Brain Pickings

Author Archive

23 JUNE, 2011

The Open Day Book: Perpetual Calendar by 365 Leading Artists

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How to fill your days with art and your art with days.

This week’s summer solstice offered an invitation to revisit our civilization’s cult of the calendar. Stepping outside its conventions, The Open Daybook by LA-based writer and artist David P. Earle offers an interactive perpetual calendar with artwork by 365 of today’s most exciting visual artists, one for each day of the year. Each dated page allows you to fill in your schedule or jot down a creative response to the artwork, turning it into a weird and wonderful hybrid of datebook, sketchbook and daily art journal. (And we know sketchbooks hold a special place in the Brain Pickings heart.)

Featured in the book are favorite artists like Chuck Jones, Miranda July, Dallas Clayton (), Stefanie Posavec ( ), and Christoph Niemann ( ).

Christoph Niemann

Dallas Clayton

Miranda July

Chuck Jones

Chris Scarborough

Deb Sokolow

Starlee Kine

Mark Alan Stamaty

Stefanie Posavec

Luke Ramsey

The Open Daybook comes from Mark Batty Publisher, who also brought us Shapes for sounds, Notations 21, Cultural Connectives, Drawing Autism and many more gems.

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22 JUNE, 2011

Hume at 300: Timeless Philosophy for Timely Thinking

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Why imagination is at the root of the mind, or how to become a bestselling historian.

To mark the 300th anniversary of the birth of iconic philosopher David Hume, the fine folks at The RSA put together a panel of leading scholars, who reveal how Hume’s philosophy deeply resonates with contemporary culture and modern thinking on everything from creativity to education to politics to the future of publishing.

[Hume] concluded the dynamic power, which drives the workings of what we think of as the mind, is in fact the imagination. The organizing principle of what we like to think of as the mind is, in fact, custom, habit, convention — the sort of experience, the cognitive experience, the moral experience we acquire from everyday life in the society, in which we move.” ~ Nicholas Phillipson

For more on Hume, you won’t go wrong with Phillipson’s David Hume: The Philosopher as Historian.

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22 JUNE, 2011

The Beekepers: Artful Documentary about Colony Collapse Disorder

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What Aristotle’s hobby has to do with the future of agriculture and our best defense against disaster.

I love bees. My grandmother, who essentially raised me, is a beekeeper and instilled in me a deep respect for these gentle and amazing creatures, so it breaks my heart every time I hear of new evidence for colony collapse disorder and the vanishing of the honeybee.

The Beekepers is a fascinating experimental documentary by filmmaker Richard Robinson, exploring the cultural history of beekeeping, from Aristotle to medieval monasteries to Darwin to the U.S. Army, and looking for answers to the CCD crisis through a near-expressionist blend of black-and-white archival footage and voice over narration. Equal parts artful and thoughtful, the film is a genre-bender with an uncommon creative angle, offering an illuminating glimpse of the intricate mechanisms driving a complex and all-permeating ecosystem.

Now that the environment is changing, the beekeeper has taken on another role: that of the environmental monitor. It turns out that bees are better at telling us what’s going on in the environment than just about anything else. They’re better than NASA’s satellites at tracking global warming and they’re the most efficient way we know of testing toxic waste sites. The government has even studied them as a way to alert us to environmental disasters. So when colony collapse disorder started killing bees mysteriously, it wasn’t just the food supply that concerned scinetists — it was the environment itself.”

For more on colony collapse disorder and what it means for the future of our civilization, I highly recommend Rowan Jacobsen’s Fruitless Fall: The Collapse of the Honey Bee and the Coming Agricultural Crisis.

via @Jake_Barton; image via Wikimedia Commons

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22 JUNE, 2011

Iron Fists: A Design History of Totalitarian Regimes

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What Mao’s poetry and Mussolini’s pulp fiction have to do with crimes against humanity.

The role of design in political communication is something I’ve always been fascinated by. Hardly does the power of design spring to life more vividly than in iconic images that rally the masses around an ideology, from the prolific design output of the Works Progress Administration in the U.S. to the vintage Soviet propaganda of the mid-20th-century to Shepard Fairey’s now-iconic Obama posters. Today, we turn to Iron Fists: Branding the 20th-Century Totalitarian State — a fascinating account of how last century’s four most notorious and destructive totalitarian regimes used design and brand strategy to claim, retain and enforce power by Steven Heller, often considered today’s most prominent and prolific design critic. (You may recall his Graphic project, a peek inside great designers’ sketchbooks, from earlier this week.)

The book looks at Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, the Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin, and China under Chairman Mao, exploring in 240 pages of stunning vintage artwork the role that visual language, typography and color palette played in hijacking the minds of millions. Heller looks closely at a wide range of logos, symbols, monuments, postage stamps and other relics of those regimes to expose the striking similarities between such political propaganda and the advertising strategies of today’s consumer culture.

The design and marketing methods used to inculcate doctrine and guarantee consumption are fundamentally similar.” ~ Steven Heller

What’s perhaps most striking is that almost all of the dictators Heller examines considered themselves artists and took active control of marketing their respective brands. Mussolini wrote pulp fiction in which he portrayed himself as a male sex symbol, Chairman Mao took pride in his poetry and calligraphy, and Hitler was a budding architect and watercolor painter before he became creative director of his own twisted “brand,” keen on controlling everything from the use of the swastika to his own likeness, mustache and all.

Some images courtesy of Project Projects

Equal parts visually stunning, intellectually illuminating and emotionally unsettling, Iron Fists sits at the intersection of political history and graphic design, offering an unprecedented look at the design of politics as we head into another election season.

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