Category Archives: Art

The Season of Gratitude

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Has anyone else felt that the holidays came at the blink of an eye this year? It was fall, and suddenly it is full-on Christmastime. I hope my American followers enjoyed the Thanksgiving holiday as a time to relax, reflect, and spend time with family and friends. My holiday wasn’t necessarily relaxing, but I am happy that I made the most of spending time with family and friends throughout the week – from Ohio (Cleveland and Columbus) to Michigan (Royal Oak, Rochester, Bloomfield Hills, and Detroit!).

While it has been easy for me to get wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of the season, from travel planning, to shopping for gifts, to decorating my apartment, I wanted to make sure to spend time reflecting. After all, the holiday season for me is the season of gratitude. I wanted to share a few things that make me feel especially grateful this year and hopefully they will inspire you to think about what you are grateful for as well!

First, I am grateful for creativity. Throughout the fall I have had a huge craving for the arts. If I see or think of something creative, I want to try it! I made candles with my neighbors, which is surprisingly much easier than you would think. You collect old jars you have around the house, melt wax in a pan, pour wax into the jars, and mix in your favorite combination of scents from essential oils or spices (fun fact – turmeric is a great spice to color your candle), and voila – you have a candle! I also painted freestyle with my neighbors in our own version of a “wine and paint” party. This is much more budget friendly and intimate way to paint with your friends – you get to choose the wine, paint at your own pace, and be at the comfort of your own home! I practiced flow painting with family during the Thanksgiving – which was so much fun and also therapeutic. What could be more fun (from an arts perspective) than mixing paint with Elmer’s glue and water, combining colors in a cup, and pouring them onto a canvas in whichever order you would like? You would be amazed how quickly you can look like a professional artist through flow painting! And most recently, I decorated a gingerbread house with my dad so that we could share enjoying the Christmas spirit even though we live far apart. Through all of these experiences, I have found that the arts are one way for me to focus my mind on the present. It helps clear my mind even for a short moment – which frees up space for me to problem solve and reflect in my daily life. It is very rewarding to see the outcome, a tangible and visual example of my work. I look forward to continuing the arts in the new year!

I am grateful for home. I have realized how important it is to have a home – and I don’t mean a physical location. My apartment in Greenville feels like home with all the memories from loved ones, including furniture from my grandma, decorations from my travels, warm candles, and photos of important people in my life. Spending time in Michigan with family feels like home, because my loved ones make it home. Even as my relatives have moved locations, I still feel at home when we are all together. It is the sense of togetherness that makes a place home for me. I can say that my heart feels its best and the most complete when it has a sense of “home.”

I am grateful for flexibility. There is no better feeling than when I have options and I don’t feel “stuck” – whether that means in my life decisions, my daily schedule, or my travels. Flexibility and free time are incredibly liberating and are helping me as I plan for the future. I feel lucky that my job allows me to have work-life balance – to flexibly schedule my commitments at work and at home. I just started the book, “The Power of Now,” and through that I am already realizing that time is imaginary and we should never feel stuck in a situation. Everything can be much more flexible if we separate ourselves from time pressures and worries and focus on the present and what we truly want. I have a feeling I will write a post about “The Power of Now” based on how much it has inspired me in just the first 50 pages of the book.

I am grateful for friendship. As I have moved every year since officially being an adult, and often multiple times per year, I could not be more grateful for the friendships I have made along the way. New and old friends along the way have helped me explore new places, laughed with me on the good days, cried with me on the bad days, and reflected on life. Together we have shared experiences that have helped me grow and prepare for the next phase. I can honestly say I don’t know where I would be without them – thank you to everyone who has been a friend along the way – can’t wait for more adventures together!

What are you grateful for? I hope these reflections help all of us remember to pause and think about the season of gratitude. May the holidays bring you much happiness, joy, and peace this year!

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What can you buy for only €1.40 in Paris?

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It’s a Friday afternoon in Paris and you find yourself with €1.40 left in your wallet. What can you buy with only €1.40 (equivalent to around $1.80) in Paris? Nothing, right? Well, most would think that, but I was determined to continue to explore Paris after class today without having to go back to my apartment for more euros.

How did I end up with only €1.40? Totally out of character for me since I always have at least the value of $20 wherever I go, along with a credit card. We all face traveler’s dilemmas, and today was my day of malchance. I  was low on cash given my past couple days of cash-only expenses (side note to prospective European travelers: despite the modern world of credit cards, always have cash on you!). I went to lunch at EIX between classes and noticed that my credit card was declined. My first thought was that this was a security warning which often happens when traveling. I knew that I was well below my credit limit. I tried to call my bank but realized my new SIM card only calls French phone numbers (and my bank is in the United States). My friend recommended that I call the bank through Google Hangout. After Internet struggles, I finally got a hold of the bank through Google Hangout and they told me that there were no security holds on my account. I explained my situation and while the bank gave me a hard time, they finally realized that my card was dysfunctional, so they would need to send me a new card. Without a functioning credit card and only coins in my wallet, I felt doomed for afternoon exploration. But I really wanted to visit Sacre Coeur since it was only a 1-mile walk from where my school is located in L’Opera district.

My adventurous side prevailed and I began the journey to Sacre Coeur. I walked through cobble stone streets that slowly started to elevate as I reached Montmarte. In the distance was the beautiful Sacre Coeur Basilica, which was breathtaking at this time of day (the sun was shining perfectly on it). I walked passed cafes and boutiques, busy with those arriving to Paris for the weekend. I walked up several flights of stone stairs, every so often turning around to see all of Paris around me. With each step came a higher and more beautiful view of the city.

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I was slightly frightened by very aggressive vendors who were trying to put string bracelets on me or have me sign petitions. I had to say “no” very forcefully in order for them to go away (side note to prospective European travelers: never stop to sign petitions! They are a sneaky way for people to pickpocket you or force you to pay them for the “cause” they are pretending to represent). Once I made it all the way to the top, though, I was separated from the vendors. I paused for a moment to enjoy the spectacular views and reflect. I felt so lucky to be standing there in that moment!

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I decided to walk into the Sacre Coeur Basilica. As with the Notre Dame Cathedral, I felt an overwhelming wave of emotion that brought tears to my eyes. I looked at the beautifully painted ceiling with religious figures, specks of gold, and pews with hundreds of people praying. I sat for a moment to pray for my loved ones. I walked around, viewing statues and luminaries. I stopped by the St. Pierre statue and touched his foot, a common Catholic custom. Sadly, I was not allowed to take photos inside, but I encourage you to visit regardless of your religious interests. It was one of the most fascinating cathedrals I have seen, and I enjoyed seeing it even more the second my time (I first visited it with my mom in 2011).

Departing the cathedral, I decided to wander around the artsy corners of Montmarte. Every store was either an art gallery or a cafe. Artists lined the streets, drawing pictures of the scenery and portraits of tourists (little did I know this would be significant to me a half hour later). Mon petit-ami called me via WhatsApp and we had a great conversation discussing my day in Paris, how beautiful it is in Montmarte, and his exciting new internship with the Attorney General in South Carolina. Sadly, our conversation was short-lived because my phone died. More malchance. At this point, I was without a phone or a credit card, and had only €1.40.

I must have looked helpless when an artist, Sylvie Alan approached me and said he would like to draw a picture of me. I told him “no, merci” politely “parce que ne j’ai pas argent.” He refused to let me walk away and started drawing my portrait. He said “if you don’t like it, don’t worry, I’ll take it back.” He was a fantastic artist and made me look way better than I think I actually look. He described how he lives in Montmarte and enjoys sketching pictures of the backs of women and portraits of tourists. I explained my crazy story of malchance to him and how I was studying in Paris for 3 months. A few minutes later, he finished the sketch and said in French, “normally I sell this for 45 euros, but you can pay whatever you’d like.” Little did he know that I was being honest that I had no money except for the coins in my wallet. He said “don’t worry about it, come back and buy me a glass of rose wine.” I knew that I would go back to Montmarte to pay him and visit again, as it quickly became my favorite destination in Paris.

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With all that I did not have (no phone, cash or credit card), at least I had a new portrait of myself. I luckily found a cafe that would let me charge my phone. I explained my story in broken French, and didn’t even have enough money to buy coffee. I will have to go back with un cadeau for the cafe owner’s generous help.

I walked around on my way back from Montmarte desperately looking for something to drink that cost less than 2 euros. I found it funny that almost nothing to eat was that cheap, but I could buy a painting or post card for 1 euro!

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I finally stumbled upon a tourist cafe that sold espresso for exactly €1.40! Finally some bonne chance, and clearly a sign to help me get home with enough energy. A half-hour on the metro later, I am happy to say that I made it home. Now for a relaxing evening, dinner with my host family at 9pm, and a fabulous weekend ahead exploring the Parisian museums. Starting tomorrow, I will always have more than €1.40 in my wallet.

Making Art Accessible

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Recently I visited Andy Warhol’s exhibit, From Marilyn to Mao: Andy Warhol’s Famous Faces at the Columbia Museum of Art. I had seen Andy Warhol’s art in books, but I had never understood the purpose or impact of his art.

While exploring the exhibit, I learned that Andy Warhol  is “central to the pop art movement and one of the best-known 20th-century American artists. From Marilyn to Mao uses 55 of Warhol’s famous portraits to explore pop art’s tenet of the cult of celebrity, the idea that pop culture adores the famous simply because they are famous. Warhol exploited society’s collective obsession with fame like no artist before or after him.”

I was inspired by Andy Warhol’s ability to make art accessible. While some people may not understand abstract art, they do understand celebrities and pop culture.  Andy Warhol took abstract concepts (such as society’s obsession with fame) and turned them into relatable, understandable images (such as photos of celebrities with added colors and designs). By manipulating celebrity images, Andy Warhol was able to communicate with viewers, especially when he intended to convey humor. Below are few of my favorite works by Andy Warhol:

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For those of you who are interested in art but struggle to understand its meaning, I encourage you to learn more about Andy Warhol’s art. He can relate to our fascination with fame and evoke emotion while we view his work. You can experience an interactive tour of the exhibit here. If you are in the Columbia, South Carolina area, be sure to visit the exhibit before September 13!

Learning About Culture Through Urban Art

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Through moving and traveling over the past several years, I have noticed a common theme in each new city I have visited or lived: I can learn about local culture through urban art. Urban art, whether funded by the community or not, helps the community express ideas, demonstrate societal trends or challenges, and sometimes enhance the aesthetic appeal of the surroundings. Below I have captured a few personal favorites of many examples of urban art:

Spanish Graffiti: While studying abroad in Salamanca, Spain and traveling throughout the country, I noticed a significant amount of graffiti. I learned in my Spanish political history class that since Francisco Franco’s leadership in 1939, graffiti was and continues to be significant form of political expression in Spain. It often demonstrates political movements over the past several decades, such as fascism, marxism, anarchy, regional independence within Spain, gay rights, and world peace. Since 2008, cities like Madrid have funded graffiti artists to paint unattractive buildings to improve the cities’ appearance and influence the community with their messages.

Graffiti in Madrid

Graffiti in Madrid

Ann Arbor Graffiti Alley: Originally a mural created by artist Katherine Cost in 1999, titled “Infinite Possibilities,” the graffiti alley in Ann Arbor, Michigan has turned into a haven for graffiti artists and musicians. Visitors can get a taste of recent Ann Arbor and University of Michigan history and current hot topics expressed on the walls. At the same time, they will also hear tunes played by local artists, as the alley is known for good acoustics.

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Before I Die: A global public art project created by New Orleans artist Candy Chang, I first saw a Before I Die wall in Asheville, North Carolina. As a simple mural with chalk, anyone and everyone can write their wishes and “bucket list” items on the wall. Chang created this concept after she lost someone she loved. Her intention was to create a daily reminder about what was important to the people around her. Her idea has sparked the building of 550 walls in over 70 countries in 35 languages. While in Asheville, it was inspiring to learn about the priorities and dreams of the community expressed on the wall.

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Here's what I wrote in Asheville!

Here’s what I wrote in Asheville!

Next time you are exploring your local community or are traveling, I recommend that you seek out the urban art to learn more about the destination’s past, present, and future. You may be surprised to learn new insights about the unique heritage and character of the destination!