Brain Pickings

Author Archive

07 DECEMBER, 2011

What is Generative Art? A 7-Minute PBS Micro-Documentary

By:

The rhetoric of data, or how to reconcile human and algorithm in the age of collective intelligence.

After their fantastic 7-minute documentary on typography, the fine folks at PBS Off Book are back with another micro-documentary, this time spotlighting generative art and featuring creators like generative composer Luke Dubois, game designer Will Wright, and software artist Scott Draves, who discuss everything from new narratives in visual storytelling to negotiating the relationship between humans and algorithms to the rhetoric of data.

This century is the century of data, that’s the defining thing. Last century was the century of electricity.” ~ Luke Dubois

For more on this ever-fascinating and increasingly relevant subject, don’t miss this omnibus of 7 essential books on data visualization and generative art.

In 2011, bringing you Brain Pickings took more than 5,000 hours. If you found any joy and stimulation here this year, please consider a modest donation.





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

06 DECEMBER, 2011

Tantra Song: Rare 17th-Century Indian Paintings That Look Like 20th-Century Western Art

By:

What a deadly bus accident has to do with Paul Klee, Paris, and the poetry of abstraction.

We’ve previously explored some fragments of the spectrum of art inspired by the Hindu tradition, from beautiful artisanal artwork based on Indian mythology to Meena women’s Mandana public art to a Pixar animator’s playfully stylized, Westernized takes on Hindu deities. Now, from the fine folks at Siglio, who brought us the lovely Everything Sings, comes Tantra Song: Tantric Painting from Rajasthan — a striking collection of rare, abstract Tantric paintings based on 17th-century illustrations from Indian religious texts that bridge Eastern spirituality with Western 20th-century art in their haunting reminiscence of the likes of Paul Klee, Agnes Martin, and Daniel Buren.

The images were discovered by French poet Franck André Jamme in 1970 while rummaging through the catalogs of a Parisian art gallery. He became so transfixed by these esoteric artworks that in the 1980s, he traveled to India to find their origins. In 1985, his quest nearly killed him in a bus accident whilst on the Tantric trail across the deserts of Rajasthan. He suffered a series of comas, spent three weeks in a Parisian hospital and six months at home in a hospital bed, and found his mind as broken as his body, unable to live with the memory of what he considered a painful failure. After a long and painful recovery, his obsession with the artworks led him back to India, where he earned the trust of tantrikas — the authentic practitioners of the Tantric tradition — and set out to better understand their meditative art form.

Jamme reflects on why these images spoke to him so powerfully :

It was strange that such modern, occidental-looking patterns already existed in India during the 17th century, and they were so simple, so powerful, so quietly and naturally abstract, so near, as well, to my own field, which was already something like poetry. Poetry is so often like that, isn’t it? Playing with words, using words in such a natural abstract way.”

The stunning images abstract key symbols of Tantric metaphysics and cosmogony, from the bindu, a dot symbolizing the undifferentiated absolute, to the negative space of the shunya, the absolute void of the supreme deity. But what makes these works extraordinary is the poetic contrast between the seeming simplicity of their minimalist geometric forms and the complex, textured humanity of their handmade paper, water stains, and imperfect text — two opposing currents, which ebb and flow in a delicate osmotic balance that could never be achieved digitally, on a sterile screen. Lawrence Rinder observes in the introduction:

It’s not just a desire for the antique or a nostalgic patina that makes the incidental marks so important, it’s precisely that ideal forms — forms plumbed from the depths of the mind, of the soul — need to co-exist with randomness and the emptiness of chance.”

Aesthetically breathtaking and framed in a powerful story about curiosity, creative restlessness, and obsession, Tantra Song is a singular convergence of East and West, bound to mesmerize.

Images courtesy of Siglio; some images via The New York Times Magazine

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

06 DECEMBER, 2011

How Bananas Became a Global Commodity

By:

What the silent film era has to do with the architecture of atmospheric control.

Over on Edible Geography, Nicola Twilley has a fantastic longform piece tracing the painstaking production that is the life cycle of bananas as they make their way from tropical Ecuador to your fruit bowl. This reminded me of a fascinating vintage documentary from the end of the silent film era I’d come across some time ago. The 11-minute black-and-white film, currently in the public domain courtesy of the Prelinger Archives, was produced in 1935 and zooms in on the banana industry, from virgin jungle being converted into banana plantations to the fifteen-month growth cycle between root planting and banana bunch to the shipment of the fruit into the American markets, and even ends with a stop-motion visual jingle about the health virtues of bananas.

Bananas are more than a delicious fruit — they are one of America’s most important foods…”

Now, contrast that — the manual farming and inspection, the pick-up locomotives, the “specially constructed ships of the Great White Fleet” — with today’s sophisticated banana-ripening facilities and their “evolving architecture of atmospheric control.”.

In other words, in order to be a global commodity rather than a tropical treat, the banana has to be harvested and transported while completely unripe. Bananas are cut while green, hard, and immature, washed in cool water (both to begin removing field heat and to stop them from leaking their natural latex), and then held at 56 degrees — originally in a refrigerated steamship; today, in a refrigerated container — until they reach their country of consumption weeks later.”

And in observing how far we’ve come technologically, it’s bittersweet — like a green banana, perhaps — to observe how much further we’ve gone from the groves.

HT Andrew Sullivan

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.