Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘history’

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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22 MARCH, 2012

Jack Kerouac’s List of 30 Beliefs and Techniques for Prose and Life

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“No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge.”

In the year of reading more and writing better, we’ve absorbed David Ogilvy’s 10 no-bullshit tips, Henry Miller’s 11 commandments, John Steinbeck’s 6 pointers, and various invaluable advice from other great writers. Now comes Jack Kerouaccultural icon, symbolism sage, exquisite idealist — with his 30-point list, entitled Belief and Technique for Modern Prose. With items like “No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge” and “Accept loss forever,” the list is as much a blueprint for writing as it is a meditation on life.

  1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
  2. Submissive to everything, open, listening
  3. Try never get drunk outside yr own house
  4. Be in love with yr life
  5. Something that you feel will find its own form
  6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
  7. Blow as deep as you want to blow
  8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
  9. The unspeakable visions of the individual
  10. No time for poetry but exactly what is
  11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest
  12. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
  13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
  14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time
  15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog
  16. The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
  17. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
  18. Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
  19. Accept loss forever
  20. Believe in the holy contour of life
  21. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
  22. Dont think of words when you stop but to see picture better
  23. Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning
  24. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
  25. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
  26. Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form
  27. In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
  28. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
  29. You’re a Genius all the time
  30. Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven

The list was allegedly tacked on the wall of Allen Ginsberg’s hotel room in North Beach a year before his iconic poem “Howl” was written — which is of little surprise, given Ginsberg readily admitted Kerouac’s influence and even noted in the dedication of Howl and Other Poems that he took the title from Kerouac.

As Charles Eames might say, “to be realistic one must always admit the influence of those who have gone before.”

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21 MARCH, 2012

People-Dependent Technology: Designing with Our Highest Ideals for One Another

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“…design everything on the assumption that people are not heartless or stupid but marvellously capable, given the chance.”

Someone dear once lent me a remarkable out-of-print book by John Chris Jones, the first professor of design at the Open University, entitled The Internet and Everyone* (public library) — a tiny, thick tome printed in an impossibly small font that embodies the uncomfortable, nonlinear urgency of the budding medium it explores. It contains a series of letters Jones had written in the mid-90s, as the Internet was beginning to take shape, “without knowing what was coming next.” Sometimes erratic, often intense, always insightful, these meditative missives present a rare time-capsule of a tipping point in the history of contemporary culture and media — an early vision for the Internet as a force of cultural awakening.

Among Jones’ many keen observations is a response to a question by Thomas Mitchell about what constitutes bad design. This particular portion, exploring “people-dependent technology,” is reminiscent of Paola Antonelli’s insistence upon humanized technology:

3 ‘PEOPLE-DEPENDENT TECHNOLOGY’

That is a new term for which as yet I can think of no examples — it is my current hope.

What I envisage is that, instead of designing everything (and particularly computer software) on the assumption that ‘people are going to behave like machines’ — that is, without feeling, love, hatred, anticipation, intuition, imagination, etc. (the very qualities we think of when we ask what it is to be human) — we design everything on the assumption that people are not heartless or stupid but marvellously capable, given the chance, each and every one. I’d like to see machines, systems, environments of all kinds, made such that if they are to work well everyone who uses or inhabits them is challenged to act at her or his best and that there are no built-in obstacles to doing that. The main obstacles to this at present are not so much the machines and technical processes but the presence of our other selves, as paid guardians, ‘protecting’ every one of us from our ‘mechanically stupefied selves’ and enforcing rules of behaviour and design which assume that ‘users know nothing and producers know all’.

An edited version of this correspondence appears in Mitchell’s 1996 book, New Thinking in Design: Conversations on Theory and Practice.

* Does the cover feel familiar? Perhaps it’s because it inspired the cover of another, much more recent and equally important media bible — James Gleick’s The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood.

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