Brain Pickings

Author Archive

21 APRIL, 2011

something: An Open-Story Plot Device for Life


An antidote to friend buttons, or what Shakira, Seth Godin and JJ Abrams have in common.

We’ve got something, something we share with Sir Richard Branson, Dave Eggers, Shakira, and Seth Godin, among others. And now, you too can have something — for free.

something is a plot device in a story you choose to ascribe it to, part MacGuffin Library, part Significant Objects, part creative vehicle all its own — a fascinating side project by our friends at m ss ng p eces, whom you might recall from the lovely Behind the Scenes of a TED Talk, the Michael Wolff mirco-documentary on the three muscles of creativity and last month’s excellent James Murphy interview on the future of taste and music discovery.

Today, we sit down with founder Scott Thrift to talk about something.


What, exactly, is something?

ST: something is a profoundly simple work of art that connects people, inspires new ideas and generates curiosity.


How did the something story start?

ST: After film school my writing was taking me deeper into the meaning of the moving image. The impact a single frame could have on someone began to hold more interest for me than a feature film. While applying pressure to what a one second film might feel like; I began to wonder what media, books, or art ‘do’ in the first place. What do we ‘have’ with us after the experience? I wanted to be able to grasp that intangible mystery. I wanted to ‘have’ what I wanted an original film to ‘do’ to people, without making the film.


Where is something going?

ST: For the past nine years I have given it as a gift to people who have meant something to me. It’s an effective way of giving thanks for everything beyond words. I would estimate that there are close to 500 pieces throughout the world.

One of my favorite things about something is that it cannot be downloaded. I’ve always wanted to send something to people in the mail to celebrate the physicality of connection.”

I kind of miss that in a world of friend buttons, so I’m going to give that a go and see what happens.


What has been the most surprising response to something that you’ve seen?

ST: Something connects people to the present moment. In the newness of that moment I’ve seen people bite it, laugh uncontrollably, shake it next to their ear, try desperately to open it, smell it, go on a pun fit or become frightened, confused, jubilant, jealous, I’ve seen it make people cry, become furious, throw it or take a picture with it but most commonly, share it with everyone around them. The most enjoyable responses for me are the surprising insights and deeply interesting conversations it inspires concerning meaning, perception, value and the thingness of things.

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20 APRIL, 2011

The 3D Type Book: A Typographic Treasure


What wire fences have to do with noodle soup and the male reproductive system.

After months of anticipation, The 3D Type Book by London-based design studio FL@33 is finally here. Dubbed “the most comprehensive showcase of three-dimensional letterforms ever written,” the book is nothing short of stellar: With more than 1,300 images by over 160 emerging artists and iconic designers alike, it spans an incredible spectrum of eras, styles and mediums. From icons like Milton Glaser and Alvin Lustig to contemporary Brain Pickings favorites like Stefan Sagmeister, Marian Bantjes, Ji Lee, Stefan G. Bucher and Marion Bataille, it’s a treasure trove of typographic treasures.

From toothpaste typography to sperm alphabet to typonoodles, the book’s typographic specimens both make us see with new eyes the seemingly mundane building blocks of language and reconsider ordinary objects, materials and media as extraordinary conduits of self-expression.

For a fine companion to The 3D Type Book, don’t forget David Sacks’ excellent Alphabets.

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.

20 APRIL, 2011

Symmetry: A Split-Screen Exploration of Duality


What the origin of the universe has to do with gender identity, binary parallels and anatomy.

Nearly a year ago, WNYC’s Radiolab (which we love) and New York filmmaking trio Everynone (of Everyone Forever Now fame) brought us On Words — a spellbinding short film that examined the importance of words by imagining a world without them. Today, the team is back with another gem of a collaboration.

Symmetry is a mesmerizing split-screen short film exploring the poetic parallels and contrasts of our world — birth and death, heart and brain, masculinity and femininity, all many more of humanity’s fundamental dualities. It’s the best thing you’ll watch all week, we promise. (Or, as Kirstin Butler put it, “[S]top everything and watch the most beautiful, satisfying split-screen video.”)

The film was inspired by Radiolab’s Desperately Seeking Symmetry episode, which examines how symmetry and its pursuit shape the core of our existence, from the origins of the universe to what we see when we look in the mirror.

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