Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘culture’

05 AUGUST, 2011

Typography in 7 Minutes: A PBS Micro-Documentary

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Visibility, invisibility, and what the spirit of letters has to do with the meaning of text.

On Monday, we featured 10 essential books on typography. Today, we turn to this fantastic short documentary on, you guessed it, typography from the excellent Off Book series by PBS Arts. In just 7 minutes, the film explores type — ubiquitous yet often unnoticed and misunderstood — through the work of some of today’s most iconic type designers and freshest voices, from Brain Pickings favorite Paula Scher to our friends at Hyperakt, masters of the infographic form, as well as legendary duo Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones, and Pentagram prodigy Eddie Opara.

Words have meaning and type has spirit, and the combination is spectacular.” ~ Paula Scher

From the selection and sometimes bespoke creation of fitting typefaces for every print publication, website, movie, ad and public message, to how computers have liberated and democratized typography, to the design decisions behind creating compelling infographics, the microdocumentary offers a succinct case for the power of typography as a communication medium and a storytelling device.

The most challenging part of working on an infographic is taking all the available data and deciding what is the most important bit of information that we need to communicate. Infographics are about typography getting out of the way of the message.” ~ Deroy Peraza

I determine how I design something based on the audience and what the audience would bear. Evoke the response you want while pushing the audience to see something perhaps in a new way.” ~ Paula Scher

For more, feast your type-loving heart on these 10 timeless books about typography.

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04 AUGUST, 2011

Happy Birthday, Louis Armstrong: What a Wonderful World

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Celebrating a timeless voice with a timely message.

Just last month, we commemorated 40 years since the world lost the great Louis Armstrong with Satchmo, the fascinating documentary about his life and legacy. But there’s no reason not to also celebrate his birth, which happens to have taken place exactly 110 years ago today. And there’s hardly a better way to do that than by taking delight in one of his most iconic performances, his remarkable rendition of “What a Wonderful World” — with the added joy of serving up a simple reminder of optimism, amidst a particularly difficult year framed by news of every kind of global tragedy, from environmental disaster to large-scale violence to financial and political disillusionment. Sing it, Lou.

For more on the life and work of the iconic musician, look no further than Terry Teachout’s excellent Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong.

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.

04 AUGUST, 2011

Driving with Plato: Life Lessons from History’s Greatest Minds

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“Life is hard,” the actress Katherine Hepburn once quipped, adding, “after all, it kills you.” Given the unavoidable end to the enterprise, then, it’s a good thing we can draw courage from the intelligence of the ages.

We’ve long been interested in the hard-won wisdom of our elders. Earlier this year, in fact, we put together a list of life advice from luminaries, which contained a great read called Breakfast with Socrates. Now its author, Robert Rowland Smith, has returned with a sequel of sorts. Bearing its own catchy title, Driving with Plato: The Meaning of Life’s Milestones, Smith’s latest provides an equally entertaining and insightful consideration of what the greats might have to say about such passages of life as going to school.

Where Breakfast with Socrates took as its structural unit a typical (Western) day, Driving with Plato considers the benchmarks of an entire life — both biological and culturally constructed — from birth onward. One chapter, for example, examines the challenge of first learning to ride a bike:

You have to embrace what in Kierkegaardian philosophy is the madness of decision, the vertiginous split second when reason must, in the name of action, go into suspense. In this critical instant of changeover, success arises only if you go at a considerable speed, if you seize the challenge of creating your own forward momentum… As Einstein (whom we’ll come to later) put it, when comparing riding a bicycle with life, “To keep your balance you have to keep moving!”

A cynic might say that Smith and his publishers were looking to exploit a clever conceit, but the book’s research and writing belie this charge. In fact, it’s altogether to the author’s credit that he creates a coherent narrative out of such disparate cultural, literary, and philosophical material.

Driving with Plato selects an appealingly wide range of sources, from Noam Chomsky to Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Smith’s prose smoothly carries the reader over the road he’s delineated. On the bain of human experience — moving — he offers this:

Probably the worst accidents at home must be those involving fire, but they’re not always such a bad thing. Rumi, the great thirteenth-century Sufi mystic, has a poem in which his house burning down makes him grateful. Why? It affords a better view of the rising moon.”

From losing one’s virginity to the ultimate loss of life itself, Driving with Plato is delightful proof of how wisdom provides ballast amidst the chaos we all have no choice but to confront.

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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