Now this is a class I could get behind! I’ve eyed The Basics (Series I and II) and Tante Marie’s for ages and recognize Liano’s name as having previously been a lead instructor for those series, so it’s exciting to have another option in that regard—particularly one that seems to be focused on technique. But I have to fess up that I’d feel obligated to work through, say, Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything: The Basics first, just so I could get a very basic background in the how-tos before splashing out $$$ on a course. I’m a little embarrassed by my cooking ignorance, given how much I enjoy eating (out) and reading about food, but we’ve all got to start somewhere, right? And I may as well start by learning the right way to do things instead of just guessing through my own trial and error.

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.”

• 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)

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.

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.”

Karbiener and Whitman

How amazing would it be to spend a summer taking a Walt Whitman poetry class in New York City with a professor who’s both incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about teaching his oeuvre?

Poetry Students Take a Walk in Walt Whitman’s Footsteps (Christian Science Monitor)
Summer Course Explores New York City Through Walt Whitman’s Eyes and Poems (Columbia News)

This experiential class had been offered for several summers by professor Karen Karbiener, who has taught at Colby College, Columbia, and NYU. To have the chance take her class, to stand on the Brooklyn Bridge while listening to her recite and explicate Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” would just be so darn cool! Poetry in its physical context, rather than an abstract one. Doesn’t sound like she offers it anymore, though…unfortunately. (If she still is, please let me know!)

Imagine reading Whitman’s poetry in the very places that inspired it.

I once read that when Jacqueline Bouvier was a teenager, her grandfather advised her to take the great professors at college, even if their subject matter didn’t initially interest her. Their enthusiasm and ability to teach their subject would inspire a love of that subject in her, he assured her. And it’s true. I regret not taking the awesome profs who taught subjects way outside my general-education or major requirements just as much as I wish I hadn’t had to take the initially interesting-sounding classes that fell flat for wont of a capable, dynamic instructor.

Now that I can enroll in whatever class I like without feeling rushed to “get out in four,” it’s exciting to be able to enroll in intriguing classes with great professors through local continuing studies, extension, and community-education programs. I love learning. How could I not take advantage of any chance to take classes for fun and enrichment? I’m just sorry when the cool class (like this Whitman one with Karbiener) gets away.

(Top photo by Robin Michals; bottom photo via Karen Karbiener)

Egon Schiele and David Bowie

One of the most exciting things about writing my master’s thesis on the contemporary relevance of fin-de-siècle Viennese artist Egon Schiele’s portraits is scouting the works of artists, photographers, performers, and fashion designers today whose aesthetic reflects his influence. I love making those tangible connections between past and present.

In the nascent stages of my research, I came across Renée Price’s essay “Unsung Heroes: Schiele as Inspiration and Influence” in Egon Schiele: The Ronald S. Lauder and Serge Sabarsky Collections (which has become one of my favorite books on the artist). In it Price discusses how Bowie’s relocation to Berlin in the mid-1970s led him to become better acquainted with and admire Schiele’s work in art museums around the city. Evidence that Bowie found Schiele’s portraits inspiring shows up in Bowie’s late ’70s cover art and Berlin Trilogy performance style on tour.

Take the gaunt lankiness, the bold lines, the incredible contortions of limbs and fingers, and the themes of identity and sexuality that characterize many of Schiele’s self-portraits. For instance:

Self-Portrait as Saint Sebastian, 1914.

Then compare that to, say, Bowie’s 1979 Lodger cover.

There’s a sense of feeling like a martyr, or a mime, or even a marionette at someone else’s (society’s?) command. There’s vulnerability too, and I think a sense of loss and isolation in both images. In Nicholas Pegg’s biography The Complete David Bowie, the man himself is quoted as saying,

“A lot of what is perceived as mannered performance or writing is a distancing from the subject matter to allow an audience to have their own association with what I’m writing about.”

In “As the Artist Said to the Rock Star…,” a July 2001 interview between Bowie and British artist Tracey Emin that appeared in The Guardian, the subject of Schiele popped up. Bowie asked Emin whether she had become more versed in art history since her artistic career began to rise. Emin answered,

“I got into Egon Schiele when I was 14 because your LP cover for Lodger was inspired by Schiele. … But I don’t think anyone is going to be a successful artist by parodying something that has gone before.”

To that, Bowie replied,

“I would have to disagree with you. I think so much well-known work over the last 10 years or so has been a restatement of earlier stuff. … On the shoulders of giants, etc. Although what’s been just as fascinating is the reluctance of many observers to credit the original pieces where it might have been appropriate or illuminating.”

Given all this talk about Schiele, I’d hoped against hope to snag an interview with Bowie as evidence of Schiele’s contemporary influence for my concluding thesis chapter. Through some work connections I got as far as Bowie’s PR firm in L.A., who forwarded my request for an interview to “his office.” However, there I was felled; they were “not arranging any interviews for him at this time, even if not for the press.” Nuts.

I think my best chance for an interview—however brief—would be to bump into him at an art museum and just bravely start asking away. Hey, it could happen.

“Excuse me, Mr. Bowie, but could I ask you…”

(bottom photo via The Church of Man-Love)

Update: London’s Victoria & Albert Museum is hosting the first-ever retrospective of Bowie’s career in its exhibition David Bowie is (March 23, 2013–July 28, 2013), featuring objects from the David Bowie Archive.

Update II (3.19.13): I’ve since come to realize that perhaps one of the reasons Bowie was not doing interviews a year or so ago was that he was working top secret on his new album! In an interview with the London Evening Standard, his wife, Iman, is quoted as saying, “Everyone asks, ‘How did he keep it so quiet?’ But they were loyal to his vision and he asked, could they just keep it under wraps til it was released?” Wow.

The workout wagon

I used to be super hard-core about working out. Six days a week, 1.5 hours a day—intervals, running, plyometrics, kettlebells, TRX bands, medicine and Swiss balls, jump rope, resistance bands—that was me. I even stepped into a boxing ring for an exhibition bout as part of my gym‘s member Fight Night.

Then, about a year and a half ago, I fell off the wagon. Just kind of burned out. My trainers told me not to worry, that everyone goes through these peaks and valleys in their training, but the key is not to stop working out altogether—just dial it down, or find a new activity to keep my interest piqued. Unfortunately, I never really did that, and what with work and school and other commitments, I let exercise fall by the wayside.

Now, several (ahem) pounds later, I’ve decided it’s time for me to get back on to a regular fitness regimen. Just a little bit every day. Okay, at least five or six days a week. Four minimum! Half an hour, 40 minutes a day. It’s humbling to start back at the beginning, conditioning-wise, but I have to start somewhere.

I figure it’ll be easier to take things day by day, so that each day I can mark the workout as “done” on my calendar, then look back at the accumulation of days and eventually weeks and months to see how I’ve progressed. When I set myself a goal and instead think, Oh, it’s several weeks away, I’ve got time to do it later, then I start putting off workouts ’til tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, until I end up with a bunch of todays with almost no workouts accounted for.

Couldn’t resist a completely out-of-context reference to Macbeth.

I’ve started out by going back to my old gym (evidently I need the structure and accountability of having a class to show up for in order to stick with a routine). Also bought a bike to ride around town and help me sneak in some more cardio that way.

Plus I’m thinking of doing the run/walk program from Women’s Health magazine to get back into running mode. If one of my goals for this year is to run my first half-marathon, then I better get started! But I also want to be careful that I don’t push too hard and injure myself.

More tips for getting back on the workout wagon:
• “Quick Tip: Remember to Start Off Slow” (FitSugar)
• “3 Tips on How to Deal with a Health or Fitness Setback” (Vitamin G)

(Runner photo: Thinkstock via Glamour)

Dancing in the kitchen

While channel surfing the other day, I glimpsed San Francisco Ballet principal dancer Joan Boada’s appearance on Joanne Weir‘s Cooking Confidence show for PBS.

Gotta love a hot guy who cooks.

His and her respective blog posts about the experience reminded me of this tea towel sold on Etsy and recently repinned by FitSugar.

“Cooking is a lot like dancing,” Joan says on the ballet’s blog, Open Studio 455. “Both are creative, passionate pursuits in which there is always something new to learn.”

(Photos by Erik Tomasson/San Francisco Ballet and The Joy of Ex Foundation)