Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘culture’

20 MAY, 2011

Happy Birthday, Dieter Rams: Revisiting Less & More

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What your favorite coffeemaker has to do with the cultural value of the unspectacular.

I love the elegant, minimalist yet eloquent visual language of iconic designer Dieter Rams (who doesn’t?), whose principles of good design I’ve previously covered, and I have a soft spot for the lavish design books of German publishing house Gestalten. (Previously: The Story of Eames Furniture and Papercraft 2: Design and Art With Paper).

Today, as Dieter Rams turns 79, there’s no better time to revisit Gestalten’s fantastic Less and More: The Design Ethos of Dieter Rams — an ambitious look at Rams’ seminal work at Braun, which established him as one of the most influential designers of the 20th century, shaping both the aesthetic norms of design for decades to come as well as society’s most fundamental understanding of what design is, does and should be. The lush bilingual volume explores the underbelly of Rams’ design philosophy in 800 pages of archival photos, original sketches and models, alongside thoughtful essays by international design experts that examine Rams’ work and legacy in a contemporary context.

Design should not dominate things, should not dominate people. It should help people. That’s its role.” ~ Dieter Rams

Not the spectacular things are the important things — the unspectacular things are the important things, especially in the future.” ~ Dieter Rams

Don’t miss last week’s The New York Times interview with Rams, in which he talks about everything from what an average day is like for him to why he started a foundation to help young designers get an education — an excellent companion read to Less and More.

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19 MAY, 2011

Vintage Ballet: Rare Photos of Dancers from the 1930s-1950s

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Drama, glamor and elegance converge in amazing archival images of ballet dancers from the early 20th century.

Since its origins in the Italian Renaissance courts of the 15th century, ballet has been considered one of humanity’s most graceful and beautiful forms of creative expression. These fantastic archival images from the State Library of New South Wales collection capture the elegance of ballet alongside the classic, dramatic glamor of vintage photography from the early 20th century.

Valentina Blinova in L'Oiseau de feu (The Firebird), Ballets Russes, Sydney, 1936-1937 / photographed by Max Dupain

Paul Petrov in L'Oiseau de feu (The Firebird), Ballets Russes, Sydney, 1936-1937 / photographed by Max Dupain

Tamara Toumanova & Serge Lifar, Swan Lake, Sydney, 1939-1940 / photographed by Max Dupain

Emmy Towsey (Taussig) and Evelyn Ippen, Bodenwieser Ballet in Centennial Park, Sydney, ca. 1939 / photographed by Max Dupain

Tatiana Riabouchinska and Roman Jasinsky in Les Dieux mendiants (The Gods go a-begging), between Nov 1938-Aug 1940 / photographed by Max Dupain

Tatiana Riabouchinska, ballerina, ca. 1938 / photographed by Maurice Seymour

Margaret Barr's 'Strange Children' (ballet), 1955 / photographer unknown

Valentina Blinova in L'Oiseau de feu (The Firebird), Ballets Russes, Sydney, 1936-1937 / photographed by Max Dupain

Unidentified dancer (Yura Lazovsky?) as Petrouchka, Sydney, March 1940 / photographed by Sam Hood

For more on this fascinating and endlessly inspiring piece of cultural history, I highly recommend Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet by New Republic dance critic Jennifer Homans, which offers not only breathtaking eye candy but also traces many of today’s cultural values back to ballet’s legacy of discipline and virtuosity.

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19 MAY, 2011

How Shakespeare Changed Everything

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What Central Park wildlife has to do with Freud and Abe Lincoln’s assassination.

An ambitious and entertaining new book by Esquire columnist Stephen Marche explores the many, often unsuspected ways in which the great playwright shaped just about every facet of contemporary culture. How Shakespeare Changed Everything is equal parts homage to the iconic bard and rigorously researched, fascinating look at how his work permeated aspects of pop culture and everyday life far beyond his genre and his era.

From how Romeo and Juliet introduced the concept of adolescence to the 1,700 words Shakespeare coined (including lackluster, fashionable and the name Jessica) to how his plays provided the foundation for Freudian psychology and concepts of healthy sex life, Marche blends light trivia-worthy historical factoids with a deep respect for the legendary writer’s legacy.

Shakespeare is the foremost poet in the world. All of the scriptwriting books cite him as the dominant influence on Hollywood. He has had more influence on the novel than any novelist. The greater the artist, the more he or she was influenced by Shakespeare. Dickens and Keats were more inspired by Shakespeare than anybody, and their familiarity with Shakespeare seems to have made them more original, not less.” ~ Stephen Marche

Perhaps most fascinating of all is to consider how mind-boggling this wide-spanning influence would’ve been to Shakespeare himself. Unbeknownst to him, he “founded” spiritual movements, informed war strategies, validated romantic rituals, and shaped the very core of our moral codes. He even changed North American wildlife when, in 1890, one man decided to release 60 English starlings in Central Park in an effort to introduce every bird Shakespeare ever mentioned to North America.

[Shakespeare has] been the unwitting founder of intellectual movements he would never have endorsed and the secret presence behind spiritual practices he could never have imagined. He has been used as a crude political instrument by all sides in conflicts of which he could never have conceived. His vision has been assumed by saints and by murderers. At the bottom of all these slippery chains of consequences and perverted manifestations of his talent dwells the unique ability of Shakespeare to place his finger on people’s souls.” ~ Stephen Marche

For a taste of How Shakespeare Changed Everything, the National Post has a handsome excerpt.

Thanks, Julia

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