Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘art’

04 JANUARY, 2012

Drawing Mental Illness: Artist Bobby Baker’s Visual Diary

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Harvesting the daily flow of consciousness, or what group therapy has to do with marine life.

Despite our proudest cultural and medical advances, mental illness remains largely taboo, partly because the experience of it can be so challenging to articulate. But when performance artist Bobby Baker was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder in 1996, followed by a breast cancer diagnosis, she set out to capture her experience and her journey to recovery in 711 drawings that would serve as her private catharsis over the course of more than a decade. In Diary Drawings: Mental Illness and Me, Baker makes, at long last, this private experience public through 158 drawings and watercolors — poignant, honest, funny, moving, shocking — spanning 11 years of mental, physical, and emotional healing, a journey Marina Warner aptly calls in the preface a “chronicle of a life repaired.” The book is at once a personal journal and a tenacious thesaurus that helps translate the misunderstood realities of mental illness into an expressive and intuitive visual language the rest of the world can understand, reminiscent of the wonderful Drawing Autism.

I think mental illness is the worst of anything. The hierarchy of suffering is sort of bound into our society. But my personal experience is that the isolation and anguish of severe mental illness was much worse than…having something physical that people could understand better.” ~ Bobby Baker

From how the tears flow into her ears when she does yoga (Day 320) to the weight gain side effects of medication (Day 397) to the uplifting “butterflies of academia” (Day 579) to the strain of chemo (Day 698), Baker’s illustrated micro-narratives are startlingly raw, yet incredibly eloquent and layered.

Day 303

Day 320

Day 397

Day 470

Day 526

Day 579

Day 690

Day 698

The sequence of the drawings follows the artist’s painful but, ultimately, triumphant recovery, with the last stretch of pictures exuding a kind of cathartic exhale, a “huge, happy, light-headed relief,” as Warner puts it. Baker’s favorite drawing is from Day 771, titled “The Daily Flow of Consciousness,” which she believes represents her current state:

Day 771

Diary Drawings: Mental Illness and Me is magnificent in its entirety. The Guardian has a wonderful audio slideshow of Baker’s work, narrated by the artist herself.

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04 JANUARY, 2012

The World Is Round: A Tiny 1938 Children’s Book by Gertrude Stein

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“A rose is a rose is a rose.”

It’s no secret I have an obsession with little- known children’s books by famous authors of literature for grown-ups. Among them is The World Is Round by writer, poet and art collector Gertrude Stein, one of the most beloved — and quoted — luminaries of the early 20th century. Its story is an unlikely but wonderful one: In 1938, author Margaret Wise Brown of the freshly founded Young Scott Books became obsessed with convincing leading adult authors to try their hands at a children’s book. She sent letters to Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, and Gertrude Stein. Hemingway and Steinbeck expressed no interest, but Stein surprised Brown by saying she already had a near-complete children’s manuscript titled The World Is Round, and would be happy to have Young Scott bring it to life. Which they did, though not without drama.

Stein demanded that the pages be pink, the ink blue, and the artwork by illustrator Francis Rose. Young Scott were able to meet the first two demands despite the technical difficulties, but they didn’t want Rose to illustrate the book and asked Stein to instead choose from several Young Scott illustrators. Reluctantly, she settle don Clement Hurd, whose first illustrated book had appeared just that year. The book was at last published, featuring a mix of unpunctuated prose and poetry, with a single illustration for each chapter.

Though Hurd’s original illustrations remain most familiar, Oxford-based Barefoot Books published one last edition of the book in 1993, illustrated by artist Roberta Arenson. It’s a tiny gem of a book, small enough to fit in a pocket, with beautifully minimalist blue-and-white pictogram illustrations reminiscent of Indian Mandana tribal art.

Though out-of-print and fairly hard to find in bookstores, you might be able to grab a copy with some patient sifting through Amazon.

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02 JANUARY, 2012

Advice to Sink in Slowly: Designers Share Wisdom with First-Year Students in Poster Series

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Unpacking the secrets of happiness and creativity one poster at a time.

What better way to kick off the new year than with words of wisdom from those who have threaded before us? That’s precisely the premise of advice to sink in slowly, a wonderful project enlisting design graduates in passing on advice and inspiration to first-year students through an ongoing series of posters — part Live Now, part Everything Is Going To Be OK, part Wisdom, part something completely refreshing, based on the idea that we all have subjective wisdom we wish we’d known earlier, but often don’t get a chance to pass it on to those who can benefit from it in a way that makes them pay heed.

Advice is subjective. But, by passing on advice in a creative way, it is possible to create something that lasts, that people will want to live with and which can let the advice sink in slowly and help out later on.”

'to create ideas is a gift, but to choose wisely is a skill' by Ryan Morgan

'Do what you love' by Andy J. Miller

'Take Time' by Temujin Doran

'Use your library…you'll miss it when you leave' by Rebecca Cobb

'Finish what you start* *it may seem insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.' by Irina Troitskaya

'Ignore both of them' by Eleni Kalorkoti

'Go and look outside' by Robert Evans

'You have to leave your room to get there' by Ben Javens

'if in doubt, make tea' by Owen Davey

'trust your gut instincts' by Carys Williams

'Don't be afraid, everything will be alright' by Ben Javens

'collaborate' by Simon Vince

'Believe in the marks that you will make' by Stephie Ginger

'how to make friends in your first term' by Temujin Doran

'eat breakfast' by Always With Honor

'Be free!' by Anna-Kaisa

'don't keep your worries to yourself' Rebecca Cobb

'Find some place to stop & be quiet' by Lizzy Stewart

'everything is possible' by Lee Basford

Free posters are available to first-year students across the U.K. upon request. Four of the posters are available for purchase in a fundraising effort, with 100% of the proceeds feeding back to support this wonderful project — so go ahead and grab one, then let its wisdom sink in slowly.

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