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Kyla Legard, Art History Professor And Trend Hunter (INTERVIEW)

By: Jeremy Gutsche - Published: • References:
Kyla Legard is an Art History professor with an infectious enthusiasm and a love for the quest of cool. She's published in the Oxford History of Western Art and currently resides in England. She's also a renowned speaker on topics that range from art history to fashion and design.

Kyla's also a Trend Hunter (TrendHunter.com/Kyla), who told us, “Trendhunter has its finger on the pulse of cool. Think of it as a brain tattoo for cool”

12 Questions with Kyla

1. How and when did you become interested in the hunt for cool?

I became interested in the first grade at elementary school. I had an incredibly inspiring teacher whose enthusiasm for 'cool stuff' was contagious. She made 'show and tell' a wonderfully imaginative and fiercely competitive production where everyone in the class attempted to out-do one another and I guess searching for the coolest thing became a passion for me ever since (Thanks Mrs. Brown!)

2. How does trend spotting relate to the world of Art?

In both cases identifying originality is the key to success: but not just originality for the sake of originality. Instead, it needs to be originality that relates to some real need or desire. It is important to remember that when an apparently irrational trend occurs, there is always some deeper reason. The ability to anticipate trends relies on the spotter's ability to identify those deeper reasons. It's the same with art. Spotting the great artists of the future means being able to recognize the deep aesthetic and cultural problems they are engaged with – problems which other people have often failed to recognize, never mind actively engage with.

3. Do you believe that most modern artists find their inspiration from the culture around them, or is modern art inspired from within?

On a superficial level, that depends on the artist – but more importantly, I'd say that the best art is also the most authentic, the art that draws most compellingly from the inner resources of the artist. This can either be pursued as an end in itself, but equally it can be used as the foundation for a serious engagement with contemporary culture. An artist that doesn't have that strong sense of self is destined for at best temporary success, because they will lack the ability to tap into the deepest and most universal human needs, and it is precisely this that enables great art to transcend the particular cultural environment from which it came.

4. How do you define a trend?

A trend is simply a tendency – social, technological, aesthetic – that is destined to spread and impact upon society as a whole. But the more important point for me is that there are good and bad trends – trends that make our world better or worse. Too often the trend spotting world is so consumed by trying to spot the next big thing that it doesn't stop to ask itself what its wider implications might be, and that's what really interests me.

5. How do you define cool?

Cool for me is the ability to balance the impression you make on others with an expression of your own personality and individuality. The truly cool is the expression of someone at once comfortable with who he or she really is, but sufficiently integrated in their world for this not to result in mere eccentricity.

6. In the innovation process, what is the best way to seek creative inspiration?

There are two aspects to this – first of all you have to do your research and identify the problems that need to deal with, and also acquire the basic technical skills needed to respond to them; but then you have to able to stand back and let things sink in without thinking too hard about them. True creativity is about escaping the bounds of linear thinking and allowing new solutions to arise by a process of intuition and association, because the number of variables involved is just too great for the conscious mind to deal with.

7. Do good innovators have the same skillset as good artists?

I think they do – in both the arts and the world of innovation, you need to be able to combine a high level of technical skill with an ability to draw on the intuitive, subconcious power of the mind. Of course, the precise balance of these skills is different in the two fields. Artists can and often do get away with imperfect technical skills if their expressive power is sufficiently compelling; and innovators often get away with using sheer technical complexity to solve their problems, even though simpler solutions would often be more elegant – and reliable.

8. What types of trends do you feature in your classes?

I always try to connect my teaching with the artistic trends that are generating debate and controversy outside of the classroom. I don't always think this is always good art – in fact, often it isn't – but the existence of controversy shows that for one reason or another, the artist concerned has hit a raw nerve. The really rewarding and enlightening thing is to take the controversy and explore the historical and cultural reasons why this should be so. This often reveals deeper tendencies and processes that are so taken for granted in everyday life that we are barely conscious of them – but which will shape the development of our society in really important ways.

9. Why do you feel it is important to track trends and hunt for cool?

Because it is crucial aspect of understanding the world around us. But for this to be of real significance, we need to able to put this in a wider context. Tracking trends is at best going to provide us with a snapshot of contemporary society. But if we want to know which of those trends are really important for the future, we need to have deeper sense of how they interact with both our fundamental human needs and aspirations, as well as those generated by our specific cultural and historical contexts.

About Kyla Legard

10. Professionally, what do you want to be doing in 10 years?

I want to be doing something that makes me happy—and I'm most happy when what I'm doing is connected to the arts and cultural expression.

11. What are your biggest hobbies?

Reading. Writing. Conversation with friends.

12. Name 3 people who have inspired you.

Leonardo da Vinci because of his extraordinary creativity—even in the face of adversity; Ernst Gombrich because he cut through a lot of the academic bullshit that plagues art historical scholarship; and Audrey Hepburn because she wasn't just stylish, she set the styles of the day.

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