Brain Pickings

PANTONE: A Color History of the 20th Century

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From Gatsby to Apple, or what the 1939 New York World’s Fair has to do with the evolution of color theory.

Mine is PANTONE 803-C, what’s yours? More than mere aesthetic fetishes, our favorite colors — and color in general — speak to us in powerful cyphers of symbolism, memories, associations, and emotional undertones. What is true of us as individuals is also true of culture at large. The twentieth century brimmed with color, from the Almost Mauve (PANTONE 18-1248) of the 1900 Universal Exposition in Paris to the Midnight Navy (PANTONE 19-4110) of the countdown to the Millennium, framing the visual language of our era through this most fundamental of alphabets. In PANTONE: The Twentieth Century in Color, longtime PANTONE scholars Leatrice Eiseman and Keith Recker explore 100 years of the evolution of color’s sociocultural footprint through over 200 works of art, advertisements, industrial design products, fashion trends, and other aesthetic ephemera, thoughtfully examined in the context of their respective epoch.

We see color with everything we are. What starts as a signal passing along the optic nerve quickly develops into an emotional, social, and spatial phenomenon that carries many layers of vivid meaning. Light with a wavelength of 650 nanometers or so is seen as red. But it is experienced as warmth or danger, romance or revolution, heroism or evil, depending on the cultural and personal matrix in which it appears… The context within which color unfurls its rainbow of symbolism and emotion is history itself.”

From the glamorous Silver (PANTONE 14-5002) and Jet Black (PANTONE 19-0303) of the “roaring twenties” jazz age to the rosy optimism of the 1950s to the exaggerated flair of the 1980s economic boom and social liberation, each decade comes with a detailed color palette contextualized in an essayistic history of the era’s sociocultural trends and milestones.

Josephine Baker 'La Vie Parisienne' ad ca. 1920

Poster for National Park Service, NYC Art Project, Work Projects Administration, 1936-1938, Richard Halls

Poster for New York World's Fair, 1939, Joseph Binder

1952 Studebaker Commander

Audrey Hepburn in a publicity photo for Funny Face, 1957

Paisley cotton ca. 1976, sourced by Patricia Nugent Design and Textiles

Because color is such a fundamental element in the human experience, a book about color ends up being a book about human experience itself. Part textbook and part fairy tale, part biography and part novel, our history of color is designed to start each reader on his or her personal and creative exploration of color.”

PANTONE: The Twentieth Century in Color is as much an ultimate treat for color-lovers as it is a fascinating and uncommon lens on familiar cultural history, a vibrant volume among the year’s finest design-and-beyond books.

HT @kirstinbutler; captioned images courtesy of Chronicle Books

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We Love You, Beatles: Vintage Children’s Illustration Circa 1971

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Can’t buy me love, but you can buy me this vintage treasure.

The Beatles are an utmost favorite around here. We’ve previously explored how the Fab Four changed animation, an infographic visualization of their life and music, Bob Bonis’s lost Beatles photographs, and Linda McCartney’s tender portraits of the icons. Now comes We Love You, Beatles — a stunning vintage illustrated children’s book from 1971 by Margaret Sutton (not the Margaret Sutton who penned the Judy Bolton mysteries). It tells the story of The Beatles, from their humble Liverpool beginnings to meeting the Queen to the British invasion of America, blending the bold visual language of mid-century graphic design with the vibrant colors of pop art.

The trees were rocking and the clouds were swaying and the flowers were swinging and the birds were dancing to the Beatles sound. ‘Let’s sing about love and people being happy.’ The Beatles sing songs you can sing in the sunshine. Sing them! Sing the Beatles’ songs!”

More than a charming way to explain who The Beatles were to a kid, We Love You, Beatles is a wonderful and visually gripping piece of cultural ephemera from a turning point in the history of both popular music and popular art.

Spotted on Burgin Streetman’s wonderful Vintage Kids’ Books My Kid Loves

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Destino: A Salvador Dalí + Walt Disney Collaboration Circa 1945

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‘A magical display of the problem of life in the labyrinth of time.’

After last week’s discovery of Salvador Dalí’s little-known 1969 Alice in Wonderland illustrations, I followed the rabbit hole to another confluence of creative culture titans. In 1945, Dalí and Walt Disney embarked upon a formidable collaboration — to create a six-minute sequence combining animation with live dancers, in the process inventing a new animation technique inspired by Freud’s work of Freud on the unconscious mind and the hidden images with double meaning. The film, titled Destino, tells the tragic love story of Chronos, the personification of time, who falls in love with a mortal woman as the two float across the surrealist landscapes of Dalí’s paintings. The poetic, wordless animation features a score by Mexican composer Armando Dominguez performed by Dora Luz.

As fascinating as the film itself is the juxtaposition of the two creative geniuses behind it, each bringing his own life-lens to the project — Dalí described the film as “A magical display of the problem of life in the labyrinth of time” and Disney called it “A simple story about a young girl in search of true love.”

The project remained a secret and didn’t see light of day until a half-century later when, in 1999, Walt Disney’s nephew Roy E. Disney accidentally stumbled upon it while working on Fantasia 2000, eventually resurrecting the dormant gem. In 2003, it was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.

(I can’t help but wonder whether Destino inspired Ryan Woodward’s stunning Thought of You.)

Destino can be found on the 2010 DVD Fantasia & Fantasia 2000 Special Edition.

via io9

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And So It Goes: A Rare Glimpse of Kurt Vonnegut’s Tortured Soul

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The equilibrium of fiction, or what the Occupy movement can learn from a former GE PR executive.

Kurt Vonnegut — prolific author, anarchist, Second Life dweller, imaginary interviewer of the dead. And, apparently, troubled soul. At least that’s what’s behind the curtain Charles Shields (of Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee fame) peels in And So It Goes, subtitled Kurt Vonnegut: A Life — the first-ever true Vonnegut biography, revealing a vulnerable private man behind the public persona, a difficult and damaged man deeply scarred by his experiences.

The project began in 2006, when Shields reached out to Vonnegut in a letter, asking his permission for a planned biography. Though Vonnegut at first declined, Shields wasn’t ready to take “no” for an answer and eventually persuaded the counterculture hero into a “yes,” spending precious time with Vonnegut and his letters during the last year of the author’s life.

From his uneasy childhood to his tortured divorces to his attempted suicide to his explosion into celebrity, Vonnegut’s life was an intricate osmotic balance between private hell and public performance. As a leading figure in a movement of authors as a public intellectuals and a former PR agent for GE, he knew how to craft an image that would appeal to an audience — an art timelier than ever as we watch some of yesterday’s media pundits voice increasingly disconnected opinions on today’s issues.

He read the signs of what was happening in the country, and he realized that he was going to have to be a lot hipper than a nearly 50-year-old dad in a rumpled cardigan to be a good match with what he was writing about.” ~ Charles Shields

In a lot of ways, Vonnegut was an embodiment of the spirit behind today’s Occupy movement. Shields observes on NPR:

Kurt was a disenchanted American. He believed in America, he believed in its ideals … and he wanted babies to enter a world where they could be treated well, and he wanted to emphasize that people should be kind to one another.”

But Shields makes a special point not to vilify Vonnegut or frame him as cynical. Beneath the discomfort with this new private persona lies a deep respect for the iconic author and the intricate balance between private demons and public creativity, channelled perhaps most eloquently in this quote from Vonnegut himself, printed on the book’s opening page:

I keep losing and regaining my equilibrium, which is the basic plot of all popular fiction. I am myself a work of fiction.”

Powerful and revealing, And So It Goes joins the ranks of recent books that offer rare glimpses of the vulnerable selves of cultural icons — even though it perpetuates, all too dangerously in my opinion, the myth of the creative genius as a damaged soul.

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