Brain Pickings

Circles of Influence: Visualizing Creative Debt Throughout History

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What 48 hours of sleeplessness have to do with Kafka’s influence on Lemony Snicket.

UPDATE: The flowchart is now up on Etsy as an 11×14 high-quality digital print on matte paper, with over 50% of proceeds going to support Longshot! (Behold the first-ever exclamation point in Brain Pickings’ six-year history, that’s how excited I am.)

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of partaking in Longshot Magazine, a brilliant grassroots collaborative project enlisting some of the country’s top publishing talent — writers, editors, art directors, designers, photographers, radio producers — and unreasonable amounts of coffee to put together — write, edit, lay out, publish and distribute — a full-fledged magazine in 48 hours. Those of us who have worked in the traditional magazine industry, with its two-month publishing cycles and massive budgets, instantly get the utter insanity and audaciousness of what’s indeed a long shot of the most daring kind. (Not in the least alleviated by the fact that, besides the print magazine, we also have a beautiful website and a radio station with behind-the-scences stories and featurettes, produced by the crew at WNYC’s Radiolab.)

This issue’s theme was Debt and, in the spirit of combinatorial creativity, I collaborated with Michelle Legro of the wonderful Laphams Quarterly and illustrator-extraordinaire Wendy MacNaughton on Circles of Influence — a visualization of literary, scientific and artistic influences. It’s designed to illustrate the enormous creative indebtedness that permeates humanity’s proudest intellectual output, while also demonstrating the cross-pollination of disciplines across science, art, literature, film and music. While some of the connections might be more obvious (Shakespeare to Victor Hugo? But of course!), others (Marie Curie to J. J. Abrams?) may require some thinking, some Googling, and some general neuron-flexing — and that’s the point, to challenge you to examine how these creators might have influenced each other, tickling your curiosity with the urge to look something up, learn something new, and end up more attuned to creative cross-pollination as an agent of intellectual progress. (And, of course, a timely wink at Google Circles.)

For more on the thought and creative process behind Circles of Influence, catch Michelle, Wendy and myself talking about it in this Longshot Radio interview.

Longshot is the brainchild of my dear friend and freelance rockstar-writer Sarah Rich, Mat Honan, senior editor at Gizmodo and former Wired staffer, and Alexis Madrigal, senior editor at The Atlantic, also a Wired alum.

Longshot, like Brain Pickings, relies on the pay-what-you-will model, so be sure to chip in if you find any delight and illumination in the 42 wonderful stories and, better yet, grab an actual print puppy for just $12.

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