Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘art’

27 MAY, 2011

The Cloud Collector’s Handbook: Cloudy Images to Clear the Mind

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Why cirrus, cumulus, and stratus are only the tiny tip of a floating iceberg. Or wait, I think I see a dinosaur!

From childhood on, we look to the clouds for inspiration, believing we can see the entire world in their protean shapes. This early sense of dreaminess is why I immediately fell in love with The Cloud Collector’s Handbook, a beautiful guide by author (and cloud-lover) Gavin Pretor-Pinney. A virtual catalog of air, the almanac provides classifications of the billows, masses, and wisps that provoke our awe and wonder, as well as descriptions of the meteorological conditions that lead to their creation.

Even better, though, The Cloud Collector’s Handbook turns cloudspotting into a game by challenging the reader to chase specific formations and mark down their sightings. Throughout the guidebook each species comes with a corresponding point value, with higher scores for infrequently seen varietals (like the incredibly rare horseshoe vortex).

Flipping through the book, I found myself dreaming of a cross-country roadtrip with a hawk-eyed companion and windows all the way down…

Founder of the Cloud Appreciation Society, a global organization that fights “blue-sky thinking,” Pretor-Pinney published a manifesto explaining the inspiration behind his project.

Clouds are so commonplace that their beauty is often overlooked. They are for dreamers and their contemplation benefits the soul. Indeed, all who consider the shapes they see in them will save on psychoanalysis bills.” ~ Gavin Pretor-Pinney

The Society’s 26,000-plus members have amassed a gorgeous gallery of images, from which it was remarkably hard to choose only a handful.

Storm rolling in at sunset, Lino Lakes, Minnesota, U.S.

Image courtesy of Jackie Zeleznikar

Above the Streets, taken passing over the south coast of England, on a flight from France to the U.K.

Image courtesy of Daniel Melconian

Mount Ranier could mix, Washington, U.S.

Image courtesy of Lori Cannon

Spotted over Pleasant Hill, Iowa. U.S.

Image courtesy of Tim McLean

Mouse in a sunset, Ojo Caliente, New Mexico, U.S.

Image courtesy of Maggi Rankin

And in case looking up makes you think of the skies’ aqueous mirror, Pretor-Pinney also authored The Wave Watcher’s Companion, an equally whimsical guide to waves of all kinds: audio, brain, light, traffic, and, of course, water.

via Cohabitaire

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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27 MAY, 2011

Radioactive: The Incredible Story of Marie Curie Told in Cyanotype

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What the periodic table has to do with obscure photographic techniques and Italian erotic séances.

Marie Curie is one of the most extraordinary figures in the history of science. A pioneer in researching radioactivity, a field the very name for which she coined, she was not only the first woman to win a Nobel Prize but also the first person to win two Nobel Prizes, and in two different sciences at that, chemistry and physics. In Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout, artist Lauren Redniss tells the story of Curie through the two invisible but immensely powerful forces that guided her life: Radioactivity and love. It’s a turbulent story — a passionate romance with Pierre Curie (honeymoon on bicycles!), the epic discovery of radium and polonium, Pierre’s sudden death in a freak accident in 1906, Marie’s affair with physicist Paul Langevin, her coveted second Noble Prize — under which lie poignant reflections on the implications of Curie’s work more than a century later as we face ethically polarized issues like nuclear energy, radiation therapy in medicine, nuclear weapons and more.

Most remarkable of all, however, is the thoughtfulness with which Redniss tailored her medium to her message, turning the book into a work of art in and of itself, every detail meticulously moulded to fit the essence of the narrative.

To stay true to Curie’s spirit and legacy, Redniss rendered her poetic artwork in an early-20th-century image printing process called cyanotype, critical to the discovery of both X-rays and radioactivity itself — a cameraless photographic technique in which paper is coated with light-sensitive chemicals. Once exposed to the sun’s UV rays, this chemically-treated paper turns a deep blue color. The text in the book is a unique typeface Redniss designed using the title pages of 18th- and 19th-century manuscripts from the New York Public Library archive. She named it Eusapia LR, for the croquet-playing, sexually ravenous Italian Spiritualist medium whose séances the Curies used to attend. The book’s cover is printed in glow-in-the-dark ink.

Watch an endearingly nervous Redniss tell the story of her book and her creative process in this talk from the recent TEDxEast:

Stunningly beautiful in both concept and execution, Radioactive is a rare cross-pollination of art and science, the kind of storytelling that makes us care about stories.

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26 MAY, 2011

Follow For Now: A Time-Capsule of Contemporary Thought

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What the changing guard of design has to do with evolutionary theories of network dynamics.

Much of today’s fixation on retrofuturism and the paleofuture meme has to do with the pleasure we take in fact-checking the visions and predictions of the past against the commonly agreed upon reality of the present. And while there’s an undeniable luster to the shiny jetpack visions of yesteryear’s gadget-dreaming, what I find even more fascinating are the cultural and intellectual movements that powered these visions. In Follow for Now: Interviews with Friends and Heroes, Roy Christopher collects over seven years’ worth of conversations with contemporary cultural luminaries, including TED founder Richard Saul Wurman, street artist and remix culture frontman Shepard Fairey, science fiction author Bruce Sterling, Brain Pickings favorite DJ Spooky and 39 more.

The book was originally published in 2007, which makes it a rare, paradoxical and infinitely fertile cross between sort-of-contemporary cultural critique of the present and near-prophetic time-capsule of the recent past, swiftly fluttering across disciplines and ideologies to deliver a powerful cross-pollinator of modern intellectual and creative curiosity.

I love Steven Johnson, so it’s no surprise his interview is one of my favorites. Here, he captures precisely where I stand on the debate on what the internet is doing to our brains and the future of information:

Popular culture, on average, has been growing more cognitively challenging over the past thirty years, not less. Despite everything you hear about declining standards and dumbing-down, you have to do more intellectual work to make sense of today’s television or games — much less the internet — than you did a few decades ago.” ~ Steven Johnson, No Bitmaps for These Territories

The time elapsed since the book’s publication makes it particularly fascinating to reverse-engineer how the ideas in recent popular books by these thinkers originally germinated. For instance, Albert-László Barabási‘s interview presages his excellent 2010 book, Bursts: The Hidden Pattern Behind Everything We Do:

For many decades we believed that networks are random. Whenever we had to face a very complex system, such as people are connected by social links (society), chemicals in the cell connected by chemical reactions, webpages connected by URLs, we assumed that the links are thrown randomly around. In the last few years, we learned that this is not the case. Instead, networks hide wonderful order and are described by rather rigid evolutionary laws. These laws lead to the emergence of hubs, nodes with an extraordinary large number of links, that partly dominate real networks but they also keep them together.” ~ Albert-László Barabási, Think Networks

And as a longtime fan of Shepard Fairey‘s (whose portrait of Blondie’s Debbie Harry is my favorite piece of art that I own), I enjoyed this 2002 peek inside his creative reservoir, pre-Obama notoriety.

I like people who blur the line between fine art and graphic design. There are a lot of people who have grown up with a lot of advertising and sensory over-stimulation from video games and MTV, who are making very smart and engaging art and graphics. I don’t know what to call this movement [but] I really think the changing of the guard in the art and design world is beginning.” ~ Shepard Fairey, Giant Steps

Relentlessly stimulating and insight-packed, Follow for Now is the kind of book I’d like to see published every decade, and devoured every subsequent decade, from now until the end of humanity.

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