Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘SoundCloud’

13 NOVEMBER, 2013

Do Something Meaningful: Neil deGrasse Tyson and Ann Druyan on Carl Sagan

By:

“Who are we, if not measured by our impact on others?”

As a boundless admirer of the late and great Carl Sagan, I was thrilled to attend a special event at the Library of Congress celebrating their historic acquisition of his personal papers — 1,705 archival boxes of materials, to be precise — thanks to support from Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane’s charitable foundation.

Sagan was our civilization’s greatest yenta to the marriage of skepticism and wonder. As Bill “Science Guy” Nye so eloquently put it at the event, “Carl Sagan emboldened us to know our place among the stars, our place in space.” More than that, however, he empowered us to know our place within ourselves — to be our highest selves, to inhabit the stardust of our own ephemeral human lives with the greatest possible eternal light. This enduring aspect of his legacy was most powerfully captured by two exceptional people who share a very different kind of closeness with Sagan: Neil deGrasse Tysonmodern-day cosmic sage, science champion, masterful communicator, unrelenting genius, perhaps our generation’s closest thing to Sagan himself — and Ann Druyan, the love of Sagan’s life and his longtime creative collaborator, who hosted the Library of Congress event and whose own papers are also included in the archive.

Drawing by young Carl Sagan, 1942 (Library of Congress)

Druyan adds to Sagan’s own meditation on the meaning of life with an anecdote that captures the essence of his ethos, and his greatest gift to us:

Referencing the 1997 movie Rebecca, titled after a character who had died before the plot begins, Tyson, with his signature mesmerism of expression, captures Sagan’s undying legacy:

Who are we, if not measured by our impact on others? That’s who we are! We’re not who we say we are, we’re not who we want to be — we are the sum of the influence and impact that we have, in our lives, on others.

Thank you for everything, Carl.

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

11 NOVEMBER, 2013

Lou Reed on Andy Warhol, Bob Dylan, Laurie Anderson, Setting Edgar Allan Poe to Music, and Why Record Labels Deserve to Die

By:

“Making things that are beautiful is real fun.”

In February of 2012, the late and great Lou Reed, already severely ill and awaiting a liver transplant , visited the Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania, my alma mater, as a guest at the Blutt Singer-Songwriter Symposium — an annual event inviting prominent musicians, including Patti Smith (whose recent tribute to Reed is pure goosebumps), Loudon Wainwright, and Roseanne Cash, to perform and discuss their work. Reed’s conversation with Rolling Stone critic Anthony deCurtis, author of the excellent In Other Words: Artists Talk About Life and Work, is one of his last recorded live interviews. Here are the essential highlights from the interview, in which Reed radiates his singular fusion of irreverence, insight, and uncompromising creative genius.

On Andy Warhol and the birth of The Velvet Underground:

Warhol was what you would call a workaholic. … And he worked — people have no idea. … He was an astonishing person. When you consider what he was like when he was doing art direction in windows and all that — with the suit, the tie, the whole thing. And then, one day, PHOOM! He’s not Andy Warhol anymore — now he’s Andy Warhol, he’s in Levis and the wig and the jacket — fantastic! He created himself — you gotta love it.

Reed doesn’t conceal his contempt for the music labels, who didn’t like or even listen to the very music they were selling:

All these record companies deserve to go bankrupt. They’re all, you know, lying sacks of shit. No joke — these are bad guys, they deserve everything that’s happened to them.

On Bob Dylan:

On his wife, the artist and musician Laurie Anderson, whose remembrance of Reed is one of the most soul-stirring meditations on love and loss ever written (“And death? I believe that the purpose of death is the release of love.”):

She’s so smart and can do anything — anything she does is absolutely great. It’s amazing.

On balancing raw force and raw vulnerability in his music and writing:

I like conflict — it’s balance. Or, like tai chi, balance is like the yin and the yang. Even a song like “Perfect Day” — the kick is at the end, the last verse: “I thought I was someone else, someone good.”

Illustration by Lorenzo Mattotti from The Raven by Lou Reed. Click image for details.

On adapting literary works to music and rewriting Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry in his 2003 album The Raven and the companion graphic novel:

The trouble with Poe was that his language is so serious — the vocabulary — the words he’s using — some of those words were arcane when he used them — and then, architectural terms from Greece. And I, dutifully sitting there with the dictionary, looking all of this up and thinking, certainly, in a song or on the album I don’t want to have [things like this] in there — you can just as easily use a word someone knows what it means. … For him, great. For me, no. I spent most of the time translating them into English before even starting, but I couldn’t wait to rewrite “The Raven,” the poem. Mine is like a contemporary version of it, and we have a graphic novel out … illustrated by this great Italian artist, Lorenzo Mattotti. … Making things that are beautiful is real fun.

The Raven is absolutely fantastic — here’s a taste:

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

22 OCTOBER, 2013

A Kid’s Guide to Graphic Design by Iconic Designer Chip Kidd

By:

“Graphic design needs your willing mental participation, even if it’s subconscious.”

“It doesn’t occur to most people that everything is designed — that every building and everything they touch in the world is designed,” the late and great Bill Moggridge, designer of the world’s first laptop, famously reminded us. And, indeed, it is precisely because design touches every aspect of our lives — from our cities to our books to our governance to our communication with objects — that we grow so blind to it and so oblivious to its all-permeating power. Enveloped in design’s embrace since birth, since our very first conscious experiences of the world, we come to take its ubiquity and power for granted — that is, not to register it consciously at all — unless we start paying attention, and start paying it sooner rather than later.

So what better way to address our cultural blind spot than a graphic design primer for kids, and who better to do it than legendary graphic designer Chip Kidd, creator of some of modern history’s most memorable book covers and mastermind of this sublime visual adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s commencement address on the creative life? That’s precisely what he does in Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design (public library) — a refreshing addition to these nonfiction children’s books about the arts and sciences, inviting kids to learn not only about the basic practicalities of design as a discipline but also to awaken to the essence of design as a sensemaking mechanism for the world.

Kidd begins with something completely fundamental yet fundamentally overlooked, both by kids and by adults:

Whether you realize it or not, most of the decisions you make, every day, are by design.

Pointing to everything from milk cartons to book interiors to street signs, he adds:

Everything that is not made by nature is designed by someone.

In this excerpt from his fantastic interview on Design Matters, Kidd talks to Debbie Millman about what he means by that and how the essence of this awareness both reflects and shapes our most basic understanding of the world:

Much of what makes the book as enticing for children as it is refreshing for adults is Kidd’s determination to strip design from the shackles of over-intellectualization and boring jargon. He begins at the beginning:

Okay, so just what is graphic design?

The dull but correct answer is that graphic design is purposeful planning that uses any combination of forms, pictures, words, and meanings to achieve one’s goal.

But that is boring.

The far more interesting answer is that graphic design is problem-solving (and sometimes making something really cool in the process). There are all kinds of problems to solve: good, bad, complicated, easy, annoying, fascinating, dull, life-threatening, mundane. There are problems that matter only to you and no one else, and problems that determine the fate of mankind. And some of them are truly unsolvable — but of course that doesn’t stop people from trying, and it shouldn’t. But the main thing to learn about graphic design problem-solving is that the best solution can usually be found in the best definition of the problem itself.

Kidd illustrates this seemingly paradoxical proposition with the perfect example — the speed bump:

In fact, while the book is aimed at kids, it’s surprisingly illuminating for adults as well, opening with a brief and fascinating history of graphic design, from cave paintings to the American flag to the internet — a condensed version of the 100 ideas that changed graphic design. (For, as iconic designer Massimo Vignelli famously proclaimed, “a designer without a sense of history is worth nothing.”)

1826 PHOTOGRAPH BY JOSEPH NICÉPHORE NIÉPCE: This was the very first photograph ever taken. Niépce used a camera obscura to capture the image, a view outside his window, on paper.

1866 LOGO FOR COCA-COLA: Rumored to have been designed by the company founder John S. Pemberton, this logo hasn't changed much at all since then, as seen in this coupon ad from 1900.

1919 POSTER BY ALEXANDER RODCHENKO: Artists yearning for a bold, new graphic language found it in Russian Constructivism, a movement that sought to use art as a way of advancing political and social causes.

1967 BOB DYLAN POSTER BY MILTON GLASER: Glaser's iconic design became emblematic of the 'psychedelic' design of the '60s, as did many of the poster and magazine designs that came out of Glaser's studio, Push Pin Studios.

We learn, too, that the term “graphic design” itself was coined in 1922 by the renowned typographer, calligrapher, and book designer William Addison Dwiggins. But the most important knowledge Kidd instills in young readers (and, by extension, in those of us willing to rethink our stagnant ideas) is a beautiful, poetic articulation of what makes graphic design unique — and, perhaps, what places it closer to art, at least per Tolstoy’s definition, despite how vehemently many graphic designers defend the distinction between art and design. Kidd writes:

Graphic design needs your willing mental participation, even if it’s subconscious. Graphic design is message-sending into the brain. It is a cerebral experience, not a physical one. Architecture wants you to walk through it. Industrial design takes your hand (or other body parts) to appreciate it. Fashion makes you put it on. But Graphic design is purely a head trip, from your eyes to your mind.

Most endearing of all, however, is the irreverent geniality with which Kidd addresses his young readers, refusing to talk down to them or confine their inborn curiosity to narrow adult expectations about what “writing for children” should be like. Fittingly, the first page features a delicious vintage portrait of five-year-old Chip in 1969 — one can’t help wondering whether it’s that very kid Kidd is addressing today, his own bright young self, to whom he speaks both affectionately and resolutely, cultivating his wide-eyed capacity for wonder while opening his eyes to a new, life-changing understanding of what graphic design is and how it shapes his world.

Chip Kidd, age 5, 1969. Kindergarten school photo, Lincoln Park Elementary, PA.

Accompanying the photo is a piece of classic Kiddean self-reflexive snark:

The use of such images by graphic designers in their books is, admittedly, a shameless way to gain immediate sympathy from readers. It’s also very effective.

And now just for good measure, here’s another Design Matters excerpt in which Kidd explains how and why he and Neil Gaiman — with whom he had just collaborated on this gem — French-kissed onstage at Comic Con:

Given the magnitude of Kidd’s talent, it is perhaps unsurprising to learn about its multiplicity — Kidd used to be in a rock band called Artbreak with his friend Marco Petrilli. Though the band disbanded when Marco had to move with his family to Texas — where he ended up initiating a School-of-Rock-like music program at the Texas high school that hired him to teach math — the music impulse endured in Kidd, as did his friendship with Petrilli. The resurrection of both springs to life in this delightful trailer for Go, composed by Kidd himself and featuring his own beatboxing, with narration by Petrilli’s youngest son and a kid-chorus of his high school music class:

Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design is a treat in its entirety. Complement it with these animated primers on six major design movements and the full Design Matters interview, then treat yourself to Kidd’s hopelessly entertaining TED talk:

Images courtesy of Workman Publishing

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.