Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘Dr. Seuss’

23 MARCH, 2012

The Secret Art of Dr. Seuss

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“…a creature content with himself as animal and artist, and one who didn’t give a lick or a spit for anyone’s opinion, one way or another, of his work.”

When we celebrated the 108th would-be birthday of Dr. Seuss earlier this month with his little-known book of nudes, reader Jennifer Alluisi flagged a fascinating deeper dive into Geisel’s more obscure creations — The Secret Art of Dr. Seuss, originally published in 1995, collects 65 of Geisel’s whimsical paintings, sculptures, and rough sketches of weird and wonderful beings in otherworldly settings, created for his own pleasure and never exhibited in public. Though Geisel’s most enduring legacy remains his timeless children’s literature, this volume sheds new light on his contribution to contemporary art — a realm he approached with the same blend of idiosyncratic talent and uncompromising dedication that made him a cultural icon in his “other life.”

A Seuss drawing suggesting that no matter how big, inflated or different the image we try to portray, being ourselves is most important.

TM & © 1995 Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L. P., Secret Art Collection, courtesy of the Museum of Science and Industry

For an added treat, the introduction was penned by none other than the great Maurice Sendak, who writes:

I retain a most vivid picture of Ted standing in his studio before his easel, palette in hand, brush poised. He would lean forward and then back on his heels, head cocked to one side and then to the other. The artistic ‘dance’ step was repeated over and over again.

He enjoyed working after midnight — seldom during the working-day hours. He did not consider painting to be ‘work,’* so it had to wait till late at night. Painting was what he did for himself and not something he felt comfortable in sharing.

[…]

I remember telling Ted that there would come a day when many of his paintings would be seen and he would thus share with his fans another facet of himself — his private self. That day has come. I am glad.

'Pink-Tufted Small Beast in Night Landscape,' 1960

TM & © 1995 Dr. Seuss Enterprises

'The Stag at Eve,' 1960

TM & © 1995 Dr. Seuss Enterprises

Sendak captures Geisel’s remarkable character:

The Ted Geisel I knew was that rare amalgamation of genial gent and tomcat — a creature content with himself as animal and artist, and one who didn’t give a lick or a spit for anyone’s opinion, one way or another, of his work. He was, of course, immensely charming and polite about the whole matter, but when Ted fixed you with his calm cat-gaze, you knew when to shut up. It was easy to respect the simple honesty and curious privacy behind the gentle bluster of the man, but Seuss’s apparent lack of interest in style, fashion, and any kind of analysis relating to his work astonished me. Only after years of friendship was I completely won over; Dr. Seuss was serious about not being ‘serious.’**

'Peru 1 (Giant Llama Led Through Village), 1925

TM & © 1995 Dr. Seuss Enterprises

'Peru 2 (Vultures Waiting for the Fall), 1925

TM & © 1995 Dr. Seuss Enterprises

'Peru 3 (Cock Fight), 1925

TM & © 1995 Dr. Seuss Enterprises

'Peru 4 (Angry Pig), 1925

TM & © 1995 Dr. Seuss Enterprises

Zachery

TM & © 1995 Dr. Seuss Enterprises

'The Manly Art of Self-Defense,' 1927

TM & © 1995 Dr. Seuss Enterprises

Untitled

TM & © 1995 Dr. Seuss Enterprises

Untitled

TM & © 1995 Dr. Seuss Enterprises

Of Seuss’s art in general and the works collected in The Secret Art of Dr. Seuss in particular, Sendak writes:

There was certainly nothing cookie-cutter, bland, or trendy about Ted Geisel. These works abound in nuttiness, ‘political incorrectness,’*** and lots and lots of cats. In short, you have entered Seussville, where questions and doubts are left at the door with the coo-coo something-or-other. Enjoy yourself.

* See Lewis Hyde on work vs. creative labor

** See Paula Scher’‘s TED talk on serious vs. solemn design

*** For the radical politics and political incorrectness of iconic children’s authors, see Tales for Little Rebels

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02 MARCH, 2012

The Seven Lady Godivas: Dr. Seuss’s Little-Known “Adult” Book of Nudes

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What Peeping Toms have to do with failure and the expectations of genius.

Theodor Seuss Geisel, better-known as Dr. Seuss, was a legendary children’s book author, radical ideologist, and a lover of reading. Among his many creative feats is a fairly unknown, fairly scandalous one: In 1939, when Geisel left Vanguard for Random House, he had one condition for his new publisher, Bennett Cerf — that he would let Geisel do an “adult” book first. The result was The Seven Lady Godivas: The True Facts Concerning History’s Barest Family, which tells the story of nudist sisters who, after their father’s death, pledge not to wed until each of them has “brought to the light of the world some new and worthy Horse Truth, of benefit to man.”

Geisel wrote in the foreword:

A beautiful story of love, honor and scientific achievement has too long been gathering dust in the archives.”

The humorous story is based on the Lady Godiva legend, according to which in 1037 the Earl of Coventry’s wife rode naked on horseback through the streets of Coventry, protesting against her husband’s unfair taxes. The citizens of Coventry were ordered to remain indoors, shuttered, as she rode. But one man, Peeping Tom, peered out and was then struck blind.

The book, however, was a complete flop. Ten thousand copies were printed on the first run, and only about 2,500 were sold. The Seven Lady Godivas eventually went out of print, causing Geisel to later say:

I attempted to draw the sexiest babes I could, but they came out looking absurd.

Absurd as they might be, and oddly unerotic despite the nudity, the illustrations are a treat, perhaps in that so-bad-it’s-good kind of way, or perhaps because they offer endearing reassurance that even genius can falter.

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27 SEPTEMBER, 2011

The Bippolo Seed: Seven Rare Dr. Seuss Stories Brought to Light

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How eBay uncovered a buried literary treasure, or what a Massachusetts dentist has to do with vintage magazines.

It must be the season for posthumous anthologies of treats by beloved children’s authors. After Shel Silverstein’s Every Thing Thing On It comes The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories — a fantastic new collection of seven rarely seen stories written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss, published in magazines between 1948 and 1959. But what’s even more remarkable than the book itself is the story of how it came to be.

In 2001, “dentist by profession and Seussologist by obsession” Charles Cohen, discovered the first of these lost stories in vintage magazines on eBay and set out to find the rest, eventually acquiring multiple copies of some. He then started listing these extra copies on eBay, noting the lost Seuss stories they contained. The listings caught the eye of Random House art director Cathy Goldsmith, who had worked on books with Seuss himself. The rest was history.

In the 50s, and in the 40s before that, this was the place where Fitzgerald and Hemingway tried out stuff in short stories in magazines. And Ted was among them. This is the point at which Dr. Seuss is becoming Dr. Seuss.”

More than just a literary gem, which it certainly is, The Bippolo Seed is also a wonderful embodiment of two of today’s most beautiful phenomena: the notion that anyone with a passion and an vision can leave an imprint on culture, as Cohen did in discovering these buried treasures, and the power of a great, curious curator in bringing that vision to the forefront of culture, as Goldsmith did in discovering Cohen.

Images courtesy of Random House

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