of theirs a few years ago and the quality is excellent.)

18) Did the designer or copywriter even snicker when including a $139 “industrial style” basket marked “Stuff”?

Twenty more things that make me happy: lilacs, tea and B’way tix

In beauty, culture, design, domestic life, life, nature on June 1, 2014 at 12:48 am

By Caitlin Kelly

(all photos mine)

 

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Lilacs in bloom

Looking at gorgeous (affordable!) fabric and planning projects; available for sale here.

 

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Starting Saturday mornings with reggae on WKCR, the radio station of Columbia University

Doing developpes to B.B. King live at St. Quentin my Monday morning jazz dance class

Scoring a $41 fifth-row orchestra seat for “Once”, a Broadway musical nominated for eight Tony awards (value $100+)

You can attend a mid-week matinee!

You can attend a mid-week matinee!

The tree-shaded path beside the reservoir, a five-minute drive from our home in suburban New York

This delicious macaron — named Ispahan, rose-flavored! — at Bosie’s Tea Parlor in the West Village

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Manhattan’s many subway buskers, like this literal one-man-band playing in the 42d Street station

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My Moomin mug (anything Moomin!)

 

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The visible history found in Manhattan, like this cast-iron building on Prince Street in Soho

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Found art, like the graphic design of this weathered metal piece also on  Prince Street

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Driving on the FDR — the highway on the East River of Manhattan — with tugs, barges and FDNY fireboats spouting fountains beside me

A steaming pot of fragrant tea, sipped slowly from a bone china tea cup

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A Bloody Mary and the cheese and Ritz crackers at Sardi’s sitting at the bar with my husband on a Sunday afternoon

Ritz crackers and their tart cheese spread

Ritz crackers and their tart cheese spread

Making a great Sunday lunch for dear friends

Finding bits of eccentricity where you least expect them, like this tableau in a Soho clothing store

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The comfort of small, well-loved portable pals

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Patina…on just about any surface

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Early stained glass — this, from a Philadelphia church

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Heading north/home to Canada — family, friends and vacation. Yay!

Do you speak Canadian?

Do you speak Canadian?

 And you, my dears?

It may be creative, but, hell yes, it’s still work!

In art, beauty, behavior, books, business, culture, design, film, journalism, Money, music, photography, US, work on May 13, 2014 at 12:58 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Time to let go, at last

Did any of you catch this recent interesting piece in The New York Times?

The way we habitually think and talk about these matters betrays a deep and venerable ambivalence. On one hand, art is imagined to exist in a realm of value that lies beyond and beneath mere economic considerations. The old phrase “starving artist” gestures toward an image that is both romantic and pathetic, of a person too pure, and also just too impractical, to make it in the world. When that person ceases to starve, he or she can always be labeled a sellout. You’re not supposed to be in it for the money.

On the other hand, money is now an important measure — maybe the supreme measure — of artistic accomplishment. Box office grosses have long since become part of the everyday language of cinephilia, as moviegoers absorb the conventional wisdom, once confined mainly to accountants and trade papers, about which movies are breaking out, breaking even or falling short. Multimillion-dollar sales of paintings by hot new or revered old artists are front-page news. To be a mainstream rapper is to have sold a lot of recordings on which you boast about how much money you have made selling your recordings…

This is something I think about a lot.

My father, still alive at 85, was a respected maker of films and network television, as was my stepmother. My mother worked as a journalist.

It never occurred to me that “artist” and “starving” belonged in the same sentence. Nor should they!

This notion that being creative means penury or 1%-land is absurd. We don’t expect or require this of others — the middling executive, the stalled lawyer, the so-so administrator. The world is filled with people doing their best and never hitting the heights, nor surviving on ramen in a group squat.

More, from the Times’ piece:

Inexpensive goods carry hidden costs, and those costs are frequently borne by exploited, underpaid workers. This is true of our clothes and our food, and it is no less true of those products we turn to for meaning, pleasure and diversion. We will no doubt continue to indulge all kinds of romantic conceits about artists: myths about the singularity of genius or the equal distribution of talent; clichés about flaky, privileged weirdos; inspiring tales of dreamers who persevered. But we also need to remember, with all the political consequences that this understanding entails, that they are just doing their jobs.

I’ve been writing for a living — sometimes for a nice wage, sometimes for a much-less-amusing one — since I left university. But I’ve never cracked that sexy glass ceiling of the six-figure income.

malled cover LOW

Talent and hard work, prizes and fellowships — got ‘em. There are few direct correlations between the standard metrics and creative success, let alone buckets ‘o cash. Your ability to schmooze, to accept and perform work you find creatively grotesque, to suck up abusive client behaviors — these, too, factor considerably into who will (quickest) ascend the greasy pole of fame and fortune.

The creative life is one that many mythologize or fantasize about: waking up at noon to daub a canvas or noodle about with your screenplay. How lovely, how freeing to flee the grim confines of cube-world and the predations of The Man.

Snort!

Every time I put on a pair of shoes, or eat a meal, I touch the direct reflection of talent and hard work — it produced the income that keeps me housed, fed, clothed and will fund my retirement.

Making art — of any kind — in no way excuses the artist from the costly necessities of life, no matter how cool or offbeat our lives and work may appear to others choosing a different vocational path.

One of my favorite books is The Creative Habit, by American choreographer Twyla Tharp, who has made her career by — as she eloquently puts it — walking into an empty studio and making a dance.

In the end, there is no ideal condition for creativity. What works for one person is useless for another. The only criterion is this: Make it easy on yourself. Find a working environment where the prospect of wrestling with your muse doesn’t scare you, doesn’t shut you down. It should make you want to be there, and once you find it, stick with it. To get the creative habit, you need a working environment that’s habit-forming. All preferred working states, no matter how eccentric, have one thing in common: When you enter into them, they compel you to get started.”
Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life

Creative work absolutely is work, even if/when it doesn’t earn enough to buy you a house or a shiny new car — or any car, ever — or the plaudits of The Right People.

And holding fast to principle — creating something you imagine to be of lasting cultural worth, not merely sating contemporary appetites or shoveling cash at your expenses — remains a difficult challenge for many artists faced with the same costs of heat, fuel, clothing, food and housing as the rest of the workforce.

Jose and I recently saw this terrific 1987 play, The Substance of Fire, about a New York City family-run publishing house and its internal battle over this issue.

IMG_20140512_122236059

Here’s a post I wrote about this in 2011, which was chosen for Freshly Pressed.

I ask whether we should focus on being productive (look what I made!) or creative (which might be publicly inaudible and invisible for months or years, producing no income):

I’m not persuaded one can be both all the time.

We all need time to think, reflect, ponder, meander, take some detours, some of which — being immediately unproductive — lead into dead ends, some of which lead us off into totally new and hugely profitable (financially or creatively) directions.

Shutting down the production line for a while — silence! solitude! no immediate income! I’m wasting time! — can feel terrifying.

It’s absolutely necessary.

Do you work full-time in a creative field?

How’s it going?

How do you measure your success?

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On (really) seeing

In art, beauty, behavior, film, life, nature, photography on May 9, 2014 at 12:07 am

By Caitlin Kelly

 

magnolia

Some of you are photographers and film-makers, professional observers.

Some of you are writers and visual artists.

We look for a living — noticing and making or recording the beauty of what we find.

shadow

I enjoyed this recent post by frequent commenter Cynthia Guenther Richardson about the value of really seeing where you are:

I have become more of a human being since taking photographs daily. More satisfied, centered in the moment, less opinionated of what and whom I experience. Photography offers an intense personal experience while also requiring objectivity, a distancing. It asks me to abandon restrictive thinking and give myself over to a finer sense of things, the gravitational pull of life around me. Order can be created even if there seems to be little–or exposed and highlighted. And it takes discipline, which is something I enjoy…

Walking into the world with camera in hand unlocks secrets to which I would not otherwise be so privy. I closely observe the way shadow changes rhododendron blossoms. I watch how a couple leans toward one another in the spring light, then the man turns sharply away. I see a child poke a muddy puddle and talk to himself about frogs and other beings unnamed. Over there is a house with an extravagance of foliage and two empty chairs. Who steps out in the dusk to sit there with the quieting birds? Photography uses a different part of the brain than language; it enlarges my reservoir of skills and ideas, stimulates possibilities.

And these images, from SearchingtoSee, are lovely. Emily Hughes is a British primary school teacher who’s also passionate about photography. Here is some of her “about” page:’

It is easy to become consumed by a kind of fervour for capturing images, and I wonder if for him [her father] it was as much about escaping from the chaos of everyday family life as it was about recording it. I know for me it certainly is. I carry a camera with me often, and when I am off taking pictures I feel so liberated and so focussed at the same time,  that I often find it hard to be ‘present’ in my other roles: mum, sister, daughter, wife, friend… but there are times when I feel like I need to record, and there are times also when I realise that I need to put down the camera and just be, enjoy, experience, think. But I understand and share the collective need we have as humans to use photography as a tool of memory, to seize and hold forever those moments of magic because they are so fleeting and because if we didn’t then we might forget that they existed at all.

But so many of us now live — if you can call it that! — in a rushed, tech-tethered world.

As I walk through Manhattan or Grand Central Station, I often have to side-step people , yelling “Don’t bump into me!”, people  striding head-down while reading or texting.

It’s rude and aggressive — and sad.

photo: Jose R. Lopez

photo: Jose R. Lopez

They’re missing a lot.

I’ve lived in the same apartment for 25 years, which is odd and unsettling for me, someone who lives for adventure and new experiences. But it also means I’ve grown to know and love the rhythms of my town, and the trees and woods and water nearby.

I know when the magnolia is about to bloom and mourn the day the red Japanese maple sheds its final bright mementos for the season. I look for the fragrant shoots of wild onion and the changing position of the sun as it hits our balcony, proof that the earth really does move through the seasons.

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

The other day I went for my reservoir walk, not as usual, at the end of the day at 5:00 or 6:00 p.m., but at 10:00 a.m; the same old familiar place felt very different, as brilliant sunlight backlit the tiny, brilliant green buds of the trees. The woods became a pointilist painting!

My father, still healthy and curious at 85, was a documentary film-maker and a visual artist working in a variety of media: silver, etching, engraving, oils, lithography. I began drawing and painting and taking photographs as a child.

(It’s interesting that Cynthia, Emily and I were all inspired by our fathers.)

My husband Jose is an award-winning New York Times photo editor and former photographer, (now also shooting weddings), so I’ve spent my life around people who see, notice, observe — and act on their art-making impulses.

Jose recently did a 30-day series of daily blog posts with images from his 30 years at the Times, many of them from his days in the White House Press Corps; check it out here.

You might also enjoy The New York Times Lens blog, which interviews photographers and offers interesting backstories to the images you see in their pages and on-line.

(All photos here are mine.)

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Are you making time to really see your world?

 

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