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14 MARCH, 2012

5 Art and Design Projects Inspired by Literary Classics

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From James Joyce to Jonah, or what the Brontë Sisters’ objectification of men has to do with Holden Caulfield.

Art inspires art, often crossing boundary lines in magnificent cross-disciplinary manifestations. As a lover of remix culture and a hopeless bookworm, I revel in the cross-pollination of visual art and literature. Here are five wonderful art and design projects, inspired by literary classics.

WAKE IN PROGRESS

In February of 2010, Paris-based designer and illustrator Stephen Crowe set out on an ambitious project — to not only read James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, considered one of the most difficult works of fiction in the English language, but to also illustrate it. The result is Wake in Progress — a creative feat that’s part Saul Bass, part Edward Gorey, part Lynd Ward, and yet entirely its own and entirely terrific.

First Line

Page 22

Page 25

Page 75

Page 76

Page 79: Kate Strong, a widow

Nothing that appears in Finnegans Wake is ever just one thing. How exactly do you draw a talking fox which is also a mouse, one of two arguing brothers, a pope, and modernist author Wyndham Lewis?” ~ Stephen Crowe

A number of the illustrations are available as prints.

EVERY PAGE OF MOBY DICK

Since 2009, former high school English teacher and self-taught artist Matt Kish has been drawing every page of the 552-page Signet Classics paperback edition of Herman Melville’s iconic Moby-Dick, methodically producing one gorgeous, obsessive drawing per day for 552 days using pages from discarded books and a variety of drawing tools, from ballpoint pen to crayon to ink and watercolor. Last year, the project became Moby-Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Every Page — one of the 11 best art and design books of 2011, gathering Kish’s magnificent lo-fi drawings in a 600-page visual masterpiece of bold, breathtaking full-page illustrations that captivate eye, heart, and mind, inviting you to rediscover the Melville classic in entirely new ways.

I’ve read the book eight or nine times […] Each and every reading has revealed more and more to me and hinted tantalizingly at even greater truths and revelations that I have yet to reach. Friends often question my obsession with the novel, especially since I am not a scholar or even an educator any longer, and the best explanation I have been able to come up with is that, to me, Moby-Dick is a book about everything. God. Love. Hate. Identity. Race. Sex. Humor. Obsession. History. Work. Capitalism […] I see every aspect of life reflected in the bizarre mosaic of this book.” ~ Matt Kish

'...Jonah feels the heralding presentiment of that stifling hour, when the whale shall hold him in the smallest of his bowel's wards.'

Ballpoint pen on paper, September 17, 2009

'But look! here come more crowds, pacing straight for the water, and seemingly bound for a dive.'

Colored pencil and ink on found paper, August 6, 2009

'Hearing the tremendous rush of the sea-crashing boat, the whale wheeled round to present his blank forehead at bay; but in that evolution, catching sight of the nearing black hull of the ship; seemingly seeing in it the source of all his persecutions; bethinking it - it may be - a larger and nobler foe; of a sudden, he bore down upon its advancing prow, smiting his jaws amid fiery showers of foam'

Ink on watercolor paper, January 22, 2011

'...and when the ship was gliding by, like a flash he darted out; gained her side; with one backward dash of his foot capsized and sank his canoe; climbed up the chains...'

Acrylic paint, colored pencil, ink and marker on found paper, September 30, 2009

'...hell is an idea first born on an undigested apple-dumpling...'

Crayon, ink and marker on found paper, November 24, 2009

'Moby Dick bodily burst into view! For not by any calm and indolent spoutings; not by the peaceable gush of that mystic fountain in his head, did the White Whale now reveal his vicinity; but by the far more wondrous phenomenon of breaching. Rising with his utmost velocity from the furthest depths, the Sperm Whale thus booms his entire bulk into the pure element of air, and piling up a mountain of dazzling foam, shows his place to the distance of seven miles and more. In those moments, the torn, enraged waves he shakes off, seem his mane; in some cases, this breaching is his act of defiance.'

Ink on watercolor paper, January 11, 2011

'Thou Bildad!' roared Peleg, starting up and clattering about the cabin. 'Blast ye, Captain Bildad, if I had followed thy advice in these matters, I would afore now had a conscience to lug about that would be heavy enough to founder the largest ship that ever sailed round Cape Horn.''

Ballpoint pen and ink on found paper, November 16, 2009

WORD BIBLE DESIGNS

In his Word project, designer Jim LePage set out to create original designs for every book of the Bible, in an exercise in self-discipline that allowed him to mary his love of design with his desire to read the Bible more. Though the impetus for the project sets off my own religious alarms, the Bible, too, is literature, and it’s hard to dismiss the refreshing approach of this literary art project. Besides, perhaps this is the kind of secular silver lining Alain de Botton promised in Religion for Atheists.

Word: 3 John

Word: Jude

Word: 2 John

Word: 2 Timothy

Word: 2 Thessalonians

Word: Nahum

HARK! A VAGRANT

From New Yorker cartoonist Kate Beaton comes Hark! A Vagrant — a witty and wonderful collection of comics about historical and literary figures and events, based on her popular web comic of the same name.

Beaton, whose background is in history and anthropology, has a remarkable penchant for conveying the momentous through the inane, aided by a truly special gift for simple, subtle, incredibly expressive caricature. From dude spotting with the Brontë Sisters to Jane Austen dodging groupies, the six-panel vignettes will make you laugh out loud and slip you a dose of education while you aren’t paying attention.

I think comics about topics like history or literature can be amazing educational tools, even at their silliest. So if you learn or look up a thing or two after reading these comics, and you’ve enjoyed them, then I will be more than pleased! If you’re just in it for the silly stuff, then there is plenty of that to go around, too.” ~ Kate Beaton

Beaton is also a masterful writer, her dialogue and captions adding depth to what’s already an absolute delight.

Originally featured here in October.

BEHOLDING HOLDEN

From writer Mike Norris and artist David Richardson comes Beholding Holden, an enchanted visual exploration of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, a follow-up to their earlier collaboration on depicting the fictional Glass family.

Holden Caulfield

Old Mr. Spencer

Ackley

Stradlater, Holden's roommate at Pencey

Jane Gallagher

Sunny, the prostitute Maurice, an elevator operator moonlighting as pimp, offers Holden in Manhattan for 'five bucks a throw, fifteen bucks till noon.'

Mr. Antolini

Norris and Richardson also collaborated on a fantastic series of illustrations based on Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, considered the third greatest book of the 20th century.

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14 MARCH, 2012

The Secret

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“Two girls discover the secret of life on a sudden line of poetry.”

The secret of happiness — or of purpose, for the semantically scrupulous — is a kind of holy grail of human existence. We probe its science and psychology, scour its geography, go after it with empirical enthusiasm, seek it in the wisdom of our greatest heroes.

But might the faith that happiness is possible be the very secret to its attainment? This beautiful 1964 poem by Denise Levertov (1923-1997), entitled “The Secret,” makes me infinitely happy.

THE SECRET

Two girls discover
the secret of life
in a sudden line of
poetry.

I who don’t know the
secret wrote
the line. They
told me

(through a third person)
they had found it
but not what it was
not even

what line it was. No doubt
by now, more than a week
later, they have forgotten
the secret,

the line, the name of
the poem. I love them
for finding what
I can’t find,

and for loving me
for the line I wrote,
and for forgetting it
so that

a thousand times, till death
finds them, they may
discover it again, in other
lines

in other
happenings. And for
wanting to know it,
for

assuming there is
such a secret, yes,
for that
most of all.

“The Secret” comes from O Taste and See: New Poems, where you can find more of Levertov’s elegant and thoughtful poetry.

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14 MARCH, 2012

The Smiley Book of Colors

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The basics of optimism and color theory, with a nod to neuroscience.

When Freud came to believe he was going to die between the ages of 61 and 62, and subsequently began seeing the two numbers everywhere he looked, which only intensifying the urgency of his superstition, he came to observe the value of selective attention in focusing the unconscious. But what if we engineered this selective attention purposefully and aligned it with our emotional and mental well-being? That’s exactly what photographer, children’s author, and educator Ruth Kaiser did in 2008, when she began seeing smiley faces everywhere she turned. For the past four years, she has been collecting and sharing photographs “found” everyday smileys in the Spontaneous Smiley Project — an exercise in self-induced feel-goodness, inviting others to upload their own photos and donating $1 for each uploaded photo to Operation Smile, which provides free surgeries to children born with cleft lip and cleft palate.

Four years later, The Smiley Book of Colors was born, at once teaching (eternal) kids basic color theory and instilling in them the habits of optimism — a charming, light-hearted complement to the recent grown-up exploration of the science of smiles. The images are paired with simple, poetic meditations on the optimistic life — truths we may be tempted, through years of conditioned cynicism, to roll our eyes at, but ones that remain, at their heart, beautiful and true.

(Yes, let’s throw in a cat photo for good measure — after all, that’s the hallmark of curatorial achievement according to Jennifer Daniel over at BloombergBusinessweek. Wouldn’t want to disappoint.)

Skeptical, still? Let a neuroscientist elaborate on the optimism bias and its benefits.

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