Visiting Artist: Elizabeth Haidle (and Christo and Jeanne-Claude!)
On Boredom, Perseverance, Collaboration and The Scream of Freedom.
Helloooo DT peeps and GUT Friends.
What a week! DrawTogether Classrooms kicked off and already 500 educators from around the world have joined. Know an educator who wants to bring drawing & social emotional learning to their students? Pass this on.
In quasi-related news, a Florida school principle was fired for showing students Michelangelo’s “pornographic” David sculpture in a class about Classical art. I doubt that school will be joining DrawTogether Classrooms anytime soon, but I sure wish they would. DT celebrates all bodies - marble and otherwise.
Exciting news for Grown-Ups Table members: our art share/chat is now also available on the desktop! (The chat is where GUT members gather to share drawings and support one another.) No more peering at teeny tiny drawings on the phone! XXL FOR ALL. And if you haven’t said hi to the group yet, get thee to the member intros. And if you’re not a members yet, click that little pink rectangle right… below…... these………. words.
And without further ado, put your hands together for….
Visiting Artist: Beth Haidle (and Christo and Jeanne-Claude!)
If you don’t already know Elizabeth Haidle’s name, you’ll probably recognize her work, and you may already follow her on instagram. Beth is the art director and “resident illustrator” (my words) of Illustoria, the wonderful kids’ art and storytelling magazine. You’ve also seen her drawings in the New Yorker, and she illustrated fantastic books like Before They Were Authors and Before They Were Artists.
Most recently, Beth collaborated with author and Coretta Scott King Honor recipient Greg Neri on a kids book called Christo & Jeanne-Claude Wrap The World: The Story of Two Groundbreaking environmental Artists, published by Candlewick Press. It comes out Tuesday of this week. The book is about the life and work of the artist duo Christo and Jeanne-Claude whose work challenged us to see the world anew. (Both Christo and Jeanne-Claude have passed. We miss them so.)
I reached out to Beth to see if she’d chat with us about her work and creating the book and give us our drawing assignment this week. She said yes. 🧡
But first! A little art context. Greg and Beth’s book will make you and your kids an expert on Christo and Jeanne-Claude. And for folks who are new to their work, here’s a little primer:
The Art of Christo and Jeanne-Claude
Christo and Jeanne-Claude (both their names are one word, like Madonna) were a married couple - he was originally from Bulgaria, she from France - who made art together for decades. They are known for wrapping things. They wrapped everything. Mostly in fabric. Sometimes in paper. Often with rope.
They started by wrapping objects (like the toy horse above) in such a way that you couldn’t see the object anymore, just the general form. Some people thought it was ridiculous. Others thought it was ground-breaking. Wrapping an everyday object made it seem monumental. It changed how people saw the thing.
Then they started to wrap larger things. Much larger. Like islands. (Well, technically they surrounded the islands.)
They wrapped bridges and gigantic buildings. (Below is short documentary by the Tate about wrapping the Reichstag building in Germany.)
In 2021 they wrapped the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. By then Christo and Jeanne-Claude had both died, so technically their team executed the plans. They had been working on this piece for nearly 60 years (imagine the permits!) After a couple weeks, the Arc was unwrapped.
Their work is ephemeral. That means it only lasts for a period of time, and then it’s done. It disappears. When the building is unwrapped, the art is over. Only drawings and photographic evidence of the project remains.
Christo and Jeanne-Claud’s artwork is more about creating an experience for a viewer than the art object itself. Kind of like when we GUT peeps focus more on the process of drawing than on the result.
All this and more is included in Greg Neri and Elizabeth Haidle’s wonderful new book on the artists - which brings us to our Q&A.
Q&A with Elizabeth Haidle
I plan ‘boredom’ into my schedule. It creates this kind of landing field for the brain where unexpected ideas or visions can happen.
Wendy: Can you tell us about your evolution in drawing? How did you get started?
Beth: I started young, inspired by boredom! My parents were strict about almost no TV and we didn’t travel much. My dad was a printmaker he was very generous about sharing all his art supplies. I quickly saw art as the ultimate way to create a life on the page, on my own terms. It seemed like a ticket to a kind of freedom that I craved. Even if I hated the result…at least I was in charge!
I think it’s important to give due credit to boredom. Now, with the internet at our fingertips, we don’t ever have to be bored. I’ll admit, I actually plan ‘boredom’ into my schedule. It creates this kind of landing field for the brain where unexpected ideas or visions can happen.
When you are illustrating a picture book like this, how do you decide how to tell the story visually? Was it all just intuitive or did you think and plan things out?
I’m a mess. I try storyboarding some of the book, but then start painting a full page in great detail, just because I’m interested in that. If I have no idea what a scene is supposed to look like, I paint different little parts on scraps of paper, scan them in, and push them around digitally in my computer until it finally looks good to me. If I can make a book like this, anyone can! I’ve always admired artists who have a meticulous or methodical process, but I’ve accepted that I’m just not ever going to be in that particular club!
What made you want to bring the story of Christo and Jean-Claude’s artwork to life? What did you learn in the process about them, or art, or anything really? Anything you were surprised by?
Greg Neri [the books author] did a truly beautiful job telling their story. I was immediately taken by the way he focused on the collaboration between the two artists. Jeanne-Claude didn’t get credit until decades later, but you can see how each work of art began as a dialogue between the two. “What if we went bigger? What if we took the art OUT of the museum INTO the world? What if we surrounded islands and you had to see it from above? What if it was temporary, and didn’t last forever?”
Without hesitation, I would say that my favorite art projects (personally) have sprung from joyful collaborations with friends or siblings. This book is really a celebration of collaboration, and what the Christos helped the world to see— all that art could do and be.
This book is a celebration of collaboration.
The book explores the question of what is and what is not art. At one point, it says “It’s art if an artist made it.” How do you define what is and is not art?
There’s no right answer, so people avoid the topic. But I find it’s a great dialogue to have with the people who are close to you and anyone in the audience who’s looking at your work.
Last year, I made myself write a personal Art Manifesto. I’m sure I’ll change my mind a dozen times before I die, but I wanted to pin something down for this moment. Why do we do this hard thing called Art? It’s not easy.
I was attracted to this quote by either Jeanne-Claude or Christo, “The Work of Art is a scream of freedom!” Who can argue with that?
If you were to offer one piece of advice to people who are creating an art practice - not necessarily looking for this to become their work, but to make art-making and drawing an integral part of their life - what would you suggest?
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