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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Creativebug Sale!

06/06/17

Friends, I am happy to let you know about a sale going on at Creativebug – 1 month and 1 class for $1. Head here to learn more! $1 unlocks 1-month unlimited access to 1000+  classes on Creativebug PLUS 1 class to keep forever (a $29.90 value). Take any of my classes or other classes on the site!

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June Print(s) of the Month!

06/05/17

I’m so excited to release my June Print of the Month which is… A TWO PRINT SET! This month’s set includes the two prints pictured above (they come unframed, though I suggest framing in black). Each print is 8.5×11 inches, signed, numbered and dated by me. There are only 40 sets available. Once they are sold out, they will not be available again. The prints are only sold as a set and cannot be purchased separately.

Get yours today!

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Andy Miller // Creative Pep Talk!

05/31/17

   

One of the coolest experiences I’ve had in the past few years is being a guest on Andy Miller’s brilliant podcast, Creative Pep Talk (you can listen to my episode here). Andy is not only a fantastic podcaster, interviewer, community builder and pep-talk giver, he is also a phenomenal illustrator with a distinctive style that is so delicious I want to eat it. Andy now has a book out — also called Creative PepTalk — and I talked to Andy recently about this amazing new book, what’s behind it, and why it is we all need a pep talk now and again. The book is filled with “pep talks” from 50 different artists (including me, see my spread below, thank you Andy!). It’s colorful, bold, unpretentious and inspiring.

And so, without further ado, I introduce to you Andy J. Miller, this week’s Interview with Someone I Admire!

Lisa: Andy, before we launch into a discussion on this fantastic book, tell us a little bit about you. Who are you? What do you do?

Andy: First of all, SO THRILLED to do this, I just love and support everything you do and have done for the creative world, so I just want to say THANK YOU and thank you for being in this book! You were at the top of my contributor wish list!

Lisa: Oh, thank you, Andy. That means the world to me!

Andy: A little about me: most people know me by Andy J. Pizza these days, and I’m an illustrator who works with clients like Nickelodeon, Google and Converse. I’m also a podcaster, and my podcast Creative Pep Talk exists to help people make a good living, making great creative work.

I’m deeply passionate about sharing the breakthroughs I’m having in my creative career in hopes that it might enable a breakthrough for someone else.

Lisa: How did you get the idea for this book? Why Pep Talks for creatives? Did anything particular inspire the book?

Andy: I can’t remember exactly what sparked this idea but I’ve always loved a good collection / anthology. I kept seeing all this beautifully lettered creative wisdom and realized that it would kind of work as a double whammy as an anthology. On the one hand, it’s just a collection of phenomenal lettering and on the other hand it’s jam packed with the wisdom of a creative self help book of sorts.

I think a lot about why I’m so attracted to the idea of a pep talk. Here’s what I’ve realized: I’m just doing for others what I’d like done for me. Ironically, this pep talker requires LOTS OF PEP TALKS to keep going. A good word of affirmation or fresh perspective from a friend or mentor can keep me going for weeks!

Lisa: Haha, I am right there with you. Sometimes I say to my wife at dinner: I NEED A PEP TALK, PLEASE! There is such a myriad of terrific advice in the book. And so  I found myself saying, “YES!” and “YES!” and “I so needed to hear that today!” when I read it. I think sometimes people think those of us who have been working for years and are the ones dispensing the advice in the book somehow don’t experience insecurity or doubt or challenge. But we do! So this book really is for everyone. What is some of your favorite advice in the book?

 

Andy: I keep going back to Jon Burgerman’s “If You Can’t Be Good, Be Different.” Creative people get so caught up with the surface level metrics like how perfectly something is designed or how technically perfect something is. In my opinion, it’s more advantageous to get out of those races and find your own lane completely. Jon perfectly sums this up with his piece.

Jen Mussari’s page is another I keep returning to. She says “Make Friends, Not Contacts.” I am a MASSIVE believer that often in the long run, nice guys actually finish first. Those who scheme and cut corners might be quicker off the starting blocks, but their shortcuts catch up with them. Jen’s phrase reminds me that getting ahead doesn’t mean using people, and it’s possible to succeed and be a decent person at the same time.

Lastly, I’ll say Andrew Neyer’s “Stop Making Cents”. Andrew is a close friend of mine, and along the way we’ve both been very supportive of one another. We’ve always encouraged each other to charge fair rates and never to sell ourselves short.  I was so thrilled to share this piece of his with the world.

Lisa: There are so many fantastic artists and designers in the book. How did you begin to think about and select all the people in the book?

Andy: The number one criteria for this book was creative wisdom. I genuinely started with a list of people who had made an massive impact on me and had illustrated some of their wisdom visually.   Many of these folks profoundly changed my perspective and in turn my creative career with their work, their writing and their talks.

Lisa: One of the things I love about the book is the diversity of pep-talks, but also the fact that in some ways you can distill most of them down to a few key points: 1) believe in yourself (and your ideas), 2) don’t give up and 3) take risks. Your own advice in the book is about our infiniteness and potentiality when we believe in ourselves and in the power of our ideas. Say more about how that idea has played out in your own experience.

Andy: Looking back it’s very clear to me: this whole life is first and foremost a mind game with ourselves. Essentially, I’ve spent the past 9 years trying to find the right perspective or mental breakthrough that allowed me to trick myself into making progress. I am convinced that we are all infinitely more capable than we could ever imagine, and we can rise to this potential if we can just find the tricks and tips to get out of our own way.

For instance, from age 15 – 21, I was in a cycle of self destructive tendencies. They kept my self esteem low and convinced me that I was doomed to a live a life of defeat and failure. In that time frame I made some friends that pulled me out of this. When these people I respected and admired saw me as an equal, it changed the way I saw myself. This helped me break free of these cycles.

I see it in my creative career too. Every so often someone I look up to or admire or see as an ‘untouchable’ will reach out and encourage me. It always increases my self worth and belief in my own potential. For many of us we had teachers that did this for us, but I think many of us need this kind of mentorship throughout our entire lives! In short: seek these people out!

Lisa: What do you hope people who read your book get out of it? What do you hope they walk away with?

Andy: I hope at the very least they come away with some hope for the future of their creative work and that this hope helps them to make progress. On a deeper level, I secretly hope that this book will act as a kind of mentor in the form of a hardback book! I hope that its wisdom comes to them in the exact right moments to act as a catalyst for real breakthrough.

 Lisa: What is next for you? What are you working on now? (Here just feel free to share anything fun or exciting that you are working on!)

Andy: I don’t think I can say much about it at this point, but I’m working on a book that I write and illustrate that is very in line with the stuff I talk about on the podcast. So stay tuned for that!

Lisa: Where can people find you online?

Andy: www.andyj.pizza instagram: @andyjpizza and twitter: @andyjpizza

Thank you Lisa!! This was amazing. Thank you so much for everything you do for the creative community!!! 😀

Lisa: Buy the book here or wherever books are sold!

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Sam Kalda: Of Cats and Men

05/24/17

If you have been following my blog for the last few years, you know that I do interviews periodically with people I admire — mostly fellow artists and writers. A couple of years ago, I discovered the work of illustrator Sam Kalda. Sam came to a book signing for my book Art Inc in Brooklyn back in 2014, and introduced himself to me after the signing. I looked him up the next day, fell in love with his work immediately and asked him for an interview. You can read that original 2015 interview with Sam here to get to know his story.

Recently, Sam, whose career has continued to grow over the past couple of years, published his first book, Of Cats and Men: Profiles of History’s Great Cat Loving Artists, Writers, Thinkers and Statesmen. I love this book so much (and I am sure you will too) that I decided to have Sam back to chat with him again. Welcome back to Sam Kalda!

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Lisa: Sam, I absolutely love this book! Tell us about how the book came to be?

Sam: Thank you! As long as I can remember, I’ve loved to draw and loved cats. I began the book while in my first year of the MFA in illustration program at FIT. In college, I came across photos of Marlon Brando and Jean Cocteau with their cats. In these gorgeous black and white photos, cats seemed to unite these two very different fellows. They were the first members of this rag tag gentleman’s club that evolved into Of Cats and Men.

Lisa: Demystify the CAT MAN for us. How are Cat Men different from Cat Ladies (or are they?). What are the defining characteristics of Cat Men?

Sam: The book’s introduction serves as a kind of “Catman” manifesto (Catmanifesto?) that’s playful rebuttal of the bizarre way we gender animals and of the cruel “crazy cat lady” stereotype. The way I like to think of it, Catmen are enlightened fellows standing alongside their cat-loving sisters as “crazy cat men.”

Lisa: When I read the book (and part of what I love about it), I couldn’t help but think about what your research phase must have looked like. How does one go about finding out which men from history were Cat Men? And then how did you manage to learn so much about their cats and life with cats? It seems so obscure!

Sam: I had the benefit of time in accumulating these characters—an early version of the book is about four to five years old. The project was always in the background, so I could be a bit of a magpie and pick up ideas here and there. I love to read and do research, and collected books about cats in art history, literature, etc.

In terms of finding the subjects, the writers were probably the easiest to find as they tend to leave an extensive paper trail of their thoughts. I discovered Balthus’ cats at a show at the Met. I love Murakami novels and anyone who’s read Murakami know’s he loves cats—especially cats that can talk to humans. I had classmates and later fans of the project send me suggestions of people they came across while reading, or while surfing the web. In fact, George Balanchine was recommended by a friend in an Instagram message. From there, I just worked one by one to unearth interesting stories and anecdotes to really confirm their Cat Man “credentials.”

Lisa: Oh, what would we do without the internet! It’s a virtual treasure trove. Who did you discover in your research that surprised you the most?

Sam: I’m not sure surprised is the right word, but I was absolutely delighted by some real gems discovered in the research phase. For instance, while reading up on Maurice Ravel, I came across a biography stating that he (Ravel) was one of the first men in Paris to wear pastels. Amazing. Another favorite anecdote about the painter Balthus didn’t make it into the book. According to one writer, Balthus was known to refer to himself as “The Thirteenth King of Cats.” Balthus came to the number thirteen because the capillaries in one of his eyes vaguely resembled the number 13. Research can occasionally be dull, but I live for those eccentric tidbits.

Lisa:  I love the section in the end about robots and cats, because it begs the question: what is the future of cat men? And what role has the internet played in making us all cat people again? How do cats make us all — even robots — more human?

Sam: Originally, I envisioned the narrative voice in Of Cats and Men to be reminiscent of Werner Herzog at his most “out there.” While that changed slightly, my inner Herzog gave me permission to go a little Sci-Fi in the conclusion.  I’m little prone to Luddite paranoia and certainly had fun camping that up.

You’re very right to say that basically everyone is now a cat person because of the internet. But our everyday interactions are so mediated by devices. We are very uncomfortable with being present and unoccupied. I think spending time with cats—animals in general—is something that is fundamentally good for us. It keeps us present and strengthens our reserves of empathy. Ergo, cats make us more human. Art can do that too, but *most* art unfortunately is not covered in fur.

  

Lisa: If you could spend a day with any one of the men (and his cats) profiled in your book, who would you choose and why?

Sam: Probably Edward Gorey. Maybe go antiquing and browse some used bookstores around Cape Cod? Talk about the virtues of fog? Sounds joyous.

{Sam and his cat, Sister}

Lisa: Tell us about your cat! What is her name, how old is she and what is she like?

Sam: Her name is Sister. She’s a 10 year old black and white long hair and looks like a nun wearing a habit. I think that’s my Catholic school kid coming out. She was born in a boiler room in Brooklyn and now lives with her two dads in a small, well-curated apartment. Like all house cats, she’s a rags to riches story.

  

Lisa: I love it! Sister is very lucky. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, and for making this book! It’s a gift (And I’ll literally be gifting it to many cat men in my life!). You can get it here and wherever books are sold.

Sam: Thank you, Lisa!

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