On being well rounded

While rereading an October 2011 Brain Pickings roundup of Steve Jobs quotations, I got to thinking that Jobs’s views on the importance of a broad-based education echo certain sentiments in “The Education of an Artist,” a chapter in The Shape of Content by Ben Shahn.

In particular there’s a quote by Jobs from the February 1996 issue of Wired that seems especially relevant: “A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. They don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions, without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better designs we will have.”

It seems to me that the artistry and elegance Jobs is credited with bringing to Apple technology is rooted in Shahn’s same notions of being well rounded and letting that inform one’s art. Shahn advocated being an ever-curious individual, soaking up all aspects of life and not turning away from any of it because it’s “not you.”

Excerpt from the chapter “The Education of an Artist,” in The Shape of Content by Ben Shahn

“Attend a university if you possibly can. There is no content of knowledge that is not pertinent to the work you will want to do. But before you attend a university work at something for a while. Do anything. Get a job in a potato field; or work as a grease-monkey in an auto repair shop. But if you do work in a field do not fail to observe the look and the feel of earth and of all things that you handle—yes, even potatoes! Or, in the auto shop, the smell of oil and grease and burning rubber. Paint of course, but if you have to lay aside paintings for a time, continue to draw. Listen well to all conversations and be instructed by them and take all seriousness seriously. Never look down upon anything or anyone as not worthy of notice. In college or out of college, read. And form opinions! Read Sophocles and Euripedes and Dante and Proust. Read everything that you can find about art except the reviews. Read the Bible; read Hume; read Pogo. Read all kinds of poetry and know many poems and many artists.

“Go to an art school, or two, or three, or take art courses at night if necessary. And paint and paint and draw and draw. Know all that you can, both curricular and noncurricular—mathematics and physics and economics, logic, and particularly history. Know at least two languages besides your own, but anyway, know French. Look at pictures and more pictures. Look at every kind of visual symbol, every kind of emblem; do not spurn signboards or furniture drawings or this style of art or that style of art. Do not be afraid to like paintings honestly or to dislike them honestly, but if you do dislike them retain an open mind. Do not dismiss any school of art, not the Pre-Raphaelites nor the Hudson River School nor the German Genre painters. Talk and talk and sit at cafes, and listen to everything, to Brahms, to Brubeck, to the Italian hour on the radio. Listen to preachers in small town churches and in big city churches. Listen to politicians in New England town meetings and to rabble-rousers in Alabama. Even draw them. And remember that you are trying to learn to think what you want to think, that you are trying to coordinate mind and hand and eye. Go to all sorts of museums and galleries and to the studios of artists. Go to Paris and Madrid and Rome and Ravenna and Padua. Stand alone in Sainte Chapelle, in the Sistine Chapel, in the Church of the Carmine in Florence. Draw and draw and paint and learn to work in many media; try lithography and aquatint and silk-screen. Know all that you can about art, and by all means have opinions. Never be afraid to become embroiled in art or life or politics; never be afraid to learn to draw or paint better than you already do; and never be afraid to undertake any kind of art at all, however exalted or however common, but do it with distinction.”

Related:
• The full text of Steve Jobs’s inspirational and oft-quoted 2005 Stanford commencement address

(Drawings: Ben Shahn for The Shape of Content, originally published in 1957)

Lands End day trip

The weather’s supposed to clear up this Sunday after several off-and-on days of much-needed rain, so I’m hoping to take the opportunity to bolt to San Francisco for a little day trip around the Outer Sunset / Lands End / the Legion of Honor.

My plan is to check out Outerlands for the amazing-looking Dutch pancake (just look at that thing) plus possibly the eggs in jail (purely for the name). Although the fried egg open-face sandwich with roasted chicories and goat cheese sounds intriguing too…as do the poached eggs with braised greens and yellow corn grits. Accompanied by hot lemon-ginger apple cider with Buffalo Trace bourbon in a mason jar? Yes, please.

Ever since Weekend Sherpa ran this blurb on the 6-mile Grand Walk that skirts Lands End and Baker Beach before continuing to Fort Mason, I’ve wanted to traverse the trail myself. At least a small part of it. Judging from this Google map, I could easily head up the Great Highway from Outerlands and park at the Lands End lot behind the 1863 Cliff House, jump on the Coastal Trail—sidetracking briefly for a look-see of the labyrinth—and then follow to where the trail cuts up through Lincoln Park to the Legion of Honor. If the trails aren’t too soggy, that is.

Side note: Do you remember the book West from Home: Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder, San Francisco, 1915? It’s a collection of Laura’s letters home to her husband, Almanzo, on their Rocky Ridge Farm in Missouri about visiting their daughter, Rose, during S.F.’s Panama Pacific International Exposition. Laura writes of the delight of dipping her toes in the Pacific Ocean for the first time, somewhere along Baker Beach, and the image always stuck with me because, well, when I think of Laura, I think of the prairie. It’d be so neat to stand on the beach and imagine her there as the waves caress the sand, evoking the same wonder she must’ve felt.

Anyhow, it’ll feel good to be outdoors in the sun after the rain has washed the air clean this past week. And how cool will it be to combine some hiking and books with a little art fix?

John Spencer Stanhope, Love and the Maiden, 1877.
The figures in the background remind me of Botticelli’s Primavera.

The Legion’s exhibition The Cult of Beauty: The Victorian Avant-Garde, 1860–1900 is up, with its focus on the British Aesthetic Movement, and I’m curious to see paintings like this Stanhope mainly as a foil to the fin de siècle Austrian Expressionism I’ve been so immersed in with my MLA thesis on Egon Schiele. In fact, the whole trip will be a nice break from thesis writing and colloquium.

I love planning little adventures like this—and having the time for them again, as well as the head space not to stress out about taking time away from doing what I need to graduate.

(Outerlands montage photo via Foodiggity via Eat Drink Chic; Grand Walk photo via Weekend Sherpa; Love and the Maiden via the Legion of Honor)

Update: On second thought, I may have to swing by Devil’s Teeth Baking Company for a cuppa and some hot beignets first, and save Outerlands for a midafternoonish brunch!

The ultimate egg primer

I can hardly wait to try this out, because it’s just what a novice like me needs: a primer of cooking techniques on “The Incredible Egg,” courtesy of Bon Appétit. It’s got the basics plus the superlatives, like “The Softest Scramble” by Jean-Georges Vongerichten, “The Perfect Poach” by Thomas Keller, and “The Silkiest Carbonara” adapted from what I’m almost positive is the popular version at Perilli (not Pirelli, as the original text says—which, as far as I can tell, refers only to the tire manufacturer) in Rome.

It’s so lovely, the way a well-poached egg oozes golden yolk over eggs Benedict when you slice into it…that “lava-like flow of yolk” to which Per Se chef de cuisine Eli Kaimeh refers in the Bon App primer.

The thoroughness of the instructions reminds me of that one scene in Sabrina (the 1954 version) when Audrey Hepburn’s strict cooking-school instructor is commencing their course in Paris.

“Bonjour, mesdames et monsieurs. Yesterday we have learned the correct way how to boil water. Today we will learn the correct way how to crack an egg. Voilà! An egg. Now, an egg is not a stone; it is not made of wood, it is a living thing. It has a heart. So when we crack it, we must not torment it. We must be merciful and execute it quickly, like with the guillotine. CHAK!”

That scene always makes me laugh.

(Top photo: Peden + Munk for Bon Appétit; bottom photo via Fanpop)

Update: Amanda Hesser guides you through “The Control-Freak Method” of egg poaching in this Food52 video.

A perfect repast

Here’s the best kind of meal according to book reviewer and editor Avis DeVoto (pictured), a confidante of Julia Child, reblogged from Ruth Reichl:

“I also stubbornly maintain that the only real way to cook lobsters is in three or four inches of sea water, in a covered kettle, for about twelve minutes (pound and a quarter lobsters being the ideal size). You then drape these dazzling creatures over the rocks until they cool off a bit, tear them apart with the bare hands, dip each piece in melted butter and guzzle. There should be from two to six lobsters per person. While the lobsters cook and cool off, two dry martinis should be served. Nothing whatever else should be served—we are eating all the lobster we want, we are not fooling around with salad, or strawberry shortcake or even coffee. All you need are the martinis, plenty of lobsters, millions of paper napkins and a view.” –Avis DeVoto to Julia Child, 1952

Mindy Kaling

I was tickled to see Mindy Kaling’s contribution to the April 2012 Ladies’ Home Journal article “A Memo to My Younger Self” (which seems to have been inspired by Julie Orringer’sNote to Sixth-Grade Self,” a coming-of-age tale so awesome it deserves its own blog post). I always like to hear about people who spent their adolescent years feeling like dorks but went on to do some badass things with their lives.

Anyway, Mindy’s first and last points in the piece seem pretty related to each other.

“First of all, don’t let that kid in your class, Danny, who called you fat, make you self-consciously wear oversized sweatshirts for the next four years to hide your body. That kid is horrible and years from now he will be boring and bald and trying to get in touch with you to come to the set of the TV show you work on. …

“Finally: Don’t let anyone give you any crap. Mastering a balance of these last two will take you a lifetime, so you had better get started now.”

I finally got around to reading Mindy’s book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (and Other Concerns) this weekend and laughed so hard at some of her lists, I had tears. So is the Danny in the LHJ piece actually that Duante jerk in the book? Probably. I wonder how it feels to have a former classmate document your jerkiness for posterity.

The way Mindy captures certain details cracks me up as well, because they’re points of reference that I myself wasn’t even aware of having. Other asides are just plain hilarious for being so incisive. Not even 10 pages into the book and I’m giggling myself silly over observations like “Alternate Titles for This Book” being “The Book That Was Never a Blog,” “When Your Boyfriend Fits Into Your Jeans and Other Atrocities,” and “There Has Ceased to Be a Difference Between My Awake Clothes and My Asleep Clothes.”

Her self-proclaimed timid-chubster “before” pics belong on that website Before You Were Hot too, along with maybe the image of her as one of People’sMost Beautiful 2011” and an excerpt from her story “When You’re Not Skinny, This is What People Want You to Wear.” In it she links back to the “don’t let anyone give you any crap” bit of advice as she describes the People photo shoot. Totally worth multiple reads, the whole thing. I love finding a new favorite book.

Related:
Mindy Kaling Q&A (The Believer)
• “Mindy Kaling on Diets, High School and Other American Pastimes” (NPR)
• “A Long Day at ‘The Office’ With Mindy Kaling” (The New York Times)
• And more here.

(Top photo: Autumn deWilde for NPR)

Update: I was wondering why Mindy hadn’t posted on her blog for a while and then I went online and found out that her mother passed away in late January. It makes the dedication of her book and her other words in the LHJ piece all the more poignant, because she talks about spending time with and missing her parents “so much it hurts.”