Balloons and the Politics of Joy

30 July 2016 by Ingrid

TheAestheticsOfJoy Balloons Overview1

Whew. It’s been an intensely political few weeks, and I’ve been finding it hard to keep from reading all the news alerts the minute they pop up on my phone.

He said what??

They did that??

Who hacked whom??

It has been alternately shocking and inspiring, distressing and uplifting. An emotion-filled roller coaster, whatever your politics. (I’ll keep my personal views out of it, except to say that watching the first female presidential nominee in America claim her nomination was meaningful to me in a way I couldn’t have anticipated. I think this tweet summed it up best.) But I don’t think anyone quite realized how amped up we all were until those balloons started falling.

They’re just balloons, people! Just pockets of rubber filled with air. But falling ten-thousand strong from the ceiling of the Philadelphia Convention Center, they were an inexorable wave of joy. Watching it on the livestream, it felt like a joyful kind of snow. Red, white, and blue orbs mixed with confetti, drifting slowly downwards onto the jubilant crowd below.

Suddenly, the tweets streaming into my feed weren’t about policy or who put who in their place or who said WHAT?! It was a collective outpouring of elation, as photos and gifs of Bill, Hillary, Tim Kaine, and others playing with balloons started pinging around the web. Suddenly, all these serious politicians were playing like kids.

Balloons seem to have this power to bypass all our adult reserve and beckon our inner children to the surface. Their lightness and roundness—like so many other childhood toys (think of beach balls, or bubbles, which do the same thing)—are like a primal invitation to play. It’s almost impossible not to reach out to try to catch them, swat them, or throw them when they’re falling near you. Even watching at home, there’s a pleasure to be gained just from seeing all these serious politicians behave like preschoolers (and not in the name-calling, squabbling way, but in the giggling, playful one).

Maybe it’s just reassuring to know there’s something as deep and human as joy that alive inside our leaders. That our government of, for, and by the people is helmed by people. And not just people who are capable of feeling the indignation that propels them to fight against injustice, or the courage that enables them to make the hard, awful decisions. But people who are capable of feeling joy, and sharing joy. Because in a union that will always be imperfect, joy is the most equalizing, leveling force we have, and it’s far more effective than hate.

For more, check out:

Pride and Joy

30 June 2016 by Ingrid

PrideBalloons Human Etisk Forbund

I watched the various LGBT Pride celebrations fill my social media feeds with rainbows this past weekend and thought about how powerful that flag is. Lots of communities have symbols, but few have the kind of resonance of the rainbow, and the ability to bind a community in a joyful way. It made me curious about the history behind it.

I discovered that the rainbow flag has long been associated with peace movements, even before becoming the symbol of pride. In 1978, the artist Gilbert Baker was asked by Harvey Milk to come up with a symbol for the gay community. There’s some suggestion that Baker was inspired by the rainbow peace flags carried by anti-war hippies. Baker created a design that had eight stripes, each color having a specific meaning (red for life, orange for healing, and so on). Eventually the pink and turquoise stripes were dropped, resulting in the simpler version that’s in use today. The first flags were hand-dyed and stitched by thirty volunteers for the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade on June 25th, 1978. After Milk was assassinated that November, demand for the flags grew rapidly.

It’s a wonderful choice for a symbol. It has such an inviting quality. What kind of person could hate a rainbow? Rather than create distance out of difference, it reaches out to bridge the divide. And for those who for too long were compelled to hide their identities, it does the opposite of camouflage — it creates a sanctuary that is vibrantly, beautifully visible.

Image: Human-Etisk Forbund (via Flickr, under a CC license)

What is art for?

26 May 2016 by Ingrid

TheAestheticsOfJoy Monet Waterlilies Chichu

“Cheerfulness is an achievement, and hope is something to celebrate.”

I was struck by this sentence as I was reading Alain de Botton’s Art as Therapy. For those of us who believe the world needs more joy, this idea is itself something to celebrate. The sentence arises as de Botton is pointing out that artworks deemed “pretty” are often devalued by the art establishment in favor of more challenging or ideologically provocative pieces. Yet these are often the pieces that people without deep training in art gravitate towards and hang on their walls. (How else to explain the proliferation of Thomas Kinkade through malls around the country?) Most people engage far more with art on an emotional level than an intellectual one.

De Botton’s argument for “pretty,” which has roots all the way back in his book Architecture of Happiness, is that art can help us live better by inciting emotions that we don’t get to feel enough in the course of day-to-day life. He points out that good cheer is not effortless, and that art can be uplifting in a way that counterbalances our struggles. (Literally, in de Botton’s view, art can be therapy, opening a space for dreaming and hope.) He writes:

If optimism is important, it’s because many outcomes are determined by how much of it we bring to the task. It is an important ingredient of success. This flies in the face of the elite view that talent is the primary requirement of a good life, but in many cases the difference between success and failure is determined by nothing more than our sense of what is possible and the energy we can muster to convince others of our due. We might be doomed not by a lack of skill, but by an absence of hope. Today’s problems are rarely created by people taking too sunny a view of things, it is because the troubles of the world are so continually brought to our attention that we need tools that can preserve our hopeful dispositions.

What I love is that de Botton makes a case for joyful art as being at least as useful as “high art,” if not even more so.  Emotions and beauty together have a history of being either maligned as seducing us away from what’s important or derided as trivial. And here we have a succinct argument for visceral beauty as both powerful and beneficial.

In de Botton’s fantasy, art galleries might be constructed with therapeutic objectives in mind, with sections designed to soothe anxiety, pains of love, angst about work, the self, and other stressors. Until then, enjoy your waterlilies! I know I did at the Chichu museum on Naoshima Island, shown above. Like the Orangerie in Paris, this gallery was purpose-built for Monet’s most decadent and dreamy of creations, keeping the light at just the right glowy translucency to let you get lost in the colors.

More…

For more of de Botton’s take on the healing power of art, see the Art as Therapy website
For a great read exploring the evolutionary origins of our attraction to art: The Art Instinct, by Denis Dutton

Four joyful design trends to watch

17 May 2016 by Ingrid

AestheticsOfJoy_4_Joyful_Trends

Independent design is having a pretty great moment. So much experimentation and collaboration. Yesterday I managed to sneak out for a bit to catch the tail end of Sight Unseen Offsite, a showcase of mostly independent designers of housewares, furniture, ceramics, textiles, and a little bit of jewelry that runs for a few days every year in May. I made it with an hour left in the show, and I couldn’t be happier that I tore myself away from my computer to go.

Design tends to cycle between three poles: the body, the head, and the heart. When design is focused on the body, everything becomes physical. Designers play with balance, with comfort, with materials. Then we go through a moment where design is focused on the head, and everything becomes an intellectual exercise. Designs become thought experiments, expressions of ideologies. And then there are the sweet moments when design is all “heart.” It leads with the emotions, with color, texture, and form.

What I saw today, and what I’ve been seeing in fashion as well, is that design is in that “heart” moment, full of vibrant, exuberant energy. Occasionally it can get a little samey-samey, with the embrace of Memphis-style motifs (more on that below) appearing on everything, but overall it is hopeful to see so many independent designers thriving by putting joy out into the world.

Here are my favorite finds, and four joyful trends to keep an eye on.

1AestheticsOfJoy PigmentNotPaint

1. Pigment, not paint

I saw a lot of designers using pigments to color materials intrinsically, rather than paint them. What this means is subtle colors with satin finishes and unique textural treatments. One of the things I like about this method is that it creates unpredictable, one-of-a-kind pieces because different colored materials can be mixed or layered. For example, I love Felt+Fat’s swirled porcelain plates (1), which are being snapped up by chefs because they make an incomparable canvas for inventive cuisine.

See also: Elyse Graham’s layered plaster vessels (2) and side tables from M Material (3), which are made from tinted layered cement.

3AestheticsOfJoy Neo Memphis

2. Neo-Memphis

The revival of Memphis style, the Italian design movement from the 80s full of geometric shapes and bright colors, was heralded in 2014 by design writer Alissa Walker. (She describes it as PeeWee’s Playhouse meets Miami Vice, which is kind of an amazing summary.) Two years later, it feels like the neo-Memphis movement has fully taken root and designers are ratcheting up the squiggly, zigzag, confetti-like patterns with even more color and layering. Case in point: these towels, cushions, and clothes by DusenDusen (3, 5).

See also: Studio Proba x Chiaozza’s Suspended Confetti installation (2), The Granite’s ceramics (1), and the Block Party seating by Print All Over Me x Various Projects (4).

4AestheticsOfJoy QuirkyGeometries

3. Quirky geometries

The other way Memphis is cropping up is in the quirky geometries that designers are embracing. Aelfie’s op-art patterned polygonal stools (4) were one example, Merve Kahraman’s circle and semi-circle chair and mirror design (2) are another.

See also: Zoe Mowat’s brush study (1), a part of an excellent group show on reinterpreted Shaker design, and the playful face vases by Saint Karen (3).

2AestheticsOfJoy Dusty Brights

4. Dusty brights

Lastly, an observation on color. I tend to favor bright, saturated colors over greyed out, muddy ones, but right now there’s a color palette that is like 90% bright with a hint of softness that is popping up everywhere. I love this, especially if you want to use a lot of different colors together. It’s got a kind of sun-bleached, midsummer vibe that is super-livable. One of my favorite examples from yesterday is pretty much everything by designer Dana Haim: textiles, rugs, and even those sweet little watercolor studies of her pattern designs (2, 3, 5, 6).

See also: Baskets by Studio Gorm (1), tableware by Felt+Fat (4).

One of the best things about going to design shows like this is getting to know so many awesome new designers. Who are your favorite independent designers?

Moodboards composed with Trays

A glossary of joys

13 May 2016 by Ingrid

Aoj mbuki mvuki

Njoki shared with me this great piece in The New Yorker about the Positive Lexicography Project, an attempt by psychologist Tim Lomas to catalog all the words in different languages that express subtle and sometimes culturally specific forms of joy. I couldn’t help but love this word mbuki-mvuki, which means “to shed clothes to dance uninhibited” in Bantu.

Mbuki-mvuki may not be in your plans this weekend, but I hope some other joyful things are, whether that’s utepils (Norwegian for “a beer that is enjoyed outside…particularly on the first hot day of the year”), volta (Greek for “a leisurely stroll”) or just boketto (Japanese for “gazing off into the distance”). Happy Friday and enjoy!

Read: “The Glossary of Happiness”
Full list here

Five joyful elementary schools from around the world

9 May 2016 by Ingrid

Little Hall

When you stop to think about it, isn’t it amazing that schools often feature some of the worst architecture? We invest millions in building fancy skylit shopping malls, yet shuttle kids off to learn in grey-beige boxes under fluorescent lights.

Fortunately, there are some brilliant models for schools popping up around the world, especially in the elementary school space. I’ve been collecting these examples for awhile. Seeing them together inspires me to think maybe there’s an opportunity for a sea change in educational architecture. Also, it’s really stinking cute ;)

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Little Hall3

Little Hall, Prestwood Infant School
Buckinghamshire, UK

Designed by UK studios De Rosee Sa and PMR, this school dining hall was inspired by Roald Dahl’s story “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” The colorful battens are used to bring vibrancy to the playground, while the different-sized windows reference the little underground village from the story, “with streets and houses on each side – separate houses for badgers and moles and rabbits and weasels and foxes.”

Images: Jack Hobhouse; for more

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AN Kindergarten
Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan

This kindergarten is an update on a building designed 42 years ago by Hibino Sekkei and Youji no Shiro. In addition to renovating the building for safety, the designers added little house-shaped nooks throughout the space to promote exploration, play, and physical activity. The climbing wall is a nice touch too.

Images: Studio Bauhaus, Kenjiro Yoshimi and Ryuji Inoue; for more

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Flower Kindergarten
Seoul, Korea

This swoon-worthy school, designed by OA Lab, is anchored around a clever staircase that has a slide alongside it, and creates play areas above and below. The facade uses windows in four different sizes with colors matched to the classrooms to enable children to identify their own classroom from the street. Classrooms feature curved walls which create a gentler feel to the space.

Images: Kyungsub Shin; for more

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Kindergarten Kekec
Ljubljana, Slovenia

Arhitektura Jure Kotnik designed this extension to an existing prefab kindergarten. The panels are painted bright colors on one side and plain wood on the other, and aim to address the lack of play equipment at the school, creating a built in play element. It was built and assembled in only three days.

Images: Miran Kambič; for more

DPS Kindergarten2

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DPS Kindergarten4

DPS Kindergarten3

DPS Kindergarten
Bangalore, India

Designed by Khosla Associates, this colorful kindergarten is a prototype for Delhi Public School which will be rolled out across Southern India. The porous screens, made of perforated brick, enable cross-ventilation and soften the barrier between inside and outside.

Images: Shamanth Patil J.; for more

All schools via Dezeen, which has a wonderful repository of beautiful schools to check out.

The thief of joy

3 May 2016 by Ingrid

 

Comparison_is_the_thief_sm

It’s a fine line between inspiration and envy. I walk it daily on Instagram, Pinterest, and all the rest. One second I’m seeing a matcha-chia pudding recipe I can’t wait to try or a painting technique I want to experiment with, and the next I’m looking at someone’s gorgeous skylit studio and feeling a wash of self-pity over my little kitchen counter setup. At its best, social media appeals to my curiosity, my daring, my sensualist seeker. The part of me that leads the way to new joys and discoveries. At its worst, it whispers to my ambition, my competitive nature, feeding my fear that I’m not, nor will I ever be, good enough. It whispers me right into inertia.

Did I say “at its worst”? What I should’ve said is “at my worst”. Because what’s on those channels is just stuff. Whatever the agenda of the sharer, by the time it gets to me, it’s just words and images. And I find if I can stay in the joy of it, without comparing it to my life, then it’s a welcome respite from all the other black-and-white channels of communication in my life. “Comparison is the thief of joy,” said good old TR, and I’m always grateful for the reminder.

It strikes me that we have the word schadenfreude (inherited from the German language) to describe joy in someone’s misfortune, but we don’t have a word in common use for joy in someone’s success. Why does language so often emphasize the negative over the positive? The sanskrit word mudita might come close to what we need. I’ve seen it defined as “reveling in the joy of another”. It takes a certain bravery to embrace mudita, I think. Or at least an awareness that joy is not finite, and that one person’s good fortune does not drain the fortune pool, leaving less for the rest of us. I think our scarcity-wired brains have trouble with this. They’re secretly very good at math, specifically subtraction. They are very good at the zero-sum game.

Yet they are also vulnerable to the sheer beauty of things, and this is for me the best way of out the comparison trap. To wit: the friend who left her paint palette in the rain overnight and came outside to find a rainbow. The friend whose new dog looks exactly, adorably like the emoji of a dog. Even the friend who is always on the beach. Because pictures of ocean waves and palm trees can be a 1-second vacation, if you let them.

How’s your inspiration/envy balance when it comes to social media? Do you have any tricks for staying on the positive side of the line?

{aesthetic of joy} Crystals

28 April 2016 by Ingrid

Crystals moodboard1

stone / print / chair / necklace / studs

For as long as I can remember, my favorite room in the Museum of Natural History has been the Hall of Gems. Not the great hall of dinosaur skeletons, imposing and airy, the favorite zone of most children. Not the dioramas either, with their vibrantly painted landscapes, nor the vast tranquil coolness of the Hall of Ocean Life. But the comparatively inert gallery of rocks and minerals.

The hall is dark, quiet. In my memory it is lined with black velvet, though in reality it’s more like a charcoal grey carpet. The softness and muted sounds contrast with the stones themselves, the meteorites, moon rocks, and micas with their impenetrable surfaces and sharp edges. It was the crystals in particular that enchanted. Each one placed just so, each one lit to highlight its unique properties: sparkly, iridescent, glassy, swirly, faceted, fluorescent.

It’s been years since my last visit, but even in looking at the pictures, I feel a buoyant, almost giddy sense of delight. I’ve often wondered why crystals seem to evoke such passion. There are metaphysical explanations to be sure. Claims about unseen healing forces abound, and searching the internet will produce many a diagram that, like a horoscope, reveals the properties of each stone. (This book, in which crystals are whos and not whats, I present as Exhibit A.) As yet science has produced no supporting evidence, yet many ancient cultures believed in the power of crystals, and they only seem to be rising in popularity these days.

Skeptics of the powers of crystals point jubilantly to a study done in 2001 led by Dr. Christopher French at Goldsmith’s College in London, where 80 volunteers were given a crystal to hold while meditating. Participants reported such salutary effects as more balanced emotions, increased energy levels, relaxation of the forehead, and improved sense of wellbeing. And in fact, only six of the eighty volunteers failed to experience some element of altered state. Yet to the delight of the skeptics, instead of a real crystal, half of the volunteers were unknowingly holding a plastic fake. “Placebo effect!” the doubters proclaim with conviction.

Yet increasingly the evidence for placebo effects is real and compelling. (If you’re interested in this, Jo Marchant’s The Cure and Ellen Langer’s Counter-Clockwise are both excellent, up-to-date resources on the subject.) What intrigues me here is that with crystals, it’s highly possible that the placebo effect is as much a demonstration of the power of aesthetics as it is of the power of thought. The plastic crystal evidently looked and felt real to the participants of the London study. Perhaps it looked colorful and felt energizing, or perhaps it felt silky and looked soothing: to the people who believe only in chemical reactions, those sensorial qualities are inconsequential. But we know that the color of a pill can influence the drug’s efficacy (blue pills, for example, a color often associated with calm, correlate to sleeping pills and relaxants) — even in conventional medicine, aesthetics matter.

Crystals moodboard2

sculpture / candy / soaps / crayons

What if the source of crystals’ purported healing power is really aesthetic, rather than vibrational? I don’t have any data to suggest it is, but certainly it’s worth exploring. Color and translucency are rare attributes in nature, rarer still in the non-living world. Crystals capture and scatter light like few things, save mirrors and water. In fact, crystals are the most orderly of inanimate objects. Their atoms form neat, symmetrical lattices. So perhaps their elegant formations, their color and gloss attract some primal part of us that is attuned to signs of life, perhaps even stoking our impressions that they are animate in some ineffable way. Because what else in nature is that vibrant and yet not alive?

So while I tend to live my life in the land of the empirically verifiable, I also appreciate that some mystery keeps us humble, curious, on our toes. Crystal healing might be tinged with pseudoscience, but crystals themselves are just beautiful rocks, which seems as pleasant as anything else to surround yourself with, whatever their effects.

Just after new year’s, A. and I went to a retreat called Lumeria in the Maui upcountry. All around the garden, giant crystals had been placed among the bromeliads and agaves. I fell madly in love with an enormous amethyst set on a cement podium at the entrance to the lodge. It was the kind of irrational feeling where I caught myself, guiltily, in the middle of a daydream about how I might possibly smuggle such a thing in my suitcase. I didn’t exactly feel vibrations, but I liked its vibe.

Artists: Gemma Smith, Rebecca Chaperon, Eva Fly, Melissa Joy Manning.
Products: Sweet Saba candies, Kikkerland crayons, Pelle handcut soaps, The Heiress Atelier jewelry.

{aesthetic of joy} is an ongoing series that examines different aesthetic elements and explores why they bring us joy. To see previous posts in the series, click here

{AoJ loves} Flying Tiger

25 April 2016 by Ingrid

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One morning late last week I was wandering through the Flatiron feeling jet lagged and allergic and because of these two things, more than a little bit sorry for myself. And then I walked by the Flying Tiger store, and it was like a cool, pollen-free breeze. I couldn’t help but wander in.

Flying Tiger is a Danish chain that’s a bit like if IKEA and Michael’s craft store had a really fun baby. There’s stationery, party supplies, kitchen goods, craft materials (including a wall of glitter!), and small accessories that are hard to categorize: everything from socks to earbuds to multicolored cotton balls. Items feature bright colors and whimsical prints, and merchandise changes frequently so there’s always something new when you go in. Often there’s a seasonal theme — like the strawberries, above — that carries across a wide range of merchandise in the store. It’s always random, often over-the-top, but it’s one of the few stores that feels like a treasure hunt every time I go in.

And here is the too-good-to-be-true part: the prices are extremely affordable. So affordable, in fact, that nothing on this page costs more than $5. (Really!) I’m not 100% sure about the quality of items, but given many items are disposable, it doesn’t seem like a huge dealbreaker. They’re like a little seasoning: joyful versions of everyday basics, delightful in small doses and helpful for perking up an otherwise dull desktop, kitchen counter, or backyard picnic. 

 

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Now for the bad news: Flying Tiger unfortunately doesn’t sell online yet, so you have to visit one of their locations (or get a friend in New York, Copenhagen, or Reykjavik to send you things). The upside, though, is that they’re rapidly expanding (both New York stores have opened within the last year) and there should be more stores stateside soon! (Readers in Europe and Japan: there are 605 stores across your region so you’re probably within a stone’s throw of one, if you don’t shop there already!)

Visit: Flying Tiger, 920 Broadway, New York, NY or 1282 Third Avenue, New York, NY

PS: As a reminder, I have never done sponsored content and this is no exception. My opinions on this and other stores and products is strictly my own, and this post was neither solicited nor compensated. If you find it here, it’s because it brings me joy, and I want to share it with you :)

The joy of Prince

22 April 2016 by Ingrid

PurpleRain

I got up this morning with another post in mind, but sitting down at my desk, all I want to do is listen to Prince music. I think Prince might be the first musical artist I was ever really aware of. My mom loved the song “Raspberry Beret” and would crank it in the car when it was on the radio, and we’d dance around her bedroom to it in the house.

She wore a
Raspberry beret
The kind you find in a second hand store
Raspberry beret
And if it was warm she wouldn’t wear much more

I was five. I didn’t really get the song but the chorus was easy and catchy and I was able to picture the hat that he was singing about, and it seemed pretty to me. That was the thing about Prince’s music — like any really good writing, it was visual. Colorful.

Raspberry beret.

Purple rain.

An ocean of violets in bloom.

Little red corvette. 

You could see the music. You still can, fortunately, which is the great thing about artists: they leave you something when they go.

Not all artists do it with such joy, though. Prince seemed to delight in life and music, whether it was composing with the muppets, playing pingpong with Jimmy Fallon, or just getting dressed to perform. He reveled in sensations, unabashedly embracing the rich textures (velvet, satin, sparkle, paisley, polka dots) that most of us relegate to trims and edges. That’s something to celebrate, simply because so few people are able… to silence the censors, the critics, and even our own judgmental voices and just wear purple head-to-toe one day if it feels good. Prince did what felt good, and he made us feel good too.

Perhaps some measure of the joy in a life is how remembered when it’s over. Last night’s Brooklyn block party hosted by Spike Lee and the many like it around the world are telling. It must have been a joyful life if the only way that feels right to mourn it is dancing.

There are many tributes around the web today, but if you just feel like listening to some Prince classics, IHeartRadio has a feed running today.