Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘culture’

15 APRIL, 2014

Zelda Fitzgerald’s Little-Known Art

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From Alice in Wonderland to Times Square, a delicate dance of the imagination.

When Zelda Sayre married legendary Jazz Age novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald to become Zelda Fitzgerald, she was anointed “the first American flapper” and embarked on one of the most turbulent relationships in literary history. Though best-remembered as a writer and dancer, Zelda, unbeknownst to many, not only considered herself an artist but was also an exceptionally gifted one. Her paintings place her among history’s famous writers with little-known talents in the visual arts, including Tolkien’s drawings, Sylvia Plath’s sketches, William Faulkner’s Jazz Age illustrations, and Flannery O’Connor’s cartoons.

Zelda: An Illustrated Life: The Private World of Zelda Fitzgerald (public library) collects 140 illustrations and 80 of her paintings from the late 1930s and 1940s, lovingly compiled by her granddaughter, the Vermont-based writer, filmmaker and artist Eleanor Anne Lanahan. From her cityscapes of New York City and Paris to her psychedelic Biblical allegories to her delicate paper dolls she made for her daughter Scottie, the art paints an intricate picture of her psychoemotional world and reflects her passion for fairy tales, her irreverent dance with the absurd, and her enormous sensitivity to beauty — a visual reflection of the blend of intense intelligence and unapologetic mischievousness that made Zelda so alluring.

Puppeufee (The Circus)

Brooklyn Bridge

Times Square

Central Park

Washington Square

Marriage at Cana

Hansel and Gretel

Great Smokey Mountains

The Pantheon and Luxemburg gardens

Star of Bethlehem

A lady and a costume from The Louis XIV set (paper doll)

Ladies' costume from The Louis XIV set (paper doll)

A lady and a costume from The Louis XIV set (paper doll)

But as a lover of Alice in Wonderland art, I was especially thrilled to see Zelda’s paintings for the Carroll classic:

Lobster Quadrille

The Queen’s Croquet-Ground

Advice from a Caterpillar

Who Stole the Tarts

A Mad Tea Party

Zelda: An Illustrated Life is an absolute delight from cover to cover. Complement it with the art of Norah Borges.

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15 APRIL, 2014

Why There Was No First Human

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“It’s just like how you used to be a baby and now you’re older, but there was no single day when you went to bed young and woke up old.”

We live in a culture where 40% of people don’t believe the world is more than 6,000 years old. And yet how can an intelligent being hold such beliefs when faced with a 13,000-year-old eucalyptus tree or an 80,000-year-old aspen? But even when we embrace science completely, one of the most baffling aspects of the timeline of evolution — for creatures as dependent on categories as we are to make sense of the world — is its incremental progress largely devoid of clear markers denoting when one primitive species ends and its evolved successor begins.

Inspired by The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True — Richard Dawkins’s children’s book seeking to replace myth with science — PBS’s Joe Hanson offers a concise and elegant explanation of why there was no “first human.” Tracing any one person’s family tree — yes, yours, as well as mine — back 185 million generations takes us not to another human but to a fish, which begs the question of where the human species “began”:

You can never pinpoint the exact moment when a species came to be — because it never did. It’s just like how you used to be a baby and now you’re older, but there was no single day when you went to bed young and woke up old… Evolution happens like a movie, with frames moving by both quickly and gradually, and we often can’t see the change while it’s occurring. Every time we find a fossil, it’s a snapshot back in time, often with thousands of frames missing in between, and we’re forced to reconstruct the whole film. Life is what happens in between the snapshots.

For a closer look at The Magic of Reality, go here, then see more of Henson’s terrific science illuminators, like the science of why we kiss, the mathematical odds of finding your soulmate, and why we can consider the avocado a curious ghost of evolution.

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15 APRIL, 2014

Herman Melville on Art

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On the mystical mastery of wrestling with the angel.

“Art holds out the promise of inner wholeness,” philosopher Alain de Botton assured in Art as Therapy, one of the best art books of 2013. “Art is not a thing — it is a way,” Elbert Hubbard declared in what became one of the most beautiful definitions of art. But how do we lay the bricks that pave that way and construct the soul? From the 1954 gem Reader and Writer (public library) — a collection of notable meditations on “the technology of language and its human aims,” featuring contributions from such literary titans as Sherwood Anderson, Ernest Hemingway, Francis Bacon, and Henry David Thoreau — comes this magnificent meditation on art from Herman Melville, in a poem unambiguously titled “Art”:

ART

In placid hours well-pleased we dream
Of many a brave unbodied scheme.
But form to lend, pulsed life create,
What unlike things must meet and mate:
A flame to melt — a wind to freeze;
Sad patience — joyous energies;
Humility — yet pride and scorn;
Instinct and study; love and hate;
Audacity — reverence. These must mate,
And fuse with Jacob’s mystic heart,
To wrestle with the angel — Art.

Illustration by Matt Kish from 'Moby-Dick in Pictures.' Click image for details.

Also from Reader and Writer, which is a treat in its entirety, see Melville’s poetic daily routine. Pair with history’s finest definitions of art.

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