May You Live in Interesting Times

What story are you telling through the work you do? What inspires you and gives purpose and meaning to your life? My vacation to Croatia, Venice and Florence in May of 2019 had me thinking about these questions and more.

Burano, Italy, photo by Meryl Cook
Sneakers in a cubbyhole in Burano, Italy

Croatia had amazing natural beauty. It also had sharp contrasts, being a country that was so recently in a war. One village we cycled through had evidence of the conflict (shrapnel holes in homes, mines that are yet to be cleared, racist graffiti). This evidence was contrasted with fields of poppies, grape vines and ancient olive trees.

Every two years in Venice there is an international exhibit of modern art called the Biennale Arte. We were lucky to discover 2019 was one of the years. There are two main pavilions plus many free installations all over the city. As well, several local art organizations had major exhibits to coincide with the Biennale. The city of Venice was exploding with modern art. Many of the exhibits were in buildings that were amazing on their own, as well as in public parks.

The theme for 2019 was ‘May You Live in Interesting Times’. In his welcome message the President of La Biennale di Venezia, Paolo Baratta said “The title of this Exhibition could be interpreted as a sort of curse, where the expression ‘interesting times’ evokes the idea of challenging or even ‘menacing’ times, but it could also simply be an invitation to always see and consider the course of human events in their complexity, an invitation, thus, that appears to be particularly important in times when, too often, oversimplification seems to prevail, generated by conformism or fear.”

The Curator Ralph Rugoff said “May You Live in Interesting Times focuses on artists who challenge existing habits of thought and open up our readings of objects and images, gestures and situations. Their work grows out of a practice of entertaining multiple perspectives: of holding in mind seemingly contradictory notions, and juggling diverse ways of making sense of the world. Artists who think in this manner provoke us to reconsider the meaning of so-called facts by suggesting other ways of connecting and contextualising them.” The whole experience of the Biennale was for me beautiful, interesting and thought provoking.

One of the What Ifs I wrote while in Venice was what if I could come back and spend a month visiting the next Biennale in 2021? It would be so wonderful to immerse myself in modern art and the city of Venice (complete with Campari sodas at 4 pm).

In Florence we visited the Uffizi galleries which were filled with lots of beauty and art. On one hand I felt like I saw one too many Madonna paintings, but I did appreciate seeing the development of art through the Renaissance. To see the flat, one dimensional paintings of the Flemish painters develop into the three dimensional art we know today was so interesting.

I fell in love with the paintings of Botticelli. The fabric on the women’s dresses was so lush and had such depth. I could have looked at them for hours. In Florence I was particularly interested to learn how the world view was changed by and reflected in the art of the Renaissance.

I also loved the open feeling of Florence as well as the fashion. Oh, the fashion. I dropped into as many shops of Italian designers as I could. I loved the flowing lines and the interesting fabrics they were using. I am told Milan is even more of a place for fashion, so I’ll have to put that on my list for another time.

As an artist my rug hooking started with hooking other people’s patterns and then designing my own rugs based on what I saw in everyday life. My work changed when I began to design based on what I was writing in my journal. It started to have more of a message and a purpose and was a turning point for me.

This approach to my designs was originally as a way of healing for me. Each rug represented the next step I needed to take in my life. This approach has continued as I work through the joy and pain that is living. It has expanded to also become my purpose and my business. Now I work to help others connect with their creativity, build engagement and innovation in the workplace through team building, and to practice self care through journaling and rug hooking.

Of course, not all of our work or our art needs to have deep meaning and purpose, but when it does it is thrilling. What my trip made me think deeply about is the potential we have to change ourselves and our world through the work we do.

What if making art or doing business that is open to new ideas and that questions the status quo could be the norm rather than the exception? It would certainly make for interesting times.