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🔢 Key Takeaways

  1. Flora Yukhnovich's journey proves that inspiration can come from unexpected places and that finding joy in your work is just as important as navigating established art world hierarchies.
  2. Appreciating art involves learning to appreciate the skill and intention behind any style, even those that may seem opulent or lacking in class. It is a constantly evolving process that requires an open mind and an appreciation for the nuances of different artistic styles.
  3. Don't be afraid to follow your own interests, even if they are considered unconventional. True happiness comes from being true to yourself and embracing what you love.
  4. Success doesn't always come from following the highest-prestige activity. Utilizing common sense and data can lead to unexpected triumph.
  5. Follow your passion, even if it's unusual, and focus on transparency and simplicity to explain your research effectively. With dedication and clear methods, you can achieve recognition and success in your career.
  6. Don't be afraid to explore topics that interest you in your research, even if they seem trivial. Creative approaches can yield valuable insights and challenge traditional views of what constitutes "serious" research.
  7. Examining low-brow culture can give us insight into people's routines, habits, and preferences. The origins of the slam-dunk contest in basketball demonstrate the importance of entertainment in sports and remind us to pay attention to seemingly trivial aspects of everyday life.
  8. In basketball, taking an unconventional approach can lead to innovation and success. The banning and revival of the dunk and the introduction of the 3-point shot in the ABA and its eventual adoption by the NBA proves this.
  9. The A.B.A. influenced N.B.A. with its ball movement, dunks, and 3-point shooting style despite being dismissed earlier. Similarly, Rococo art was re-discovered and appreciated by artists like Flora Yukhnovich despite being dismissed as feminine.
  10. Flora Yukhnovich's unique approach blends traditional Rococo painting with modern cheekiness, creating striking, beautiful yet self-effacing paintings. Her success proves that embracing one's individuality can lead to high demand and acclaim.
  11. Creating something deliberately beautiful can be an effective Trojan horse for conveying a deeper message. Embracing the déclassé can be successful in art and life, so don't worry, be tacky.

📝 Podcast Notes

Flora Yukhnovich navigated the established hierarchies of value in the art world to find inspiration for her own work. She initially aspired to become a portrait painter but discovered she didn't enjoy it. She then delved into more art training and found inspiration in the works of Frank Auerbach and Lucien Freud. She understood the importance of established artists in the art world and the notion of déclassé. However, she also discovered her love for playfulness and joy in art while looking at Disney cartoons and wallpaper designs. Yukhnovich's journey shows that it is possible to gain inspiration from a wide range of sources, and to find one's own voice while navigating existing hierarchies of value.

Embracing the Playful and Erotic Nature of Rococo Art

Flora Yukhnovich, a serious art student, initially dismissed the Rococo style paintings of Jean-Honoré Fragonard. She, like many, believed the opulence of the paintings made them 'designed to please' and therefore devoid of class. However, upon rediscovering Fragonard as a more experienced artist, Yukhnovich began to appreciate the playful, erotic and colorful nature of Rococo art. She realized that the challenge of art comes not just from complexity, but from learning to appreciate the skill and intention behind any style. Rather than dismissing Fragonard and Rococo, Yukhnovich has embraced the style and incorporated elements into her own work, showing that appreciating art is complex and constantly evolving.

Embrace Your Passion for "Tacky" Culture

Don't be afraid to embrace what you love, even if it's considered déclassé or tacky by others. Following your own passions and interests can lead to surprising success and joy. Don't feel pressured to conform to what others consider tasteful or acceptable. Rax King's book, Tacky: Love Letters to the Worst Culture We Have to Offer, celebrates the beauty and enjoyment found in so-called trash culture. True happiness comes from being true to yourself, even if it means going against the norm.

Tacky, Trashy, and Déclassé: An Exploration of Enjoying Things Others Deem Embarrassing.

Tacky, trashy, and déclassé are categories that point to things people should be embarrassed to enjoy, yet they still find enjoyment in them. There aren't strict definitions for these categories, but rather a feeling or intuition. This extends beyond art and culture and can encompass academic research topics as well, such as sumo wrestling, baby names, and TV game show discrimination. Steve Levitt found that following the highest-prestige activity, such as theory in economics, doesn't always lead to success. Instead, following a tacky path, one that utilizes common sense and data, can lead to unexpected success.

Pursuing Unconventional Interests to Achieve Success

Don't be afraid to pursue your interests, even if they are unconventional. Steve Levitt's love for crime and data led to his success in economics, despite not following the traditional methods or topics. Additionally, it's important to be able to explain your research in a way that anyone can understand. Transparency and simplicity in methodology can be just as effective as complex formulas. As Levitt's career demonstrates, pursuing what you love and using clear methods can lead to success and prestigious recognition.

The Value of Pursuing One's Interests in Research: A Lesson from Steve Levitt

Meticulously kept data on bagel and donut sales were used by economist Paul Feldman and then by Steve Levitt to study the marginal cost of firms. Though initially dismissed, Levitt's research paper based on this data taught his peers about economics and gave him a valuable intuition about human behavior. By pursuing topics that interest him, Levitt was able to uncover useful insights from seemingly trivial data. This highlights the importance of following one's interests and taking a creative approach to research, even if it challenges traditional views of what constitutes 'serious' research.

The Value of Low-Brow Culture in Understanding Everyday Behavior

Understanding low-brow culture can provide valuable insight into how people behave on a day-to-day basis, as it reflects their daily routines, habits, and preferences. Tacky, trashy culture may seem unimportant in the grand scheme of things, but it can reveal a lot about what people enjoy and value in their leisure time. This is evident in the origins of the slam-dunk contest in basketball, which was originally a feature of the rival American Basketball Association (ABA). The ABA recognized the importance of entertainment and show business in sports, and pioneered the use of cheerleaders, a red-white-and-blue basketball, and flamboyant, high-flying dunks that delighted audiences. Understanding this history reminds us that sometimes, to understand what people truly care about, we need to look beyond the elite, ivory-tower view of the world and pay attention to the seemingly trivial aspects of everyday life.

The Rise and Fall and Rise of the Dunk and 3-Point Shot

The dunk was banned from college basketball in the 1960s as the NCAA deemed it an unskillful shot. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who was then known as Lew Alcindor, believed that discrimination played a role in the ban's implementation because most Black athletes could dunk. However, the American Basketball Association (ABA) revived the dunk by using it as a means to entertain fans and stir up interest. The ABA also introduced the 3-point shot, which was initially seen as a gimmick by both the ABA and the National Basketball Association (NBA). The NBA eventually adopted the 3-point shot and saw it as a strategic component to win games. This shows that sometimes embracing an unconventional approach can lead to innovation and success.

The Impact of A.B.A. on N.B.A and the Rediscovery of Rococo Art

The A.B.A. had a significant impact on the development of the N.B.A., with its style and DNA being fully absorbed into the league. The A.B.A. was seen as a 'Blacker product' than the N.B.A. and was initially dismissed by the Establishment as déclassé. However, its influence on the game was undeniable, as seen in the ball movement, spectacular dunks, and 3-point shooting style that is prevalent in the N.B.A. today. Similarly, the Rococo style of art was seen as feminine and decorative, and therefore dismissed by the Establishment after the French Revolution. However, artists like Flora Yukhnovich have rediscovered its beauty and use it as inspiration for their work.

Flora Yukhnovich's Artistic Success and Process

Flora Yukhnovich's success as a painter is attributed to her embracing her so-called poor taste and thirst for the déclassé, as well as her ability to merge traditional Rococo painting with modern cheekiness. She often starts with a digital collage as a rough map, and then creates large canvases with a slow process of finding her way and balancing abstraction with figuration. Her paintings are drop-dead beautiful yet embarrassed by their own beauty, evoking a sense of both sarcasm and serious romanticism. Despite some criticism from art-world gatekeepers, her paintings have become highly sought-after and have recently sold at auction for millions of dollars.

Flora Yukhnovich and the 'Eager-To-Please' Aesthetic

Flora Yukhnovich is a revered young painter who embraces the 'eager-to-please' aesthetic. She believes that something beautiful lacks meaning and tries to set it up in a fine-art setting to see how people respond to it. It's easier to make something deliberately beautiful than in opposition to someone who says it shouldn't be. Yukhnovich sees it as a Trojan horse, using a pleasing aesthetic to obscure what's inside. She explains that it's her way of creating something palatable with a bit of abrasiveness to make it interesting. This idea of embracing the déclassé has been successful for her and others like Steve Levitt and Dr. J. They all have a message for us: don't worry, be tacky.