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August's inspiration

Hello again!

I’m back, after having gone on my usual unplanned, extended break from writing.

A lot has changed in the past year since I last wrote.

The main change is that I have an exciting new job that I’ve now been in for six months. I’m an assistant librarian at University of the Arts London, and although it sounds hyperbolic, it is very much a dream job for me.

I’m about ten times happier in everything I do as a result.

I thought it would be a good time to start a new feature. One thing that I’m really interested in is ‘inspiration’ and all the connotations of that term. Whatever you think about it, I like the idea of anything that creates a ‘flow’ state (as psychologist Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi calls it) or encourages you to become ‘unstuck’ (as is the terminology commonly used at UAL). I like the idea of (somewhat randomly) listing some things that have been inspiring me lately, so here it goes:

Strawberry thief by William Morris

'Strawberry Thief'

William Morris [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

(an apt design for late summer in England)

August’s inspiration

Creativity research

When I was researching my masters dissertation in summer 2013, I read a lot of the psychological research into creativity. Some of the most interesting researchers in this area are Robert J. Sternberg and Todd I. Lubart who have written about cultural conceptions of creativity, and the aforementioned Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who, among other things, put forward the concept of ‘flow’. In his 2004 TED talk, Csikszentmihalyi, talks about the concept of ‘flow’ and it’s importance for a happy, fulfilling life.

Comic books and graphic novels

I’ve loved comic books and graphic novels since I was a teenager. I periodically go back and re-read Daniel Clowes’ Ghost World or David Boring. I’m currently reading The art of Daniel Clowes: modern cartoonist, which is the catalogue from an exhibition held in Oakland, California in 2012 and Columbus, Ohio in 2014. Like me, Clowes grew up in Chicago. He talks about being inspired as a child by the miniature houses in the Art Institute of Chicago, which were also an inspiration for me when I was a kid.

Building stories by Chris Ware

I’ve also been re-reading Gemma Bovery by Posy Simmonds, which is a very British take on the graphic novel medium. It’s a retelling of Madame Bovary, in which the title character is a bored British expat living what is supposed to be her dream life in rural Normandy. The story is narrated by her nosy French neighbour, who reads her diaries, and whose meddling eventually leads to tragedy. Simmonds’ drawing style is gorgeous and her sense of each character’s personality completely rings true. Each character is both flawed and sympathetic in their own way.

Finally, I recently explored bits of Chris Ware’s Building Stories (I had it out from my local library for a long time, but never got around to reading it. It wasn’t until the other day at work, while researching a Special Collections session for students that I finally opened the box). The box contains several different books, pamphlets, and folded bits of paper that can be read in any order. They tell the story of the inhabitants of a three-storey building in the Chicago suburbs (reminiscent of where Ware himself lives). The main story of a mother and ignored wife who gave up on a career in art is especially touching.

In the case of all three comic writers/graphic novelists, they manage to portray a very specific type of dissatisfaction and boredom. There are always tiny moments that say so much about the character and their mindset. Their stories are both heartbreaking and hopeful.


This weekend, we’re heading to Berlin to see the German band Deichkind. A while ago, Alexej wrote an article linking their trash-based aesthetic to Marxist theory called, ‘Trash and subversion: the political aesthetic of Deichkind’.

It will also be a nice opportunity to explore more of the city’s museums and art galleries. The first time I visited was with my illustration course, nearly ten years ago. It was interesting to get a glimpse of life in East Germany during the Soviet-era at the DDR Museum, and see the Soviet architecture in East Berlin. While we did see a few museums, my friends and I mainly did site-seeing in the centre of the city.

Alexej and I were briefly in Berlin in November 2015 while en route to and from Dresden. I’ve been meaning to write a post about our trip since then, and hopefully this will be forthcoming. We spent the better part of a Sunday in Berlin, lugging around our luggage and wondering what to do while lots of places were closed. We ended up eating lunch at a very busy Palestinian café, going to a few galleries and book shops in Kreuzberg, sitting in a park watching some kids play, and then schlepping ourselves through Alexanderplatz in the evening in search of kaffee und kuchen. By the end of the day we were both very tired and grumpy and ready to fly back to London.

Deutsches Musik

As I mentioned, we’re going to see Deichkind on Saturday, which should be lots of fun. Their latest album, Niveau Weshalb Warum, was on heavy rotation in our flat when it came out in 2015. I especially like the first track ‘So ‘ne Musik' and the song ‘Porzellan und Elefanten’. The latter is sort of a satire of your typical pop anthem, naming various successful and not so successful pairings like Sonny and Cher, sex and drugs, police and demonstrations, and porcelain and elephants.

I’ve also been listening to a lot of Einstürzende Neubaten, and lead singer Blixa Bargeld's collaboration with Italian composer Teho Teardo. One of my favourite songs of last autumn and winter was 'Beauty' off the Einstürzende Neubaten album Silence is sexy.

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