Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘remix’

07 AUGUST, 2014

Allergy to Originality: Mark Twain and the Remix Nature of All Creative Work, Animated

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Why why all creative culture is built on “plagiarism, literary debt, appropriation, incorporation, retelling, rewriting, recapitulation, revision, reprise…”

When Helen Keller was accused of plagiarism, her dear friend Mark Twain wrote her a heartfelt and lively letter of support, in which he asserted that “all ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources” and that “the kernel, the soul … the actual and valuable material of all human utterances [is] plagiarism.” Despite Twain’s characteristically colorful language, the idea that everything is a remix is far from radical — it was pondered by Henry Miller, used by Johannes Gutenberg, abused by Duke Ellington, and championed by Pete Seeger, among countless other instances revealing that all creative work builds on what came before.

Animator Drew Christie brings Twain’s pioneering advocacy of remix culture to life in this delightful illustrated op-doc for The New York Times, titled Allergy to Originality, exploring why all creative culture is built on “plagiarism, literary debt, appropriation, incorporation, retelling, rewriting, recapitulation, revision, reprise, thematic creation, ironic retake, parody, imitation, stylistic debt, pastiches, collages, and deliberate assemblages.”

Complement with the story of how Mark Twain became the Steve Jobs of his day (the latter being in no small part a creative remixer) and young Twain’s irreverent 1865 advice to little girls.

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06 JUNE, 2014

Amusingly Cryptic Warning Signs from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Autotuned

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A serendipitous adventure in science communication.

When artist, designer, and educator David Delgado first arrived at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to work with the artist-in-residence there, he was immediately struck by the strange signs around the space, often cryptic and seemingly nonsensical. He found himself captivated by the disconnect between the dry, mundane language of these cautions and the immensely interesting processes, materials, and operations they were trying to describe. A solitary keyhole, almost alien in its arbitrary placement, bears the label “lazer bypass” — something partway between Alice in Wonderland and Alice in Quantumland, or the set of a science fiction movie.

When his friend Lee Overtree, Artistic Director of the wonderful arts education nonprofit Story Pirates, came to visit, he too took amused notice of the signs. Using Delgado’s photographs, he decided to compose a song using the app Songify to autotune his reading of the warning text from the various signs.

I recently bumped into Delgado at the World Science Festival, where he told me the story of their sign-turned-song, as an aside to an unrelated conversation about Ray Bradbury’s conversation with Carl Sagan and Arthur C. Clarke. I was instantly smitten with this geeky labor of love. So, with high permission all the way up from NASA’s Media Office, here is the end result for our shared delight:

More of Delgado’s original photographs of the signs below:

Complement with NASA’s formal Art Program, featuring Serious Art by such luminaries as Andy Warhol, Annie Leibovitz, and Norman Rockwell, then take a tour of JPL’s predecessors with these gorgeous vintage photos of NASA facilities.

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30 MAY, 2014

Anatomy of the Influences Behind Star Wars: A Mashup Masterpiece

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From Igor Stravinsky to Tintin to Akira Kurosawa.

“All of us, we’re links in a chain,” Pete Seeger said of creative work. “And your way, is it really your way?” Henry Miller asked before adding, “The same goes for your ideas. You moved into them ready-made.” This notion is also true — perhaps even more true — when it comes to highly popular works of art, from literature to film. Star Wars, for instance, is a cultural classic that has sprouted homages ranging from Shakespearean parodies to Muppet comics, but it has itself borrowed from innumerable sources of inspiration. Film-lover Michael Heilemann explores those in a feature-length mashup of Star Wars and its many influences, tracing the tapestry of George Lucas’s creative borrowings:

A thorough list of Heilmann’s sources can be found here.

And for a meta-testament to the tenet at the heart of Heilemann’s film — this notion that all creative work is derivative — it’s worth noting that his own concept of excavating the influences behind Star Wars is not an original idea either: It’s something documentary storyteller Kirby Ferguson explored more than three years ago in the second episode of his altogether fantastic Everything Is a Remix series:

Complement with Mark Twain on originality and how the Gutenberg press exemplified combinatorial creativity.

HT Kottke

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