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Footnotes in Life, Art and Academia


I have no interest in small talk. I’m much more interested in the footnotes.

As a teenager, this interest came off as weird – I’d remember small facts about people I’d only spoken to once or twice which left them looking at me strangely and asking how I knew that. “You told me,” I’d respond, and then weirdly enough, they wouldn’t talk to me much after that. Nowadays though, having picked up some tact along the way, I keep this interest to myself.

In the age of ‘kindness is the new cool’ however, and perhaps now with the maturity of adult company, everyone else seems to have an increasing interest in the footnotes of those around them too. The author of Humans of New York, Brandon Stanton, has a knack for asking questions that allow people to unfold and express experiences and emotions unique to them and unknown to many. The card game, We’re Not Really Strangers, created by Koreen Odiney, empowers and encourages players to open up to their game partners in ways that friendly conversation wouldn’t often facilitate. Perhaps it is the rise of social media, giving us all a sense of sonder, as our neighbours and old school mates release small pieces of themselves to the internet in posts and stories, that led this movement of pushing deeper into individual human stories.

Footnotes have always been important in the eyes of an artist. They could be considered the first to push and prod past all the masks their subjects hold up, just to reflect a fleeting moment of vulnerable authenticity to their audience. The rigid, quick lines on the hands of Picasso’s portrait of Dora Maar “lengthened on a sofa” in 1939 express a hidden anxiety felt at the precipice of World War II. An inconspicuous detail, glazed over by many, but not only a footnote of an era, but also a small feeling of a woman attempting to appear calm amidst global chaos, unable to be seen by someone uninterested in a deeper connection. Juan Luna expressed an intimate moment between lovers in Tampuhan in 1895, noting their posture and eyelines to reveal inner turmoil. He too captured a scene on the precipice of change, before the Philippine Revolution, capturing this tension between the two partners, the footnotes of a moment. A mere “Hey, how are you?” and a follow up, “Good, and you?” does not an artist make.

Academic footnotes grant further insight and thus understanding about a broader topic. They build up a central subject, adding depth and greater meaning, and allow for further research and growth. Similarly, personal footnotes enable a deeper understanding and connection. They give access to small portions of people which helps us to piece together who and why they are the way they are. Perhaps, there are some people you might not want to read into. Maybe there are some just not worth knowing. Not everyone reads the footnotes.


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