Brain Pickings

Wabi-Sabi: Finding Beauty in Imperfection and Impermanence

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Wabi-sabi is a beautiful Japanese concept that has no direct translation in English. Both an aesthetic and a worldview, it connotes a way of living that finds beauty in imperfection and accepts the natural cycle of growth and decay. Wabi Sabi is also the title of a fantastic 2008 picture book by Mark Reibstein, with original artwork by acclaimed Chinese children’s book illustrator Ed Young, exploring this wonderful sensibility through the story of a cat who gets lost in her hometown of Kyoto only to find herself in the process.

The book reads like a scroll, from top to bottom, and features a haiku and a Japanese verse on each spread, adorned with Young’s beautifully textured artwork.

A true wabi-sabi story lies behind the book: When Young first received the assignment, he created a series of beautifully simple images. As he went to drop them off with his editor, he left them for a moment on the front porch of the house. But when he returned to retrieve them, they were gone. Rather than agonizing over the loss, Young resolved to recreate the images from scratch and make them better — finding growth in loss.

While technically a children’s book, Wabi Sabi is the kind of subtle existential reflection adults, with our relentless aspiration for more and our chronic anxiety about imperfection, could take solace in. (A recurring theme this week as we unravel our relationship with imperfection.)

via Altalang

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East + West + Gershwin: Herbie Hancock and Lang Lang Perform Rhapsody In Blue

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Herbie Hancock, one of America’s great jazz pianists, landed on the jazz scene in the early 1960s, starting out with Miles Davis, and then working as a solo musician who released his great jazz standards — Cantaloupe Island and Watermelon Man. Thirty years later, and across a big ocean, Lang Lang, the Chinese concert pianist, takes the stage. Only 13, he wins the International Tchaikovsky Competition for Young Musicians, and then quickly starts dazzling Western audiences with performances of Chopin, Liszt and Tchaikovsky.

Finally, the two musicians, the two musical worlds, meet in 2009. Performing at the Royal Albert Hall in London, along with the Philharmonia Orchestra, Hancock and Lang Lang work their way through Debussy, Ravel and then, appropriately enough, George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.

The jazz concerto. Jazz inflections layered onto a classical composition. A perfect meeting in the middle.

Dan Colman edits Open Culture, which brings you the best free educational media available on the web — free online courses, audio books, movies and more. By day, he directs the Continuing Studies Program at Stanford University, and you can also find him on Twitter.

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Hide/Seek: Portraits of Gender Identity and Sexual Difference in Art

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What gelatin and silver have to do with the history of art and equality.

Gender identity isn’t something openly discussed and studied as a shaping force in the arts (or , until recently, in science, for that matter), but it is a powerful one. Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture takes an ambitious look at the history of sexual difference, published as a companion volume to a Smithsonian exhibition of the same title, but offering a powerful stand-alone piece of visual scholarship charting the hidden impact of gay and lesbian artists on the history of art and portraiture and how they explored the fluidity of gender and sexuality.

The book explores the presence and evolution of same-sex desire in contemporary portraiture through more than 140 full-color drawings, illustrations and photographs by prominent American artists, from Georgia O’Keeffe to Jasper Johns to Andy Warhol. (Including a remarkable silver print of Susan Sontag, with whom I’m hopelessly obsessed.)

In Memory of My Feelings - Frank O'Hara

Jasper Johns, oil on canvas with objects, 1961

James Baldwin

Beauford Delaney, pastel on paper, 1963

A historical account contextualizes the artwork, tracing the influential marginality of LGBT artists from the turn of the 20th century to the gay liberation movement of 1969 to the AIDS epidemic of the 80s to today.

Camouflage Self-Portrait (RED)

Andy Warhol, synthetic polymer paint and silkscreen on canvas, 1986

Susan Sontag, 1933-2004

Peter Hujar, gelatin silver print, 1975

Hide/Seek comes from authors Jonathan D. Katz, founder of the first department for gay and lesbian studies in the US, and National Portrait Gallery historian David C. Ward. It is both a brilliantly curated anthology of seminal portraiture and an essential piece of cultural history for human rights and equality.

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