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10 NOVEMBER, 2011

The Holstee LifeCycle Film: Visual Poetry for Bike-Lovers and Creators

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“Life is about the people you meet and the things you create with them.”

My friends at Holstee have just released a beautiful short film that marries two of my great loves: bikes and creative restlessness. This cinematic take on their famous Holstee Manifesto, one of these 5 favorite manifestos for the creative life, is an exquisite piece of visual poetry, bound to give you goosebumps and leave you itching to get up and do — or make — something great. Enjoy:

And, lest we forget, the original Holstee Manifesto itself:

The manifesto is now available as a gorgeous 18×24″ poster printed on 100% recycled post-consumer paper, locally made with hydro-electric power and benefiting Kiva, as well as a letterpress card printed on handmade acid-free paper derived from 50% elephant poo and 50% recycled paper. Yep, elephant poo.

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10 NOVEMBER, 2011

Christ to Coke: How Image Becomes Icon

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How Milton Glaser subverted Steve Jobs, or what the Mona Lisa has to do with Einstein’s theory of relativity.

What, exactly, makes an iconic image? You know, the kind that permeates pop culture to become imprinted on our collective conscience, achieving a status of instant recognition and near-universal appeal? That’s exactly what Oxford Trinity College professor Martin Kemp explores in Christ to Coke: How Image Becomes Icon — a fascinating journey into the heart of modern iconography, veering across art, architecture, advertising, religion, science, and a wealth more. From the Mona Lisa to Che Guevara to Einstein’s E=mc² to Milton Glaser’s I♥NY, Kemp uses 11 such iconic images to examine the 11 key categories he identifies, lavishly illustrated in 165 color images. Beneath them all runs a common undercurrent of elements that hold the secret to all icons — among them, simplicity of message, robustness, and openness of interpretation.

Some types of images are specific — like Lisa and Che — while some are generic, such as the heart shape. The generic ones tend to seep gradually into general consciousness. The heart shape appeared on playing cards and became the religious symbol of the sacred heart, before becoming the ubiquitous symbol of love. It takes a designer of genius, like Milton Glaser, to refresh its power in the service of a specific cause. We all know I♥NY. But New York largely surrendered the ‘Big Apple’ to Steve Jobs.” ~ Martin Kemp

Mona Lisa, digitally restored. Photo courtesy of Pascal Cotte

Enrique Avila Gonzalez, Che Guevara. Ministry of the Interior, Havana, Cuba

Felix de Weldon, Marines Raising the Flag at Iwo Jima, Virginia, Marine Corps War Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery

BFF Architects and Izé, DNA door handles, London, Royal Society.

Kemp has an excellent piece in The Wall Street Journal offering five lessons on successful iconography based on the case studies explored in the book.

Kemp also observes that even the icons of modern science, like DNA and E=mc², have taken on a quasi-religious dimension — which, of course, we already knew, even just by looking at the many geek-rebels who inked themselves with science. But, in fact, much of this iconography is based on pop culture mythology that isn’t necessarily rooted in truth. Kemp notes:

I assumed that Einstein’s famous formula for the equivalence of mass and energy, E=mc² had appeared in his renowned set of papers published in 1905. Einstein scholars insisted it was there. But it was not. In that precise form, the equation seems to have been visited on Einstein as a simplification of his ideas, cemented in the public mind by its association with the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945. The well-known tends not to be true in such cases.”

Part Iron Fists, part The Myth of Pop Culture, part The Century of the Self, Christ to Coke: How Image Becomes Icon is an essential effort to understand who we came to worship what we worship and why the iconography of consumerism has such an enduring hold on us, whether or not we want to admit it. And though the book was written partly as a blueprint for branding, a subversive reading of it also offers a blueprint to the opposite — how to loosen the grip of commercial culture by better understanding the engineered mesmerism by which it transfixes us.

Images courtesy of Oxford University Press

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09 NOVEMBER, 2011

Carl Warner’s Whimsical Food Landscapes

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What the London skyline has to do with asparagus, rhubarb, and Pink Floyd.

British photographic artist Carl Warner, whom you might recall as one of our favorite architects of edible landscapes, is a master of food and form, crafting astounding fantasy food landscapes that are part Ansel Adams, part Anthony Bourdaine, part your childhood daydreams dreamt from the counter of your grandmother’s kitchen. These miniature vignettes are painstakingly hand-crafted with only minimal Photoshop involvement and exude a kind of vibrant whimsy that stands in stark contrast with the mundane, dully ordinary ingredients Warner uses. Food Landscapes collects Warner’s most magnificent work, alongside detailed production notes and ingredient lists for each scene.

Making landscapes out of food seems like a rather unusual thing to do for a living, and people often ask, ‘What made you start doing this?’ It seems that the burning heart of this question is really the curiosity about what it is that motivates any human being to do something out of the ordinary, and my short answer to this is usually a simple, because I had the idea and I chose to do something about it.” ~ Carl Warner

Salmon Sea

Smoked salmon sea, dark soda bread rocks, sugar and pinto beans sand and pebbles, foreground rocks from new potatoes and parsley; pea pod and bean sprout boat, side of salmon sky

Coconut Haystacks

Parsley trees with horseradish trunks, red cabbage sky, toasted almonds as distant haystacks, and loaves of bread for hills

Chinese Junk

The roster of ingredients includes dried lotus leaves for snails, noodles for the wood floor, physalis lanterns, and the obscure wild green yamakurage for the rope.

And since we’re on the subject of influences today, Warner traces the kernel of his inspiration to the work of Tessa Traeger, a food photographer who in the early 1990s published A Visual Feast, a collection of painterly, two-dimensional pictures composed using food. Warner wondered whether he could take this a step further and create three-dimensional vignettes with food. Then, one day, as he was strolling through the fruit and vegetable market, he noticed the curving trunks and parasol canopies of portobello mushrooms were reminiscent of trees in the African savannah. He quickly grabbed the mushrooms and some grains, and headed back to his studio to create a tabletop scene that would photograph like a larger landscape. The rest was creative history.

Of his start with photography, Warner recounts:

For me, drawing and music were a means of escape into other worlds and alternate realities, and this provided the means to stimulate and exercise the muscles of my imagination. This went on for years, until I discovered photography. I found that I could photograph the real world but make it surreal by the techniques and the processes I was able to use in the camera and in the darkroom. I soon realized that this was a lot quicker than drawing, and I was able to develop ideas and concepts with more ease… At the same time, album cover art was in its heyday, and graphic designers such as Storm Thorgerson of Hipgnosis were creating amazing surreal images for bands like Pink Floyd. I knew that this was what I wanted to do with my life.”

Celery Rain Forest

Canope made of okra with dried chili oarsman, tiny mushroom hat and a cardamom pod; path: pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and lentils

Cart & Balloons

Balloons made of red onion, apple, garlic bulb and other fruits; balloon baskets: nuts; hills and fields: bread, cucumber, string beans, green beans, corn, asparagus

Broccoli Forest

Broccoli trees, chopped parsley ground, fresh herb plants, small foreground rocks from Jerusalem artichokes and potatoes, cumin, turmeric and fennel seed pathway, crusty bread rocks, sugar waterfall, cauliflower clouds

London Skyline

Riverbank walls: panini; lamppost: mackerel, asparagus, onion, vanilla pods; London Eye: green beans; courgette, leek, lemon, rhubarb supports; The Dome: green melon.

A pinnacle of finding magic in the mundane, Food Landscapes is an absolute treat and a living manifesto for the power of truly running with the seemingly crazy creative ideas that take hold of your imagination.

Images courtesy of Carl Warner / Abrams Books

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