I don't think of myself as funny, and when I started this blog back in the summer of 2014, I wanted a challenge and tried to be witty. And I was for a while. I got comments that read…Read More
Outsider Art refers to art created outside the boundaries of official culture, outside the established art scene. I first heard the term Outsider Art about a month ago when I saw an interview on facebook.
The Outsider Art Fair is this week in New York City (January 21-24) at the Metropolitan Pavilion.
In a New York Times Magazine article, I learned about the Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland, California, where artists who have not had formal art education come to create. The work is considered more pure, raw, than mainstream art. Not always, but sometimes, the artists are physically or emotionally impaired.
In a Huffington Post article, Priscilla Frank discusses how a policeman learned to embrace his creative side.
I love this idea of self-taught art, art without academia.
Maybe it’s because in the eighties, I was accepted to the art program at NYU and things didn’t go well for me there.
In order to get in, I had to show a portfolio. I had to sit through a nerve-wracking interview. And when I got in, I was thrilled to be part of the New York City art community.
Until I wasn’t.
It didn’t go badly at first. In fact, during my first semester in the program, my drawing teacher appreciated and encouraged my style, which was heavily textured, strong contrast, little grey. And lots of white space. She didn’t judge the things I drew: a carrot peeler, an eggbeater, half a grapefruit.
You see I was 19, and newly married. That’s what I had in my apartment. That domesticity was my life.
My photography teacher showed black and white slides (with lots of grey) of a woman wearing a housecoat. This housewife was slumped on the couch, a broom near her side, a cigarette dangled from her lips. My teacher compared these photographs to my own, which told a different story of homemaking. In my photographs, my young son stood smiling and bottomless near a stacked dishwasher; and in a self-portrait, I proudly pushed out my pregnant belly.
The following semester, I had a male teacher. He was a prominent and respected figure in the school. He had a specific belief about art and artists. I didn’t fit into his schema. I was married with a child and I was economically well off, not a starving artist.
Soon enough I felt that I didn’t belong. I can’t tell you why he had such an influence over me but he did. And I learned years later, that he was fired because I wasn’t the only female student he’d bullied and shamed.
After I left the art program, I didn’t draw or paint for a long time. But years later, I made a few collages.
“How iPhones Ruin Your Posture and Your Mood” was a recent New York Times headline. According to the article, in order to see our small screens, we are hunching. And cowering affects our self-esteem. In, Are You Addicted to your cell phone? I discussed other disadvantages of phone use, namely being easily distracted and not focused on the present moment.
And while those things may be true, here’s what’s also true— I love my cell phone!
It allows me to view, Ruth Chang’s TED talk, How To Make Hard Choices.
Jill Bolte Taylor’s talk, My Stroke of Insight, a fascinating discussion about the brain and peace on earth.
Johann Hari: Everything You Think You Know About Addiction is Wrong.
On Facebook, I see how the owners of SOTO boutique, a clothing store in LA, made their holiday party not only festive but meaningful. At a Sunday morning breakfast, packages of clothes for the homeless were arranged for distribution. What a lovely way to spend the day: amongst friends and coworkers, giving back.
On Twitter, I follow Novelicious and find this Kurt Vonneget quote.
On Instagram, Alice Chera, Life coach, posts one of her thoughtful every day reminders.
Once again, it boils down to what my mother says. Somehow it always boils down to what my mother says: With the good, comes the bad.
So, yes, I’ve been spending more time on my phone but I’m getting a lot in return. (Like the idea that I have to pay attention to my posture.)
So every now and then, I’ll remember to sit up tall. But I won’t stop reading what’s on my tiny screen—gathering information, insights, ideas and inspiration.
I read on the Internet and heard on television that Miley’s career was over. Miley had gone too far.
I remember vividly watching Madonna sing, “Like A Virgin,” rolling around on stage, erotically, during the MTV Video Awards in 1984. She wore a bride’s gown: corset, garter belt and veil.
Immediately, her performance was criticized but publicized, everyone was talking about her. No one had ever done what she’d done on stage before. People, shocked, said her career was over.
It seems that the shock factor is actually the very thing that boosts celebrities to further stardom because as it turns out, that was just the beginning of Madonna’s career. She took off after that. And the more she reinvented herself, and the more outrageous she became, the more we paid attention.
How does one even go about getting noticed today?
Everything is so amped up.
It used to be that a good movie had one or two pivotal or dramatic scenes. Now movies seem to be a string of those events, one car chase or bomb explosion after another.
It used to be that a novel writer had 100 pages to develop character or build plot before anything spectacular needed to happen. Then it became ten pages, then one. Now you have a sentence.
Audiences have no patience. They want to be shocked, stunned, entertained and amused immediately, and continuously.
At the 2015 MTV Music Video Awards, Miley sang, “Yeah I smoke pot… but I don’t give a f*ck.”
She danced in costumes that barely covered her nipples.
In the finale, her backup dancers were drag queens.
Her desire for attention, and or to shock, is preposterous, not to mention boring.
And yet, Miley is the one laughing all the way to the bank. I don’t believe, regardless of how tasteless her performance was, her career is over. In fact, just like Madonna, she’s got everyone talking.
(This is not to compare talent. I happen to like Madonna and I’m not a Miley fan although that is not the point of this post.)
What is the point is that we blame Miley. Sure she is responsible for herself and she is ultimately the one in control of what she wears and what she sings but we are complicit.
She didn’t write her own lyrics. She didn’t design her own costumes. She didn’t choreograph her own dance routines. And she didn’t invite herself to host the MTV Video Music Awards.
Society has made it so that the one who is the most theatrical or outrageous gets to be in the spotlight. In fact, Bill O’Reilly talked about Miley’s performance on his show, which got me to Google it, and then to watch it.
Bill O’Reilly talks about the President of the United States. He talks about aspiring presidents like Donald Trump. And he discussed Miley, which, from her agent’s perspective, is a good thing because bad press is better than no press.
We pretend we’re outraged by Miley’s behavior, that we want something different, even as we watch her twerk Robin Thicke on YouTube 203 million times.
Where are our values?
My grandsons ages, 6, 4 and 3, walk around singing,
“Shut up and dance with me.” “Uptown funk me up.” “Watch me whip, watch me nah nah.” “Bubble butt…” (I wouldn’t consider posting the rest of the words here but they are certainly shocking.)
Lately, I feel manipulated when books, or movies, or performances start out with such a bang. There is nowhere to go but down. And the drive to keep upping the ante is exhausting.
Think of it this way: I love ice cream. But an ice cream sundae would not taste as good after eating pizza, pasta, a turkey sandwich and an omelet. It’s just too much!
But we are gluttonous for more.
We forget that a little spice is a good thing but too much gives you indigestion.
There’s a reason the picture of me on my About Page was blurry. It’s because I couldn’t be bothered to get a good photograph of myself. And so I used my cell phone to take a picture of only me from a group photo of twelve friends. I meant to get a headshot, I just wasn't making it a priority. But when the North American Review wanted to include a photo, along with my bio, when they published my essay, On Writing and Distractions, on their blog, I felt ridiculous sending them my blurry picture.
I’d talked to three photographers and got prices for headshots and yet I hadn’t scheduled a sitting. What was stopping me from getting my picture taken?
At first, I thought I was just being lazy, but then I realized it was something more.
I came to this: I wasn’t taking my career, or myself, seriously.
In second grade, I wrote plays. Not only did I write plays, I gave myself the lead part. I was boisterous and confident. That year, on my report card, my teacher wrote, Corie is a flirt.
I was humiliated.
My teacher reduced the relationships I had with the boys in my class to flirtatious, instead of acknowledging that I was both writer and director of my own plays and that I was in charge.
I was the Lena Dunham of my generation!
In fifth grade, my teacher assigned me the role of “The Heart” (underscoring my compassionate nature, a much prized quality in girls) in our, not written by me, school play. It was a no-speaking part.
By the time I got to middle school, I no longer performed in plays. Somewhere along the way, I faded.
In the Wall Street Journal essay, What ‘Boyhood’ Shows Us About Girlhood, Dr. Sharon Marcus and Dr. Anne Skomorowsky point out how Samantha, the young girl in the film, at first, dominates, teases and outperforms her brother, Mason. Samantha is outspoken and confident. She challenges her controlling stepfather.
In adolescence however, Samantha begins to “disappear.” She speaks with uncertainty and develops a nervous laugh.
Mason, on the other hand, develops nicely. He learns to speak with assurance. He is full of ideas.
At school, Mason is asked questions like: What can you bring to it that nobody else can? He is encouraged to express his individuality. His father tells him, I believe in you.
And Samantha is asked: Do you want to be a cooperative person, who is compassionate and helps people out? Or do you want to be a self-centered narcissist?
Gillian Flynn, the author of the novel Gone Girl, explains that she wrote the book to counter the notion that women are "naturally good" and to show that women are just as violently minded as men are.
I think Flynn tried to do more than that.
Amy, the female protagonist in the novel, says “Nick will spend the night of our anniversary buying these men drinks, going to strip clubs and cheesy bars, flirting with 22-year-olds…”
It seems clear that no woman would appreciate that behavior from her spouse and yet Amy says condescendingly about herself, “I am being a girl.”
When did being a girl become a bad thing?
After a few years, in an unfulfilling relationship (not a spoiler since you learn this on page 24) Amy, educated and competent, literally disappears, a metaphor for Amy losing herself, figuratively unseen.
Pop culture shines a stark light on girl culture and how girls are encouraged to take a backseat to boys. We learn to make ourselves less visible.
Yes, I was raised with Carol Brady as a role model, and yes it is true things have changed for girls to some extent, but not enough.
There’s only one way around this issue, and that’s through it. Girls can’t be afraid to be seen.
I ended up booking an appointment for a headshot shortly after coming to the realization that I should start taking myself more seriously.
My grandmother, Freda, brushed her beauty parlor- coiffed hair at a gilded light-blue vanity table. She dabbed her wrists with Bal a’ Versaille perfume and never left her apartment without a full-face of make-up.
She painted her eyelashes with electric blue mascara and her fingernails, bright red.
I care about what I look like, I do. But for most of my adult life, I couldn’t care as much as my grandmother did.
Believing it to be a waste of time, not to mention narcissistic, I couldn’t be bothered to change my jewelry, or my purse, to match my outfit. Plus, more often than not, these acts led to calamity.
I misplaced jewelry. I forgot my wallet at home.
The truth is that as a young adult, I devalued fashion and judged how much energy my grandmother put into her looks, always calling attention to herself.
I don’t anymore. I respect it and wish I had the many colorful crocodile purses or Gucci silk blouses she gave me.
What she wore was how my grandmother expressed herself.
This was her art.
She was the canvas: every splash of color, how every fabric draped, the clanking of bracelets on her arm.
My grandmother didn’t have the opportunity to attend NYU’s art program or Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, as I did. She did what she could with what she had.
She wore colorful, long, flowing skirts and called herself a gypsy. Other days, strutting around New York City, well into her eighties, she wore black leather pants.
Last weekend, I went to the Museum of Modern Art and saw Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibit.
Matisse referred to his process as painting with scissors. And it occurred to me that my grandmother painted with clothes.
For texture: a snakeskin belt, a fur coat, a silk scarf.
And color: purple was never just purple. It was aubergine; and on her palette there was milk white, canary yellow, coal black and robin egg blue.
For as long as I can remember, while I adored my grandmother, I thought when it came to fashion, we were completely different.
Rebelling, I undervalued what was in vogue, attempting to carve out my own identity. But when we make decisions based on unconscious motivations, we cut ourselves off from our true selves.
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” – Jung.
I have come to appreciate fashion, and to see it as art; but for many years, I reduced my grandmother to a mannequin and saw her belief system as flawed. I went the opposite way, finding fashion frivolous and unnecessary. But in doing that I was being controlled by my family’s value system around beauty just as completely as if I had become a fashionista.
The Matisse cutouts are made up of positive and negative shapes. The positive space is generally considered the subject and the negative space is not the subject.
The negative space is equally as important as the positive space; and paying attention to the negative space can have a surprising effect on a work of art.
In studying the Matisse cutouts at the museum, I came to see what’s conscious in us as positive space; and what’s unconscious as negative space.
It’s in exploring both, what’s conscious and unconscious, that we come to know who we really are and what we really want.
I don’t have to care about fashion the way my grandmother did; but I don’t have to not care either.
And yet, I have to admit, I’m scared.
I’m scared to google: Charlie Hebdo.
I’m scared to go to a kosher supermarket, a synagogue, a yeshivah.
I’m not scared to the point where I won’t actually do those things; but I do them with forethought.
For months after 9/11 the only way into Manhattan was by subway. As the Q train sped across the Brooklyn Bridge, I put my hands over my face, my head in my lap and prayed. My friend, Susan, took one look at me and said, “I don’t believe what I’m seeing. Are you crazy? What do you think is going to happen?”
I didn’t know.
What I did know was that on the morning of 9/11, while phone lines were still intact, I called my husband, hysterical. I told him I was watching TV and that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. I said the building was going to go down. Even as the words came out of my mouth, I didn’t really believe what I was saying. My husband told me I was being ridiculous, that the building would not go down.
But it did.
Charlie Hebdo is a French satirical weekly newsmagazine named after the American Peanuts character, Charlie Brown. The magazine is known for its provocative cartoons mocking political leaders and religious extremism.
All extremism- Catholic, Jewish, Muslim.
“Charlie” is pro-freedom and believes that the best cartoons make people laugh and think.
Extremists don’t want people thinking independently. Education is like kryptonite to extremists. (See: Teach Children and Change the World.)
It’s true that Charlie Hebdo cartoons have been inciting havoc for years, and after seeing images, I agree that some are racy and even disrespectful; but in a free society, if you don’t like it, you don’t have to look. You can boycott or protest- you can write, draw, dance, march, sing your opposing point of view; but you can’t murder.
Voltaire, a French philosopher and advocate for freedom of religion and freedom of expression said, “I hate what you are saying, but I shall fight so that you are able to say it.”
Friday night, at our Shabbat dinner table, my family talked about the killings at Charlie Hebdo, we talked about the murders at the kosher supermarket and we talked about the march in Paris for solidarity.
I brought up that in response to the supermarket incident, a women commented online, “Why should anyone have sympathy for a group that thinks that regular food out of the regular grocery store is unfit to eat.”
Thankfully, someone wrote back, “That is an incredibly racist and ignorant comment.”
But the questions we are left to grapple with are:
How do we deal with such hatred and naivety?
And how do we fight terrorism while protecting our civil liberties?
Before the massacre at Charlie Hebdo, the magazine was in financial trouble and did not have a huge following. Weekly, the magazine printed 60,000 copies with less than half being sold. But since the massacre, one million copies of the first issue were planned. It was then increased to three and later five million copies. In the end, seven million copies were printed. Ironically, just like with the film The Interview, terrorists have called worldwide attention to, and spurred interest in, subjects that might have gone less noticed.
And as a result of their heinous crimes, we have joined together, and in that solidarity there is commitment and strength. Who knows what will change, or if anything will change at all; but every small act matters, and if the terrorists hadn’t attacked Charlie Hebdo, I probably wouldn’t be writing this post, mostly, because my dedication to freedom of speech wouldn’t have been on my mind; but also because if I didn’t address my own fears in writing this, terrorism would be working.
While I’m not as brave as the editor at Charlie Hebdo who said after an attack in 2011, “I’d rather die standing up than live on my knees,” I embrace his sentiment, and this post is my banner, my contribution to the fight.
I am freedom.
I am Charlie.
In high school, because it was assigned, I read Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four, but left to choice, never saw The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi or The Matrix.
Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with science and technology, space travel, time travel, parallel universes and extraterrestrial life. And truthfully, for the most part, those things didn’t interest me.
I’m not one for dramatic change, and science fiction forced me to participate in scenarios that required a lot of imagination, and even if only for the duration of a film, acceptance of a life that looked way different from the one I was living. I didn’t want to contemplate an existence with aliens or a future bleak with Big Brother. Those things, and Spock’s ears, frightened me.
Turns out, I was right to be frightened because science fiction movies and books have predicted our future.
"Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley portrayed a world in which people escaped through the use of mood-enhancing drugs called "soma".
"By this time the soma had begun to work. Eyes shone, cheeks were flushed, the inner light of universal benevolence broke out on every face in happy, friendly smiles."
Huxley wrote about mood- altering drugs in the 30’s, years before antidepressants became prevalent.
And in Nineteen Eighty-Four (1948), written by George Orwell, government control was questioned. Orwell described a future where "Big Brother," knew exactly what you were doing and when.
"There was no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system…It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time."
With surveillance cameras, computer hacking and information forever stored in the cloud that concept is not so far-fetched today.
As a young girl, I couldn’t have imagined a future world without landline phones, encyclopedias or marriage. And yet those things are either already obsolete or on there way to being outmoded.
The same way I couldn’t have imagined a world without those things, I’ll bet you can’t imagine a world without food. And yet science is taking us there.
Interestingly enough the concept of not needing food was depicted in a 1973 science fiction movie called Soylent Green. I’ve never seen the film but it takes place in a dystopian future suffering from pollution, overpopulation, depleted resources, poverty, dying oceans and other problems due to the greenhouse effect.
In the movie, people survive on wafers called "Soylent Green"; and as if an overpopulated, polluted, world weren’t horrifying enough -spoiler alert- Soylent Green, viewers find out at the end of the movie in a surprising twist, is made of human remains.
In 2012, three young men ran into financial trouble while working on a technology startup. They needed a way to cut expenses. They found food was a problem: costly and time-consuming.
Rhinehart, who was studying electrical engineering, began to think about food as an engineering problem and concluded that food was an inefficient way to get what you needed to survive. Rhinehart put his startup on hold and focused on nutritional biochemistry. He invented a potion made up of 35 nutrients required for survival, and being a bit derisory called it Soylent. He started living on it. Only.
Rhinehart claimed Soylent was saving him time and money and physically, he wrote, “I feel like the six million dollar man. My physique has noticeably improved, my skin is clearer, my teeth whiter, my hair thicker.”
Read: The End of Food published in The New Yorker for more details. The article describes how meals in the future will be separated. There will be meals for utility and function, and meals for experience and socialization.
Liquid food has played an escalating role in diet regiments for years. We have Ensure and Muscle Milk and because of health concerns and time constraints there is juicing and green drinks and smoothies.
Tim Gore, the head of food policy and climate change for Oxfam says, “The main way that most people will experience climate change is through the impact on food: The food they eat, the price they pay and the choices they have due to availability.”
The New Yorker article states that Chipotle announced it might phase out guacamole due to climate change.
This might be proof that Gore is right.
In Interstellar, a recently released science fiction movie, humans can no longer survive on a dying planet Earth and a crew of astronauts travel through a wormhole in search of a new home for humanity.
It doesn’t sound like my kind of movie but I’m reconsidering if I’ll see it. That’s what art does: it shows us who we are, and what we want. But also what we fear.
"It’s better to pray as a group,” my nephew said. He is twenty-two, newly married, and he studies in a kolel (an institute for full-time advanced study of the Talmud). Everyday, that’s what he does. No job, he just studies. So you’d think he might know. But when someone says something so definitively about something as personal as prayer, I take the other side.
“You do realize,” I say, “that’s not a fact. We don’t really know.”
There is dead silence.
Let me set the stage. It is the first night of Rosh Hashanah. We’re at my husband’s sister’s house. My sister-in-law is gregarious and kooky. She is an artist. But mostly she is big-hearted and open-minded, which is why it’s not unthinkable that her daughters wear wigs and skirts to their knees, and her sons wear black suits and yarmulkes.
The table is set for twenty. The roses are the color of the apples and the pomegranate seeds, which adorn the table in monochromatic fashion. Tonight the dining room table is her canvas.
To illustrate the contrast, I will tell you that one of my daughters showed up to the holiday dinner wearing pants (as opposed to a skirt) and my other daughter realized upon arrival that her shirt was more see-thru than she’d known. My son looked like he was headed for band practice.
My husband’s family has gone in different directions. Some wear black hats and won’t make a move without consulting a rabbi, while others wear electric blue sports jackets (with matching socks) and won’t make a move without consulting Vail snow conditions.
“Uh-oh,” my niece whispers to my daughter in regards to my comment, “she forgot where she was for a minute.” She imagines my comment won’t go over well in this setting.
But here’s the thing: it goes over fine. I mean, there was that awkward moment; but there were no hard feelings. In fact, there was even some laughter. “Why don’t you just ask if there’s a God, Mom?”
I didn’t say anything but I wondered when it became taboo to contemplate existential questions like: Is there a God or what happens to us when we die?
Literature shows me the world through other people’s eyes providing perspective beyond what I personally know or believe. This family dinner does the same.
Charles Baxter, an American author, questions his own beliefs in his essay, What Happens in Hell, published in The Best American Essays 2013.
Asking questions is at the heart of literature, every essay, poem and work of fiction. It is at the heart of every painting. It is at the heart of Judaism.