Burroughs Adding Machine

Social justice, arts and politics, life in New York City

Art and Lists

What can you decipher about a person from their to-do list?

Liza Kirwin selects her favorite lists by American artists and architects. What’s fun to note is the variety of expression: not only straightforward to-do items, but watercolors, collages, and the poetic interspersed with the mundane. Kirwin is a curator at The Smithsonian, and knows her stuff. Among my favorite bits here is a list by the architect Eero Saarinen, who designed the iconic St. Louis Arch. I remember first encountering his spiritual, earthly architect in a small chapel at MIT my freshman year in college.

Another artist, James Penney, can be seen trying to manage his life as a young artist in New York:

In his 1932 sketchbook he made a list of survival tips, including “spend what you have on materials” and “don’t go back to Kansas.” On the opposite page he sketched the steel joints, lifting hooks, and pulleys in the construction of Radio City Music Hall.

That fortitude and desire to make it in the Big City reminds me of Joan Didion’s famous farewell to the artist’s Manhattan life in “Goodbye to All That” (as well as the subsequent ode by another essayist who I’m gaga about–Eula Biss–in her collection No Man’s Land). I’d love to see what Didion or Biss have on their to-do lists, and what it reveals about the writer at work.

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About Me

Ricco Villanueva Siasoco is a Manhattan-based writer and non-profit manager. More

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