Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘history’

02 FEBRUARY, 2012

A Beautiful 1928 Letter to 16-Year-Old Jackson Pollock from His Dad

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“The secret of success is… to be fully awake to everything about you.”

As a lover of letters and famous correspondence, I was thrilled to stumble across this 1928 letter from Jackson Pollock’s dad, LeRoy, to his son, uncovered by our very own Michelle Legro in the “Family” issue of the always-excellent Lapham’s Quarterly. Culled from American Letters 1927-1947: Jackson Pollock & Family, the letter is a beautiful paean to what matters most in life, and how to cultivate it.

Well Jack I was glad to learn how you felt about your summer’s work & your coming school year. The secret of success is concentrating interest in life, interest in sports and good times, interest in your studies, interest in your fellow students, interest in the small things of nature, insects, birds, flowers, leaves, etc. In other words to be fully awake to everything about you & the more you learn the more you can appreciate & get a full measure of joy & happiness out of life.

Jackson and LeRoy Pollock at the Grand Canyon, 1927 (Smithsonian Collection)

Full text below, courtesy of Lapham’s Quarterly:

Dear Son Jack,

Well it has been some time since I received your fine letter. It makes me a bit proud and swelled up to get letters from five young fellows by the names of Charles, Mart, Frank, Sande, and Jack. The letters are so full of life, interest, ambition, and good fellowship. It fills my old heart with gladness and makes me feel ‘Bully.’ Well Jack I was glad to learn how you felt about your summer’s work & your coming school year. The secret of success is concentrating interest in life, interest in sports and good times, interest in your studies, interest in your fellow students, interest in the small things of nature, insects, birds, flowers, leaves, etc. In other words to be fully awake to everything about you & the more you learn the more you can appreciate & get a full measure of joy & happiness out of life. I do not think a young fellow should be too serious, he should be full of the Dickens some times to create a balance.

I think your philosophy on religion is okay. I think every person should think, act & believe according to the dictates of his own conscience without too much pressure from the outside. I too think there is a higher power, a supreme force, a governor, a something that controls the universe. What it is & in what form I do not know. It may be that our intellect or spirit exists in space in some other form after it parts from this body. Nothing is impossible and we know that nothing is destroyed, it only changes chemically. We burn up a house and its contents, we change the form but the same elements exist; gas, vapor, ashes. They are all there just the same.

I had a couple of letters from mother the other day, one written the twelfth and one the fifteenth. Am always glad to get letters from your mother, she is a Dear isn’t she? Your mother and I have been a complete failure financially but if the boys turn out to be good and useful citizens nothing else matters and we know this is happening so why not be jubilant?

The weather up here couldn’t be beat, but I suppose it won’t last always, in fact we are looking forward to some snowstorms and an excuse to come back to the orange belt. I do not know anything about what I will do or if I will have a job when I leave here, but I am not worrying about it because it is no use to worry about what you can’t help, or what you can help, moral ‘don’t worry.’

Write and tell me all about your schoolwork and yourself in general. I will appreciate your confidence.

You no doubt had some hard days on your job at Crestline this summer. I can imagine the steep climbing, the hot weather, etc. But those hard things are what builds character and physic. Well Jack I presume by the time you have read all this you will be mentally fatigued and will need to relax. So goodnight, pleasant dreams and God bless you.

Your affectionate Dad

Find more everyday poetics in the fantastic collection of letters, from which this gem came.

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02 FEBRUARY, 2012

Lost in Learning: Celebrating the Art and Spirit of Discovery

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What Galileo has to do with Columbus, The Library of Congress, and rediscovering the great purpose of art.

For four years, Bulgarian-born, Boston-based photographer Eva Koleva Timothy traveled the world, from Oxford’s libraries to Florence’s cathedrals, to pin down the ghosts of the intellectual restlessness that made humanity turn its gaze into the heavens, point its lens across the seas, and channel its fervor onto the canvas. The result is Lost in Learning: The Art of Discovery — a beautiful project-turned-book that breathes new life into historical photographs, manuscripts, and other archival materials to reveal timeless insights on curiosity, creativity, and intellectual inquiry based on the work and legacy of iconic thinkers from the Age of Discover, including Sir Isaac Newton, Leonardo da Vinci, Christopher Columbus, and Galileo Galilei.

Alongside each striking black-and-white image, playing with light and refraction to an incredibly dimensional effect, are Timothy’s poetic meditations on the minds and mindsets responsible for some of our civilization’s most significant feats of discovery, and what they reveal about the nature and future of contemporary creative thought.

Far from a mere lens on nostalgia and the romantic past, at the project makes a passionate case for resuscitating the cult of discovery as a driving force of culture’s future. British poet Ralph Windle writes in the foreword:

For all its rich evocation of history, however, this monograph looks forward more than back… Something much more important is happening here, and it connects in an exciting, novel way with one of the mainstream developments in contemporary literature and art.”

At its heart, Lost in Learning, which Timothy calls “an art book for the Dreamers,” is a beautiful crusade to rediscover discovery and reinstate curiosity as the great purpose of art and the great gift of the artist.

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31 JANUARY, 2012

Dogs in Books: An Illustrated History

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From The Brothers Grimm to Lassie, or what Victorian limericks have to do with Ancient Greece.

If you, like me, are a lover of dogs and a lover of books, then you’ll be head over heels with Dogs In Books: A Celebration of Dog Illustration Through the Ages. From Aesop’s Fables to the Bible to Alice in Wonderland to Oliver Twist and beyond, the slim but mighty volume chronicles the dog’s inextricable presence in our collective history, art, and mythology through contemporary drawings and rare archival illustrations of more than 30 famous dogs culled from the British Library’s collection.

In the introduction, Catherine Britton, Senior Editor at the British Library, reminds us:

The written evidence of the relationship between dogs and humans is almost as old as literature itself. In the eighth century BC Homer wrote in The Odyssey of Odysseus’ return to Ithaca, where only his faithful old dog Argos recognised him. Odysseus had been away, HOmer says, for 7300 days, or twenty years, and Argos was by now old and infirm, but still struggled to greet his master.”

Alongside each image is a short essay that contextualizes the dog and its cultural significance, as well as the history of the illustration itself.

Two shepherd and their sheepdog hear of the birth of Jesus. From a fifteenth century Book of Hours, France.

A huntsman keeps his two greyhounds firmly restrained with a leash. From the Luttrell Psalter, circa 1320-40

A donkey, dog, cat and cockerel make their own form of music in order to frighten away robbers from their house. From The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, translated by Mrs. Edgar Lucas, illustrated by Arthur Rackham. Constable & Co., 1909

The soldier is taken aback by the sight of the supernatural dog standing on the chest of money. From Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen, illustrated by Harry Clarke. G G Harrap & Col, 1916

Bizarre dogs (and their equally odd owners) from the limericks of Edward Lear. From The Book of Nonsense written and illustrated by Edward Lear. Frederick Warne & Col, 1885

Toto looks on with some interest as Dorothy talks to the Cowardly Lion. From The New Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum illustrated by W W Denslow. Bobbs-Merrill Co, 1903

The curse of the Baskervilles. From The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle, illustrated by Sidney Paget. Strand magazine, serialized 1901-19102

The cover of The Call of the Wild, illustrated by Philip R Goodwin and Charles Livingston Bull. William Heinemann, 1903

Dinah the Aberdeen terrier barks at 'a palpitating vacuum cleaner.' From Collected Dog Stories by Rudyard Kipling, illustrated by Marguerite Kirmse. Macmillan & Co., 1934

The unmistakable features of Lassie. From Lassie Come-Home by Eric Knight, illustrated by Marguerite Kirmse. J C Winston Co., 1940

Having eaten 'a whole dish of mayonnaise fish,' there are unsurprisingly 'curious pains in my underneath.' From A Dog Day or The Angel in the House by Walter Emanuel, illustrated by Cecil Aldin. William Heinemann, 1902

Mr and Mrs Dearly, surrounded by their dalmatians. From One Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith, illustrated by Janet and Anne Grahame-Johnstone. William Heinemann, 1956

'Are You Lonesome Tonight'

Original silkscreen. George Rodrigue, 2009

Equal parts charming and illuminating, Dogs In Books is an absolute treat for those who love literature’s fuzziest heroes.

Images courtesy of Mark Batty Publisher

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