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Thoughts on life, style and culture: Degas

November 15, 2011


I’ve been thinking a lot about moments lately, especially moment around moments. The mantra you repeat in the mirror before walking out the door, the subconscious smile seconds before you see someone you feel a connection with or the adjusting of your necklace before you walk into a room. The moments surrounding the actual moment can be all the more tantalizing and beautiful that the moment itself, and a hell of a lot more interesting. I’ve also been thinking about how women ususally like to deny that these moments exist, thinking that if we show cracks we are asking to be seen as weak, when really it is other’s perceptions that work to tear us down and these moments of realness that make us relatable and interesting. We all want to keep up the illusion.

French impressionist artist Edgar Degas said that “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” It is interesting then to note that much of his art was focused on moments surrounding moments. Instead of showing the finished and composed self, which is what most artists and humans would perfect to “make others see” he let you into moments that were unfinished, moments that he allowed you to see, transitory fleeting moments of movement. He did this in a way to say that the still being we present to the world is not the true art, the motions that create that moment however, are.

Degas found beauty and true expressions of art in women bathing, a ballerina fixing her dress or a horse jockey seconds before a race. I think it is even more wonderful that he does this in an impressionistic style, a blurred not fully formed subject preparing for action or the next big move. These is something so innocent and naïve and beautiful about the mystique. It feels Lolita and yet Marilyn in the same heartbeat.

Hidden moments are important for so many reasons. In the world of reality TV and social media we so often forget that we were once not so privy to our celebrity’s or even neighbor’s lives. We also forget that there are still moments that even we do not see, these moments surrounding a moment. The breath a starlet takes before stepping onto stage, the breath our friends take before walking out of our house for the day.

We all deal with the same thoughts of “I hope they accept me,” “I hope this goes right,” “I hope this is enough” on a daily basis. We all want to stay an enchanted image; having only those we want know and see our hidden selves, those private moments where we question whether or not our movements have left us fully prepared and ready.

As Degas took away the glamour of a ballerina by showing her fixing her dress, we take away the glamour of our stars by focusing on their flaws, we take away the glamour of our peers by making fun of their short-comings. It is at once both comforting and startling to know that beautiful people must readjust their clothing as well. We find acceptance in knowing that we share undefined moments with celebrities and friends, that we are all so innocent as to wonder and question ourselves. It is as if Degas was our first TMZ reporter, back stage videographer or twitter feed.



One of my favorite images of Marilyn is by Richard Avedon and it is a snapshot that was taken as she was sitting after a photo shoot. It is a brief exploration into a moment where she was not on stage, but not in a private sector either. We crave these moments. This is the art that we, or in this case Avedon, are making others see. Monroe once said that “To put it bluntly, I seem to have a whole superstructure with no foundation. But I’m working on the foundation.” Seeing hidden moments gives us a sense of a person’s foundation, a person’s real self, a person’s flaws, we build a foundation for structures based upon our personal understanding and opinion of their movements. We can make anyone into anything.

Though her body is not in motion here as in a Degas work, you want to know what is going on inside her head. While Degas was focused only on the movements around a moment, there are so many thoughts surrounding a performance it is impossible to catch them, but I think that is exactly what Avedon has done here.



We also hate to be wrong. And this is why we crave questioning and we crave the back story. We want to make our intuition and ideas correct. It is why we watch “Behind the Music.” It is why lifestyle blogs have become so important. It is why independent fashion bloggers are the new fashion magazines. We do not care about the end image, we care about how it was created. We want to see the individual’s thoughts and movements as they create something that we find beautiful or inspiring.

And it is this that brings me to show how the innocence found within Degas’ works have influenced a style of life that is focused not on us as fully formed creature but on us as beings in motion, constantly working to create a piece and while working creating the real art. It is a life of blurred colors and patterns, arbitrary choices, a focus on sensuality and a return of the seemingly immature.



Degas is without a doubt most famous for his images of ballerinas. I do not find it strange then to note that the ballerina style has always had a place within pop culture hearts. One of my favorite references lies within Sex and the City. Anyone who has seen an episode knows the iconic white tutu that Carrie wears during the opening scene. What more appropriate way to foreshadow the innocence that Carrie allows a generation to have.

Carrie defines an entire population of women who are now not afraid to talk about hidden moments, those breakfast discussions on lack of confidence, the pondering whether or not you are good enough to be remembered by Mr.Big, the aches and pains of being a human that must theoretically be on stage at every moment not alone, always being looked upon. We are nothing if not actors or actresses in our own movies. The characters in Sex and the City showed us that our inner thoughts are those that are most interesting and Carrie with her tutu made us realize that the poised ballerina, or printed journalist, has a back story that may be splattered with a puddle (#reaching).

The beginning credit tutu is not the only tutu to make an appearance on the screen of SATC. When Carrie is famously stood up by her Russian lover what else would she be wearing but a tutu? A moment of seeing the charmed fall, a cultural moment of pure and relatable childlike sadness wrapped up in a designer representation of innocence and thoughtful preparation for what is next. I can barely handle how great of a style choice this was.




If you skip to 4:08 you will be able to see a behind the scenes image, like the ones Degas was capturing.










Tulle, glitter and cinched waists. There are so many fashions based upon that of the pristine, the glowing star in the moment. How do we create these beautiful hidden moments Degas and the public loves without first being theone that is being watched, waiting to see if they fall. The fashion inspired by Degas is almost as if to say that you are not expected to be a real person when you wear these beautiful, sensual items- but you will be and that is what is beautiful. You will make mistakes no matter how perfect you may look. It’s the moments that blur together as you get ready for a night -lipstick and floral notes and bouquets – that have been translated into soft romantic patterns. It is the stage you want to be ready for so badly that has become tight ballerina waists and layers of ruffles. The softness and appeal of these items is that women are able to be seen as the star in their own movie. What women don’t understand is that the fashion they feel runway ready in is inspired by their bathing or last look in the mirror before they step onto it.

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