Barbra Streisand is the Ultimate Hyphenate

My Passion for Design shows Streisand has become a connoisseur of Art Nouveau furniture and vintage clothing.

By , Contributor
You could say that it started with Hank Williams. The patron saint of country music was writing his own songs, singing them and accompanying himself on the guitar at a time when Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and other pop stars were following what you might call an industrial model.

Crosby, Sinatra, and their ilk made great records by divvying up the responsibilities. Writers wrote, arrangers arranged, musicians played, and singers sang.Although nobody realized it in the early fifties, St. Hank was the wave of the future. The sixties produced three performers who have shown astonishing productivity over about half a century, and they’re all hyphenates: singer-songwriter-bard Bob Dylan; actor-writer-director Woody Allen; and singer-actress-writer-director-producer-do everything girl Barbra Streisand.

Woody Allen and Barbra Streisand.jpgThese days Dylan confines himself to music, and Allen confines himself to movies. Streisand, though, is not content to rest on her laurels, although she’s won every award worth winning. Without making a big point of it she continues to grow and develop as an artist. Although she rarely performs these days, she works at home - on her home.

Streisand’s recent book My Passion for Design shows that in addition to everything else she has become a connoisseur of Art Nouveau furniture and vintage clothing. And since she needs someplace to keep her treasures, she has designed and overseen the construction of a luxurious compound in Malibu to hold them. Her design notes, helpfully reproduced in the book, show that she brought to her design projects the same intense—some say obsessive—perfectionism that she brought to her movies, recording dates and concerts.

She made herself not just a connoisseur, but an expert on the design periods that she’s passionate about, such as Art Nouveau and Art Deco. Although she attributes her fixation on art and design to growing up poor, in a small apartment with no furniture to speak of, there’s more to it than that. Whoever writes a history of popular culture over the last 50 years or so will have to figure out why it was that Streisand and her fellow Brooklynite Woody Allen drew so much on the past for musical and movie ideas.

Did I mention that this beautiful book is illustrated by her wonderful, professional-quality photographs? It’s so appropriate that the cover page features an evocative photograph of the Malibu coast where her compound is located. Malibu is literally the last frontier; it’s where America stops. But is it where Streisand stops?  She hasn’t taken up is painting, as her fellow superstar Bob Dylan has done, but her life is an ongoing project, so I wouldn’t rule anything out.

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