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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Own a Warhol for $5: Warhol’s Obscure 1959 Children’s Book

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Priceless art at a petty price, or what spades have to do with the secret nooks of the art world.

Andy Warhol may be one of only seven artists in the world to have ever sold a canvas for $100 million, but it turns out you don’t have to be a billionaire to own “a Warhol.” In fact, you can do so for about $5.

In the late 1950s, Warhol belonged to Doubleday’s stable of freelance artists, making a living designing book covers and illustrating dry business books. Shortly before halting his love affair with the corporate world in fear of compromising his flirtations with the art world, he illustrated six stories for the excellent Best In Children’s Books. (Cue in our recent review of little-known children’s books by famous “adult” authors.) Among them was the story “Card Games Are Fun,” from Best of Children’s Books #27, published in 1959.

What’s most striking about this artwork isn’t only its complete lack of resemblance to Warhol’s most iconic pop art, but also the fact that it remains largely unacknowledged by art historians and virtually absent from most Warhol biographies. Yet something about its honesty, of style and of circumstance, makes it a rare treat of creative history.

via We Too Were Children, Mr. Barrie

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.

Visualizing the Expansion of the Universe: The Most Accurate Measurement Yet

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What 120,000 galaxies have to do with understanding our place in the universe.

We’ve previously looked at different ways to grasp the scale of the universe, but how can we measure its growth? Australian Ph.D. student Florian Beutler has created the most accurate measurement yet of how fast the universe is expanding. Working at the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR), he used the Hubble constant and data from the 6dF Galaxy Survey, the most ambitious survey to date of over 120,000 galaxies across the southern sky, collected between 2001 and 2005. The result is a remarkable map of the expansion of universe, animated here to unfold before your very eyes.

For more on the universe, its history, its future and its mystery, don’t forget the excellent and timeless Stephen Hawking and the Theory of Everything.

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