While thinking about patterns these days, I came upon these photos of microscopic plant cells.
The earth is beautiful even in its bones.
While thinking about patterns these days, I came upon these photos of microscopic plant cells.
The earth is beautiful even in its bones.
The aesthetics of several fashion shows recently held in Paris have captured my attention. Fashion is something that’s held my interest for a long time. By “fashion” here, I tend not to mean everyday style, though I enjoy thinking about that as well. Much of my interest rather lies in the designing of garments that are pieces of art in themselves, like those displayed in fashion shows worldwide.
I’m fascinated by the artistic process that lies in creating incredibly detailed pieces, from the way designers and makers produce a garment to the life that the garment takes on when a person wears it and gives it movement. The world of fashion is one that I’ve often seen dismissed by those seeking more “serious” art. Fashion often has a reputation for being shallow, vapid and petty. To an extent, that can be true (the competitive and social aspects might have those qualities).
I want to focus, however, on the art itself. Fashion design is woefully underrated, I think, yet is worth our consideration. I think that it warrants our time and attention because there are few other arts quite like it.
We view most of the other art in our lives from a distance and with a certain kind of stillness. In fashion, we can engage so intimately with the art itself. More than that, even, it is necessary that we interact with it. Clothing requires a wearer! This means that beautiful garments take on unique lives of their own, and are animated in a certain way when they are worn. No designer creates garments that are meant always to be still. Much of their thought, in fact, lies not in how the garment appears when still, but rather how it moves and looks when worn.
One of the shows that prompted me to think more these things was Rodarte’s Spring 2018 presentation in Paris. Rather than present on a typical runway, designers chose to hold the show in the gardens of a 17th-century Parisian abbey, backed by the quiet music of Yo La Tengo. I love the intention to create a meaningful experience in a show like this. The ethereal profusion of baby’s breath in swathes around the models connects them visibly to the life in the gardens. They become like flowers themselves here, enveloped in tulle and lace. Such a presentation makes the garments come alive beautifully.
I’ve recently been admiring the artwork of Conrad Jon Godly, a contemporary Swiss painter. I had seen some of his pieces years ago and loved them then, but after seeing more of them recently, I find myself with a new appreciation for the mastery he possesses over his medium. I think the primary reason for this appreciation comes from my own experience of creating art over the past few years. However satisfied or dissatisfied I’ve been with my pieces, I’ve come to realize that appreciating the process itself is an integral part of being an artist, regardless of the result achieved.
Godly’s process requires a thorough understanding of the nature of oil paints. Rather than working in the traditional manner with a brush and palette, Godly chooses a different method that allows the paints themselves to have a greater role in the process of painting. His vividly three-dimensional pieces are brought about by piling paint upon his canvases and using a palette knife to create shapes, colors, depth and texture. The sheer volume of paint used means that the oils move and spread across the canvas according to their consistency, which makes them a kind of agent in the piece’s creation.
I love this approach for a number of reasons. I see these paintings as a reminder of the living, breathing nature of art and the wideness of the human experience. Although oil paints are thought to have existed since 650 A.D., Godly’s work shows us that artists’ techniques are ever evolving and allow for endless diversity. The fact that there is such variation contained within the same framework of paint laid upon a canvas is a real testament to the wholly unique being of every person.
Below are a few favorites of mine. I’m astounded by how real and evocative these mountains seem; I can so easily imagine the feeling of the sun on my face in such bitter cold, standing in the brightness of the snow against the open sky.
Explore more of Conrad Jon Godly’s work on his official website.
Today is June 20. The first day of the summer. Since we live in southern California, it feels like summer has laid its hand upon us for some time now. But seeing the quick phrase “summer begins” on our kitchen calendar reminds me that time is really and truly passing. The days are hot, the evenings are long, the landscape is permeated with the relentless brightness of the air. Local farmers’ markets bring an abundance of sweet summer produce, from delicate zephyr squash to the most beautiful heirloom tomatoes to exquisitely, impossibly sweet berries. The ocean is magnificent and blue and the time around sunset feels like a dream.
This summer is especially sweet for us: our baby girl arrives at the end of the season. I know that she is growing stronger by the day from every gentle movement I feel, and growing along with her strength is our delight in her and our excitement to lay eyes on her this side of earth. This time feels like a retreat for me. A time to prepare, a time to grow in peace, a time to think about the adventure that lies ahead.
I’ve naturally been thinking about things to purchase and to make for her. While the timeworn adage “you can’t take it with you” is certainly true, and material goods are not the most important things in the world, I really do think that surrounding yourself with beautifully made things is important. I want the things my children own to be significant and of good quality, with the ability to last long enough to pass down to eventual siblings or even their own children. I love the idea of my children’s children wearing the same things I held precious in my hands years ago in my own first days as a mother.
I’m so thankful that more and more companies are recognizing the importance of quality, beauty and longevity in the things they make. One of the companies I truly admire is Mabo Kids. Their dedication to simplicity and comfort is one I share. I also really respect their commitment to making clothing from natural fabrics in small batches in the USA. I hope that this is the way of the future, and that more companies seek to share the same values.
Here are some favorites from Mabo’s current summer collection. I’d love to clothe my daughter in such lovely pieces.
Something I’ve been thinking about lately is the way that material shapes art. This has mostly come up in the context of making things myself, as I often have questions about the way my materials will affect the final result. How will different types of fabric change the drape, weight and look of the garment being sewn? How will paper of various weights change the delicate way the watercolors spread across the surface? One of the things I love about the creative process is the ability to change the art I produce through my choice of materials.
I think about this, not only in terms of what I make, but also in terms of the centuries-old art that exists to this day. One of my favorite materials is marble. I love that marble sculptures showcase not only the beauty of the marble itself, but also the talent of the sculptor in bringing subjects to life through technique. It’s amazing to see how lifelike and animated sculptures can seem when they’re executed well.
An example of this is Auguste Rodin’s sculpture Orpheus and Eurydice. This sculpture embodies the qualities I love in such a bold and striking way.
What I really love about this sculpture is the contrast between the finely sculpted figures and the unfinished texture of the surrounding marble. This artistic choice of Rodin’s is important in conveying the pathos of the original story.
In the ancient myth, Orpheus seeks to retrieve his wife Eurydice from the underworld after her sudden death. Hades, god of the underworld, agrees under one condition. This condition is that Orpheus lead her from the underworld into the real world without once looking back at her. Orpheus leads her patiently until the last moment, at which point he loses faith and looks back at his wife. She has been with him all along, but only as a shadow waiting to reclaim her human form. Of course Orpheus would be unable to hear her footsteps. Eurydice is tragically condemned to the underworld forever because of Orpheus’ broken promise.
Rodin chooses to depict the lovers just after Orpheus looks back at Eurydice. Her resignation to life in the underworld is apparent, and the sculpture is also shot through with Orpheus’ inconsolable grief. Understanding this moment leads us to see how masterful Rodin’s choice of material and method was. His material, marble, evokes the humanity of both lovers. His method, non finito (or “not finished”) carving, evokes Eurydice’s pain as she is pulled back into the underworld. It is almost as though the uncarved marble represents death and the carved marble life. Eurydice almost seems to melt back into the roughly hewn marble as Orpheus exits out of it. Rodin’s use of non finito carving expertly signifies Eurydice’s transition back into death and Orpheus’ movement towards life again. This conveys the agony of their separation better, I think, than any traditional sculpture could.
I love this sculpture for many reasons, but especially because of the mingling of material, method and story. I’d love to keep an eye out for other artists who successfully merge these important facets.
What art have you found that does this well?
I’ve lived in California now for about six years. There are some beautiful places that I’ve seen that I’d love to return to more often than is realistic: the rugged coast of Carmel-by-the-Sea, the achingly gorgeous views within Yosemite National Park, the stunning mixture of nature and architecture in San Diego’s Balboa Park, the quiet peace of Pine Mountain. Only recently did I go to Joshua Tree National Park for the first time, crossing a long-term to-do off my list of places to go.
Let me say here that I’ve never felt particularly at home in desert climates. The incredibly open spaces and the spare vegetation are strange and unfamiliar to me, having grown up in the forested and cozy hills of New England. Something about the desert’s openness is off-putting, almost. Having said that, there is certainly something to be said for the brilliant red of a desert sunrise, the surprising growth of wildflowers on the dry desert floor, the wild silhouettes of the Yucca brevifolia that abound in Joshua Tree. I felt more at home than I thought.
Even during the daytime (not even limited to sunrise or sunset!) the colors are exquisite.
I loved seeing the tiny, colorful wildflowers and wild cactus springing unexpectedly from the seemingly parched earth.
Aren’t the shapes magnificent? I’d love to bring a box of paints next time to study the figures and patterns in the landscape.
We took a leisurely walk at sunset, just down the road from the sustainable organic farm where we were spending the night. I don’t think I’d choose to live in the desert, but if I had to, this would be a pretty wonderful setting for dusk dinners and glasses of wine.
I’ll never say no to a good day of secondhand shopping. It’s one of my favorite things to do on a lazy Saturday afternoon. More than anything, I believe in the power of secondhand shopping. I believe that it is a much-needed antidote to the absurd culture of fast and effectively disposable fashion. It supports slow fashion, the preservation of timeless styles and the elimination of waste. It’s also rewarding and financially practical. What’s not to love?
Environmental impact is an enormous reason to start shopping secondhand. According to a 2016 McKinsey & Company report, there are over 100 billion new items of clothing produced each year. Within the year, 3/5 of those items will end up in an incinerator or landfill. (Three fifths.) Environmentally speaking, that’s a sadly unsustainable rate of production. The garment industry is unique because it touches so many other industries, such as agriculture (cotton, hemp), animal agriculture (leather, wool, cashmere) and petroleum (polyester and synthetics). Since the garment industry affects so many others, it is especially important for us to consider its environmental impact.
The sad thing is that a great majority of the hundred-billion-plus pieces produced by this industry aren’t even expected to last! Think about it: clothing produced by industry titans does not pretend to possess quality, longevity or any elements of sustainable production. (That $2 camisole is there for the immediate gratification of the consumer, but no one expects it to last for more than a small number of wears.) Secondhand shopping is an excellent way to refuse to support such unsustainable practices, helping Mother Nature out as she needs it.
Fast fashion comes at a high cost for many reasons. In addition to supporting the unsustainable practices mentioned above, it hurts humans. I’ve wandered through a local H&M absentmindedly wondering how so many things could be so inexpensive. The answer has since hit me hard: it’s cheap because garment workers are often treated like slaves. The garment industry is a known supporter of human trafficking. Workers are woefully underpaid and forced to work lengthy days without breaks in poor conditions. Stepping away from supporting fast fashion is a small step towards eliminating this particular kind of human trafficking. Obviously, there’s still work to be done to eliminate human trafficking completely. If, however, by my practices as a consumer I can make a small difference, I’m happy to do it.
The reasons are still plentiful! Here are the other main reasons I choose to shop secondhand:
+ It’s inexpensive. I’ll admit that his was the reason that initially drew me to shopping secondhand. In college, when the majority of my funds went to tuition, thrifting provided a budget-friendly way to suit my changing sense of style. This reason was also immensely helpful in my decision to step away from fast fashion. Although there are innumerable small, ethically-run businesses that produce beautiful clothing, it isn’t practical for me to fill my closet with those pieces at this moment (though I’d love to). Thrifting means that I can shop ethically without spending more than I think is reasonable for my current budget.
+ It’s unique. Another reason I’m happy to thrift is that it allows me to acquire pieces of clothing I haven’t seen on anyone before. (A pair of high-waisted ivory silk & linen pants, a broad-lapeled camel coat and unique leather riding boots are a few of my favorite finds.) While of course not everything in a thrift store is novel and exciting, I’ve found some truly beautiful pieces that I’ve yet to see new in a typical store.
+ It’s satisfying. Finally, I love shopping secondhand because I find it to be a gratifying experience. I believe that fashion shouldn’t be something that is lost with time (as fast fashion would have it). Secondhand shopping promotes a sense of longevity in fashion, which I love. It’s important that the art that we create lasts, and since fashion is an art, why shouldn’t it be treasured?
Finally, a few favorite sources for buying secondhand:
+ Local thrift stores. I frequent these types of stores once or twice a month. They’re my go-to places when I don’t have a specific idea of what I want. Often I find things I wasn’t looking for specifically, but end up wearing multiple times a week.
+ eBay. I love eBay. If I’m looking for something very particular, eBay is where I turn. I routinely find high-quality items for 25% or 30% of their original price. While items don’t usually end up being $3.95, like they might at your local thrift store, I always find it worth it to spend a bit extra to fill a need in my closet (in the interests of choosing quality over quantity).
+ thredUP. While I’ve only used thredUP a handful of times, I’ve always been pleased with my experience. I use thredUP similarly to the way I use eBay, that is, when I’m looking for something in particular. I’ve often end up paying a mere few dollars for a high-quality item (like the merino wool sweater from my last purchase).
Do you shop secondhand? What’s your experience been like?
I’ve been loving the work of Russian painter Isaac Levitan lately. A friend sent a photo of the painting below to me the other day, thinking it would be exactly the kind of art I’d like. And I loved the paintings immediately. This kind of art inspires my daily life: each piece reminds me of the beauty we can find in simplicity and the peace that nature affords us.
When I was first introduced to Levitan, I thought to myself that his paintings must be relatively modern. I was amazed to find, though, that he was active as early as the late 19th century. He was stylistically well ahead of his time, eventually becoming known for advancing the genre of “mood landscape.” This genre gives a sort of spiritual quality to nature by choosing to focus on ambiance and overall tone rather than small details. The landscape of mood is a genre we still see today, as painters abstract a feeling or mood from landscapes rather than paint a more realistic scene.
It’s easy to see the connection that his paintings had to those of impressionists such as Monet, Degas and Pissarro. Although Levitan is not nearly as well known as these artists, his art reflects the main themes of impressionism. These involve focusing on changes in light, often painting en plein air (open air), and capturing the tone of a scene without focusing on technical details.
Levitan’s use of light is sometimes subtle, often striking. The painting above is a strong example of the power that a few strokes of a lighter color can have. Without the soft ivory that illuminates the clouds and hints at sunlight in the corner, the painting would be left with a dim, washed-out flatness. By the incorporation of those lighter colors, though, the painting is given remarkable dimension and is able to evoke the look of sunlight before or after a storm.
These last three paintings show the ability that impressionism has to elicit specific feelings. In each of these, I can close my eyes and almost feel exactly what is going on. The quiet rustle of birch leaves. A calm wind drifting through an open field. The gentle creaking of spindly trees moving in the wind before a storm. These are just the kind of paintings I want in my house, full of serene elements that bring tranquility to my daily work and thought.