How many photos do you have on your phone? Seriously, if you had to guess, how many? Five hundred? One thousand? Ten thousand?
Over the course of her lifetime, amateur photographer Vivian Maier shot over 150,000 photographs. She accomplished this jaw-dropping feat while working as a nanny to wealthy families from the 1950s through the 1990s. With her Rolleiflex camera in hand, Vivian would often drag the children in her charge on walks for hours through every kind of neighborhood that New York and Chicago had to offer.
We know about Vivian Maier not because she was famous in her lifetime, but because her work was discovered accidentally by Chicago-based collectors John Maloof, Ron Slattery and Randy Prow.
Now through February 21, 2021, you can see sixty of Vivian’s color photographs at the Arlington Museum of Art. Vivian Maier: The Color Works is the second exhibition by the artist hosted by the AMA. The first, Vivian Maier: Lost and Found, debuted in North Texas at the AMA in 2016. This stunning exhibit of her black and white photograph absolutely blew me away, and The Color Works is equally mesmerizing. And I have to tell you; strolling around a large gallery with high ceilings while social distancing and wearing a mask feels OK to me.
As a professional photographer, you might imagine I’m a fan of Vivian’s work because I’m a fan of photography as an art form. That’s true. What I appreciate even more is that the experience of taking pictures clearly meant something very important to her. Being a nanny was her job; taking photographs was her calling. To the extreme, she practiced her art with no aspirations other than making sure she dedicated time to it every day.
Vivian Maier believed that art should be a part of adulting.
Chris Hightower, Chairman of the Arlington Museum of Art Board of Directors, concurs. He’s an avid art collector, supporter of local artists, and has a personal passion for art history and contemporary art. When I asked him about art and adulting, he said:
Most times when we think about adulting, we think of having to do mundane but necessary tasks. Becoming a responsible adult means that we should begin to consider the necessary things in our life and nurture them. Arguably, art is one of those things that seems to come to people when they move into adulthood. Whether it takes the form of taking art classes or doing some long-awaited arts and crafts around the house. Winston Churchill and George W. Bush both took up painting later in life. It was something that waited, but stirred inside them until they had the time. Not everyone is a musician, painter, actor or sculptor, but that doesn’t mean that there’s not a place for everyone in the art community. The Medici family in Florence famously supported some of the world’s most recognizable artists that helped spark the Italian Renaissance. Art is for everyone and has a place for everyone, so find your place. The arts need you!
– Chris Hightower, Arlington Museum of Art
Attending concerts or plays, going to museums or galleries, tuning in virtually to artist lectures or dance performances; these are all artful practices, and appreciating creativity in all of its forms is as meaningful a commitment as the artist’s.
My friend Dawn is a fan of live music (and if you know Dawn, you know that’s an understatement). Before the pandemic, she was never without tickets or plans for the next big concert at American Airlines Center, Levitt Pavilion, Toyota Music Factory, or Bass Hall. She knows the lyrics, she has the album (metaphorically speaking), and she buys the shirt. There are many things I love about my friend, but I particularly love that she has a serious job with a serious title, and on weekends, as soon as the world once again allows it, she’ll be singing at the top of her lungs somewhere between Rows H and Q.
Like Vivian and Chris, Dawn believes that art should be a part of adulting. So does Kim Turner, a long-time wearer of many hats at Theatre Arlington. Kim’s love of theater arts beams from her every pore:
Live theater has a unique ability to not only make you laugh or sing along, but it allows you to become a part of the experience. There will never ever be another performance in time just exactly like the show you attended. You breathed the same air as that artist on the stage. You laughed or maybe even cried together. Movies and TV are great – but they can’t offer that type of “all in” experience. There will never be a piece of art (theater) just exactly like the one you experienced! How cool is that? And that experience can be shared by anyone and everyone. Theater does not care what color your skin is, if you need a wheelchair, if you’re always picked last in gym class, or if you’re the life of the party. Everyone is welcome to engage in this experience. It can be a time to escape or maybe even cure a heavy heart. Or maybe it opens your eyes to another way of looking at the world. What person, whether you are “adulting” or “teenaging” or “childing,” doesn’t need that in their life?
– Kim Lawson Turner, Theatre Arlington
My Dad had three careers, not in the vocational sense, but in the sense that he spent his life working at them and, like Dawn, took them very seriously. His first career was his day job, the one that paid the bills, the one that keep him working 10 to 14-hour a day until he retired. His second career was dedicated to getting the St. Augustine grass to once, just once, fill in the entire lawn. His third career (which was supposed to be a leisure activity) was golf.
Then there was woodworking.
At least one weekend a month, Dad would leave it all behind by stepping into the garage and up to his workbench. For him, there was no “work” in woodworking. With no expectations and no deadlines, he could take as much time as he wanted on every project. Time to read up, time to plan, time to set things aside and let ideas marinate. He was free to create something beautiful or make a complete dud. Mistakes were simply ways to learn something he could apply in his next project.
When he first began woodworking, he started out with a few simple tools and the notion that, surely, he could make better picture frames cheaper than the ones Mom could buy in the store. He may have started out by making squares, but eventually he taught himself how to build book cases and curvy candlesticks and doll houses and cedar chests and a desk with drawers that were, of course, perfectly square.
Catalyst Creative Arts in Arlington is dedicated to this idea of rolling up your sleeves and learning about art by making it. Together with Jaime Marum, Helen Yoon founded Catalyst Creative Arts as a springboard for a lifetime of artful practice:
As adults, we forget how much the simple act of creation can help us escape our daily stresses and completely focus on something else. That’s why we at Catalyst Creative Arts are always seeking new and different activities and projects that can appeal to anyone, even those with no experience in art or crafts. We understand that we may only see someone for a small period of time, but our hope is that during that time they spend in our studio, they awake to the possibilities of seeking a creative outlet that helps them spark joy.
– Helen Yoon, Catalyst Creative Arts
Helen is so right when she says there is a spark to joy, just as there is a spark to creativity. On my laptop I have one sticker, a beautifully rendered illustration of a flower nearing full bloom. The design was created by multi-media artist Joseph Williams, who creates art in whatever medium best fits his inspiration. This sticker is my daily reminder to try new ways of doing familiar things and to allow myself to wonder by embracing — not fearing — failure. Because in art, failure gets you one step closer to beautiful.
I think art should be a part of adulting because it helps to connect us with our inner child and our emotions. In a super materialistic and capitalistic society, we place so much importance on maintaining our situation and don’t focus on growing and practicing true self-care. Art reminds us to take time for the joy in life.
– Joseph Williams, artist, @_djozef
How do you integrate the practice or appreciation of art in your life? Click here for a beautifully, mindful exercise to get your creativity flowing, courtesy of artist and educator Lindsay Whittenberg