As I read the ending of The Art Instinct I realized that some of my comments in previous posts may have been premature. For me, the real meat of the book is in the final few chapters, starting with “The Uses of Fiction.” This is really thought-provoking and it needs to be put into the proper context. When I’m ready, you’ll get some posts — but no more embarrassing myself. 🙂

So something a bit lighter: I was reading an interview with everyone’s favorite fashion guru, Tim Gunn, today. He talked about his initial trepidation in moving Project Runway from New York to Los Angeles for season 6, which premieres tomorrow:

I was concerned about what Los Angeles would really do for us fashion-wise. And I have to tell you, I was there for less than 48 hours … and it just struck me. I had this epiphany that I beat myself up over because I should have had it earlier and what the epiphany was — good God almighty, before World War II, Hollywood was the only place in America where there was any original thinking when it came to fashion because in New York, all [designers] were doing was copying.

It was all happening in Hollywood and I was reminded that Gilbert Adrian, who was the head costume designer at MGM for 30 years, there was such a fervor for his work that had ended up with a ready-to-wear line. So that was the centerpiece and the core of all the creative thinking.

This brings up a lot of interesting points. First, until WWII, even a place like New York couldn’t break into the prestige arts. I doubt that Gunn is right that everyone in New York merely copied. The parallel to judgments about Shanghai are striking. Conventional wisdom days that mainland Chinese just copy everything. While I have indeed personally witnessed this in an academic context, even from students from the best Chinese universities, like Tsinghua, there’s some vitality to the arts in Shanghai that is spreading throughout the country. Attending the International Graduate Student conference in Hawai’i in February, I also attended a fascinating presentation by Gary Liu about an early 1989 contemporary art show in Beijing — the first of its kind in the People’s Republic. Some of the works were performance art, where an artist waited for a crowd to gather around her mirrors, then she took a pistol out and shot the mirrors, causing instant confusion and disarray. In the end, cops showed up and the show, widely seen as a nuisance at the time, has entered the stuff of legend. Are the Chinese inspired from outside? Sure. But just copying? No more than we do, most times, probably.

Second, Gunn brings up the talented artists working in the movie and television industries. Apparently, these people are better than we have ever really given them credit for. How often do we stop to think of the possible applications for these talents, after all? Or stick around for the Creative Emmys? Not me, I will tell you that. And yet, about a year ago I read Master of Disguise, the story of Antonio Mendez, one of the CIA’s most legendary officers. He writes in a few places in his book about how he would work with these talented behind the scenes artists in Hollywood to craft perfect covers for Iran or southeast Asia. These artists, regular people who probably otherwise knew little about serving the country in the military, turned Mendez and his team into a bunch of movie moguls trying to shoot a movie in Iran. With that cover, he smuggled several American hostages out of Iran.

So this is all to say that I cannot wait for Project Runway season 6. It won’t be hard to be better than season 5. But I think it’d be difficult to approach the talent of seasons 3 and 4.