How Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan Novels changed my taste in literature

I FINALLY finished Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan Novels series yesterday after an embarassingly lengthy period spent reading them.

I’m behind on the times, I know, I know. But working a fulltime engineering job and finishing a part time engineering degree is no joke, guys.

These books drew me in more than anything I’ve read in a LONG time. And they aren’t of the genre I’d usually pick up during a high-stress time in my life. When I’m super busy with work and school I tend to go for something mindless – the Kardashians version of a book.

But I’d argue that Elena Ferrante’s books are much more character driven than plot driven, which is not of the trashy fast-paced romance novel chick lit sort of genre.

Instead, this 4-part series deeply delves into the lives of two women and the dynamics of their lifelong friendship as they grow up and establish lives in a very poor neighborhood of Naples.

The series could be seen as a study of a particular corner of Italy during a very specific time period; and through the relationships that these women forge over the span of their lives and the slow drawn-out build up of various tales of their experiences we get a picture of what it was like to find your niche in the world in post-war Italy in an poor family that did not value education.

This series has really pushed me to be patient with literature that is slow-paced. It’s made me realize that my GoodReads goals aren’t the be-all and end-all of my reading experience.

That reading a bit of a novel and digesting all of the implications of a passage is okay – it’s not a rush to finish a series as quickly as possible.

My top tips for surviving a long distance relationship

One skill that I have in life in which I have unwavering confidence in my abilities is my ability to make a long distance relationship work.

My (now) husband and I lived 5000 miles apart for about a year and a half, with me in the US and him in the UK and then in Turkey, and we came through stronger than ever so I’d say I’m pretty wise on the topic at this point.

That being said, here are my top tips for making a LDR work…

  1. Have an end date in sight. Now, I’m aware this isn’t 100% possible in some cases. But if possible, try to at least have an idea of a time frame around which you can close the distance. Or brainstorm a list of plans that you could take to aim to close the distance. For me, knowing that living apart was temporary and that I only had to make to to x date really helped me to feel closure on the situation (even while I was still going through it).
  2. Always have plans for your next visit. This is second to having an end date and especially important if you can’t determine an end date at the time being. Every time I visited YG or he visited me, we’d come up with a plan for the next visit – whether it was over Christmas break or summer holidays – just having time together planned out on the horizon really helped.
  3. Communication about everything. I know, I know, really cliche, but when YG and I were apart, I never tried to hide how challenging the situation from me, I never tried to pretend I wasn’t serious about our relationship, none of that. I was straightforward and raw the whole time. Being able to face all of the emotions brought by the situation allowed us to face the situation head on and push through it, bringing strength to our relationship with each other.
  4. Take advantage of technology. Obviously facetiming is not the same as having a cuddle,  but being able to call internationally for free on whatsapp and either skype or facetime effortlessly makes it a lot easier to feel like you’re in tune and in touch with the other person.
  5. Don’t let other peoples’ opinions or anecdotes get to you. If I had a dollar for every time someone told me a story about their failed long distance relationship, seriously… For some reason when you’re in a relationship that isn’t as cut and dry traditional as most, everyone has an opinion. Don’t let them change your mindset! Only you and your partner know what your relationship is like, and only you two have the power to make things work if you so desire!

My 2017 Travel Review

I didn’t get to travel abroad as much in 2017 as much as I have in previous years or as much as I would have liked for a couple of reasons. The first being that in March 2017, my (now) husband moved stateside. Because he was in bureaucratic limbo in terms of his immigration status until October of 2017, he couldn’t exit the United States. And I wasn’t going to travel without him 😉 After October, he landed his first job here, which also prevented us from taking a lot of time away.

Nevertheless, we were still able to have a few city breaks to explore cities here in the US. Staying local (ish) only made us more excited to travel abroad in 2018 and 2019! So without further ado, a bit about the trips we did take in 2017!

April 2017 : Savannah, GA

My sister is currently in PA School (that’s Physician’s Assistant, for those of you who aren’t aware 😉 ) in Savannah, so YG and I took a long weekend to travel down to see her white coat ceremony. This was the first time I’d been to Savannah in about 10 or so years, so it was great to see the city again. We did a hop-on-hop-off trolley tour of the city’s historic center, drank a couple of pints at an English pub and of course saw my sister receive recognition for accomplishments thus far!

May 2017 and June 2017: Wilmington, NC and Wrightsville Beach, NC

I’m lumping two visits to two cities together because, yes, I went to both places two months in a row. Strange, I know. In May, YG and I decided to spend Memorial weekend by the coast in Wilmington, and at the actual beach in Wrightsville Beach, as he’d never seen the North Carolina coast yet. It was a very relaxing trip – Wilmington has a very cute historic downtown with so many choices for restaurants. And of course, I really love a beach day. In June, I went back to the same area for my sister’s bachelorette party (this time, no YG). We rented a house in Wilmington and spent our days on the beach!

July 2017: Boston, MA

YG and I decided to spend 4th of July week in Boston. I had only been once previously – I had a 10 hour layover there in 2006 on the way to Europe and left the airport to discover the city, although how much can you really see in one day?! Anyway, we loved Boston – I think it’s like a smaller, more historic and classier version of NYC. We walked the Freedom Trail, ate in Little Italy, drank fishbowls (lol) by the bay, went to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (a fave of mine!!!), and went to the aquarium. All in all, a great city – I’d definitely go back. Though it was SCORCHING hot when we were there, so maybe we’d aim to go back in spring or fall next time.

September 2017: Savannah, GA (again)

Aaaaand we went back to Savannah in September for my sister’s wedding! So not a ton of sightseeing this time, though we did get to spend some time with extended family in the city. We took a ghost tour (and actually thought it was really cheesy and not at all worth the cost). My sister’s wedding was beautiful and the reception was in Vic’s on the River which is in a historic building that has balconies overlooking the river. So picturesque and old-south. Savannah really is a unique city and I’d highly recommend it if you haven’t been.

November 2017: Miami, FL

So, before I went to Miami, all of Florida was, in my head, old people, disney tourists, and sweltering heat. We had to go to visit the Turkish consulate there (as Miami is the one that we are districted to). I was SO pleasantly surprised by Miami. It’s incredibly glamorous (lots of wealthy investors flocking there, obviously), but I think what really made me love the city was the Cuban/Latin American vibes. They say that Miami is the capital of South America – and I would not argue with that! While I wouldn’t say Miami has as much to see in light of history and culture (not like New York or Boston does), the food, shopping and tropical vibes aren’t replicated anywhere else I’ve been. I’d 100% go back to Miami for some R&R, some empanadas and mojitos and just the general chill vibes. I’d say its definitely one of my top 3 favorite cities in the US, if not my favorite.

December 2017New York City

My cousin Sydney and I came up with the brilliant pipe dream of visiting New York over the Christmas holidays and were luckily able to turn our plans into reality sort of at the last minute. The last time I’d been to New York was in 2015 when I lived there for a hot minute (that’s a story for another time), so I was really longing to go back and experience the city’s museums and culture. There are some things you just can’t get when you live in a smaller city (*ahem* the Met and the MoMA) and after a while, I’ve found I really have a yearning to immerse myself in some big city vibes. Anyway, we did a lot while there (YG joined us a couple of days into the trip as he had to work). We went to the Met, the MoMa, saw NYC Ballet’s production of the Nutcracker, shopped, went to the Tenement Museum, and ate a lot of bagels!

So I suppose that’s it, my 2017 wrap up. I didn’t go into the year with the intention of it being a big travel year because of bureaucracy and such, but we somehow found a way to sneak in visits to many cities, which I’m really happy about! Here’s to 2018 travels!

My favorite museum in New York : the Tenement Museum

I recently spent the end of 2017 and the veeery beginning of 2018 in New York City with my husband and cousin. We managed to see A LOT and to eat a lot as well (so many bagels….). But my absolute favorite thing that we did was visit the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.

Now, I’d visited this museum before (in 2013/14, I think), but this time I booked a different tour for our visit. During my previous visit, I took the ‘Hard Times’ tour and during this visit, I took the ‘Irish Outsiders’ tour.  The Tenement Museum isn’t like other museums in that it’s self-guided and made up of information panels and artifacts. Rather, each visit is comprised of a tour with a guide. The experience is centered on the building that the museum owns, 86 Orchard Street, a real tenement, and the stories of the families that inhabited the building during the 19th and early 20th century families.

Usually when I go to a museum that focuses on history I tend to spend my visit thinking of the stories of the individuals during that period in history – what were their day-to-day lives like? How did they feel about the events presented in the exhibit? What were their personalities like? Unfortunately I think a lot of these details have been lost in time.

Through research about individuals who inhabited the building and piecing together various cultures present in New York during the time period that respective tenants inhabited the building, the museum has been able to sculpt detailed stories about what life would have been like for the people who lived at 86 Orchard – the details of their lives that have faded into history. The museum guides provide a narrative through factual information, and the tenement building serves as the perfect historically accurate backdrop.

I absolutely adore this museum as I feel that it really captures the multi-ethnic story of New York – a beautiful facet of the city that is still felt today!

 

 

New year, new habits

New Year, new me right?

I feel like people gripe too much on resolutions and forget the reason that resolutions were started in the first place. It’s great to have a set date where we step back from the way we’ve been living and hit the reset button. Figure out what’s working in life, what needs improvement, and how we can reset our goals, aspirations and habits to stay on track towards what we really want long term.

The new year is a good reminder that stepping back and looking from the outside at where we are and where we want to be needs to be done from time to time. And sometimes having a set date such as January 1 looming over us is the kick in the pants from the outside that we need to do some self reflection.

This year, I’m approaching the whole resolution thing with the goal of starting new productive habits from the top of the year and aiming to continue through the end of the year. Yes, January 1 is a fairly arbitrary date, but I’m hoping that by the end of the year, keeping up these habits will have paid off in some way or another.

That said, these are the habits I want to maintain for the whole of 2018:

  • Put consistent work in to the final two courses of my Computer Science degree and finish up by the end of the fall semester.
  • Close all three rings on my Apple Watch every day (that’s a hard one!)
  • Go to 4 gym sessions a week (or at least 3).
  • Read a chapter of a book every day.
  • Complete 3 CLRG grade exams in Irish Dancing over the course of the year. This will include preparing a plethora of dancing steps and practicing consistently.
  • Keep putting money into savings
  • Write in my one line a day journal every day.

So there you have it. I suppose some of these things are more “goals” than “habits”, but I’d like to think putting consistent work into each of them is the mindset I’ll shoot for.

A year ago, I moved away.

Today timehop informed me that I am one year on from my move away from London.

Just seeing photos on the app of this period of my life brought back memories of how stressed and hopeless I felt last summer, facing an expired visa and subsequently, a long distance relationship.

I thought that leaving would be a death sentence to my relationship. For the next ~7 months (to be honest, until we discussed marriage), I thought that being apart would be a death sentence to the viability of our relationship.  It wasn’t a lack of faith in myself or in YG that discouraged me, it was this feeling of being out of control. This feeling that even if we worked hard to cultivate our bond from a distance, the separation would take over and we would be forced apart.

But now, here we are. We made it. (Well, as long as our visa gets approved). It’s been damn hard; it probably has been the hardest transition I’ve ever made in my life. We’ve had the opportunity to reconnect in London, Chapel Hill (with visits to Asheville, DC and Charleston!) and recently, in Bosnia and Serbia!

I feel that at the end of the day, the cards that we have been dealt in regards to our relationship have been really positive for us. I know that we can survive just about anything as a couple. I know that I can bring up any concern in conversation with YG and it won’t be awkward or anything. I also know that we can be apart for just about any period of time and we will be right where we left off when we meet back up.

But yeah, that anxiety that I felt….timehop won’t let me forget that pit in the bottom of my stomach fear of losing YG to reasons beyond my control.

Anyway – here’s to being in the same place in 2017! ❤

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Asheville two years on

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I got kinda fat in college and wondered why it happend, but lets be real I don’t know anyone who can drink as much as I did and eat Bojangles 3x a week and stay fit, like come on.

I’m pretty sure that I did not have the typical college experience. Pretty every white girl in America must say that, but Asheville really is something else and I (like to) think it was less touristy, and therefore less tainted, 6 years ago when I started undergrad.  I can’t visit Asheville without feeling nostalgic about five billion things (also, I’m writing two posts in a row about cities, so there’s that, but whatever).  I graduated from UNCA two years ago but it feels like 3 months ago.  I have done a whole lot of nothing and also did a masters degree in the meantime but a large bit of my friend group are still living in WNC so I feel like some sort of time warp has happened and I’ve missed out on a lot of exciting stuff but at the same time everything is exactly the same.

Every time I head up to the mountains I realize how much I have changed in the past two years.  I still connect with my closest friends, I still like a lot of the same things and we still get up to the same shit when I come for a visit but I guess my priorities are just so different. I’m so much more sure of myself, so much less eager to branch out at EVERY OPPORTUNITY POSSIBLE (this is both a positive and a negative thing).

Most of all, I realize how damn special my entire experience was in Asheville. I met a huge spectrum of super unique people, a bunch of which I am still close to and to live in a weird and beautiful mixed up place that isn’t recreated anywhere else.

I left my heart in Sarajevo

 

I fell so in love with a city that I had to revive my blog to tell the world about it.  The magical ambiance of Sarajevo truly is a force to be reckoned with.

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YG and I decided to go on holiday to a rather obscure location this summer.  The original plan was for me to visit him in Turkey, but after the coup attempt in Istanbul in mid-July, we weren’t sure what the situation would be like come August.  So, we re-arranged plans and decided to check out Serbia and Bosnia instead.  Both countries have visa-free travel for Turks (something that’s unfortunately hard to come by).  I wasn’t really sure what to expect of Belgrade and Sarajevo seeing as they’re not common tourist locations, but I was so so pleasantly surprised (especially by Sarajevo).

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View of the city from the White Fortress

Sarajevo is in a really big valley, with the main part of the city in in the center, and residential areas creeping up the mountains. The city has changed hands many times – it was founded by the Ottomans in the 1450s, became part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1878, and then became part of Yugoslavia after the first world war. According to wikipedia, until the late 20th century, it was the only major European city to have a mosque, Catholic church, Orthodox church and synagogue in the same neighborhood. Which is pretty cool.

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The architecture reflects all of these changes – the Baščaršija (old town) area of the city reminds me of Istanbul, with cafes selling Turkish style tea and coffee and mosques from the 16th century; the Austro-Hungarian era part of the city having extravagant, pastel colored buildings and the Yugoslav era part of the city with concrete bloc buildings.

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Before going on this trip, I was a little concerned that there wouldn’t be enough to do – whenever I told people where I was going, the reaction I got was either ‘where?’ or ‘why?’ –  but we actually ran out of time to do everything we wanted to. We ended up taking three tours through an NGO travel agency in the city – the first being a tour through the major points of the city, including the AMAZING city hall built in the pseudo-Moorish style, the cathedral, the oldest mosque, etc., the second being a tour based on the war in the 1990s and the third being a tour of sites in the surrounding Bosnian countryside.

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I think that the thing that made me fall so in love with Sarajevo was the layers of history present in the city – it was an Ottoman administrative center, it was the site of the assassination of the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, which marked the beginning of World War I, and it saw the longest siege of a city in modern times. To me, this mixture of cultures has created one of the most unique places I’ve ever been.

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But, I think the most fascinating thing about Sarajevo is how this culture has bounced back after the war in the 1990s. My mind was constantly blown that the streets that we were walking were part of a city in which the residents were trapped for four years. And that this happened just twenty years ago.  Most of the historical buildings have been fully restored and reminders of the conflict only remain in the cemeteries on the hills surrounding the cities and random spatters of bullet holes in buildings.

We sort of like made friends (lolz) with our tour guides and our air bnb hosts and their stories about the war were incredibly moving and devastating to hear. The people there were absolutely lovely and it’s obscure enough that it’s not overwhelmingly touristy (like Amsterdam or London or something), but there is a whole lot to see and learn about. YG and I observed that it’s more of a place for seasoned travelers (like people backpacking all of Europe), rather than folks like us on summer holiday.

I don’t know – there’s something about the mountain air and old world charm that just captured my heart, along with the cultural mixture of Slavic and Ottoman roots. Sarajevo isn’t like anywhere else that I have ever been and I’ll definitely be returning to Bosnia.

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Stalls outside the marketplace that were created for traveling merchants to stay during the Ottoman era.

Things worth seeing:

  • City Hall – this amazing 19th century building designed in the pseudo-moorish style. It was burned in the 1990s and was restored in 2014 and the inside is GORGEOUS.

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    Inside of the city hall
  • Gallerija 11/07/95 – this place is somewhat of a mixture between gallery and museum. It describes the Srebrenice massacre of 1995 in which over 8000 muslim Bosnians were massacred by Serb forces despite UN initiatives to keep them safe. I found it heartwrenching and incredibly important to see.
  • 1984 Olympic Bobsled Track – Located on the surrounding Trebević mountain, the track has largely remained unused since the games and served as an artillery position during the war in the 1990s. It’s a must-see if you’re at all into urban ruins. You can actually walk down the track, it’s pretty creepy and cool. Apparently it’s being renovated this year…..IMG_2311
  • The Latin Bridge  – Site of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria Hungary – the shot that caused WW1.
  • The Old Town – Boasts loads of cafes with Bosnian coffee, Burek (A pastry filled with minced meat and onions or cheese) and souvenirs.
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  • The Tunnel Museum  – This isn’t in Sarajevo’s city proper, but is a fascinating museum about the efforts of Bosniaks to survive in the city while it was under siege.

 

All in all, I think Sarajevo is a magical city that can’t be missed. It doesn’t seem that it’s hit that level of obnoxious tourism that most European cities have, and it still retains a really authentic feel, which truly captured my heart.

 

 

My Top Tips for Grad School Applications

10699176_2532572598946_524579370_nI was recently approached by a friend seeking regarding applying to graduate school internationally and decided to sort of compile a list of my experience of the process.

Some people seem to come out of the womb knowing how to succeed in academia.  I am not one of them.  I have had to work hard, google a lot of questions, and cry on the shoulders of my favorite professors.  Not exaggerating.

A year ago, I began to apply to grad schools and felt that my university had few resources in place that allowed me to ask questions and explore my options. I mean, we had a career center, but I had a lot of questions that were specific to studying Art History.  The process of applying to grad school was initially a stab in the dark and I came to the realization that my applications were going to take up as much time as a 400 level course would.

Luckily I had a professor who put up with my thousands of questions and gave me moral support when I got my first rejection e-mail.  I probably wouldn’t have gotten through the application process without having had so much support.  (Thanks, Dr. Taylor).

The following is a sort of walk-through of my process, littered with things that I found helpful.

I’m by no means an admissions expert, but I feel that I’ve gained some wisdom through the past year’s experience and what I have learned may be of some value to pass on to others.  A lot of my advice is tailored to Art History specifically, but I’m sure that it can be applied to other disciplines, especially those that remain grounded in academia.

  • Have a specific research interest or “niche” of your subject in mind – General “Art History” is incredibly broad.  It’s really crucial to know that you like Baroque art far more than Contemporary Art, for example.  Because, there is going to be little to no study of your favorite artist Jeff Koons in your Byzantine Art History courses, let’s be real. A postgraduate degree is obviously going to be much more specific than an undergraduate degree, as you’ve completed the “survey” phase of your academic career.  It’s important to have used your undergraduate education to identify what facet of your subject you are interested in pursuing.  And if you don’t know yet, take a year out after undergrad to really figure out what gets your attention.  Showing admissions that you have a passion for a specific facet of your field is important, as it demonstrates that you haven’t mindlessly taken notes and written papers for the past four years – you actually have a personality and interests and this is reflected in your academic career.  Lemme tell you my secret: I personally believe that having a really unique or obscure interest is incredibly beneficial.
  • Have good (if not spectacular) grades – You know the drill.  I’m not going to harp on this because I’m sure you hear it enough.  But they are really important, as they are a way for potential universities to quickly gauge your skills (sort of unfair, I know). GRE scores are important as well, if you’re applying for programs in the United States.  I had very mediocre scores on the GRE, so I’m not going to attempt to give advice on that…
  • Research graduate programs – This may very well be the most important prep work you do.  Applying for graduate programs is very different than applying for undergrad in that you ideally want to choose a school based on the faculty available in your field and the strengths that it is know for.  (Whereas in undergrad, there could be fifty universities across the country that have pretty much the same resources available for your degree.)  Prestige is just as important important as the right fit for your interests. Don’t apply to Harvard just for the name if they don’t have a program that suits your needs. In researching what I wanted in a masters program,  I spent a lot of time looking at the faculty at schools that I was interested in and their research interests and publications.  (This is time consuming, I know).  Ultimately, your professors are going to be the ones working with you during your dissertation, so its best to have some sort of connection to their research interests.  Also – looking at where said faculty completed their own degrees is a great way to find and explore other schools with potentially similar strengths.  The internet is a powerful tool…use it
  • Establish a good rapport with professional mentors early on – Recommendations are a part of the graduate application process and having a professor or professional figure with the ability to write a good recommendation highlighting your skills is very important.  It’s great to have professors that you’ve known from the beginning of your academic career, so that they really know your strengths (other than the basic bullet points about yourself that are listed on a CV).  Asking recommenders as early as possible is really important as well –  people get busy and forgetful!  Your mentors are also a great support network for when things start to get really tough (aka when you have two ten page papers due the same week as two grad school applications).  Trust me, you’ll need their encouragement at some point!
  • Do an internship (or a few!) in undergrad – Apart from just being bullet points on your CV, internships are probably the best way to explore what you really want to do with your degree later on in life.   Having had two internships and an apprenticeship to an artist in undergrad, I have really formed a concrete idea of how I would eventually like to put my degree to use.  Internships are also a great way to make connections and network, not just with professionals or those above you, but with peers who are aiming for similar career paths.  It’s always great to know people in your field who have “been there and done that” because they can give you advice and help you out down the road.  It’s also fun to have a set of friends connected to your studies.  I’ve been lucky to collect a couple of friends at every internship I’ve done! 🙂
  • Write an undergraduate thesis – And a good one, at that.  Approach a unique topic with an unprecedented angle so that you can potentially publish your research.  Having research under your belt not only looks good on a CV, but also prepares you for the rigorous nature of writing a dissertation.  I really expected my thesis experience to essentially just be writing one long research paper, but it took a lot more creativity and plain hard work than that!  Down the road, you’ll be thankful you put in the grunt work.
  • Have a detailed, yet concise personal statement – Your personal statement is probably the most important part of your application, as it essentially outlines who you are, what you’ve done and what your goals are for the future.  Yet, I found it to be one of the most difficult things I’ve ever written!  I may outline my top tips for personal statements in a later post, but essentially this is an opportunity to brag about yourself – but you still have to keep it classy and professional (that’s the daunting part).  This is the place where you outline the research that you have done, how your internship experience has contributed to your set of skills, why you want to attend the university that you are applying to, and a bit of bragging about what sets you apart in the slew of applications that they’re going to receive.  This is sort of your resume, in academic essay form.

In the end, I applied to five programs.  Three were in the United States and two were in the United Kingdom.  I got three rejections, an waitlisting and an acceptance.  I’m about to begin my masters at the institution I was waitilisted at – ironic, as it is arguably the most prestigious of the five.  This just goes to show that graduate school acceptance is strongly tied to how well one fits into the environment of the program and how well the faculty will be able to support one’s research interests.  Don’t take your rejections to heart – a lot of the time, the acceptance rates for programs is below 10% for many liberal arts subjects – it’s incredibly difficult to make that cut!

At the same time, I’m a true believer that gaining acceptance to a well-regarded institution that suits your needs is entirely possible no matter where you attended undergrad.  It just requires the correct strategy and a great amount of work research. (And will probably include a handful of 10+ hour library sessions).

 

What are your tips for graduate school applications?  Would anyone like to see a post about personal statements? Let me know what you think!

 

'Community' – Sharon Louden at the Asheville Art Museum, 2014

 

 

Sharon Louden is a gem of the contemporary art world.

Not only is her work aesthetically fascinating (I mean, it’s so radiant that it’s virtually blinding), she boasts a shimmering personality to match.  Sharon has also become a personal mentor and dear friend to me during the past two weeks during which i have assisted in the instillation of one of her pieces.

I was incredibly fortunate to have been approached by a former professor at UNC Asheville to prospectively assist as an apprentice in the installation of Sharon Louden’s ‘Community’ at the Asheville Art Museum.  I jumped at the opportunity to both have something to do during my summer break and to be able to have an apprenticeship in which I got to work closely with an artist, as this is an occasion that I am rarely presented with.  I am lucky to have been one of four artists/art historians chosen out of a pool of forty applicants to take part in this!

In case you aren’t familiar with Louden’s installation work, many of her recent pieces consist of silver and multicolored strips of aluminum layered over the floor and walls, resulting in both undulating organic movement and a shimmering effect.  It’s a sort of mix between Anish Kapoor and Jeff Koons’s metallic sculptures, with the geometry of Mondrian or Malevich thrown in to add a twist.

Sharon also demonstrates impressive strength in other media (such as painting and sculpture), having earned an MFA from Yale in painting, and has had pieces shown in the Neuberger Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, National Gallery of Art, Arkansas Arts Center, Yale University Art Gallery, Weatherspoon Art Museum, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.  (I have to brag on her, because she is so deserving of her accomplishments!)  Sharon has made quite the name for herself in the international contemporary art scene, as well as having recently published a book entitled Living and Sustaining a Creative Life: Essays by 40 Working Artists, a fabulous read!

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This particular installation, ‘Community’, involves strips and ribbons of aluminum, a material with which Sharon has had a “love affair”.  (She told us this herself. I can’t make that kind of thing up).

This installation was a challenge that Sharon could not have physically completed on her own, due to the large size of the room and time constraints.  This provides her with the basis to reach out to the Asheville art community in many ways.  Sharon likes employ the work of local artists (and art historians!) to utilize the help of trained eyes, but at the same time, to give back to aspiring members of the art world, such as students.  More on this later…

Every wall started bare.  A general aesthetic was built up through layers and layers of aluminum.
Every wall started bare. A general aesthetic was built up through layers and layers of aluminum.

Essentially, we worked with Sharon to screw sheets and strips of aluminum to the walls and hang them so that they appeared to twist from the ceiling, which wasn’t at all an easy feat.  Yours truly had never used a power drill, so the learning curve was steep at times…  We began with large sheets, then moved on to strips and “ribbon” (aluminum that came on spools).  We ended by covering the floor with aluminum, which really brought the whole thing together.  It was amazing to be a part of the creation of such a large and powerful piece, and I LOVED being able to put my knowledge of aesthetics and composition to use!

Work in progress!
Work in progress!

Sharon’s aesthetic relies on reflection and subtle shadows created by the light and positioning of the metal.  The effects that layers and layers of aluminum have is incredible.  The room glistens while the mind is distracted by the organic movement Sharon has managed to create.  This work truly embodies the spirit of the medium of instillation in that one must see it in person in order to truly understand the aesthetic that Sharon seeks to convey.

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The best part of this apprenticeship was that Sharon made such a strong conscious effort to be able to help each of us in developing our careers in the art world.  It is pleasantly surprising to encounter someone who has so much to share and who, at the same time, wants to give so much to those who are trying to make a name for themselves!  Sharon has decades of knowledge on the workings of selling oneself as an artist, and being able to make a career out of creative talent.

Sharon volunteered to read our artists’ statements, or, in my case, my undergraduate thesis and asked us to come up with (at least) ten questions about the art world, our future careers, her experiences, etc.  Once I started asking questions, more came to mind, and the advice Sharon has given me the past two weeks has been beyond what I could have imagined.  I’m so thankful for both her guidance and her insight and commentary on the current state of contemporary art in America.  Sharon has provided me with a great amount of guidance with which I can reflect and consider my future in Art History.

Nearly finished!
Nearly finished!

The advice and friendships I have gained from this experience are so valuable to me and I’m so incredibly thankful for this experience.  I feel that I have gained so much insight as to what I’d like to do with my career and my future and I owe so much to Sharon.  It feels incredible to have been part of an installation that will be at the Asheville Art Museum for the next two years.  I am so lucky to have had the chance to meet Sharon Louden and learn from her, as well as my fellow apprentices.  The past two weeks have been full of memories and guidance and I will never forget my time at AAM!

Sharon's amazing book
Sharon’s amazing book