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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.

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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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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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