The National Building Museum is one of my favorite places in D.C. It always has interesting exhibits that are often interactive and always raise issues about what it means to live and work in an urban built environment. They often blend science, art, and society. The latest exhibit, The Beach, brings out the kid in all of us. I went with a big group of friends this week and we had a blast. After playing around in the giant ball pit, we had some cocktails crafted Union Kitchen and danced around to the music of a jazz quartet. Here’s a slow mo video of part of our group. I’m the one on the far right who completely disappears. If you’re in D.C., I highly recommend stopping by!
Inspired: Madeline in New York – Ludwig Bemelmans Art Exhibit at New-York Historical Society
“For me Madeline is therapy in the dark hours.” ~ Ludwig Bemelmans
“In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines…” is one of the most famous introductions to one of the most famous characters in children’s literature: Madeline. Ludwig Bemelmans created Madeline after a terrible accident that left him hospitalized at the age of 39. His hospital roommate was a young girl who had her appendix removed. Her stories of her life inspired Bemelmans to create Madeline.
Eventually Bemelmans recovered from his injuries and published his first Madeline book at age 41 after 20+ years of working in hotels in New York. During those two decades, he consistently practiced his art and slowly built up his freelance portfolio. His example has been a great inspiration to me as a writer.
Madeline was Bemelmans’ second act after many years of difficult work in a completely different industry. He never lost his optimism and never gave up. And thank goodness. Not only is Madeline therapy for him, but it’s therapy for all of his readers and admirers, particularly little girls who strive to be strong, brave, and courageous. The New-York Historical Society has mounted a retrospective of Bemelmans’ life and art with Madeline in New York: The Art of Ludwig Bemelmans.
Bemelmans Bar is one of my favorite bars in New York – tucked away in the Carlyle Hotel on East 76th Street. The walls are covered with his original drawings. It’s a good place to dream, and drink. If you’re in New York, I highly recommend it.
Leap: Shuttle Enterprise, New York’s Newest Resident, Gets a New Lease on Life
Yesterday Mom and I saw the Shuttle Enterprise move into her new home by way of the air space outside my apartment. She was a beautiful sight!
After snapping some photos, I wanted to learn more about the plans for her new home on the Intrepid. Over on the Intrepid website for the Shuttle, they’ve cataloged information about the Shuttle’s past, present, and future, complete with futuristic renderings of what they expect the new exhibit to look like later this summer.
If the final frontier gets your heart pumping, head on over and have a look at the site. Though the federal shuttle program has come to an unfortunate end, I’m hopeful that creative exhibits like this will inspire private funders to take up the cause to continue to go where none of us have gone before, to inspire us to seek out new boundaries.
Step 263: Hahn-Bin and the Art of Darkness
“After my very deep depression, I feel really lucky to have had experience with something so dark and sad. It helps me paint the brightest colors.” ~ Hahn-Bin, violinist
My friend, Sara, invited me to Hahn-Bin’s violin concert on Sunday night at the Rubin Museum. After a productive day (a.k.a. a Sunday that was too busy for my liking), I joined Sara at the concert that turned out to be part performance art, part theatre, part visual design – all orchestrated by a 22-year old virtuoso musician with a very strong sense of himself and his vision. He is stunning, in appearance and in his musicality.
Already blown away by his nearly 2-hour performance, Hahn-Bin gave a very personal talk-back in which he talked about his fascination with world religion, his belief in the highly personal nature of art interpretation, and his struggles with and triumphs over depression. Watching him play with such ease and grace, I was confused by his depression. With a packed house and such a highly individual, refreshing voice in the highly stuffy world of classical music, what is he depressed about? And then I considered how difficult it must be to fight against the traditional music scene, filled with conservatories that are filled with professors who tell you what art and music mean. He must have had many moments of extreme self-doubt, of worry and concern for his future. He placed all his chips on his music – to fail at this would be mean failure in the highest degree.
Hahn-Bin’s story now is a triumphant one – someone who went for his art along his own path because it was the only thing he wanted to do. With his life and his art, he is teaching us an incredible lesson. To create his life, he just followed his interests. And along any path, even one we choose with all our heart, there will be highs and lows. There will be successes and failures and moments of extreme discomfort. Just because we’re going in the right direction doesn’t mean we’re immune to pain.
The right path isn’t the one filled with sunshine and roses; it’s the one where we feel most alive, where we can experience the great depth and breadth of the human experience. It makes us strong without hardening our hearts. It gives us courage and teaches us grace. And if we can make a go of the life we truly want to live, then we also have the opportunity to inspire others to do the same.
Photo above of Hahn-Bin by Morgan Freeman.
Step 255: Matisse’s Unfinished Works
I went to MoMA today to see the special Matisse exhibition. It covers the period between 1913 and 1917 when Matisse began to find his groove that became his hallmark – the voluptuous figures, bold colors, and intentionally unfinished quality of seemingly simplistic forms. It is a collection of work gathered from all over the world, from a variety of public and private collections, that is a rare treat that showcases an artist as he gains confidence in his own voice. So often art exhibitions show an artist’s work that made him or her famous, that fully expresses a specific point of view. MoMA’s Matisse exhibit however shows an artist in the process of becoming.
My friends, Allan, Sara, Andrew, and I all commented on how much of Matisse’s work in the exhibit remains intentionally unfinished. He made very few comments on the work while he was alive, leaving the interpretation to his audience. On the audio tour, curators from MoMA and the Art Institute of Chicago commented on the work, largely guessing at what Matisse meant to say with each piece as he re-worked each canvas several times with different color schemes, adding new characters, and then taking them away, changing background colors and landscapes. Matisse never seemed to be satisfied or finished with a work. Rather, he just moved on.
Matisse’s work got me thinking about how we all work the different canvases of our lives. We move on from jobs, relationships, cities where we live, leaving each with some mark that we were there and yet giving them the freedom to evolve long after we’ve gone, all remaining open to interpretation of what our presence meant and what might have happened if we had stayed on longer. Maybe Matisse in his early career had it right not just about art, but about life – we are all in the process of becoming, no work (or life) is ever quite finished, and it all deserves celebration and reflection.
Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913 – 1917 is on exhibit at MoMA until October 11, 2010.
The photo above depicts Henri Matisse painting Bathers by a River, May 13, 1913. Photograph by Alvin Langdon Coburn. Courtesy of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film, Rochester
My Year of Hopefulness – Walking with Faith Through Egypt
“For we walk by faith, not by sight.” ~ 2 Corinthians 5:7
I went to the Egyptian Galleries today at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I’ve been doing a little bit of fiction writing and needed to collect some research on Egypt. I suppose I could have could just looked it up on-line though it was a gorgeous day, I wanted to walk through the park, and there is not substitute for seeing the treasures of Egypt right in front of us.
The Egyptian Galleries are well-known as one of the favorite attractions for kids to the Met. The fiction piece I’m writing is actually for a young adult audience so I must admit that a little of my motivation was some good eaves dropping. Kids, of course, were fascinated by the mummies. “There’s a dead person in there?” I heard numerous times. Followed invariable by the parents saying “yes” and the kids responding “cool”. (For the record, that was my response in my mind, too.) They also loved the myriad of figurines, depictions of dogs, and all the fancy gold jewelry that literally glowed within the display cases. I easily saw a dozen kids striking a pose that matches the many Egyptian etchings that lined the walls of the galleries. I wanted to do that too, though I knew it wouldn’t be as endearing an act for a 33 year old as it is for a 10 year old, so I held myself back.
To write fiction, we have to hang out with our characters, walk around with them, see the world through their eyes as well as our own. In this action, there are bits of dialogue that surface. We learn about the experiences of our characters the same way we get to know a new friend or someone we’ve just started dating. A little at a time, we learn where they’ve been, what they’ve seen, and where they hope their lives will go. I just walk beside them silently, recording everything.
There’s a lot of faith involved in writing fiction. At the top of a blank page, we’re never quite sure where we’ll end up by the time we reach the bottom of that page. We have to be generous and patient and let the story unfold naturally, taking comfort that it will go exactly the way it’s supposed to. It’s a mystical process.
Our lives are kind of like fiction writing, too. We might have some kind of basic outline for what we’d like to do and where we’d like to go, though the details of how we color in the lines is largely spontaneous. We meet new and interesting characters along the way, we veer off in many different directions, take advantage of one opportunity and then pass on another. We travel, we experience, we remain open to things that are new and strange and beautiful. Yes, the more I think about it, the more I see that living life really is exactly like writing fiction. We fumble around in the dark, not knowing exactly what is in front of us, forging ahead with only the faith and belief that the road we’re on is exactly where we are meant to be. All we must do is be present. The story, and our very lives, will unfold around us.
My Year of Hopefulness – The Life We Receive Without Asking
“Our plans are nothing compared to what the world so willingly gives us.” ~ Margaret Wheatley
“Never tell everything at once.” ~ Ken Venturi, American former professional golfer
On Saturday evening, I headed across Central Park toward the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As I crossed the park, I passed between the southern border of the Great Lawn and Belvedere Castle. It’s one of my favorite little pieces of New York City. There’s some sort of happy air that exists in that little triangle; it’s impossible to resist smiling there. I always feel romance and unending possibility as I traverse that ground. It was late afternoon so the sun was just streaming over Belvedere, the clover and honeysuckle filled the air with a perfume that I wish could be bottled, and there was a soft breeze. For those few moments, everything felt perfect.
On Friday and Saturday nights the Met is open until 9:00pm so I wanted to take advantage of the extended hours. I checked in on my friends Vermeer and Rodin, stopped by to visit the empires of Northern Mesopotamia, and spent some time among the folk artists of Oceania. It’s almost inconceivable how lucky we are to be able to walk among so many priceless pieces of art at a moment’s notice.
At the Met I was on a little bit of a mission. I’ve been working on some children’s fiction over the last few weeks. Every day that I sit with my characters, they tell me something new about themselves. In a way, creating characters is like getting to know a new friend. I uncover little pieces about them over time, just by sitting with them and letting them tell me their story. Every day I’m reminded of Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way, when she says “Art is not about thinking something up. It is the opposite — getting something down.” While I have a general map for the story, the characters themselves are just letting me tag along on their journey. The characters themselves will provide a far richer, more intriguing story than I could ever plan. That’s the great joy and magic of writing.
As I was wondering through the Greek and Roman Galleries, the art of Cyprus, and the rooms full of knights in shining armor, a lot of ideas were drifting in and out of my mind. I dutifully wrote them all down – bits of dialogue and thoughts and twists and turns in the plot. After recording them all, I stopped to wonder if they made sense. And then I realized the characters I’m writing about can actually do anything they want. Writing fiction is a little daunting for this very reason – all of a sudden the possibilities are wide-open. When you’re just getting something down, there are no more limitations. Writing fiction may present our one and only opportunity for complete and total freedom.
While I went through Central Park and to the Met to accomplish something specific, I found something far greater in both places than I had intended. These experiences reminded me that the world has great plans for us, far greater plans that we have for ourselves. And while not having control may at first seem frightening, in many ways it’s as freeing as writing fiction. Unexpected, incredible circumstances, people, places, and opportunities are going to appear in our lives through no effort of our own. All we need to do to receive them is to show up with an open heart, an accepting mind, and the willingness to listen. If we can do this, the magic that is all around us becomes an unlimited and constant presence in our lives.
The Journal of Cultural Conversation: Titanic: The Exhibition
Happy Monday, all. My latest post is up at TJCC. On Saturday I visited Titanic: The Exhibition, now on view at the Discovery Times Center on 44th Street. The exhibit tells the story of the Titanic through items salvaged from the wreckage, eye-witness accounts, and scientific exploration. I found it to be equal parts fascinating and terrifying. Around every corner I was surprised by some new fact I never knew.
For the full article and to check out all of the other great conversations happening over at TJCC, please click here.
My Year of Hopefulness – The Metropolitan Museum of Art
A short bus ride across town from my apartment, the bus stops just outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art – a place that transports you to a different world once you enter its main hall that is now decorated with large urns full of cherry blossoms. Just beyond that main hall are the Greek and Roman Galleries, refurbished and re-opened almost exactly two years ago. In those halls and throughout the museum the array of art is dizzying. It took me a few moments today just to get my head around the treasures we have the good fortune to wander through.
What I find most amazing about the Met, and art in general, is that someone, an individual, had an image in his or her mind hundreds or thousands of years ago, put brush to canvas, anvil to stone, hand to clay, and shared with us, the world, what he or she was thinking of. These pieces of art are living history. They capture a moment in time for all of us to witness and appreciate.
After touring through the French Bronze exhibit and Rafael to Renoir sketches, I wanted to wander around the gift store and see if I could find some of the prints I’ve been looking for. The Met is so immense that I often just wander around from gallery to gallery, never quite sure where I am. I like to get lost in the art. I asked a docent just outside of the entrance to the Papua New Guinea Gallery how I could get to the gift shop.
“The Main Gift Shop?” he asked.
I nodded, thinking, “is there another one?”
“Walk straight ahead and take a left at the column from the Temple of Artemis.”
It’s not everyday you hear directions like this. I smiled to myself and followed the docent’s instructions, imagining that I was walking through Ancient Greece, appreciating all of the treasures that were my landmarks.
My Year of Hopefulness – Social Entrepreneurship and iTunes U
By trade, I am product developer. I design and build product for American consumers, mostly wealthy ones. While I was in business school at Darden, if I could have chosen any career, this is what I would have chosen. In fact, it is what I have been doing my whole career in a variety of industries – I was building programs, theatre productions, communication plans, and fundraising concepts. However, up to that point I didn’t give much thought to the idea that what we do is just as important as how we do it and whom we do it for.