Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘vintage’

09 OCTOBER, 2013

Salvador Dalí Illustrates Don Quixote

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The art of fighting surrealist windmills.

Salvador Dalí was no stranger to literary illustration, from his heliogravures for Alice in Wonderland to his drawings for Montaigne’s essays. But arguably his most elegant take on a literary classic comes from this rare 1946 edition of Don Quixote De La Mancha (public library) by Miguel de Cervantes. (Cervantes’s exact birthday remains uncertain — September 29, 1547 is the commonly agreed upon date, but there are no surviving birth records; the only official record is that of his baptism on October 9, 1547.)

Scrumptiously surrealist, Dalí’s drawings — a combination of black-and-white sketches and watercolors — are the best visual take on the Cervantes classic since Spanish graphic design pioneer Roc Riera Rojas’s 1969 illustrations.

Complement with Dalí’s 1967 illustrations of the signs of the zodiac, then revisit Matisse’s etchings for Ulysses.

Thanks, Wendy

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30 SEPTEMBER, 2013

How To Be a Nonconformist: 22 Irreverent Illustrated Steps to Counterculture Cred from 1968

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“Avoid socks. They are a fatal giveaway of a phony nonconformist.”

“Why do you have to be a nonconformist like everybody else?,” James Thurber asked in the caption to a 1958 New Yorker cartoon depicting a woman fed up with her artist partner. It remains unknown whether the cartoon itself, or this cultural dismay shared by some of the era’s counterculture thinkers, inspired the 1968 gem How To Be a Nonconformist (public library) by Elissa Jane Karg. One could easily imagine that if Edward Gorey, master of pen-and-ink irreverence, and Patti Smith, godmother of punk-rock, had collaborated, this would’ve been the result. But what’s most impressive is that Karg was only sixteen at the time, a self-described “cynical & skeptical junior at Brien McMahon High School in Norwalk, Connecticut,” qualified to examine nonconformity as “an angry and amused observer” of her “cool contemporaries.”

With her irresistibly wonderful black-and-white drawings and hand-lettered text, which originally appeared in her school newspaper and were eventually published by Scholastic, she offers 22 rules for becoming “a bona fide nonconformist,” poking fun at so many archetypes still strikingly prevalent — perhaps even amplified — today: the misunderstood artist-hipster, the troll grubbing for clout by spewing curmudgeonly comments, the protester-for-the-sake-of-protesting, the musician flaunting her mental health issues as a badge of genius. Rather than derision, however, Karg’s subtler message is a reminder that, as Toni Morrison memorably wrote in Beloved, “definitions belong to the definers, not the defined,” that a full life is about “allowing the various petals of our identity to fully unfold,” and that adhering to any prescriptive mode of living, even if it’s one that rejects the herd of mainstream culture, only flattens us into caricatures of our complete selves and transforms us into a herd of a different kind, one the cultural critic Harold Rosenberg famously called “the herd of independent minds.”

Karg, in true counter-nonconformist fashion, didn’t end up moving to New York City and commodify her brand of creative cynicism. Instead, she moved to Detroit, had two daughters, joined the socialist party, became a nurse, and led an earnest life as an avid advocate for women’s rights on the cusp of the second wave of feminism. Tragically, though perhaps poetically given her life choices, she was killed in 2008 at the age of 57 while riding her bicycle back from a socialist party meeting. She never authored another book, but did co-author the 1980 handbook Stopping Sexual Harassment.

Immeasurably wonderful, How To Be a Nonconformist is long out of print but surviving copies of can be found online. Complement it with Exactitudes, the modern-day photo-anthropological record of the cultural phenomenon Karg satirizes.

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25 SEPTEMBER, 2013

The Hole Book: Politically Incorrect, Charmingly Illustrated Verses from 1908

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When kids with firearms were still a source of humor, not horror.

Norwegian artist Øyvind Torseter recently brought us The Hole — an exquisitely illustrated existential meditation, incorporating a die-cut hole running through the entire book. It turns out, however, that this wasn’t the first instance of a cover-to-cover hole employed as a storytelling device. More than a century earlier, in 1908, American artist Peter Newell, known for his humorous drawings and poems for such esteemed publications as Harper’s Bazaar, Scribner’s Magazine, and The Saturday Evening Post, published The Hole Book (public library; public domain) — the story of little Tom Potts who, while playing with a gun he didn’t know was loaded, shoots an unstoppable bullet that punches holes of humorous havoc through various scenes until it finally comes to rest in an unrelenting cake. (What tragicomic commentary on an era that was both unconcerned with gun control and untainted by the grief of armed kids producing outcomes far more devastating than devastated cakes.)

Full of Newell’s topsy-turvy illustrations and charming verses, the book is an absolute delight for children and irreverent grown-ups alike.

The Hole Book was preceded by Newell’s 1893 debut as a children’s author and illustrator, the equally wonderful Topsys and Turvys, which he penned when he was only thirty-one.

Thanks, Graham

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