Liz Goldwyn | On Intimacy, Spiritual Sexuality + Art Through the Ages

by | Jun 1, 2017

My first introduction to Liz Goldwyn was about 10 years ago, when I picked up Pretty Things: The Last Generation of American Burlesque Queens, her non-fiction compilation of tales from the pioneers of a movement very much celebrated today. I’d loved vintage clothing since I was in high school, but in my early 20s, I became more fascinated by the actual lifestyle behind the aesthetics, particularly as I began swing dancing and Lindy Hopping. From there, I slowly began following the trail of fascinating crumbs she leaves behind in all her creative projects. Now with social media, it’s far simpler to devour her copious output.

Liz is a writer, filmmaker, and artist in Los Angeles and the granddaughter of Samuel Goldwyn, one of the most prominent men in the early days of film and cinema and recipient of several Oscars and humanitarian awards. My conjuring of Liz, as a decade-long follower, is that of a true lady, an inquisitive and unbiased explorer, an eclectic humanitarian, and a champion of femininity and the beauty that all women prepossess.

Her wonderfully explorative resume includes a novel Sporting Guide (Regan Arts 2015); the documentary Pretty Things (HBO, 2005) based on her non-fiction book by the same name (HarperCollins 2006 Hardcover, 2010 Paperback); her short films include Underwater Ballet (2008), LA at Night (2009), The Painted Lady (2012) and Dear Diary (2013). She was also the New York Editor of French Vogue from 2001 to 2002 and has contributed to publications including The New York Times Magazine, Financial Times, British Vogue and C Magazine. In September 2014, she became the first guest editor of Town & Country in its 168-year history.

She’s been commissioned as an artist and designer by M.A.C Cosmetics, Van Cleef & Arpels, Altamont Apparel, and Le Bon Marché, and has created jewelry for feature films, including Running With Scissors (2006). She founded Vintage Vanguard with partner and supermodel Karen Elson, an innovative fundraising project supporting women’s issues.

Over the last few years, I noticed her advocacy for various forms of mindfulness and interplay of meditation and sexuality and thought, ‘I must be bold and ask if she’ll speak to our OTW audience.’ There’s much we can all learn from her. After all, to me, Liz is the epitome of someone in constant exploration of how to live her best life and how best to celebrate it to its fullest. She’s a leader of a Pack and a Pack member all at once. Following is a dialogue we had with Liz as she nursed a painful broken tibia, fibia and fractured ankle in the hospital.

All photos courtesy of Liz Goldwyn.

How did growing up in Los Angeles and with your particular family really help you in exploring sexuality, art, and even fighting for causes?
I’m a California girl who spent a lot of time in England, went to boarding school in Boston and art school in New York, so I didn’t have a typical Los Angeles childhood! I was lucky to have grown up amongst artists and have a big family who encouraged me to explore all my passions, including non-profit work. One of my first jobs at age 13 was for Planned Parenthood. At the clinic in Santa Monica, CA, I organized their media library and did peer education.

I’ve been fascinated by human sexuality for as long as I can remember. My mother is a flag-waving feminist who gave me copies of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex and Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique as soon as I could comprehend their text, and at the other end of the spectrum, I used to steal my late fathers’ copies of Playboy. I have four brothers, so the male gaze/their sexuality was just as fascinating to me as my own. I was the kid that other kids asked for advice at school about urinary tract infections and sex – because of my experience at Planned Parenthood and my natural inclination for research – not because I was a wildly advanced teenager! I’ve always been very curious.

You have an indelible and obvious preoccupation with vintage art, fashion and erstwhile lifestyles but also really embrace modernity and technology, it seems. Do you have any philosophies on marrying analog with digital, vintage with modern – particularly when it comes to art, activism, or even every day communications?
There is an interesting TED Talk “Connected but Alone” about how now that we are more connected than ever before, via the internet, texting, social media, we are less intimate with each other. It is a delicate balance. I LOVE the tech world and have been fascinated since I was in high school with the latest innovations and thinkers in the field. I’ve spent some time at NASA JPL in California and could listen to their engineers speak for hours. I find that tech/science and art is very inter-related, and life would be boring if we only directed our attention towards one thing.

As for marrying technology with the past— one of my early short films, Underwater Ballet (2008), was shot on the then brand new Phantom Camera, which captures action at 1000 frames per second (normal frame rate is 24 frames per second). Because it records at such a high frame rate, the Phantom records all that the naked human eye cannot see. Thus, all the “in-between” moments of movement are suddenly visible. With this technology, I used “old-school” special effects like alka seltzer in tanks of water to create a universe of sparkling stars. I don’t think you have to choose old or new, but be versed in both in order to figure out where we are headed!

How do you balance your projects? Are you often involved in several at once, or is it easier for you to focus wholly on one at a time and then move on.
It depends. When I am in the final stages of writing a book and on deadline there is no room for anything else as it is all consuming. With artwork and short films, it is easier to multitask.

What form of meditation has been most profound for you?
All forms! Transcendental Meditation, breathing, chakra meditation with crystals, I love a Tibetan sound bowl…

What is spiritual sexuality, as you see it?
Treating yourself as sacred, treating your body as sacred, treating your sexuality and the act of sex with consideration for yourself, your partner(s). It is a topic I am exploring at length right now both in my personal life and in my new book (forthcoming).

We’d love to get your perspective on online dating in the overall sphere of healthy sexuality and intimacy.
I am an old-fashioned, monogamous girl who is infinitely curious about sex/sexuality. I have a lack of judgement about sex/ dating – what works for one person may not work for another. I have never online dated myself, but I love to help my guy friends with their online profiles. I think the ready availability of sex online and the transactional nature of it has taken us very far away from true intimacy. I see many people who have multiple sexual partners/consider themselves liberated sexually but have a fear of actual intimacy. This includes speaking up about protected sex, their boundaries, and their basic emotions. It’s a longer conversation I want us to be able to have culturally.

What most excites you about young women in this day and age?
To watch them realize their own power and take over the world!

What projects are you currently working on? Are you still working on your podcast and sex-help (self-help) book?
Writing a new book on Sex, Health & Consciousness – stay tuned!

Follow Liz: website + instagram