books, art, culture, and other things I love

Category: art

Pay Yourself First.

Personal finance experts always advise individuals to “pay themselves first,” that is, to invest in their futures (through saving or investing) before paying bills and other expenses. Important advice, no doubt–which could also be applied to other situations.

Case in point: this Friday evening, I came home from work exhausted and frazzled. My husband innocently asked how one of my writing projects (with a looming deadline) was coming along.

I admitted that I let the whole week go by without even opening the file on my computer. I was too bogged down with things at work, shuttling kids around, keeping things running smoothly at home to do anything else, I said. And furthermore, once I was through with all of the daytime activities, I had no energy for anything else.

My husband thought for a moment and then spoke. “You just need to pay yourself first,” he said. “Work on your projects first–even for an hour, right when you get up–and you’ll feel much better because you’ll be making progress on the work you love.”

An important reminder that we are not defined by our “day jobs” if they are different from what we really wish we are doing.

In her book, The Artist in the Office: How to Creatively Survive and Thrive Seven Days a Week, Summer Pierre writes about the “wage slave” mentality that people often lapse into. It is easy to adopt that mindset–that our other work is keeping us from the work we were meant to do–but it is not productive or helpful. Pierre suggests that it is all about priorities. It is easy to bemoan one’s lack of time due to a crummy job, but if the creative work (writing, visual art, music, etc.) isn’t important enough to fit into your life right now in your current circumstances, you may never do it.

Pierre’s book is fantastic–think of her as a cheerleader for your creative endeavors. She offers practical suggestions for ways to make one’s creative life a reality 24/7, not just something that is saved for after-hours when the work day has ended.

Author Danny Gregory echoes Pierre’s message in his new book Art Before Breakfast–and talks about the importance of “injecting creativity into our already over scheduled lives.” In this excerpt from the book, he gives his own pep talk on why creativity matters and how we can fit it into our own lives:

But creativity isn’t a luxury. It’s the essence of life. It’s what distinguishes us from the mush. And it’s why our ancestors survived while other less adaptive critters perished. They responded to change by being creative in some way, by inventing a new answer to the chaos.

And that’s what you need to do to make the most of your life, every day of it. To be inventive, open, flexible, in touch. To have perspective on what matters to you. To deal with change without being overwhelmed. And that’s what creativity offers you.

Creativity can become a habit that fits into your life, like Pilates or flossing, only a lot more fulfilling. You just need to shift your perspective on what it is to be creative. It doesn’t mean you have to be a full-time artist. It doesn’t mean you need lots of training or supplies. Or time. It doesn’t mean you need to be a so-called expert.

You just have to be you—and express what that means.

Listen to his interview on WBUR’s Here and Now.

What are ways that you make your own creative life a priority?



Happy New Year and Some Nashville Highlights.

Happy New Year! So we are back from a whirlwind trip to Nashville and have spent the past two days settling back in and reuniting with this sweet (four-legged) girl.

I think she's glad we're back.

I think she’s glad we’re back.

The trip was fabulous and one I would highly recommend to those looking to do something a bit different for a short domestic vacation. The live music at ACME was definitely a highlight (thanks to my cousin L. for the recommendation).

The kids gave it a big thumbs-up.

The Frist Center was also a great way to spend the afternoon. There was a fantastic Kandinsky exhibit on view (which my husband was particularly taken with) and the children also enjoyed the hands-on art space upstairs where they were able to make various pieces of art.



We found B. tucked away happily working on a drawing.

I really can’t say enough about the hands-on space at the Frist! While Boston’s MFA, ICA, and Gardner do offer programs for kids, this space was really fantastic.

Making an abstract drawing.

Making an abstract drawing. Serious concentration going on here.

Here, B. worked on printmaking.

Here, B. worked on printmaking after a brief introduction by a volunteer.

N. was very focused on her watercolor. (France-inspired, of course.)

N. was very focused on her watercolor. (France-inspired, of course.)

We visited the Adventure Science Center, where we took in a Planetarium show and enjoyed the various interactive exhibits–especially the ones that focused on the various systems of the human body. They were not only informative, but also great fun!

At the Adventure Science Center. A future paramedic?

At the Adventure Science Center. A future paramedic?

I was so excited that Nashville is home to a scoop shop for Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. So of course we had to pay a visit. Delicious!

I wouldn't mind a freezer stocked like that in my kitchen.

I wouldn’t mind a freezer stocked like that in my kitchen.

So many choices! But in the end, I went with my standby: Goat Cheese and Red Cherries with a scoop of coffee.

So many choices! But in the end, I went with my standby: Goat Cheese and Red Cherries with a scoop of coffee.

N. liked that they had a chalkboard available for use.

N. liked that they had a chalkboard available for use.

And made sure to offer her review of the ice cream.

And made sure to offer her review of the ice cream.

We also enjoyed brunch at Fido. (SO good. And great coffee too.)

"This is the best hot chocolate EVER!"

“This is the best hot chocolate EVER!”

An awesome burger (with a side of German Potato Salad that was to die for) at The Pharmacy.

A really cool place. Even if we had to listen to the people sitting next to us were complaining about Boston (!).

A really cool place. Even if we had to listen to the people sitting next to us were complaining about Boston (!). And I ate the burger too quickly to snap a photo!

Our hotel was great–if not a bit over the top.

The place was huge--with amazing (live) greenery and a river running through it--and it was all indoors.

The place was huge–with amazing (live) greenery and a river running through it–and it was all indoors.

"This place is great. I might move in when I grow up."

“This place is great. I might move in when I grow up.”

At night it was really pretty with all of the nights. (Even if we did feel a bit like we were in a weird biosphere.)



IMG_0109The indoor pool was (obviously) a big hit.
IMG_0117And we even made it to Ann Patchett’s bookstore, Parnassus Books! Probably my highlight of the week, lol. I almost bought out the store. (Seriously, one of our bags was over the weight limit because of all the books I brought back!)
IMG_0137All in all, we’ve had a great break. I am looking forward, however, to getting back on a schedule (including back to my daily blogging routine). Happy New Year!

Bookminded Recommends: Visiting the New Harvard Art Museums.

We stayed local for Thanksgiving, so the day after, we were looking for a good family activity. And Black Friday shopping wasn’t it. My daughter suggested an art museum—but “one that [she] had not visited before.” As an aside, somehow I have managed to brainwash our kids into not only enduring, but enjoying museum-going (something else to be thankful for!).

As the Harvard Art Museums were newly reopened, we decided to take a short sojourn to Cambridge. After lunch here—because my top secret to getting kids to like museums is to feed them first—we hurried through Harvard Yard and to Quincy Street. Before the redesign by the Renzo Piano Building Workshop (also responsible for the recent Gardner facelift) the three museums: Fogg, Busch-Reisinger, and Arthur M. Sackler were discrete entities. Now they are joined by a glass and steel roof and the effect is nothing short of breathtaking. My first experience visiting the Fogg Museum was years ago as a high school art student (thank you, Mrs. Burns!) but the new unified structure is different in every way.
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The collection is truly impressive beginning with ancient artifacts to engage the history buff.
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While N. was diligently copying down the provenance details of various ancient coins, a man to her left was pontificating about the dearth of "true English art" in the National Galleries of London.

While N. was diligently copying down the provenance details of various ancient coins, a man to her left was pontificating about the dearth of “true English art” in the National Galleries of London.

There are also plenty of recognizable names, like Matisse, Rodin, Picasso, and Renoir.
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They love to "take notes" and sketch what they see. Look out John Berger!

They love to “take notes” and sketch what they see. Look out John Berger!

But there are also interesting exhibits by lesser-known artists. Like this mixed-media one from German artist Rebecca Horn, featuring film, photograph, and object alike. In particular, I loved this one, Flying Books under Black Rain Painting, which is a kinetic sculpture that was commissioned by the Museums.
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If you are in the area, you really must visit. It is truly an impressive collection—and now too, a truly inspiring space.

The Weekender: Why Do We Like What We Like?

In April, as I moved through the hushed galleries of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., a piece of art caught my eye. I walked over to look at it more closely. The colors, a cool mix of pastels and marine hued oil paint came together in a thick impasto on the large rectangular canvas.

I quickly snapped a photo of the painting and the nameplate before I was reprimanded by the collection’s guard and as I walked away, I took one last look as I moved through the doorway.
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When asked later what had moved me about the piece (enough to risk pulling out my iPhone so I could document the source), I had a difficult time explaining. It was the colors. The texture. The size.

But was it also the value or the uniqueness of the material object of an original painting? The fact that it hung in a famous museum in a room adjacent to a cool marble courtyard? I don’t know.

Dr. Paul Bloom, professor of psychology at Yale University and author of the book How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like suggests that our reasons for liking what we like reveal a more complicated response than one might think. In his book, he recounts a story about a guy who went into a D.C. Metro stop wearing a baseball cap and carrying a violin. He set up his violin case, added some change and over the next 45 minutes, played his violin. In that time, over 1,000 people passed through the station and he came away with $32 in tips. The subway fiddler was none other than violinist Joshua Bell, who had just played Boston’s Symphony Hall a few nights before. So if our “liking” of things is truly based on an authentic response, then why didn’t Bell get a standing ovation in the Metro?

Well, it turns out that maybe our likes aren’t so authentic after all. Bloom is not the first person to make such an argument (particularly in the case of visual art—Walter Benjamin and John Berger offer insight into the complex relationship between art and its perceived value and how that influences an audience’s response), but he addresses the topic from a psychological angle. Why we like what we like, says Bloom, is due to the fact that “[our likes are] based on what we believe that thing to be.”

Back to my painting. The artist that painted Ocean Park No. 87 was Richard Diebenkorn, an American painter that worked with oils and was part of the Bay Area Figurative Movement. Apparently the Ocean Park series was what catapulted him to international fame. But I didn’t know any of this when I caught a glimpse of the painting. And it didn’t make me like it any more. But perhaps Bloom would argue that my knowing that the painting was “museum-worthy” made me look at it in the first place.

What are your thoughts on this subject? Have you read Bloom’s book? Why do you think we like what we like?

A Monogram Monograph.

A literary monogram is the kind of crossword puzzle solution that calls for an author’s initials. The most famous literary monogram is probably TSE–for poet T.S. Eliot, with RLS–for Robert Louis Stevenson, as a close second. There are also others I have come across (no pun intended) in crossword puzzles over the years, like EBB, GBS, EAP, EBW, RWE. Clues are sometimes leading–e.g. “Treasure Island author”–but are sometimes a bit more generic e.g. “19th c. adventure writer” for RLS. As much as I love the literary monogram in my puzzle solving, I also have a particular affinity for the monogram in daily life.

Despite the recent trend toward mass-market personalization (like this)–itself an oxymoron–monograms actually have quite a storied history. Cynthia Brumback’s 2013 book, The Art of the Monogram, introduces the reader to the backstory of monograms dating back to Charlemagne alongside beautiful images of these graphics.

Historically speaking, a true monogram is made from the overlapping of various letters or graphic accents to form one symbol–however, most people today refer to cyphers (a series of initials–i.e. TSE) as monograms as well.

German painter Albrecht Dürer's (1471-1528) iconic monogram.

German painter Albrecht Dürer’s (1471-1528) iconic monogram.

Whether you call them monograms or cyphers, I am fond of them! Especially on linens and tote bags.

A sign of a problem, or a mark of a true New Englander? :)

A sign of a problem, or a mark of a true New Englander? 🙂

There's more where these came from...

A monogram Instagram! There’s more where these came from…

This short video, “The Secret Language of Monogramming,” about monograms and clothing featuring style writer Glenn O’Brien and other fashion insiders is terrific. 

What are your thoughts on monogramming as a practice? Are there any things you would (or wouldn’t) monogram?

Living your dreams.

What are your dreams? Maybe they are personal (e.g. to get really good at the piano–I just started lessons in May!), professional (to start a successful business), or somewhere in between (to find a solid work/life balance or find a job in a city that you love).

My dream, for as long as I can remember, as been to write book reviews for the Sunday New York Times Book Review (don’t laugh!). Along with getting Daniel Jones to accept one of my essays for the Modern Love column, it is on the top of the list. There are probably other things I could add to that generic list (more closet space, for one), but unless there are actionable steps one is taking to realize those dreams, there is little chance that they are going to suddenly materialize.

“A goal is a dream with a deadline.” It is about taking the little steps, one day at a time, that will get you closer to your dream.

I can’t tell you how often I hear people around me say, “If I could do it over, I would do X” or, “I wish I could (move here, do this job, go back to school, etc.).” This makes me crazy! Some of our biggest cultural icons did not start out doing the things for which we remember them. For instance, Julia Child started out her professional life as a foreign secretary and didn’t learn to cook until she was almost 40. Read her lovely book My Life in France for inspiration. And canonical 17th century English writer John Milton tutored schoolchildren and was the Secretary of Foreign Tongues before he ever wrote Paradise Lost (which wasn’t published until he was 59!).

For more proof that realizing a dream is possible at any point, read this January 2014 article from the NYT Magazine about Birmingham artist (now based in Atlanta) Lonnie Holley, who cut his first album at the age of 62 and is now playing for packed crowds at venues like Cambridge’s The Sinclair.

So I guess my thought for today is to embrace your dreams and work toward making them your reality. (I will if you will.)

Prints for Readers



I love art that depicts books and reading (obviously), and these three pieces are happily at home in my living room amongst the physical (3-D) books that also reside there. Next week, I will feature photos of my home bookshelves, so stay tuned!

The bookshelf print is from Jane Mount’s “Ideal Bookshelf” series. (Check out her book, My Ideal Bookshelf, too.) The lower print  by Tatsuro Kiuchi is titled “In the Library” and can be found here. Both were framed and matted (by moi) in simple frames (under $10/each) found at Michael’s craft store.

The “Read Instead” print is from San Francisco-based BOOK/SHOP. I displayed it in a simple white wood IKEA frame.