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inspirations | memories | doubts | thoughts

The beauty of imperfection

Richard Avedon :: portrait of Marella Agnelli :: 1959
















Throughout Western history, the concept of beauty has always been associated with the idea of perfection. In ancient Greece, the definition of beautiful was structurally linked to notions of order, symmetry and clarity, and to the presence of proportions defined as harmonic. In the Middle Ages, Christianity gave beauty a symbolic dimension by interpreting it as divine attributes, such as goodness and truth – in this sense, also linked to the idea of perfection. And although Renaissance brought relativistic concepts, which incorporated cultural and socio-economic aspects to the concept of beauty, it was not until the seventeenth century that subjectivity began to permeate the notion of beauty (thus giving rise to the concept of “taste”).


In the second half of the eighteenth century, the social upheavals in Europe created a favorable environment for the revival of Ancient Greece and Rome’s ideals of beauty, widely used in the representative images of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Empire. And it was precisely at that moment that Kant emerged, the first thinker to move the center of existence of beauty from the object to the subject. The division that Kant established between ‘judgment of knowledge’ (which creates concepts based on the object’s properties) and ‘aesthetic judgment’ (arising from the personal reaction of the beholder before the object) defined the foundations of contemporary aesthetics. The beauty is no longer only in what is seen, and also lies in the eyes that see.


The Kantian thought paved the way for the great aesthetic ruptures that took place between the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. The ideas of uniqueness, individuality, pleasure, emotion, power, courage, vitality, and others, were incorporated into the concept of beautiful. We were able to understand that there is beauty in perfection, but also that perfection is not a prerequisite of beauty. We sharpened our capacity of perception and expanded the possibility of giving pleasure to our souls. We began to admire the crystal clear voice of Nat King Cole as much as Chet Baker’s insecure voice; the classic proportions of Grace Kelly’s face, and the exotic and voluptuous features of Sophia Loren; the dense beauty of Raushenberg’s work and the almost superficial pop art of Warhol.


A few decades later, the path of apparent freedom curiously ended up leading us to an imprisonment. Stimulated by an industry that is interdisciplinarily structured in mass production and overestimation of youth to generate profits, the search for a beauty ideal – for the perfect beauty – has never been as exacerbated as today. In an insane and endless process, men and women throw themselves on a journey towards that which is nothing but a collective imaginary construction. And by abandoning their own beauty to (try to) attain the other, they live eternally unhappy, wandering along this path.


We need to rescue the wealth of plurality and the beauty that lies in imperfection. We need to remember the weirdness of Dovima. The eyes of Serge Gainsbourg, the teeth of Lauren Hutton. The mouth of Mick Jagger, the eyebrows of Frida Kahlo and the lines of Grace Jones. And, above all, remember the words of Leonard Cohen, who, in his song ‘Anthem’ from 1992, said:
“…Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”

Singing the spaces, building the song

Zaha Hadid :: JS Bach Chamber Music Hall, Manchester, UK :: photo© Luke Hayes














Philosophers, historians and theorists have been long trying to establish a connection between music and architecture. Two thousand five hundred years ago, Pythagoras had already conceptualized the mathematical harmony as a cornerstone to explain the entire creation, the existence and operation of the universe. According to the Greek philosopher, the ‘pleasant relation of proportions’ would make all things vibrate in a great universal harmony, just like the notes in a song.


Some of these relationships of proportions established by Pythagoras came to define canonical spatial relations of classical architecture, as well as the predominant musical ‘patterns’ until the Modern Age. In architecture and western music, the beauty of a work was guided by the Pythagorean concept of harmony among its elements for centuries.


This understanding began to be questioned in music, with the emergence of the tonal system, which enabled the exploration of other relations of proportion and intervals, once considered inharmonious and therefore incorrect. Music went from tonality to atonality, until its dissolution and dodecaphony, with creators such as Schoenberg and John Cage. In parallel, social and political changes resulting from the rise of the bourgeoisie in Europe sparked the desire to set the formal rules of classicism free and the search for individual expression and innovation, allowing the emergence of a new architecture – which, by breaking the commitment to symmetry and the relations of proportions previously defined as pleasant (correct), culminated, centuries later, in experiences such as those of Frank Gehry or Daniel Liebeskind. Today, the notion of beauty – whether in music or architecture – is marked by new and diverse concepts.


Each in its own way, music and architecture are aesthetic compositions resulting from the association of different elements, organized and governed by certain principles. Height, length, proportion, alternation, repetition, arrangement, rhythm, intensity, density, texture, contrast, harmony, balance, tension… these are all elements of both musical and architectural creations. The quality of the work as well as its beauty stem from the knowledge, competence and sensitivity of its author in connecting these elements.


If, throughout history, architecture and music reveal parallel paths (and not just with regard to the evolution of knowledge, but also in their relationship with society), they currently seem to be following divergent paths: whereas the quality in a work of architecture is being increasingly perceived and required socially, one does not seem to care that our musical production is increasingly devoid of attributes. Today, we pursue and exalt the quality and beauty of homes, buildings, theaters and arenas, but to discuss the quality and the beauty of the music performed in these spaces is off the agenda.


At some point, our society has ceased to understand music as an aesthetic composition, and simply relegated it to the territory of entertainment. It’s a shame. By dispensing with the quality and beauty in our music production, we are increasingly missing the opportunity to expand our pleasures and the meaning of our existence.

Simplicity and style

Elsa Peretti :: photo by Duane Michals :: Vogue, 1974

Elsa Peretti :: photo by Duane Michals :: Vogue, 1974













Elsa Peretti is perhaps the greatest responsible for the contemporary image of Tiffany & Co. Since her first collection for the brand in 1974, the Italian designer has been creating beautiful objects and jewelry that are characterized by an organic simplicity and an unmistakable formal elegance – attributes that have kept her work among the best sellers of the company over the past 40 years.


Born in Florence in 1940, Elsa revealed her creative, curious and free spirit in a very early age. Daughter of a magnate of the oil industry, while still young she distanced herself from her conservative parents to spend time in Switzerland, and teach Italian and ski. Back in Italy, she graduated in interior design in Rome and, after breaking her engagement, moved to Milan and began working with the architect Dado Torrigiani. In the following year, 1963, she moved to Barcelona and began her career as a model, and plunged into the fascinating world of Catalan artists and architects – in particular Gaudi, a declared influence to her. Fascinated by the sculptural forms, she traveled to Japan and Hong Kong to immerse in Asian art and symbolism; finally, in 1968, she emigrated to the United States and went to live in New York (according to her, the best place to enjoy one’s youth at that time).


When walking the runways for Halston, Sant’ Angelo and De La Renta, Elsa noticed her special interest in the design of jewelry and accessories. With her somewhat rebellious personality, refined esthete perception and proximity to the fashion world, she quickly realized that the language that was emerging in clothing design (characterized by the combination of comfort, practicality and sensuality) should also permeate dressing accessories. Then she began her wax modeling work with abstract, simple and organic shapes inspired by the forms of nature; later, by dipping them in silver, she created beautiful pieces, attractive because of their clean and innovative design and their superb execution. Only 5 years separated her first necklace creation to her contract with Tiffany – and by the time the renowned jewelry brand launched her first collection, all her pieces of work were already sold out.


Elsa Peretti usually says that her work comes from her life. And there is no doubt that every one of her creations reflects her personality and the way she sees the world: her passion for nature, whose shapes she copies and then reinvents; her tireless curiosity, that moves her in search of various materials and production processes; her devotion to craftsmanship, that makes each creation the result of hard and investigative manual work; and her eternal rebellion that keeps the flame of questioning alive in her.


Even today, there is no model more perfect for Elsa Peretti’s creations than herself. Style (which, according to the designer herself, does not go with excesses), beauty, simplicity, competence, elegance and personality – to see, wear, admire and learn.


To learn more: http://elsaperettidesign.blogspot.com.br

Dust in the wind

Dorothea Lange :: ‘Dust Storm Near Mills’ :: 1935












The main value of material wealth lies in the fact that it meets the basic needs of our existence. The greater the wealth, the greater the access, the level of comfort and the quality we can ensure to our health, food, housing and education (the latter in its three dimensions: personal, social and cultural). Therefore it is natural to imagine that material and socio-cultural enrichment should go hand in hand.


In a not too distant past, as it broadened its purchasing power, the rising bourgeoisie sought to reproduce the aristocratic way of life, in which it perceived a distinctive quality. The aspiration was not limited to material goods: much more than to objects, it aspired to a certain way of being and behaving, perceived as more beautiful, elegant and pleasurable. To attend operas and soirées, to sponsor art production or to have the best tutors for their children were, for the bourgeoisie, desires as strong as to wear French fabrics or to show off German crystals. Rather than allowing for the acquisition of objects, material enrichment was sought for its access to a much valued universe of knowledge, culture and information.


In a significant portion of rising classes in contemporary society, however, we curiously observe a rather distinct behavior. Today we see people increasing their financial possibilities and, consequently, the sizes of their cars and homes, enhancing health and body care, sophisticating food and drink at the table, multiplying the clothes in the closet … but there seems to be no concern, for a great part of these people, with the elevation of their level of education and culture. Material enrichment appears to have a goal in itself – to obtain things which are materially richer. As a result, we see an increasingly brutish, mean and arrogant society, in which people who know by heart the names of the most sophisticated brands of clothes and cars cannot cite even one significant name in the arts or literature. They communicate through poor vocabulary (if not vulgar), and are incapable of a nice gesture.


Education and culture are a means to reflect on our existence, to build, discuss and convey values, and to raise awareness about ourselves, each other, and the world. They allow us to refine our senses and sharpen our perception, enabling us to see and appreciate the beauty – of an artwork, a thought or an attitude; they also allow feelings like kindness, gentleness and solidarity to bloom in relationships, making them loving and constructive; they also place us in a historical perspective, enabling the development of a critical look and the strengthening of universal values like truth, freedom and equality.


By itself, material wealth is like dust in the wind – it has no value whatsoever. Only through education and culture we can become better people – capable, then, of building a better, more enjoyable and pleasurable society to live in.


'Intolerance: Love's Struggle Throughout the Ages' :: D. W. Griffith :: 1916

‘Intolerance: Love’s Struggle Throughout the Ages’ :: D. W. Griffith :: 1916










‘Intolerance: Love’s Struggle Throughout the Ages’ was launched in 1916 by DW Griffith. With unprecedented production costs at the time, this silent film is about 4 hours long and, through the dramatization of a poem by Walt Whitman, interconnects four episodes in human history which were deeply marked by intolerance: the war of Babylon in Mesopotamia (about 6 centuries BC); the crucifixion of Christ in 33, in Judea; the night of St. Bartholomew, in sixteenth-century France; and the love of two young people during a workers’ strike in the United States of modern times.


The bigotry against opinions, attitudes, beliefs or ways of being that differ from our own, and the resulting repression, through coercion or force, of ideas we disapprove of, have been the source of huge suffering and countless atrocities throughout history. The inability to accept and coexist with diversity is perhaps one of the greatest evils we can bring upon ourselves.


A few days ago, the judgment on the decriminalization of abortion of anencephalic fetuses generated a discussion of great impact on public opinion in Brazil. Amid articles and protests, a story written by a major newspaper caught my eye. Two women were interviewed for this article: the first woman reported her suffering for being forced to gestate an anencephalic fetus for 9 months – even appealing to several courts, she did not obtain authorization for an abortion in time to do it safely. She said she spent 9 months preparing for the funeral of a child she never got to meet, and that the experience was traumatic enough to make her give up another pregnancy.


The second interview was with a woman who had a pregnancy of an anencephalic fetus, but unlike the first, chose to follow through with the pregnancy, convinced that this was the right thing to do. As the mother of a three-year old boy, she had just buried her stillborn, and expected to recover physically to try another pregnancy.


What caught my attention in the interviews was not to see that, when faced with the same challenge, two people (in similar socio-economic and cultural conditions) had such different postures – but the fact that, while the former advocated the right to choice, the second firmly condemned anyone who would make a different choice from hers. Even worse, she argued that there was no choice to be made – after all, if her conduct was “obviously” the right one, why should we allow someone to make a “wrong” choice?


At the heart of the denial of the legitimacy of different opinions, attitudes, beliefs or ways of being lie vanity and arrogance. Judging that others are less competent to make choices and choose paths and believing that our truth must be accepted by others show how much more we need to evolve as human beings and citizens. Thousands of years later, after much knowledge acquired, so many discoveries and technologies, we still allow intolerance to enslave the freedom of choice to which we are all entitled.


To learn more: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GF7ho_-1aWo

A non-style guide

La Parisienne :: Inès de la Fressange et Sophie Gachet :: Ed. Flammarion :: 2010













Since its launch in 2010, much has been said about the book by Inès de la Fressange and Sophie Gachet. In fact, this is a great book: the text is full of humor, grace and vivacity; the illustrations (made by Inès herself) convey the same attributes, with some delicacy and even a bit of irony on herself; the photos (by Sophie and Inès) reveal a particular and unpretentious look on objects and places; and the information… well, who would not like to have a list of addresses to the less obvious and best products and services in Paris?


At a closer look, however, the book proves to be much more than a ‘style guide’ – a title not included in the original publication (simply “La Parisienne”), but added to the title in its English version (“Parisian chic: a style guide by Inès de la Fressange”), and also adopted in the Portuguese version (“A Parisiense: o guia de estilo de Inès de la Fressange”).


The term ‘guide’ implies in a work with rules and instructions that, if followed, are able to ensure the success of a certain project or attitude. But the notion that there is a formula, a recipe for being ‘chic’ (!) or to have ‘style’ is diametrically opposed to the thought that develops throughout the book – and it becomes clear right at its very beginning: “You need to learn to take liberties with the categorical statements… Some rules were made to be broken… Do you like orange dress with yellow shoes? Go ahead, people will follow you eventually!”


I believe that the great merit of the book is, in fact, to stimulate reflection and understanding on ourselves, and to value individual expression – whether in dressing, living or consuming. To read something like: “(The Parisian) is not one to spend all her salary in a must-have. First because she has no money, and second because she believes she is as talented as a stylist: why overpay for an outfit that she could have imagined herself?” is far more instructive than getting to know Inès’ particular view on how to match shoes and dresses.


Or this: “Why think that it is absolutely necessary to pay millions to have art at home? Have your children’s favorite drawings framed… Acrylic magnetic frames will transform any piece of paper you value, even a message scribbled on a napkin… “Is it really important to know where the acrylic magnetic paintings are from? No, what is relevant is the notion that each individual decides what they want to frame – that which is most valuable.


To have style is to know yourself and be clear about your preferences; it is to know what gives you pleasure, what coexists in harmony with your way of moving, thinking, acting, and living. And make each choice, consequently, an expression of individuality. To have style is to be aware of one’s uniqueness – and enjoy this condition with joy and pleasure.


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Form and thought

Mira Schendel :: untitled, from the series Graphic Objects :: 1967














From all the European artists who immigrated to Brazil during or shortly after the Second World War and who contributed significantly to the enrichment of our visual arts, Mira Schendel is undoubtedly the name of greater importance.


Born in Zurich, she also lived in Berlin, Milan, Sarajevo, Zagreb and Rome before immigrating to Brazil in 1949, settling in Porto Alegre. There are no records of any European artwork by her; she is said to have interrupted her philosophy degree in Italy and started her artistic production here in Brazil, as an autodidact.
As explained by Geraldo de Souza Dias in 2001 in the preface of her exhibition catalog at Jeu de Paume in Paris, “her intellectual infrastructure, fed by religious and philosophical questionings, found here a cultural environment which was more favorable to the encouragement of artistic creativity than to the strict scientific nature of philosophical thought.”


Schendel’s writings are essential to understanding the uniqueness of her work. Without engaging in art history, she resorted to psychology, science, knowledge, theology and philosophy to produce her work, always based on her own thoughts and aesthetic principles. Predominant in post-Plato Western philosophy, the idea of splitting, which is inherent to human nature – body versus soul, matter versus spirit –, is central to her work, often permeated with existential questionings or expressions of religious origin.


Mira Schendel quickly evolved from still life forms to abstractionism and then to writings – calligraphy of immense beauty through which she recorded her thoughts and questionings. Without abandoning the word as an expression of thought, Mira later incorporated self-adhesive letters (Letraset) into such writings, not only as vehicles of meaning but as graphical elements of countless artistic possibilities. Experiences with transparencies, which allow the spectator to contemplate the two faces of monotypes, are ultimate displays of the depth and sensitivity found in her quest.


One can’t help recognizing and falling in love with the artwork of Mira Schendel.
No one has ever transmuted the word into art with such elegance, delicacy and personality as she did. Even exceptional artists like Leon Ferrari (who shared with Mira the great retrospective ‘Tangled Alphabets’ at MoMA in 2009) and Marcel Broodthaers failed to unite, with such beauty, form and thought – body and soul, matter and spirit – and thus provide, through the contemplation of a work, deep thoughts combined with infinite pleasures.


To learn more:
‘Mira Schendel’, homonymous exhibition catalog, Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris, 2001
‘Tangled Alphabets – Leon Ferrari and Mira Schendel’, Luis Peres-Oramas, MoMA & CosacNaif, 2009

The key

Kitagawa Utamaro :: Lovers in an upstairs room :: 1788















February 27th
Just as I imagined. My wife keeps a diary. To this day I took the precaution of not writing it in this notebook, but actually my attention was vaguely grabbed a few days ago.
… I am not so vile as to read the diary of my own wife without her permission. However, driven by bad feelings, I tried to cunningly remove the tape that sealed it so as to leave no marks. I wanted to show my wife that a tape alone would be useless.



March 7th
Then I found the key lying in the same place. I thought there must be some reason, and then I opened the drawer and pulled out my husband’s diary. To my surprise, it was sealed with a tape in the same way as I had done. Would my husband want to tell me “Try opening it”?
… I was tempted to try to pull the tape without leaving marks. And so I did it, simply out of curiosity”


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Listening to one’s own voice

Bobby McFerrin















“Is this what you want to do? Is this how you picture exploring music?” These were the questions Bobby McFerrin says he asked himself when still very young and thrilled by listening to Keith Jarrett’s piano performance. The vulnerability of a person alone on a stage had always fascinated him, and made him wonder if he could, as Jarrett, capture the essence of a song, its harmonies, and capture his own essence – and only then, sing the same way Jarret played the piano: with his heart and in his own unique and personal way.


He spent almost three years alone, singing, writing, listening and getting acquainted with his own voice. During the first two years Bobby did not listen to other singers – he was afraid of being influenced by some other singing style, convinced that this would make him turn away from his own style. He needed to discover himself, learn and take ownership for the sound he created, get to know and explore the possibilities of his own voice.


His ability to improvise was also a challenge to overcome. He wanted to discover the pleasure of moving without knowing exactly where to go… of letting himself go as a child does, without being guided by theoretical knowledge. He then spent many other years working out his own way to improvise – in his words, overcoming the fear of improvisation, the fear of taking risks, of looking like a fool and not having enough ideas.


Today, over 30 years later, Bobby McFerrin is known worldwide as one of the greatest talents of contemporary music. In addition to the musical genius in every note his voice sings and every gesture he makes, rare plainness and elegance become evident from the perfect harmony of what he does, what he looks like and who he really is.


Bobby McFerrin’s truth can also serve as an allegory for each of us. After all, there is nothing more beautiful, elegant and enjoyable than being and acknowledging oneself as unique, listening to one’s own voice, expressing one’s essence, not fearing the unknown and experiencing the joy of keep moving. And that’s what really matters.


To learn more: http://bobbymcferrin.com/
To listen to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ktotbE4rN2g (interview)

The power of doubt

Victor Brauner :: ‘The Triumph Of Doubt’ :: 1946












We live in an era of certainty – or pseudocertainty. Ways of being, dressing or behaving, answers to questions or attitudes in response to situations appear to be unique, obvious and unarguable. In times of ‘personal services’ (trainer, shopper, organizer, stylist…!!!), self-help books and “how-to” handbooks (not to mention contemporary bibles such as Google and Wikipedia), not being able to keep up with the “must-bes” or “must-haves”, or not having the instant (and expected) answer to any questioning appears to be a sign of ignorance or weakness.


In 2008, in an interview to Franthiesco Ballerini, correspondent to the Brazilian newspaper Estadao in Los Angeles – in a context of criticism on television for its power to destroy reflection capacity – the award-winning actor Alan Arkin made an interesting observation: “Today, when you ask a question to a young person, they always have an answer. People no longer reflect before answering. Nobody says ‘let me think about it’. Even Einstein used to say this all the time, and he was reasonably smart.”


Doubt is one of the major human development drivers, and the capacity to reflect is one of our greatest assets. Certainty and unanimity are not only stupid, they are also stagnant – one can only grow, both socially and individually, through constant questioning. Those who do not say to themselves “I don’t know, I need to think about it” do not know the pleasure of listening to themselves – to their soul, reason and feelings – and of building their own identity.


Enjoying freedom of thought, exercising emotional and intellectual skills, taking ownership for one’s own way of being, dressing or behaving, as well as being whole and worthy in responses and attitudes towards life (well aware of the responsibilities involved in them) is one of the greatest pleasures human beings can indulge themselves in – and it’s the most elegant way of living life, unique as it is.