Category Archives: Pop Culture

The Woman Who Says No: Françoise Gilot on her life with and without Picasso by Malte Herwig

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While reflecting on the past year, I received The Woman Who Says No: Françoise Gilot on her life with and without Picasso by Malte Herwig from a dear friend of mine. I immediately read the book and found much of what the artist said to ring true. I found many shared philosophies between Gilot and my artist friends, which reaffirmed what I learned and accomplished in New York City and gave me renewed motivation for the new year.

The Woman Who Says No reads like an extended interview where there is a process of discovery made by the author through first-hand accounts of his meetings, analysis of the artist’s remarkable life, and insight into her positive yet pragmatic outlook on life. The book reveals the wisdom Gilot has earned throughout her lifetime.

Image result for the woman who says no

First off, she recommends being open and pushing oneself. Gilot states, “If you want to really live, you must risk living on the edge; otherwise, life isn’t worth it. When you open yourself to risk, you will also experience bad things, but mostly you will learn a lot and live and understand more and more. Most importantly, you will not be bored. The very worst thing is to be bored.”

Gilot believes that nothing can be accomplished without discipline. “Discipline is essential. Without it, even intuition won’t help you. And you must practice. Always practice.” She also stresses that, “We must work with our skills as we work with our mistakes.”

With that discipline, Gilot notes that there comes an understanding that one must not be too hard on oneself. “You shouldn’t expect too much of yourself. Don’t begin with an enormous canvas when you are just starting to paint.”

Finally, Gilot expresses the need for a sense of self and the search for the truth. “I am only interested in people who are searching for the truth. Most things in life are like a stage set, an illusion behind which hides another and another and so on. The vast majority of people gave up on the search for truth long ago. There are very few who really want to glimpse behind the façade and it all comes down to those people. Truth is always what is most important to me, even if it is unpleasant.”

I found inspiration in what Gilot had to say but, I was most struck by the way in which Gilot spoke about her life. She was very centered, never bitter, and passionate about her art, her past, and her future. I enjoyed learning about her experiences and the advice she had to offer. I also love how she hasn’t conformed to what people would expect of her and how she continues to push herself in her 90s.

All in all, The Woman Who Says No is a refreshing yet grounded reprieve from the chaos and negativity in the world today. I recommend it to those looking for insight and encouragement.

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Maks & Val: Our Way

Maks and Val

Dancing With the Stars is a great show because above all of the glitz and kicks, it conveys how anything is possible through hard work and commitment. I had the pleasure of seeing two of the show’s stars express this theme in their own live performance, Maks & Val: Our Way, which detailed the Chmerkovskiy brothers’ journey from the Ukraine into the hearts of Americans.

Accompanied by a cast of six dancers, Maks and Val told their story through dance vignettes highlighting transformative moments in their lives along with video montages and onstage interludes in which the brothers would poke fun at each other.

The show began with a video of Maks and Val’s father discussing the decision to send Maks to dance school at age four and the reason for leaving Ukraine ten years later in 1994. In preparation for their move to the US, their father wrote inspirational quotes on their kitchen wall such as, “If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail,” and, “We wil surviv.”

It was evident that Maks and Val were grateful to their parents for giving them the opportunity to dance and to move to the US. To make the best of their opportunity, they dedicated themselves to dancing and lived by the philosophy that it takes doing something 1,000 times in order to do it well. Maks started teaching dance in New Jersey and dancing at restaurants on the weekends to help support his family, and Val trained to win the first-ever world junior championship for the US team in 2001.

My favorite part of the show featured Maks as a dance instructor attempting to teach a group of unruly three year-olds to do the salsa. Eventually, under Maks’ direction, the students successfully worked their way through all of the dance styles. I loved how it showcased Maks’ discipline, patience, and drive.

I also enjoyed Val’s dramatic interpretation of love in the second act. The fusion of dance styles – in which the female dancers were portrayed as violins – conveyed the intensity and intricacies of love. Val also played the violin during the show.

Our Way also featured some comic relief revealing more about the Chmerkovskiy’s relationship. At one point, the brothers found themselves dancing together, prompting Maks to correct Val’s hold. During Drake’s “One Dance,” Maks executed a few booty-shaking solos, causing Val to role his eyes. They even brought a woman – from my hometown – onstage to be Maks’ prom date for a cute skit in which they were crowned prom king and queen.

All in all, Maks & Val: Our Way was an entertaining and heartwarming show underscoring the importance of hard work. Not only did I come away with a greater understanding of the Chmerkovskiy brothers, but with inspiration to keep working toward my goals. As Maks and Val took their final bow to Justin Timberlake’s new song, “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” Val remarked, “Thank you for supporting the arts.” Amen to that.

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Captivology: The Science of Capturing People’s Attention

Captivology
Captivology: The Science of Capturing People’s Attention caught my attention at my friend’s apartment (when I was helping her move from Boston to Little Rock). I was curious to learn what the author Ben Parr had to say about rising “above the noisy crowd,” especially given my experience in public relations and marketing, and seeing firsthand how Buzzfeed and Broad City have become pop culture mainstays. Among the reasons why Beyoncé is popular and why we tend to agree with the crowd, I learned the following from reading this book:

 

  1. Attention is the conduit through which we experience our world.
  2. Wear the color red – Our brains are hard-wired to “ignore everything that isn’t necessary to goals,” so we rely on a variety of stimuli to direct our attention through what Parr calls “automaticity triggers.” Red not only stands out, but it also signifies competence.
  3. Offer someone a warm drink – Touch is another important sensory cue, and it turns out that people who hold warm objects are more likely to give positive attention and are more cooperative.
  4. It’s difficult to change someone’s frame of reference – Parr calls this the “inertia of ideas” because over time, we don’t have the mental capacity to continuously reassess our beliefs.
  5. We may believe something is true because we’ve heard it a thousand times – This is known as the “illusion-of-truth effect” and it demonstrates how the familiarity of a statement may impact our assessment of its validity.
  6. There is a certain number of times an audience can be exposed to something – This is known as “effective frequency.” The repetition may cause an audience to engage or it may just become worthless.
  7. Disrupt – It’s easy to capture attention by disrupting expectations through a) surprise, b) simplicity, and c) significance. Significance is the most important because a great ad or campaign won’t be successful unless it’s meaningful.
  8. FOMO – We really do have the “fear of missing out” also known as the “commodity theory,” where the more scarce something is, the more we value it.
  9. We want to be rewarded – Parr discusses intrinsic and extrinsic rewards and how we place more value–and thus pay more attention to–intrinsic rewards such as positive feedback from a boss.
  10. Imagery is a powerful motivator – Because we aren’t so great at grasping esoteric concepts, we go after rewards that we can visualize.
  11. Reputation matters – Turns out that talent is not the best predictor of popularity, reputation is. We rely on three types of reputable sources for directing our attention such as a) experts through knowledge and wisdom, b) authority figures through ability to command obedience, and c) the crowd through its collection of knowledge. Reputation is built by consistency, personality, and time.
  12. Credibility is a shortcut to building reputation – While still building a reputation, one can use a reputable person or company also known as a “validator” to back a pitch.
  13. Confront the crisis – It’s best to respond quickly and thoughtfully when faced with a difficult situation. The longer a misconception is allowed to linger, the more likely it is to stick.
  14. We agonize over mystery – Suspense is a powerful tool to capture and hold our attention because of our “compulsion for completion.”
  15. Being acknowledged is important to us – We have an extreme desire to be recognized, validated, and understood by others, and so we direct our attention towards anything that affirms our identity. Social media is very important because we can instantly and immediately be validated.

All in all, I found Captivology to be an insightful and informative book about the variety of ways to capture attention. I also enjoyed reading historic examples of marketing campaigns such as Edna Murphy and James Webb Young’s campaign to make antiperspirants the cultural norm and Russell Birdwell’s campaign to drive interest and thus ticket sales for Gone with the Wind. Through these and many other examples, I gained valuable knowledge that I can use in my personal life and professional career. I definitely recommend this book.

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In the Heart of the Sea: Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick

in-the-heart-of-the-seaI think Nathaniel Philbrick puts it best in his epilogue when he says, “The Essex disaster is not a tale of adventure. It is a tragedy that happens to be one of the greatest true stories ever told.”

The story of the Essex and its 20 member crew is the subject of Philbrick’s book, In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex. Setting the scene of culture of Nantucket, the whaling industry, and the psychology and physiology of starvation, dehydration and more, this book graphically details the harrowing plight of the seamen who were cast out in the middle of the Pacific ocean for more than 90 days. It is the story that Herman Melville’s Moby Dick is based on. And although it is based on fact, it is discomforting at times.

Whaleship Essex Route MapIt is hard for me to imagine what it’s like to be lost, let alone disconnected to our modern world. It is hard for me to even imagine being put in those circumstances. I have read The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger (which had too much technical jargon and not enough about the culture of Gloucester, Massachusetts) and Endurace: Shackleton’s Incredible Adventure about Ernest Shackleton’s voyage to Antarctica describing what it is like to be stranded at the end of the world. I am interested in exploration and sailing but it is the fact that the members of the Essex were so pushed to the brink, sucking the marrow from their former colleagues bones, that caused me to have nightmares.

I cringed when they cut open the tortoises and drank their blood. I took a moment when the first crew member (aside from Matthew Joy died) and they decided to eat him. I cried out when Owen Coffin drew his lot. The worst part for me was not that they were forced into these circumstances, but that they could have suffered less. They could have sailed west to the islands of Asia with the invisible threat of encountering cannibal tribes. Instead, they sailed southeast to Chile and were forced into cannibalism. A terrible irony.

All in all, what I enjoyed about this book were the historical and scientific facts that Philbrick seamlessly incorporated into the amazing story. I loved learning about the culture of Nantucket, the Quakerism, the dependence upon whaling, and the camaraderie.

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Why ‘Dancing with the Stars’ is my guilty pleasure

Dancing with the Stars

Three simple words sum up why Dancing with the Stars is my guilty pleasure: Pure Entertainment Factor.

From start to finish the seasonal ballroom dancing television show places celebrities (of whatever list) with a professional partner to compete for the coveted “Mirror Ball Trophy.” 10 weeks of competition, multiple styles of dance and dozens of stories of hardship and heartbreak make for the most entertaining show on television.

Where else can you find Superbowl champions cha-cha-ing against 1980’s television stars? Nowhere. And to do it with such finesse and fun makes it totally worth watching. Every week is a new surprise. Jennifer Grey relives her time in Dirty Dancing. Kirstie Alley loses a shoe! Bristol Palin wears a monkey suit. The perfect meets the comical meets the absurd – and all live.

A true Hollywood production that harkens back to the golden days yet folds in reality television. A genius show. For the following reasons:

  1. Live – It is unpredictable what happens when the cameras roll.
  2. Lowbrow – This show is made for all Americans to enjoy. (Trust me, I watched Mira Quien Baila cuando vivía en España y el talento no es el mismo.)
  3. Glitz – The makeup, hair, spray tans, abs, costumes, sets, and live music create a heightened environment for the dancers to exceed expectations.
  4. Sportsmanship – At the end of the day, it is a competition and whether they are Olympic athletes or “reality tv” stars, these celebrities and professional dancers want to compete, want to grow their audience, and want to impress their agents with their versatility – all making for good sport.
  5. Proper judging – This ain’t America’s Best Dance Crew where Lil Mama is saying, “You danced. You danced!” as if she were merely stating a fact. This is educated professionals judging the performers on technique, choreography, and performance. Their thoughts are [for the most part] fleshed out and in keeping with their onscreen personas.
  6. Creativity – Every week there is a new surprise for the dancers and it is up to the professionals to bring something new to the audience who may or may have not been watching for the past 13 seasons. I know that Derek Hough, Cheryl Burke, and Mark Ballas Jr. always bring out new and exciting choreography as well as the best in their partners.
  7. Tom Bergeron – cracks me up. He is the king of ad-lib. Plus Brooke Burke-Charvet always looks glamorous and asks the hard-hitting questions.
  8. And last but certainly not least – Kirstie Alley – who can put on a show like no one else.

Kirstie Alley and Maksim Chmerkovskiy

Honorable mentions for the All-Star Season go to that clusterf*ck of a group dance known as Gangnam Style and to Carrie Ann Inaba for FALLING OFF HER CHAIR.

All in all, I appreciate Dancing with the Stars for continuing to entertain and being a classier and more fun version of Celebrity Rehab. Just kidding.

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My sentiments exactly

I don’t like to discuss politics too much but this video by Sarah Sophie Flicker sums up how I’m feeling about this election. I invite you to sing along to Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me.”

“You Don’t Own Me” PSA -Official from You Don’t Own Me on Vimeo.

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The Value of Art by Michael Findlay

Michael Findlay, The Value of ArtAlways on the path towards further enlightenment in my career, I recently read Michael Findlay’s The Value of Art published by Prestel.

Findlay, an art market veteran who has worked as a private dealer, auction house specialist, and appraiser, discusses the value of art through three lenses – the commercial, social, and essential. The book teaches how the art market functions through its various channels and gives entertaining and telling anecdotes along the way. For some people art is a financial investment, for others it is for showing off in front of friends, and for a few, an artwork strikes an emotional chord within them.

Jasper Johns, White Flag, 1955.

Jasper Johns, White Flag, 1955. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. A work that Johns refused to sell – for him, it wasn’t worth it.

I enjoyed how Findlay was able to contextualize a theoretical overview of the art market, explaining that the price tag on an artwork carries a lot of meaning. Rarity, provenance, and the artist’s market are just a few of the ways to measure the market value of a work.

The most intriguing part of the book for me was to hear Findlay’s opinion about how the art market has changed over the years and where he sees it going. I found it quite interesting how he called the next “ism” after the Pop and Post-Modern movements, “Commercialism” – meaning that artworks fit into the context of being sold.

All in all, I found The Value of Art to be quite comprehensive and a pleasurable read.

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