Christian Long

Maira Kalman: The Illustrated Woman

In TED Talks on April 10, 2010 at 9:17 pm

Reflection by VIVIAN H.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Maira Kalman: The illustrated Woman

I found Maira Kalman’s talk on the illustrated woman puzzling in a compelling way. It was as if she was letting the audience navigate their way through the various thoughts dwelling inside her head and allowing the listeners figure it out for themselves, rather than telling them what to think. The presentation itself reminded me of the spontaneous  way in which life itself unravels.

“What I am always thinking about is what this session is about, which is called simplicity. And almost, I would almost call it being simple-minded, but in the best sense of the word.”

Upon hearing this opening statement, I asked myself: what do I define as simplicity? I thought about it for quite some time, and my conclusion is this: simplicity to me is doing what I enjoy and letting go of the rest. I thought about it some more and found that being simple is actually quite hard to achieve. That requires truly knowing yourself, and as far as I know, even some adults have a hard time achieving that. This brought me back to Kalman’s next statement.

“I’m trying to figure out two very simple things: how to live and how to die, period. That’s all I’m trying to do, all day long.”

When I heard that line I wondered how many people have ever genuinely thought about this, because I certainly have not. It seems so easy to just accept what you’ve been doing, but never ask why. Listening to Kalman has urged me to be more curious, more like a child experiencing everything, because I still don’t know what I want yet.

Kalman said she was born a dreamy child, and was able to daydream her way through life. Then she eventually started a studio with a partner. She said, “And I — and my full-time job, I landed the best job on Earth, was to daydream, and to actually come up with absurd ideas.“ Kalman was able to express her ideas and influence other people, because she did what she enjoyed. Imagination and content was what drove the studio, and it seemed like a fun way to work. In a way, by being an illustrator you get to revert back to being a child. To explore new things and stumble upon some new ideas, is how you can connect to a younger audience. Kalman even says, “But I am able to make the transition from working for children and — from working for adults to children and back and forth, because, you know, I can say that I’m immature, and in a way, that’s true.” I think Kalman is able to balance the playful side of being young once again with the experience that comes with age.

“I never — I don’t like plots. I don’t know what a plot means. I can’t stand the idea of anything that starts in the beginning, you know, beginning, middle and end, it really scares me, because my life is too random and too confused, and I enjoy it that way.” This spontaneous side of Kalman is readily shown in her works as she describes the inspiration behind each one. Kalman also talks about her Russian roots, and the history behind it has also influenced her work as well. She says “”And I think it must have been a very, very dark day when the Bolsheviks arrived. Maybe amongst themselves they had a few good laughs, but Stalin was a paranoid man, even more than my father.”

Kalman then proceeded to talk the impossibility of February. There was a quote she saw  that read: “It is impossible not to lie. It is February and not lying is impossible.” and questions “how much truth do we tell? …what story are we actually telling? How do we know when we are ourselves? How do we actually know that these sentences coming out of our mouths are real stories, you know, are real sentences? Or are they fake sentences that we think we ought to be saying?” This really gets down to the core of our actions and makes one question. I believe the beauty of her work allows these questions to be conveyed to other people, and stops to make them think. Having the ability to grab a person’s attention, is one way people can influence each other. One idea, becomes a stepping stone for another person’s idea, which will eventually lead to a collective masterpiece.

Finally Kalman concludes with the statement, “ I happen to be alive, end of discussion. Thank you.” I believe Maira Kalman was able to get to the core of the most important question, and coney it to the rest of the world through her own quirky methods.


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