Tag Archives: art

Did Pablo Picasso Paint Fakes? The Question of Creativity.

For some reason, I keep thinking about a story I read several years ago, in Arthur Koestler’s book, The Act of Creation.

This anecdote caught my attention because it was about a subject that interests me — the mysterious nature of creativity. Plus it had a certain koan-like quality, and boy, do I love a good koan.

This story sounds apocryphal, but Koestler says it’s true:

An art dealer (this story is authentic) bought a canvas signed “Picasso” and travelled all the way to Cannes to discover whether it was genuine. Picasso was working in his studio. he cast a single look at the canvas and said: “It’s a fake.”

A few months later the dealer bought another canvas signed Picasso. Again he travelled to Cannes and again Picasso, after a single glance, grunted: “It’s a fake.”

“But cher maitre,” expostulated the dealer, “it so happens that I saw you with my own eyes working on this very picture several years ago.”

Picasso shrugged: “I often paint fakes.”

I know this feeling well — the uncomfortable feeling that even though a particular piece of my work is original, it nevertheless feels repetitive, imitative, a perfunctory variation on one of my common themes.

And in other situations, too.  Every time I go clothes-shopping, I’m tempted to buy a black cardigan. How many black cardigans does one person need? Not many.

This is always a warning sign to push myself harder, to break through the familiar to something new.

On the other hand, sometimes I re-visit material (like this very story!) many times, because I get something new from it, each time I think about it. Over time, its significance becomes clearer to me. For instance, I write about my personal commandment to “Be Gretchen,” very often, but every time, it’s new to me. But that’s not true of all subjects.

Do you know this feeling — the feeling of painting your own fake?

Revealed! The New Jacket for the Paperback of “Better Than Before.”

Big news! (At least it’s big for me.)

At last, I can reveal the jacket art for the paperback of Better Than Before.

It’s fun to do something different with the cover of the hardback and the paperback.

It turns out that it’s very difficult to capture the idea of “habits” in a visual image, and I think the arrows pointing forward and backward do a good job of that. Plus I love the vibrant colors.

But if you don’t like it, please don’t tell me. It’s done, it’s decided. I’m always asking myself, “What are the iron laws of the universe?” There aren’t many. One is (more…)

My College Roommate Sent Me a Sketch of Myself–What a Memory.

One of my Secrets of Adulthood is: “Always remember how easy it is to forget.”

I’ve tried a lot of things — keeping a one-sentence journal, taking tourist photos of my own romance — to help hang on to memories.

It’s funny, though, what can unleash a memory. A smell, for instance, can invoke memories very powerfully.

I had a rush of memory when Rebecca Lemov, one of my college roommates, emailed me this sketch. While looking through her dusty sketchbooks, she found this drawing of me. She also sent a photo of a note that I wrote to her around that time. (My handwriting hasn’t changed.)

Seeing the sketch brought back…such a feeling of college. I can’t even quite describe it. The atmosphere of that time of life. It was acute.

Have you ever come across an artifact like this, that brought back a flood of memories?

Podcast 22: Creativity! Listen to Rosanne Cash, Save Your String, Fight Drift, and a Lesson from the Writers’ Room.

It’s time for the next installment of  “Happier with Gretchen Rubin.

This week, we have a theme! Creativity.

Update: Elizabeth and I, and our families, were recently in Kansas City together, to celebrate our mother’s birthday. We shot a quick little video to say hi to listeners. Check it out here.

Try This at Home: Save string — which is a phrase from journalism that means, find ways to save your little bits of ideas. To read more about choreographer Twyla Tharp’s process, look in The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life. Woody Allen discusses his method saving string in this Wall Street Journal interview.

PodcastNotebookElizabethHere’s a photo of Elizabeth’s podcast notebook (string not pictured).

Do you “save string?” What do you save, and how do you save it? Fabric scraps, art supplies, recipes, quotations, ideas for a garden, ideas for April Fool’s Day pranks…let us know.

Interview: Our guest is my friend, the brilliant singer, song-writer, and author, Rosanne Cash. She’s a Grammy-winning singer and composer who has recorded 15 albums and won countless awards.

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Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset

As we discuss, she wrote a terrific memoir, Composed, which I read years before I met her, and loved. Elizabeth also loved it.

Her latest album, The River & The Thread, a collaboration with her husband, producer, and co-writer John Leventhal, won three Grammy awards.

It was so much fun to talk to her! I was just sorry that Elizabeth was in L.A. and couldn’t join us in person.

The song Rosanne talks about in the interview is When the Master Calls the Roll.

Now you’re probably dying to see Rosanne perform in person. In September, you can see her in Nashville at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Info here. Or if, like me, you’re in the New York City area, you can see her at Carnegie Hall. Info here.

Gretchen’s Demerit: Here’s the link to the video of the 5×15 talk I gave ondrift and a post I wrote about drift. I’ve saved the string–but I haven’t turned it into anything (yet).

Elizabeth’s Gold Star: Elizabeth gives a gold star to Jenna Bans, the creator of The Family, the TV show that Elizabeth writes for.  (Trailer for the show here.) Jenna Bans gets a gold star for building a great creative atmosphere in the writers’ room.

Elizabeth and I have a favor to ask. We’re part of the Panoply network, and Panoply has created a listener survey. If you could take a few minutes to take the survey, it will really help us — and Panoply — learn more about our listeners. Thanks!

As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors. Want to avoid post-office pain, and buy and print official U.S. postage for any letter or package, right from your own computer and printer? Visit Stamps.com to sign up for a no-risk trial, plus a $110 bonus offer — just enter the promo code HAPPIER.

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We’d love to hear from you: have you saved string— and if so, did it make you happier? Like Rosanne Cash, have you figured out ways to help you quiet the critics in your head?

Comment below. Email: podcast@gretchenrubin.com. Twitter: @gretchenrubin and @elizabethcraft. Call: 744-277-9336. Here’s the Facebook Page.

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Something Becomes Important Because We’re Paying Attention.

I take giant amounts of notes, and I’m constantly copying passages from books that I read. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also one of my favorite things to do.

Oddly, I’ll often take notes, or copy passages, where the meaning isn’t clear to me. Sometimes it takes me years (if ever) to understand the meaning of something that I knew was significant, but didn’t know why. And then, when I grasp it — so thrilling! Nothing makes me happier.

This kind of epiphany happened to me recently, when I was in London, where I managed to visit the beautiful Wallace Collection.

Years ago, I read a fascinating book called The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film, by Michael Ondaatje, and I copied down a passage from Francis Ford Coppola’s notes for the script of the movie The Conversation. Coppola wrote:

The opening might be built out of fragments of various conversations. So that when we first meet the two young people they seem like just another conversation until we see that the microphone is trained on them: they are important only because someone is listening.

Something becomes important, because someone is paying special attention.

I never really quite understood why this struck a chord with me — until I saw Poussin’s painting,  Dance to the Music of Time, hanging on the wall in the Wallace Collection.


This painting is used in the exceptionally gorgeous design of Anthony Powell’s novels in the four-volume A Dance to the Music of Time.

Because I know these books well, and admire these four volumes every time I spot them in the bookstore, I assumed that the painting was quite important and famous.

However, the Wallace Collection didn’t make mention (that I saw) of the fact that this painting was in their collection. And it was almost by accident that I spotted the painting, at all.

DanceTimeWholeRoomThere are so many paintings in the room.

DanceTimeWallDanceTime5PaintinsCan you find it? In the first picture, it’s on the far wall, the bottom painting to the left of the large painting in the middle. In the last picture here, it’s at the bottom, in the middle.

Because of those books, I’d found the painting beautiful and important; because someone put it in the spotlight — because I saw it over and over, and took the time to look at it closely, and to think about its meaning.

If I’d just been wandering through the rooms, glancing at the paintings, I doubt I would’ve given the painting a second thought.

But when my attention was fixed on it, I learned to appreciate it.

I think of this, too, when I look at old class photos of my children. In a way, the children look all alike, and these photos look exactly (except for the clothes) the way my class photos look, from the same age. And yet — those are individuals! Some faces I recognize, some are precious to me. Because I know them.

I’m not explaining my epiphany very clearly. It’s just that — it’s our listening that makes a conversation important; it’s our vision that makes a masterpiece; it’s our love that makes a face stand out from the crowd.

“They are important only because someone is listening.”

Do you know what I mean? Have you ever had an experience like this — when your attention transformed an object into something dazzling?

P.S. This got me thinking that a fun project would be to choose 52 pieces in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (which is near my apartment) and spend a week studying and visiting each one, to understand why it’s great. And to write a book about it, of course! I’m certain that those works would be immeasurably more beautiful to me, after I’d studied them — even for a week. Gosh, I’d love to do that. I’ve always wanted to learn and write about art…