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If you like Maya Lin's story, you might also like:
J. Carter Brown,
Dale Chihuly,
Frank Gehry,
Philip Johnson,
James Rosenquist,
Fritz Scholder,
Vincent Scully,
Amy Tan and
Wayne Thiebaud

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Maya Lin in the Achievement Curriculum section:
A Passion For Music
Meet the Architects

Related Links:
Maya Lin Studio

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Maya Lin
Maya Lin
Profile of Maya Lin Biography of Maya Lin Interview with Maya Lin Maya Lin Photo Gallery

Maya Lin Interview (page: 7 / 8)

Artist and Architect

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  Maya Lin

Can you generalize about what you're striving for in your work? You deal with some very important ideas: women, peace, civil rights, environment.

Maya Lin Interview Photo
Maya Lin: I think there are two things going on. One, because my parents were both educators, I might be making up for all the history courses I didn't take, through these larger issue subjects. Two, it is a way we can teach the next generations. It's this need in me to help out, whether I'm doing that or whether I'm volunteering for some environmental organization.

The other side of me is solidly pursing art and architecture out of my own drive. Not that the monuments aren't also part of that aesthetic, but the monuments in general draw on a larger social issue. The art works deal much more specifically with my personal love of landscape, the environment, how we see the land through a microscopic view, a satellite view of the Earth. That's my art. And there's been a very strong progression in the last ten years as that's developed. There's a show called Topologies that went throughout this country -- part of it's traveling in Europe right now -- which deals with a love of nature, naturally occurring phenomenon but seen through a 21st Century lens, the lens of technology. So it's a landscape art, compared to 19th or18th Century landscape painting. We have a couple of different technological ways of viewing our world. I play off that in my art.

I think art is very tricky because it's what you do for yourself. It's much harder for me to make those works than, in a way, the monuments or the architecture because those have functions. Architecture, the monuments, it's a symbolic function, but it's still you're solving a problem. The architecture, you're definitely making art, but it's surrounded by a problem solving. It's like math. It's a puzzle to me. I love figuring out puzzles. The art work, on the other hand, is, "Go into a room and make whatever you want to make." And it's very, very hard.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

What is the role of art in society?

Maya Lin: The role of art in society differs for every artist. I try to give people a different way of looking at their surroundings. It's making people aware of nuances, changes in depth, height, making you aware of perceptions in a very, very subtle level. Focusing you on a new way of looking at your surroundings, at the land. That's art to me.

I think what makes art valuable is: it is about an individual expressing what they think is a part of them, and variety and difference and clashes is what makes art valuable, that there is no one defining idea of what art is or what it should do. And that's what makes it art, that it has no rules, that it's so individualized in that sense. And yet, because we are born and we come from a very specific time, it is a reflection of exactly who we are at this time without ever having to be consciously thought of that way. It just is.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

Should it provoke? Should it make people think?

Maya Lin Interview Photo
Maya Lin: Some art should. Other art might not. Some artists want to confront. Some artists want to invoke thought. Some artists want to please in a different way. They're all necessary and they're all valid.

If I read correctly you once said that you don't want to tell people what to think, you want to present them with information. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Maya Lin: That probably is very eastern. It's the idea of the well. You take from the well. You offer up information, but you have to let the viewers come away with their own conclusions. If you dictate what they should think, then you've lost it. That's not the goal. I think that is very much an Eastern approach.

At this point in your life, what haven't you done that you would like to do?

Maya Lin: I think I'm very young, architecturally. Because I spend equally as much time in the art, I can only take on one or two architectural projects at any given time. So my career in architecture will take twice as long, maybe three times as long. There's a project on extinction which I'm starting now, but I'm not in a hurry to do a lot of projects. I am very resolved in each project I take on. In the art work, I have sort of made myself whole, so there's a sense of arrival. I'm very curious to see where I go next with landscape. The architecture is younger.

I've had very few free standing projects. And I'm working on one right now, a bakery for the Grayston Foundation. They're a not for profit group that build housing for the homeless, AIDS hospices. This one bakery in particular hires, at times, people out of prison, but also other people in sort of economically hard neighborhoods. And I am drawn to institutional, not-for profit-museums, educational. I did a library for the Children's Defense Fund. I'm working on a chapel for them. I'm interested in keeping the balance between the art and the architecture. And I think that is the goal, to keep it up, to build, make more works, see where I go with it, not lose one to the other.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

I think a lot of the architectural works will deal with being environmentally sensitive, sustainable, using solar passive cooling. They're very simple, with a warmth isn't what minimalists are thought to have. There's a humanness, an intimacy, a real warmth to the simplicity. But again, can I reduce it? Can I keep it to clean-powered all natural materials?

One of the key things in the architecture is that I want always to have you feel connected to the landscape so that you don't think of architecture as this discrete isolating object, but in a way it frames your views of the landscape, which is a very Japanese notion. So that the house is a threshold to nature, or basically begins to explore our relationship to nature. So again, this love of the environment comes back through all the work.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

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This page last revised on Sep 22, 2010 10:38 EST
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