Brain Pickings

The Lists, To-dos and Illustrated Inventories of Great Artists

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What a 21-point scale of self-confidence has to do with Adolf Konrad’s carry-on and Picasso’s favorite artists.

We’ve previously taken a voyeuristic look inside the notebooks and sketchbooks of great creators and, today, we turn to an even more private facet of the creative self: the list. Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists’ Enumerations from the Collections of the Smithsonian Museum offers a surprisingly intriguing glimpse of some of the 20th century’s most remarkable creators — including Pablo Picasso, Joseph Cornell, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Andrew Wyeth and Janice Lowry, among dozens of others — revealing their personal habits, priorities and decision-making schemata through the lens of the seemingly mundane and, in the process, demystifying artmaking and the creative life.

From a list Finnish-born architect Eero Saarinen made of his second wife’s positive attributes, to designer Harry Bertoia’s 1932 self-rating chart for a school assignment, rating 21 of his characteristics on a spectrum from Very Poor to Excellent, to Picasso’s recommendations of artists he liked for Walt Kuhn’s 1913 Armory Show, these wonderful and fascinating seventy-or-so artifacts reveal as much about their creators as they do about the values, fixations and points of interest of their respective eras.

Eero Saarinen's list of Aline Bernstein's good qualities, ca. 1954. Aline and Eero Saarinen papers, 1857-1972.

Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Art; copyright F+W Media Inc. 2011.

Harry Bertoia's 'My-self Rating Chart' school assignment. Harry Bertoia papers, 1917-1979.

Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Art; copyright F+W Media Inc. 2011.

Pablo Picasso's recommendations for the Armory Show for Walt Kuhn, 1912. Walt Kuhn, Kuhn family papers, and Armory Show Records, 1859-1978.

Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Art; copyright F+W Media Inc. 2011.

Janice Lowry's Journal #98, 2002-2003.

Image courtesy of the Archive of American Art.

Franz Kline's receipt from John Heller's Liquor Store, Dec. 31, 1960. Elisabeth Zogbaum papers regarding Franz Kline, 1928-1965.

Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Art; copyright F+W Media Inc. 2011.

Adolf Konrad's graphic packing list, Dec. 16, 1973. Adolf Ferdinand Konrad papers, 1962-2002.

Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Art; copyright F+W Media Inc. 2011.

Lists comes from Princeton Architectural Press, purveyors of the visually compelling and culturally intriguing. Original images from the book are currently on display at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York until October 2, 2011.

via GMSV; images via Imprint

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Beauchamping: Simple Design for a Better World

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Transcending self-judgement, or what getting away has to do with being fully present.

Etsy’s Handmade Portraits series of short films never ceases to stun, revealing candid and poetic glimpses of some of Etsy’s most remarkable makers. From a 91-year-old moccasin-maker preserving a dying Native American craft to a young photographer documenting modern queer life with a vintage Victorian camera, the portraits reveal the sheer humanity that powers these exceptional creators. And hardly do they get more deeply inspirational than the credo of California-based artist and designer Greg Beauchamp, a.k.a. Beauchamping.

My work is a reminder to myself of the things I need to work on in myself — all about positive, love, equality, and how we’re all the same.” ~ Greg Beaucham

It’s not easy making something and putting [it] out there, but that’s a step in getting over your own judgment of yourself, because that’s what prevents us from being creative and from living a full and honest life.” ~ Greg Beaucham

Beauchamp’s beautiful black-and-white prints capture simple but profound sentiments of kindness and optimism. They are created using a xylene transfer process — essentially, a screenprint without the screen — and the artwork is painstakingly hand-transferred inch by inch over an hour.

Beauchamp’s work is part Live Now, part Everything Is Going To Be OK, part something else entirely — and altogether a potent smile-inducer for your soul.

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The Influencing Machine: A Brief Visual History of the Media

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What a statue of Saddam has to do with cognitive bias, or how to think critically about improving information.

One of the coolest and most charming book releases of this year, The Influencing Machine is a graphic novel about the media, its history, and its many maladies — think The Information meets The Medium is the Massage meets Everything Explained Through Flowcharts. Written by Brooke Gladstone, longtime host of NPR’s excellent On the Media, and illustrated by cartoonist Josh Neufeld, The Influencing Machine takes a refreshingly alternative approach to the age-old issue of why we disparage and distrust the news. And as the book quickly makes clear, it has always been thus.

Tracing the origins of modern journalism back about 2,000 years to the Mayans — “publicists” generating “some primordial P.R.” — Gladstone and Neufeld walk through our journalistic roots in the cultures of ancient Rome, Britain, and Revolutionary and early America. With this as background, the book then dives into our contemporary media condition, tracing how we got from Caesar’s Acta Diurna to CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

Everything we hate about the media today was present at its creation: its corrupt or craven practitioners, its easy manipulation by the powerful, its capacity for propagating lies, its penchant for amplifying rage. Also present was everything we admire — and require — from the media: factual information, penetrating analysis, probing investigation, truth spoking to power. Same as it ever was.”

The Influencing Machine then turns to the timely, framing in pragmatically optimistic terms the impact of the Internet not only on traditional news outlets, but on our minds themselves.

Brain studies suggest that consuming information on the Internet develops different cognitive abilities, so it’s likely we are being rewired now in response to our technology. That process doesn’t stop. It can’t stop. And even the most strident critics of the Internet cannot truly wish for it to stop, considering how far we have come since we grasped that first tool.”

Although edification was a welcome byproduct, we were thoroughly entertained by The Influencing Machine, and know it will find ardent fans among comic collectors, history buffs, and anyone with an interest in how information makes its way from the original source to our brains — and more critically, how we can make it better.

Kirstin Butler is writing an adaptation of Gogol for the Google era called Dead SULs, but when not working spends far, far too much time on Twitter. She currently lives in Cambridge, MA.

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