I spent Wednesday morning at the DeYoung Museum in Golden Gate Park. Part of my prescription for enhancing my creativity (from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way) is to have a weekly, solitary artist date. Most of the time these ‘dates’ are loose allocations of time to read, sketch or day dream; time to allow some white space in my day and my mind for whatever may present or strike my fancy. Wednesday’s outing was specifically to see a retrospective of the renowned fashion designer Oscar de la Renta.
I have to admit that I’m not always clear about the art in fashion. My skepticism comes in part from what I see and experience as difficult messaging and pictures in the media about the “ideal” of beauty for women. I’m also acutely aware of the money that is made on a culture that encourages women to strive to look and be a certain way, to be ‘not enough’ as she is. So having exhibits about fashion is a little bit challenging for me from the start. And then there’s the fact that these exhibits have also been extraordinarily popular, and are therefore money making ventures for fine arts institutions. Not a bad thing inherently, as art needs to be funded and supported, but I wonder if their popularity may cloud out other exhibits of merit that don’t bring in the same revenue.
If art by its definition is unique, and reflects the singular vision and work of a person or team, no matter the inspiration or influences, fashion feels to me more often like paint by numbers art. This is inevitable, perhaps, since most of us aren’t buying one of a kind couture outfits. But when I viewed the workmanship (or workwomanship) in the dresses and outfits on display at the de la Renta retrospective, the question of “is it art?” mostly seemed to fade for me.
There were many dresses from a wide range of eras and styles, the timing and context of which were needed to underscore their importance in culture and impact. Yet there were easily ten or more dresses that were, in my opinion, breathtakingly beautiful and timeless. From the fabric choice, to the cut and drape, to the silhouette (such a lovely fashion word!), there were some pieces that really reflected transcendent beauty, grace, craftsmanship, and vision.
And they were fun: they sparked my imagination. Perhaps that’s part of my definition of art.
I had wanted to relish the morning at the museum, and take my time in the exhibit along with the audio guide. While the narrative was helpful, I found I wanted to linger more on those few pieces that called to me, not necessarily the ones provided with a broad background on the tapes. I also brought my sketch pad, thinking I might settle in somewhere and draw… but I forgot and took pictures instead.
And then came the first of two highlights of the day: I had rushed out of the house without breakfast to make my ticket time at the museum. After the show, I went to the café, ordered a chai latte and took up post at a table in the sun. I wrote my morning pages (three handwritten pages, stream of thought), enjoying the view and my latte. That’s when I started to feel the expansiveness of the day, the sense that I could do with my time and myself anything I wanted. I relish that feeling, and even if I don’t spend the expanse, I like to note its potential and possibilities when I can.
As I left the museum and walked back across the Music Concourse toward the Academy of Sciences, I thought about how much time I had spent in the park during my first three years in San Francisco, when I lived in the Haight. I would ride my bike after work or take long runs to the beach through the cypress and eucalyptus trees, and enjoy meeting friends at festivals and concerts on the weekends. I thought about how long it had been since I had appreciated the beauty of the park and the notion of its remarkable value to the city and its citizens.
It was a beautiful day, the way I think only San Francisco can be beautiful: a clear blue sky with a touch of cold breeze fed by the ocean fog. I admired a bright cluster of orange California poppies growing at the base of a large tree log in a manicured garden. I watched a eucalyptus leaf twirl in the breeze along the sidewalk, slightly off center because of its paisley shape. And I looked up at the expanse of sky above the cypress trees, imagining a reflection that I am small and the world is larger and full of wonder.
My Wednesday in the park, along with art, a chai latte and my moleskine journal, was a salve in an otherwise very rough week. It reminded me how important it is to look up, get out, and fashion my own day.
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