Adam Kurtz: Things Are What You Make of Them

10/05/17

If you’ve been reading my blog for a few years, you may remember I interviewed Adam J, Kurtz back in 2015 as part of my People I Admire series. Adam is one of my favorite artists and writers at the moment. While his work is infused with enormous humor, it’s also earnestly intended to be helpful — to get us to take ourselves less seriously in some cases, and more seriously in others. For his relatively short time on the planet so far, Adam is incredibly wise and offers stellar advice for creatives in his brand new book Things Are What You Make of Them, out just this week. This coming Sunday is also the last day to  donate to Adam’s campaign to support the Tegan and Sara Foundation with each purchase. Just last week, I interviewed Adam about his latest book, which is a collection of life advice for creatives. Images from the book (aka some of his pieces of advice) are dispersed throughout the interview for your enjoyment! I present to you Adam J Kurtz in my Interviews with People I Admire series!

Lisa: Adam, I absolutely love your new book. Tell us how the book came to be.

Adam: The book started with a single guest post I did for Design*Sponge that talked about create work in my own way – optimistic, realistic, and some blunt humor. A few months later, Grace Bonney (the founder of Design*Sponge) asked me if I wanted to write a little bit more, and my sorta-regular-but-sorta-not column on her blog was born. I would write about new topics as they felt relevant to what I was dealing with either creatively, as a small business, or both. I had just ventured off onto my own, letting my hobby finally be my full-time job for the first time and a lot of new shit was being thrown my way.
 

Lisa: How do you describe your professional self?

Adam: Though I started out as a graphic designer, I now just run with “artist and author” because it best encapsulates what I do, which is a little bit of everything. Ultimately, I create illustrative work that tackles life itself with humor and a little bit of darkness. My work is kind of my therapy. It’s how I process the world, and then it’s also often about processing! My first two books are interactive journals, taking the lessons I learn, and opening them up as tools for others.

 

Lisa: When you were writing these pieces of advice for the book, what was the process for brainstorming and capturing them? What inspired them?

Adam: Sometimes it was something I was struggling with, like comparing myself to other people. Finally, I just had to fucking admit it! I was making myself miserable and instead of being happy for others, I would grow negativity and turn it inwards. Fucking gross. Other essays were motivated by the outside world. “How To Be Yourself” is about identifying our unique traits and human identity to make work that breaks through the monotony, but it’s also inspired by the journey that many people take in figuring out who they are. I wrote it during Pride month, thinking about how scary it can be to recognize who you are, and then feel confident enough to open yourself up to love. Though the book subtitle says it’s “for creatives,” it’s really for anyone who’s a caring, emotive person living in this world.

Lisa: I have a manifesto for my studio, and one of the items on it is “I BREAK FOR LUNCH”. In fact, I just got back from eating my lunch in my kitchen. Let’s talk about why stopping for lunch is so important.

Adam: When you’re your own boss, either on a specific project or, you know, full-time, every minute that you’re not working feels like a tiny failure. We put so much pressure on ourselves to be working, emailing, concepting, or whatever else that we often don’t treat ourselves the way we’d treat an employee! We forget to allow ourselves to be human beings. Human beings need to eat lunch. Happy human beings need to eat lunch not glued to their computer screen or work bend. We deserve to be happy human beings.

Lisa: Which bits of your advice are you the best at personally?

Adam: I feel like I am good at being happy, or at least setting the stage to be as content as I can be. I struggle with happiness. I struggle with my mental and emotional health. Thought I’m not a perfect, happy, shiny person (which btw doesn’t exist sorry) I am good at allowing myself time to just be alive. I can celebrate my small accomplishments. I set small goals and projects for myself to achieve. I treat myself in small ways. It’s a constant balance and I know I will never just “be” a happy person. It’s a constant climb. But I’m the happiest I’ve ever been and it comes from a place of understanding myself and giving myself what I need. Also, therapy. I know I said earlier that my work is kind of my therapy, but Therapy is also my therapy.

Lisa: What piece(s) of advice in the book are working on right now because you want to get better at it?

Adam: I’ve been thinking a lot about using my power for good and how I can work to help others. There’s so much happening in the world and it is truly hard to know how to contribute, how to be useful, how to support as a true ally, how to lend my creative services in a meaningful way, etc. It’s a tricky balance to know when, where, and how to speak up. For the first time in my career I’m being open about being a queer person. Not because it’s ever been a secret, but because I’ve maybe taken it for granted. Now that it’s abundantly clear that some of the progress we thought we had made as a society isn’t… progressive enough… I just want to be a visible person who speaks up for who they are. One immediate way I’ve been doing that with this book is a donation campaign to support the Tegan and Sara Foundation with each purchase. I just need to be better at recognizing the privilege I have to speak aloud about who I am, and do more of that. I am trying to exist loudly to stick it in the face of everyone who’d prefer I not exist at all.

Lisa: Let’s talk about comparison via social media. It’s the curse of the creative community. Yet I think we all have so much to learn from this shared experience. What is your favorite advice for managing your own feelings when you find that you are comparing yourself to others?

Adam: We know that social media is just part of the story, because we know how we use it. But when you see, for example, an artist who is posting work every single day, it’s easy to feel like you’re not doing enough. I’ve had so many conversations with other artists about the pressure to post, and how posting can distract from the actual work to be done. Do I still compare myself to other creatives sometimes? Yes, of course. I notice when good people are doing cool things! Sometimes I’m just like “ahhhh I wish I was part of that project too!” But then I’m just glad my friends are getting work. Now when I see a sponsored post from someone I follow my first thought is “YESSSS GET THAT MONEY!” I know how hard it is, so I feel joy and pride when others get cool opportunities.

Lisa: What is the one piece of advice in the book that has gotten the biggest reaction after you shared it?

Adam: There’s a page that says IT’S MAGICAL, NOT MAGIC that is all about how creativity isn’t a have vs. have not situation. We sometimes talk about or think of creativity as a magic power that only some people have and that’s just not true. What it comes down to is tapping into the energy we have, exercising it, practice, and growth. Creativity is a wonderful, intangible, magical thing. But it’s not a magic power for wizards only.

Lisa: How are you so wise? (I want to call you Grandpa Adam). Who taught you all this incredible wisdom? Who are your role models? How have you learned it all?

Adam: I’m just an idiot! Everything in this book is me figuring it out as I go and of course I forget half this common sense advice when I need it most. But I do come from a family of teachers and leaders, with a bunch of Rabbis going back several generations on my mom’s side. None of them were any good at Instagram though so I don’t know how relevant that is to what I do now.

I’m also really inspired by a wonderful group of creatives in tangential social circles that I feel like I’m a part of including the amazing, incredible, generous, and wise Kate Bingaman-Burt, an artist who has been inspiring me both from a distance and as a friend for several years now.

Lisa: Where can people find and follow you online?

Adam: I’m @adamjk on Instagram (recommended) and Twitter (not recommended unless you want to know what I think about pop music and bread). I do also have an email list which I update sort of sporadically with new work and rambling personal notes.

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A Glorious Freedom is Released Today!

10/03/17

Today my book A Glorious Freedom: Older Women Leading Extraordinary Lives is released! You can purchase a signed copy of the book here in my Etsy Shop or here on Amazon or wherever books are sold. I am going on a short book tour to Portland, Seattle, San Francisco and Richmond CA (more cities to come later this year and next year). You can get more information on the book tour here.

Below is the introduction to the book that I wrote last year. Enjoy. And thank you for supporting my work.

“Age has given me what I was looking for my entire life—it has given me me. It has provided time and experience and failures and triumphs and time-tested friends who have helped me step into the shape that was waiting for me. I fit into me now. I have an organic life, finally, not necessarily the one people imagined for me, or tried to get me to have. I have the life I longed for. I have become the woman I hardly dared imagine I would be.” – Anne Lamott

The book you are holding in your hands is a book about women. It is a book about women over the age of 40 who are thriving.

You might ask, Why make this book? Why are the lives of older women worth celebrating?

My own life’s path is what piqued my interest in the topic. I am a self-described late bloomer. The year this book is published, I will be 49 years old. By profession, I am an artist, an illustrator, and a writer. I did not begin drawing or painting until I was 31 years old. I did not begin my art career until I was 40. I did not begin writing regularly until I was 42. I did not publish my first book until I was 44. I did not get married until I was 45. At 49, I have just published my seventh book. My eighth comes out next year.

Every year that passes, I become braver, stronger, and freer. Getting older has, for me, been an enormously gratifying and liberating process. I am a kinder person to others than I have ever been, and I also care far less than I ever have about what other people think of me. I am both more determined and harder working than I was when I was younger, but I also value experiencing joy in my life over my work ethic more than I ever have. I am both more secure and more vulnerable. Out of years of living with intense insecurity and trepidation, the wisdom of age has taught me the importance of courage and that my own unique path is just that—my own unique path. Aging, as Anne Lamott so eloquently put it, has led me to myself.

In an effort to express my feelings on the topic, I wrote a short essay on getting older in 2014 and published it on my blog. That essay was quickly shared by thousands on the Internet, both through my blog and through social media channels. Although I have a decent social media following and a devoted audience of blog readers, I am not a celebrity or a full-time blogger, so the attention this essay garnered was rather phenomenal. I realized that if the topic of getting older and thriving was reso­nating so strongly with so many women, then I needed to explore it further.

And that is, of course, where the germ of this book sprouted. I had long admired some well-known late-blooming women and seen them as role models since I was in my 30s. I already had ideas of the women I wanted to include in this book. But I also used the power of social media to gather even more names and con­tacts. I began the process of making this book by reaching out to my Internet community (my social media followers and blog readers) with one basic request: help me find the women you know or admire who exemplify bold and adventurous aging—artists, writers, athletes, scientists, activists, thinkers, designers, and feminists over 40 who are embracing the positive aspects of getting older: the wisdom, emotional resilience, work ethic and play ethic, insight, and sense of humor that come with age. I asked my followers to help me identify women who were late bloomers, women who hit the apex of their careers later in life or who made some bold move to live in interesting ways after the age of 40.

The response was astounding. I received emails from scores of men and women around the world with all flavor of submissions: long lists of women I should profile or interview, along with essay submissions from women about the process of aging, their relationship to aging, the struggles, the joys. The response to my call was, in fact, so astounding that I was literally overwhelmed with how to contain the potential for the book. I’d contracted with my publisher, Chronicle Books, to make a book that was 155 pages, and I was absolutely sure I’d have enough material to make a book five times that length!

I set out to cull together the best of everything I received—to research and write about women I admire, to contact real-life female heroines for interviews, and to sift through the endless essay submissions for the book to fit it into the format you are holding in your hands.

Historically and across cultural divides, women have been told to remain silent, to sit still, to hold back, not to shine. In addition, women have traditionally regarded their ability to please others—over following their own dreams and desires—as one of their greatest strengths. Furthermore, for countless generations, women have been told that once they hit middle age, their opportunity for greatness has passed.

And so the resilience and courage demon­strated by women, and, in particular, the ever-growing population of older women, to challenge and redefine these notions is one of the most exciting things to observe in the world today. We live in a time where more and more women are beginning to live out loud, to follow their own desires and dreams, to be who they are, to live fully, to live a second life after their children leave home, or their husbands are no longer with them, or their previous careers have faded.

This book profiles many women who paved the way for us—women like Katherine Johnson, Louise Bourgeois, Julia Child, and others who were challenging notions of what it meant to be an “over-the-hill” woman long before today. Many of these women discovered hidden passions and talents much later in life or hit the most exciting and fruitful time of their careers as older women. They are undeniably role models for reimagining what our lives can be. The book also tells the stories of extraor­dinary women today who are reinventing what it means to be an older woman—women who are breaking through barriers, successfully completing athletic feats, and doing their best work in their 60s, 70s, and 80s.

When I first put out a call for suggestions for the book, I got a handful of emails and Internet and comments from older women for whom aging was actually not enjoyable or interesting—the onset of health issues was no fun at all, and the death of loved ones was a regular part of their lives. These perspectives are real. And so my point here isn’t to establish some sort of Pollyannaish portrayal of female aging. Things like bodily changes, shifts in the brain, and the experience of losing loved ones are very real (and often very painful) parts of growing older, and no one escapes them. However, I hope what we can see inside the stories in this book is the enormous potential for courage, perspective, spiritual growth, and humanity that often grow out of these struggles. My aim here is to provide hope to women who are aging (or fear aging) that while the likelihood of ugly side effects grows ever larger, so too does our capacity for love, for compassion, for brave acts, for vulnerability, for creativity, and for joy.

And so here I go—here we all go—leaning toward our 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, hair graying, wrinkles gathering, experiences accruing, insights accumulating, joy abounding.

No matter what your age or gender, may each of you find inspiration in this book to live bravely and fully, and to use your experience as your most powerful tool in living your best life.

-Lisa Congdon

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CATEGORIES: Inspiration | My Books
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Extraordinary Routines

08/21/17

Hi friends,

I’m honored to be included in Madeleine Dore’s ongoing series called Extraordinary Routines. The piece has two parts: the first is a “day in the life” — which is essentially a summary of my routines and some thoughts on what I’ve learned about what works for me in my daily life. You can find that here. The second part is entitled Ten Lessons on Creativity, Career and Life. You can find that part here.

Enjoy!

Lisa

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Alice Stevenson: Ways to See Great Britain

06/30/17

I am so excited today to share with you an interview with Alice Stevenson. Alice is one of the most talented, dedicated, curious illustrators I know. I first met Alice several years ago when she came to stay in San Francisco, where I was living at the time. Hailing from London in the UK (where she has lived most of her life), she has just published a new book all about her home country called Ways to See Great Britain. The book is part visual adventure through her gorgeous country, and part Alice’s own personal exploration of parts unknown. That’s right, Alice traversed her country over the course of two years, and most of it for the first time, on public transportation and by foot, with the goal of getting to know the less common, less touristy parts of her country in more depth. And simultaneously she wrote and illustrated a book about it! Stunningly illustrated in Alice’s energetic, colorful style and written in Alice’s soothing voice, the book is both eye candy and inspiration for slowing down, looking at your surroundings and appreciating the unexpected. All the illustrations below are from this gorgeous new book.

And so without further ado, I present to you my  latest Interview with Someone I Admire — Alice Stevenson!

Lisa: Alice, tell us a little bit about your background, your story as an illustrator, and the kinds of things you work on as an illustrator.

Alice: I’ve been working as a freelance illustrator and surface pattern for a varied range of clients since 2005 when I graduated from the University of Brighton. I’ve illustrated many books and book covers including Maya Angelou’s autobiographies for Random House US and Carol Ann Duffy’s Collected Poems for Children for Faber & Faber. I’ve also been commissioned by a host of different editorial, advertising and packaging clients including Kellogg’s, Waitrose and Amy’s Kitchen. I’ve always had a lively personal drawing and painting practice alongside my commissioned work.

Lisa: This is your second book? Before we launch into Ways to See Great Britain, tell us briefly about your first book.

Alice: Ways to Walk in London is collection of reflective writings about my wanders around my home city, combined with illustrations inspired by my journeys. It’s a celebration of surprising corners of London and those fleeting moments of beauty you find when exploring a city on foot. I was initially approached by my publisher to create this book as so much of my personal output as an illustrator and artist is about drawing in response to my surroundings.

Lisa: How did Ways to See Great Britain come to be as the follow up to Ways to Walk London?

Alice: I grew up in London, and there is always a sense here of being quite cut off from the rest of the country. I’d always been aware that there was so much of the UK I’d never seen even though I’ve travelled widely overseas. I was interested in writing a travel book, which investigated the process of travel and my own reaction to different journeys and locations, so travelling around Britain seemed like a logical progression.

Lisa: It’s amazing how many places all over Great Britain you traveled!! How long did you spend traveling to create the content in the book? How did you decide what to explore in each region?

Alice: Yes, I look back at the book now and wonder how I managed it all! I spent just under two years doing trips for the book, and it was incredible. I’ve been much more sedentary this year and I really miss all the travelling, in particular the long train journeys. When I started the book, I wanted to restrict my travels to “in between places”: outskirts of towns, places that were a mixture of industrial and rural for example. But this felt a bit restrictive as I started making plans so I kept this in mind but gave myself permission to go wherever took my fancy, even if they didn’t fit into this sort of category. Really it was a mixture of places I’d always wanted to visit and places recommended to me. It ended up being quite an organic process. I’d often let whatever journey I’d just been on inform my future travel plans. For example, I fell in love with Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, which inspired me to visit the town of Harlow which had been designed by the same architect Frederick Gibberd, hundreds of miles away in Essex.

Lisa: The art in the book, which is gorgeous, is obviously driven by your experience in each place, and yet, the illustrations are not literal. They are more figurative, patterned illustrations on each place. Talk about your process for creating the illustrations in the book.

Alice: Thank you :). What I seek to capture in my illustrations is a sense of what I found visually interesting and engaging about a place. To me, the visual memory of a place more closely resembles an abstract pattern than a straightforward “scene” because its a combination of details and atmosphere. I take photos and create sketches (if possible) on my travels for reference, I then use these as the basis for creating some initial drawings which eventually develop into final pieces. The process is very intuitive, I try not to overthink what I create.  I found with some chapters that I’d see the artwork quite clearly in my mind’s eye, and in others, I would have to draw and experiment for a while until it became clear what the final outcome would be.

Lisa: The book is explicitly not a travel guide. So talk about how you envision or hope people to use the book to explore Great Britain?

Alice: I would be delighted if people wanted to follow in my footsteps after reading my book and I hope that it gives people ideas for travels around the UK, but just as much I would love to inspire readers to engage with their surroundings in a meaningful way wherever they go in the world. I also am a passionate advocate of armchair travel, so I like the idea of my book mentally transporting readers from wherever they are in the world to Liverpool in December, or the mud flats of North Norfolk even if they never actually use it in a practical way.
Lisa: Because you don’t drive a car, you walked or took public transport everywhere you visited and wrote about in the book. What was that experience like for you? Was it difficult to get to some regions or places you wanted to see without a car or did you manage to get people to drive you? How did you manage your expectations on your journey when you were at the mercy of your feet and other modes of transport that you didn’t have control over?
Alice: Having never driven, I’m fairly used to managing without a car. I’m honestly never happier than when I’m on a train, and I also really enjoy taking little local buses, they provide excellent people watching opportunities. On certain journeys I managed to rope long suffering friends and family into chauffeuring me around — for example, in Northern Ireland which would have been very tricky on public transport. On the whole I prefer travelling without a car as it limits your options in a good way, as I think too much choice when travelling can be overwhelming. For example, when I was staying in Patterdale in The Lake District with my mum, we didn’t have a car and we spent our two days there just exploring the immediate footpaths around Lake Ullstwater, which were absolutely stunning. If we’d had a car we’d have probably spent the time driving around trying to see as many places as possible, which I find can be a bit draining and unrewarding. Plus if you’re not driving it means you can go to the pub!
Lisa: Was there a spot or region you visited for the first time that really blew your mind? If so, what was that and why?
Alice: I was very taken by Hull. It is often unfairly dismissed as being a bit of a rough place but I was delighted by it. It has the most amazing grand Victorian buildings, a fascinating maritime history and excellent pubs. People are extremely friendly there and I just felt it had one of the loveliest atmospheres of any city I’ve ever been too.
Lisa: Did you stumble on anything by chance that you hadn’t planned on that made it into the book?
Alice: Yes! On the grounds of Castle Crom near Enniskillen in Northern Ireland, we discovered these astounding ancient yew trees that created an amazing arboreal palace world when you stepped under their outer canopy. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before. I wrote about this experience in the book and it is probably one of the best surprise discoveries I’ve ever maddwhilst travelling. I think it’s these moments that make travel worth doing.
Lisa: What are you working on now?
Alice: In terms of books: “Ways to See Great Britain” was such a mammoth undertaking so I’m allowing myself to take some time this year to regroup and work out what the next big writing project will be. Alongside working on illustration commissions I’m enjoying playing around with some personal art and writing projects and seeing how things develop.
Lisa: Where can people find you online?
You can find out about my books and look at my illustration portfolio at www.alicestevenson.com. Signed copies of my books and prints can be found on my online shop at alicestevo.bigcartel.com. You can follow me on Instagram,Twitter and Pinterest at @alicestevo and at Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/alicestevo/
Lisa: Thank you, Alice! And folks, you can purchase the book here, along with many other beautiful things by Alice!
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Bridget Watson Payne: Part Two

06/08/17

You may remember a few weeks ago, I posted the first part in my two-part interview with author, artist and editor extraordinaire, Bridget Watson Payne, about her recently released book, The Secret Art of Being a Grown Up. If you haven’t seen that book yet or read that interview, head over here to take a look. The Secret Art of Being a Grown Up is one of my favorite books of the year.

Bridget’s second book, How Art Can Make You Happy, was also just released. And guess what? It’s also one of my favorite books of the year! Part of why I divided this interview with Bridget into two parts is because both of her recently published books are really, really entertaining, sensitive and, most importantly, useful.

So I’m back to interview Bridget a second time about How Art Can Make You Happy. To learn more about Bridget, how we know each other (she’s an important person in my life) and her first book, head over here to our first interview. Then come back to this post to read on.

Without further ado, I present to you: Bridget Watson Payne, back to talk about How Art Can Make You Happy.

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Lisa: This book resonated with me on so many levels, and I’m curious to hear in your own words — why a book about how art can make you happy?

Bridget: I found myself having so many conversations with people—friends, colleagues, at parties, over coffee—where, when the subject of art came up, folks would all of a sudden start to express so much guilt and anxiety. Maybe it’s because of my job title? Maybe you imagine that if you’re talking to someone whose job is “Senior Art Editor” that must mean that this person you’re talking to is super-duper knowledgeable about art, makes it out to every big art show and every cool obscure art show, and is looking down on you because of stuff you don’t know or stuff you didn’t go see. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth! I wanted to wave my arms and shout—no, no, no! Art shouldn’t make you feel crummy and guilty! Art should bring joy into your life! Art should make you happy! So then I realized maybe I should write a book about that.

Lisa: As someone who came to a profession as an artist later in life — and with no formal training or connections to the “mysterious art world,” I remember feeling completely terrified when I first started out that I would be found out for being a fraud and that there was some secret society who would certainly kick me out. I have my own theories, but why do you think we have gotten to this place as a society where we are so intimated by not just art but “the art world”?

Bridget: I think it’s kind of this cultural myth. I mean, yes, sure, there are a few snobby jerks out there who like to use their knowledge to shut others out or make them feel small. But for the most part, it’s a fiction. You can walk into a museum on the free day, or into an art gallery on any day, and look at the art there. No one is going to stop you. The art world isn’t actually shutting us out, we’re shutting ourselves out with this cultural story that says, oh, art’s not for normal people art’s only for fancy people. Nonsense! Art is for everyone. Art is for you and for me and for you and for you and for you. That’s not to say that the story isn’t a real and powerful thing in itself—it comes out of some pretty deep-seated societal issues we have around class and culture and intellect and education—and it’s not always easy to throw off that kind of cultural baggage. But we are right to work to try and do so.

Lisa: I also think our perceptions about art are changing because of the internet and because museums, in order to stay relevant, are making great efforts to make art accessible to everyone. Art in all of its forms is becoming more mainstream, and our conception of what is art is also broadening. Art is for everyone, and art can be anything. To be clear, some people (mostly inside “the art world”) find this shift offensive. Why does your book argue this is a good thing?

Bridget: I am 100% egalitarian when it comes to art. Everyone should be invited to the art party. If they’re not then, what? You’re making art some sort of rarefied insider-y thing on a mountain top and keeping this source of joy out of people’s grasp? That’s insane. I really have a hard time believing that we’re still having these conversations about what is and is not art in this day and age—but I know it’s true, we are. Every time I go to a museum show about the work of a fashion designer—which, let’s be clear, have been some of the best exhibitions out there in recent years!—I overhear all these conversations debating whether fashion is art and should it be shown in museums and blah blah blah. And I’m like, seriously? Are we still seriously having this debate in the year 2017? More art—a broader more inclusive definition of art—and art accessible to more people—is only ever a good thing. We would never say movies or music or books or ice cream or vegetables or pillows or bicycles are only for a few special people, so why on earth would we say that about art, this amazing huge source of inspiration, empathy, and joy?

Lisa: When I walk into a museum, despite the genre or period or artist, I am often overcome with emotion. I have been known to cry or to feel overwhelmed, and not in a negative or positive way. I am simply moved. Sometimes I find myself rushing through because the feelings are so intense. I’ve heard a handful of other people talk about this same experience. Why is this happening this happening to me?

Bridget: You are letting art do to you exactly what art does, if we let it. Art is a powerful engine of emotion. When I say art makes you “happy” I don’t mean happy like skipping around in a field of daisies eating bonbons, I mean happy on a deep and profound level. Happy like moved. Happy like awake. Some art is deeply unpleasant—it can shake you up, upset you, outrage you—but those strong emotions can also lead to this kind of deep happiness I’m talking about. If we really let art in, if we open our eyes and let it do it’s number on us, the natural result is feeling. Not every time, of course—some art works for some of us and not for others—that’s why learning to trust your own taste is so important, you have to find the art you like so you can find the art that moves you. Because feeling that feeling of feeling feels good.

Lisa: Why should people prioritize seeing and engaging with art (even if it is intimidating or even overwhelming at first?)

Bridget: I argue in my book that art wakes us up to three profound realities: the reality of the world, the reality of others, and the reality of ourselves. As humans, we tend to be blinkered to the wonder of the world around us—we have to be or we’d be overstimulated all the time. We tend to be self-centered and have a hard time really truly believing that other people are just as real as we are. We tend to get caught up in the mundane day-to-day and disconcert from our own capacity for deep feeling, thought, and pleasure. When we prioritize making time to engage with art, we are prioritizing being our best and our happiest selves. And sure that’s a payoff worth facing down intimidation or overwhelm for.

Lisa: There is a whole section in the book about looking at art without leaving your house. This is important for people who are curious but don’t live in an area with galleries or museums (of which there are vast swaths across the world). What are some of the things you suggest in the book about how those folks can engage with art?

Bridget: Yes. If we’re going to say art is for everyone (and we are!) then we have to get really clear about the fact that not everyone lives near museums and art galleries. Luckily, there are lots of ways that art can come to us. We can order affordable art online and hang it on the walls of our homes. We can pull those art books someone gave us as gifts off the bookshelf or coffee table and actually look through them, slowly and carefully. And then, biggest of all, there is the internet. Going online is your gateway to accessing an almost infinite amount of art. Try art blogs (a few of my favorites are The Jealous Curator and Booooooom), art websites (I adore Artsy.net), and the amazing thing nowadays is that more and more museums are digitizing their entire collections. You can actually see way more art on the website of the Met than you can if you actually go to New York now.

Lisa: When you can, though, why is it different or special or important to go look at art in person? What changes?

Bridget: There’s something magical about seeing art in person. In the same way that seeing a live performance is very different from watching a recording, there is something visceral and immediate about being in the same space with the actual physical object that the artist created with their own hands. Because, let’s not forget, art is a physical experience. You feel it in your body. And you see things in such a different way when you stand in front of them, in person. Not just that you see more details—the individual brush-strokes in a painting, for instance—though there is that; but you actually see the original in a different way than you see the reproduction. Take Impressionism, for example. We’ve all seen certain Impressionist masterpieces, Monet’s waterlilies, say, reproduced so many times—on posters and coffee mugs and mouse pads and in the dentist’s waiting room—that we can hardly see it any more at all. It’s become this boring accustomed decorative background that our eyes and brains tune out or gloss over. But when you’re lucky enough to see it in person, it hits you. The size of it, the scale, the brushwork—but beyond all that: the living magic of it. Suddenly you realize how insanely revolutionary it was, at a time when people wore top hats and corsets, to paint what things felt like instead of how they literally looked. The audacity of it! Wham!

Lisa: I have been a professional artist for ten years, and I am just getting comfortable talking about and having opinions about art for the first time in my life. Why is talking about and having opinions about art so intimidating for so many people? And how can we move on from that fear?

Bridget: Frankly, we’re afraid of looking stupid. We think people are going to judge us for our lack of knowledge, or for having “bad taste” or something. And, yes, overcoming those sorts of fears can be hard. But also? Overcoming those sorts of fears is the real and proper work of our lives as adult human beings. Worrying about what people will think of us holds us back in nearly every arena of human endeavor. And like most things, the way to get good at something—in this case talking about art—is to practice. Start out with someone you trust. I recommend finding a friend to go on art dates with—go to a museum or on a mural walk together and talk about what you see. What do you like? Dislike? Why? Once you get comfortable with your friend, move on to chatting with others. Art is a great topic of conversation for social situations—it gets you away from boring small talk and onto something really interesting. And a great way to get to know people is by finding out about the art they like (and you may discover some new artists this way as well). People worry that others may know way more than art than they do—but it’s usually not the case. The one thing others may have mastered is name-dropping. If you learn the names of your favorite artists then you, too, can drop names into the conversation and start to feel more and more competent and knowledgeable.

Lisa: What was your favorite part of writing How Art Can Make you Happy?

Bridget: It was so much fun to be a writer! Because I’m a book editor by profession, I’m so used to being on the other side of the editor/author relationship. It was awesome and exciting to get to take my editor hat off and just concentrate on writing the very best book I could. And I got to work with a great editor of my own—Christina Amini. I felt like the whole experience gave me a deeper appreciation both of what editors do and what authors do.

Lisa: In one line, describe one message you hope people hold with them after reading it.

Bridget: Art is magic, and it’s for everyone.

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