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Fall Self-Care Hacks From Art History
Did someone tell Millet that the Millennials were coming?
Art Stuff 02 Sep 2021

It seems like just yesterday that we switched out our iced matchas for hot, but iCal doesn’t lie—November is upon us. Unfortunately, fall doesn’t just bring out the pumpkin spice and Ugg booties. Say hello to dry skin, short days, slushy puddles, and cold mornings that make crawling out of bed even more painful than usual. (Pro tip: set up that self-timer on your coffee machine). On top of that, we have seasonal depression and holiday stress to look forward to. With so many bummers on the horizon, it’s no surprise that fall is the season of self-care.


Victor Borisov-Musatov, Autumn Mood (1899).

Luckily, with a little help from the Old Masters, we’re all more than equipped to handle every snowstorm and split end that November throws our way. Without meaning to, some of art history’s biggest stars created spot-on ad campaigns for self-care strategies—did someone tell Millet that the Millennials were coming?


Jean Francois-Millet, Haystacks Autumn (1873).

Don’t worry, we’ll spill their secrets. But first, a few words on self-care. With everyone from huge corporations to political activists shouting about it on social, can we even use the term with any precision or integrity? Clearly, I think so—I’ve used it three times already.
For the sake of this little article, I’d like to propose this definition, borrowed from psychologist Agnes Wainman: something that refuels us, rather than takes from us. It’s also something we do consciously; if it’s not deliberate, it’s not self-care. For example, taking a three-minute break at work to breathe deeply would count, but all that other breathing you do without thinking about it… doesn’t.


Wassily Kandinsky, Study for Autumn (1909).

Other than that, there aren’t really any hard-and-fast rules. But in my own opinion—and I think any cash-strapped gallerina would agree—the best self-care tips in life are free (sorry, goop!). Don’t get me wrong—I love essential oils and cashmere sweaters as much as the next girl. But the most reliable, tried-and-true self-care practices are the ones that are not only free, but always readily available to you: breathing, moving your body, laughing, talking to a friend.
In fact, the so-called “self-care” that we spend big bucks on often ends up being just a Band-Aid for our stress not a permanent solution. Personally, when something is bothering me deep down, I’ll go, buy, and eat anything under the sun, just to avoid addressing it head-on. But after a week of treat-yo-self takeout, new skincare products, and other indulgences, the problem is still there, albeit buried under a Dead Sea mud mask, patiently waiting for me to sit down with it. Sometimes, the best self-care comes down to pure stillness and silence.
But we promised you Old Masters, and a promise is a promise. Below, check out our top fall self-care tips, as seen in art history.
1) On the first truly cold Friday night of the year, skip drinks, stay in, and, yes, do a face mask.


Frida Kahlo, The Mask (1945).

This one needs no explanation. Face masks are that “basic” self-care trend that never dies… probably because they’re actually wonderful.
2) No matter what your winter bod looks like in the mirror, remember to always ~feel yourself~.


Henri Grevex, Parisian Woman at Her Toilet (c. 1890-1895).

I don’t know about you, but come wintertime, sweaters and scarves aren’t the only additional layers on my body, if you catch my drift. If you’ve noticed a correlation between dropping numbers on the thermometer and creeping numbers on the scale, you’re not alone. In fact, you can even blame evolution. Studies show that our bodies naturally crave a little more padding in the cold months—and can you blame them? Between skiing, slushy puddles and icy sidewalks, you’ll be grateful for a lil extra thiccness.
But knowing that isn’t always enough to stave off the negative self-talk during your weekly butt examination in front of the full-length mirror. (Pro tip: get rid of the full-length mirror, and get some winter jeans). Henri Gervex’s Parisian is far from overweight, but she does have enough squish in her love handles to horrify all the Emily-from-Devil-Wears-Prada types prancing around LES galleries. Of course, beauty standards have evolved since turn-of-the-century Paris, but the point of this example is her attitude, not her ass.
Our bodies, like everything else in life, are constantly in flux—whatever you see in the mirror next time you shed the five sweaters you wear around your flat to skimp on heating, try to respond with gratitude, not a grimace. As your yoga teacher has probably told you, you’re lucky to have a body at all.
3) Make time for some family time…


Zinaida Serebriakova, At Breakfast (1914).

Whatever family means to you, make sure you take some time during the holidays to reconnect. With the hustle and bustle of the season, it’s hard to find time to be alone, let alone travel to hang out with some people who probably irritate you a little, or a lot. But sometimes caring for yourself means giving, not just receiving—giving your time and energy to those close to you. Plus, to go back to our definition of self-care, nothing fills us more than nurturing the deep, longstanding relationships in our lives.
4) And don’t forget to check in with your gal pals!


Paul Jacoulet, Yagourouh et Mio. Yap, Ouest Carolines (1938).

If traveling home to see the ‘fam isn’t an option, don’t worry—there’s always a plan B. In many ways, in adult life, our friends become our second families, the ones we actually choose (and, to quote a little SATC, perhaps even our soul mates). But—file this under lies SATC told me—the average adult doesn’t have 5 hours a day to socialize with their BFF/soul mates. Unfortunately, when the reality of life is 10+ hour workdays and seemingly even longer commutes, squeezing in a cocktail hour begins to feel like a burden.
Taking time to maintain friendships isn’t just common-sense self-care; it’s scientifically supported. According to the Blue Zones research project, which delved into the secrets of the longest-lived people on the planet, social connection is vital to our health and happiness. Even if you can’t squeeze in a full-on girls’ night, you can at least FaceTime your long-distance BFF for 15 minutes. Hula skirts optional.
5) Schedule time to do nothing.


Itō Jakuchū, Botan shoukinzu (18th century).

By doing nothing, I don’t mean watching Netflix with a carton of halo top. I mean, literally, nothing, or as close as possible. Go ahead, put it on your iCal: “do nothing.” you can do nothing at home, but if you can get somewhere serene and in nature, even better. For one thing, you won’t have heaps of laundry staring at you in reproach, pulling you away from your scheduled nothingness. What’s more, if you schedule a destination as well as an activity, it will make you that much more likely to keep your commitment to nothing.
So, what does one do while doing nothing? You notice. It’s amazing what you can pick up on when your brain isn’t occupied with a billion things at once. Just ask Itō Jakuchū, a Zen Buddhist semi-monk (he was considered a lay brother) and Edo-period painter. Jakuchū, a name that a Zen monk gave him later in life, means “like the void”—it doesn’t get more ‘nothing’ than that. By all accounts, Jakuchū led a calm, quiet and even austere life; his stunningly detailed and lifelike paintings of animals were born from thousands of hours of observation and contemplation. It seems counterintuitive in our hustle culture, but sometimes doing nothing—intentionally—really is the path to greatness.
Even if you’re not an artist, infusing your day with a little nothingness will calm and center you, allowing your thoughts and feelings to settle like almond milk that refuses to mix into your coffee. With that curtain of mental fog pulled back, you might just start to see the world in the same crystal-sharp definition as Jakuchū’s scrolls. But no promises…
Text by Katya Lopatko 
Images via WikiArt.

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