Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘art’

14 JUNE, 2011

Obsessive Consumption: Life in a Material World, Illustrated

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How a visual record of consumerism is paving the way for mindful consumption.

I’ve been a longtime fan of Kate Bingaman-Burt‘s Obsessive Consumption project — a wonderfully illustrated visual record of personal consumption running since February 5, 2006. So I was delighted when last year Princeton Architectural Press (of The Map as Art fame) added the project to this running list of blog-turned-book success stories and published Obsessive Consumption: What Did You Buy Today? — a charming illustrated chronicle of Bingham-Burt’s adventures in a material world, spanning 200 pages and three years’ worth of selected ink drawings from the project.

The project is particularly interesting examined in parallel and contrast to Annie Leonard’s The Story of Stuff, which also uses black-and-white line illustration but explores the flipside of personal consumption by exposing the dark underbelly of the seemingly innocuous products we buy.

Images courtesy of Kate Bingham-Burt

And while Obsessive Consumption may at first seem in stark contrast with my advocacy of collaborative consumption and having more by owning less, its underlying message is one of introspection and insight, of paying closer attention to how we make sense of the world and our place in it through “stuff” and, in the process, becoming more mindful consumers.

You can snag an original drawing by Kate over on Etsy.

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13 JUNE, 2011

John Lithgow Reads Mark Twain, Live-Illustrated

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What a chronically sleepy man has to do with litmus tests of literary success.

LIVE from NYPL is a fantastic live event series from the New York Public Library, featuring readings and discussions by, with and about cultural icons and luminaries ranging from Jennifer Egan to Lemony Snicket to Jay Z. (A Brain Pickings favorite from a few years ago: The excellent panel on remix culture with Lawrence Lessig, Shepard Fairey and Steven Johnson.) In the spring of 2009, NYPL put on an event titled How to Live Dada: Andrei Codrescu, Henry Alford & Mark Twain Interview Each Other!, as a teaser for Codrescu’s then-new book, The Posthuman Dada Guide: Tzara and Lenin Play Chess. Part of the program featured never-before-published works by Mark Twain, read by John Lithgow and live-illustrated by NYPL artist in residence Flash Rosenberg, in a style reminiscent of the RSA‘s.

This segment is based on Chapter 2 of Twain’s Who Is Mark Twain, titled Whenever I am about to publish a book…. In it, Twain outlines the fourteen types of people, who he believes are archetypes representative of the general public in sum — including an intensely practical person, a sentimental person, a hypercritical person, and a man who inevitably falls asleep — and concludes:

But the man whom I most depend upon is the man who always goes to sleep. If he drops off within 15 minutes, I burn the book. If he keeps awake three quarters of an hour, I publish, and I publish with the greatest confidence, too. For the intent of my books is to entertain and by making this man confortable on a sofa and timing him, I can tell, within a shade or two, what degrees of success I’m going to achieve.” ~ Mark Twain

Who Is Mark Twain features 24 priceless pieces by the iconic author, culled by by Robert Hirst, General Editor of The Mark Twain Project at UC Berkeley.

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07 JUNE, 2011

Drawn In: A Peek Inside Favorite Artists’ Private Sketchbooks

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What the myth of the muse has to do with the discipline of refinement, visual poetry and Shel Silverstein.

I’m a longtime fan of artist Julia Rothman, who pens the wonderful Book By Its Cover blog and who in 2009 co-masterminded the excellent Exquisite Book, in which 100 of today’s most exciting visual artists engaged in a collaborative game inpsired by the surrealist movement of the 1920s. This month, Julia is back with another superb book project: Drawn In: A Peek into the Inspiring Sketchbooks of 44 Fine Artists, Illustrators, Graphic Designers, and Cartoonists — a voyeuristic visual journey into how artists doodle, brainstorm and flesh ideas out, doing for art what Field Notes did for science, Street Sketchbook did for street art and Pure Process did for advertising.

The lavish volume offers a rare glimpse inside the minds and hearts of favorite artists like visual poet Sophie Blackall, happiness-designer Tad Carpenter, nature illustrator Jill Bliss and many more, showcasing stunning full-color images alongside profiles of the artists, who discuss their sketchbooks and how they use them.

Today, I sit down with Julia to chat about the theories of creative genius, common patterns of creation, and insights from the project.

q1

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about the origin of genius and the driving force behind the creative process, whether it’s the product of this age-old notion of “the muse” or closer to something like Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours theory, which frames “genius” as the product of merciless practice and discipline. Do artists’ sketchbooks bespeak a particular truth to tip the scale in either direction, or do they embody some combination of the two models of genius?

JR: I think it’s definitely a mix of both. While you can learn a technique like drawing and try to perfect it by practicing and practicing, you still need that bit of natural talent to bring it to the level of these artists. In these sketchbooks, there’s evidence of artists spending a lot of time getting their drawings to look a certain way. Sam Bosma’s sketches of the same character over and over are a great example. His pages show a refinement in each rendering of the same subject. But there is definitely a spontaneity in much of the work in these sketchbooks. One of my favorite examples is Christian DeFilippo’s balloon page. It seems like he just threw a handful of balloons on the paper and taped them down flat. The result is an amazing colorful and sculptural page, an experiment which couldn’t have been created from practice.

q2

Did any specific patterns emerge from the bird’s-eye view of the 44 sketchbooks, anything that was common to many artist and perhaps a useful insight on how the rest of us can best tame our inspiration and creative process?

JR: Each of these artists have such different styles and ways of working, but one of the things that they all seemed to do was observational drawing from life. While much of Anders Nilsen’s sketchbook was filled with comics and imagery from his own head, you’d turn a page and see a realistic sketch of a person who was sitting in front of him. It seems like being able to capture the world around you is an important skill to each of these artists whether or not their non-sketchbook work reflects that. Being able to recreate the world around them, must help artists to be able to create their own worlds.

q3

What dead artists’ sketchbooks do you most wish you could peek inside?

JR: Keiko Minami, Vera Neuman, Ben Shahn, John Singer Sargent, Shel Silverstein, Ezra Jack Keats, Olle Eksell, Alexander Calder, Charles Schulz… I could go on and on.

Drawn In is out this month and an absolute, rare kind of treat.

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