Dean was a humorous, good natured man. He was a humble person, full of kindness. Most of all, he was a generous soul, sharing an endless supply of wisdom and curiosity. In his final wishes he asked not for flowers on his grave, but to give generously to the Library for the Blind and to the local bus drivers, who shuttled him to town when he could no longer drive himself. And if those causes strike a chord, Dean and his wife suggest an alternative: “Simply invite a friend to lunch!” That’s Dean, friends would say.
Sharing lunch and a conversation is more than passing idle time before continuing on with the day’s routine. It’s about making something meaningful out of the ordinary. Dean knew this to be true. Extraordinary ideas come from the musings of ordinary people doing ordinary things – just ask the startup entrepreneurs who made their first plans over pizza and a beer. Or think about the great works of artists and musicians, conceived in European cafes and brasseries. Whether in business or artistry, the valuable time in-between spurts of productivity is worthy of appreciation.
The myth of the starving artist is unfortunately no myth at all. Forced to choose between art supplies and dinner, many artists are fueled by creativity alone. Hardship or adversity can have the unintended consequence of nurturing greatness, but so can affordable studio space, good food and the occasional glass of wine among friends.
History books and travel guides from Key West to Paris are full of stories about intimate artist haunts, where painters, writers and philosophers gathered to converse with one another. Except for the occasional patron or benefactor (watch the film about famed art addict Peggy Guggenheim here), these were places of artistic retreat, not social inclusion.
It is time that we cast our net of curiosity wider, including people in our lives who think differently, creatively, inspiringly. Whether it’s a new neighbor, a colleague you met at the corporate offsite, or a person standing next to you in the check-out line, our lives are impacted by them. For better (a helping hand) or for worse (someone just standing in the way), your perspective will likely be shaped by unknown souls who surround you. It is far too human to look away and focus only on selfish needs and wants, but wouldn’t it be nice to just say “hi, how are you?” or even better, “can I buy you a cup of coffee?”
The artistic practice of Lee Mingwei is steeped in conversation and reflection about connections between strangers. In 2014, a solo exhibition of Mingwei’s relational art was on display at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo. It included a version of his “Living Room” project originally conceived for the Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. In both editions, visitors were invited to spend time in a living room created by Mingwei, reflecting about objects in their lives and sharing their meaning with others. Strangers were even invited to host an afternoon in the living room, sharing their own stories with museum visitors. The point wasn’t to entertain or to celebrate the objects on display, but to create a sense of connection, an opportunity to reflect and learn about oneself through the rather ordinary act of human interaction.
In the spirit of that simple goal, and in honor of what would be Dean’s 90th birthday, Project Art Lounge is embarking on a bold new project, the “Take an Artist to Lunch” project. We’ll even throw in a few questions as ice breakers. To keep it genuine, there won’t be a film crew or microphones to ruin your appetite, just an opportunity to learn about one another and, hopefully, about oneself in the process.
Our hope is that what begins with a rather ordinary experience at the lunch counter, will provide inspiration and a sense of connectedness going forward. For details and information on how to participate, please respond below, indicating your city and whether you are an artist or would like to be a guest host.*
*Thank you for your interest in participating – the “Take an Artist to Lunch” project. Registration is finished for now. We’ll be back soon with more opportunities to support artists. Nothing stops you from reaching out to or hosting an artists in your community.
So please continue your support!