“Thus, while science endeavours to transform the chaotic variety of natural phenomena into what may be called a cosmos of nature, the humanities endeavour to transform the chaotic variety of human records into what may be called a cosmos of culture.”—Erwin Panofsky, from ‘The History of Art as Humanistic Discipline’, 1940.
Tonight I experienced a major Aha! moment, a breakthrough in validating my thesis topic. This was all made possible by listening to Jonah Lehrer deliver a lecture on decision making at SCAD. He presented material from his latest book How We Decide, which explains how exactly our mind intuitively decides. I haven’t read it (yet), but Lehrer’s first book Proust Was a Neuroscientist was in my stack of initial thesis research. So I was surprised to see his name on the college events calendar. Had I not checked my student email message on Monday, I would have missed it.
Thankfully, and as a result of just listening to what he was saying, I was able to cement my idea(s). Lehrer gave six reasons, each with anecdotes, to formulate good decision making. It’s because of this that I decided my thesis topic already existed. But rather than let it happen naturally, I put too much stress on myself to find a starting point. What an epiphany! Here’s his advice in a nutshell:
1. Be an outsider. Think outside the familiar.
2. Learn to relax. Let your mind figure it out.
3. Make friends lots of different people. Rage against the self-similarity principle.
4. Don’t eat the marshmallow.
5. Learn how to allocate your attention. Harness your mind.
6. Nurture your talents. (Self-explanatory.)
My excitement for this is overwhelming. I feel ready and fully-equipped to trust my brain, start researching full-on and write my thesis proposal by the end of the quarter, which I need to do anyway in order to register for it. Phew. Big sigh of relief.
If you’re interested, the lecture can be seen in its entirety at FORA.tv (previously recorded in January 2010 in Palo Alto, California). I highly recommend watching this or reading the book. Maybe it will lead to your own Aha!
Around mid-August or early September Jonathan and I travel north to get our fix of museums, galleries, and restaurants mostly absent from our sleepy southern town. We overload ourselves with art, air and space, and vegetarian food. It’s our tradition. This year, luck was on our side and magical experiences ensued.
Our first major stop was (of course) the District of Columbia where we saw Michael Benson's exhibition Beyond: Visions of Our Solar System at the National Air and Space Museum. Benson dug through NASA’s archives of images taken by fifty-years worth of interplanetary spacecrafts sent to explore neighboring planetary bodies. The multiframed images and carefully composed crops transport robotic exploration into a more human realm.
I looked at the photographs and forgot about the droids and rovers. I imagined looking out the window of my pressurized spacecraft; I was there and I saw the surface fractures in the Atla region of Venus with my own eyes. Neptune couldn’t look any more beautiful than it does as a blue haze and Martian landscapes are most interesting when the weather is extreme. After falling gracefully back to reality, I realized that the frames of the photographs were a little dusty and in need of straightening. But it didn’t burst my bubble.
I’ve always been impressed with the displays in the Air & Space Museum. The Smithsonian employs a talented staff to help guide and inform the viewer during their visit. I took photos of my favorites (like the one above) for my archive just in case I land a curator position at the museum in the near future and need to look up past exhibitions.
The last stop in D.C. was the Natural History Museum. There’s a lot to see, but I chose to wander through the Geology, Gems and Minerals floor. It blows my mind that the Earth can produce crystals from dissolved minerals. I found a new obsession with Celestite—not just because of the name. (The crystal below is Elbaite on top of Quartz.)
New York City was up next so we took a bus into town for a three day adventure. Two shopSCAD artists, Monica Cook and Summer Wheat, were generous to offer an air mattress in their relatively newly-moved-into apartment in Brooklyn. (Their place is huge! And all of the walls are lined with ornate tin tiles.)
Our trip was semi-planned with room for spur-of-the-moment. I had a long list of Chelsea galleries to visit, but Chelsea was pretty much closed for installation in its entirety. It wasn’t too much of a bummer though because we had a two-part mission: 1) see Yoshitomo Nara’s Nobody’s Foolexhibition at Asia Society; and 2) see Tom Sachs's studio.
Nara’s show opened Thursday, September 9th at 11am. We were there within a half an hour after the doors opened. This was my first experience seeing Nara’s work up close and personal. It was definitely personal. Reproductions and photographs can’t hold a candle to the real thing. But beyond seeing the work in person, we experienced two floors with work from the eighties on up. In the collection: paintings, drawings, ceramics, puppies, dolls, LPs, and two of Nara’s collaborative houses previously used in the A to Z exhibition. In quintessential YNG fashion, one of the rooms was transformed from a gallery space into a guided tour of Nara-land with curtains, wood-planked floors, and child-sized windows that you had to duck down to get a peak of the work.
I got caught up in the details: scale between small sketches and large ceramics and paintings, printmaking-esque textures and techniques, layered colors that bled through from underneath of the cream/whites, choice of fabrics for the curtains and pillows in the houses, the music playing in the background, and so on. I was amazed to see that Little Star Dweller's stars were sparkling under the lights. You can't see them in the reproduction, but Nara added glitter to the stars!
I was surprised to find a published catalog of the exhibit in the Asia Society store. We also bought a DVD called Traveling with Yoshitomo Nara, which follows Nara for a few years on his journey away from isolation and into collaboration.
The next day we landed a studio visit at Tom Sachs & Company, which is by appointment only. As soon as we stepped through the doors, we were surrounded by space gloves, tyvek, Space Program remnants, 3-ring-binders full of reference, retro electronics, hello kitties and tools galore. The studio manager showed us around before the rest of the staff arrived to work and the studio was alive. This was the reason we got to see the entire operation including maquettes for projects in the coming weeks and years. (One of which, Space Program 2.0, has sparked interest and involvement from NASA. You can imagine my excitement!)
Everything—and I mean everything—was meticulously catalogued and labeled. To be expected. All I could think was, All of my research for spring quarter’s final research paper, SACHS V. KOONS*, is living and breathing in front of me. Even better than seeing it displaced into a gallery installation.
We were able to purchase a signed and editioned Stanley Kubrick tape measure during our visit, which Jonathan will most likely use during the creation of his thesis exhibition. Don’t worry: Tom Sachs would be happy to know it’s being used.
As well as some Sachs custom Sharpies. One of which went to miss Katie Kane for her birthday.
This is just a highlight of our trip. I feel especially blessed to see Nobody’s Fool and Tom Sachs’s studio. Both experiences are beyond memorable. I even established my thesis topic as a result! All of the photos can be found here.
* I need to revise the paper (along with another unrelated paper) before adding it to my essays.