Brain Pickings

Stunning Subjectivity: Obsessive Typographic Maps by Paula Scher

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An irreverent, artful antidote to GPS appification, or what the NYC subway has to do with tsunamis.

Iconic designer Paula Scher is one of my big creative heroes, her thoughts on combinatorial creativity a perfect articulation of my own beliefs about how we create. Since the early 1990s, Scher has been creating remarkable, obsessive, giant hand-painted typographic maps of the world as she sees it, covering everything from specific countries and continents to cultural phenomena. This month, Princeton Architectural Press is releasing Paula Scher: MAPS — a lavish, formidable large-format volume collecting 39 of her swirling, colorful cartographic points of view, a beeline addition to my favorite books on maps.

I began painting maps to invent my own complicated narrative about the way I see and feel about the world. I wanted to list what I know about the world from memory, from impressions, from media, and from general information overload. These are paintings of distortions.” ~ Paula Scher

(Cue in cartograms.)

A foreword by Simon Winchester contextualizes Scher’s maps as cultural objects, and an introduction by Scher herself offers a peek inside the mind and personal history that sprouted her cartographic creativity.

A Paula Scher map is both detached from reality and yet at the same time becomes an entirely new reality, one that manages to be useless and essential all at once. What follows here is cartography as living art — fun and whimsical, obsessively made, and knowingly offered, lovingly, to be read… Maps such as these are never ever to be replaced by the cold blinking eyes of the GPS. Use them, enjoy them, glory in their madness.” ~ Simon Manchester

Cherry on top: The cover jacket folds out into her legendary colorful map of the world.

The World, 1998

NYC Transit, 2007 (left); Manhattan at Night, 2007 (right)

China, 2006

Africa, 2003

Shock and Awe, 2005

International Air Routes, 2008

The Dark World, 2007

Tsunami, 2006

Sample Scher’s extraordinary mind and creative process with her now-legendary talk from Serious Play 2008:

Artful and opinionated, Paula Scher: MAPS is a beautiful antidote to the sterile objectivity of location-aware apps and devices, reminiscent of Ward Shelley’s analog data visualization and the poetic subjectivity of You Are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination, but presaging both and shining with Scher’s own distinct, quirky, visionary voice.

Images courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press // Thanks, Russell

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Indie Legends Celebrate the Songs of Shel Silverstein

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Andrew Bird, My Morning Jacket, Dr. Dog, and other indie icons pay homage to the beloved children’s author.

Though best-known as the author of children’s classics like The Giving Tree, beloved author Shel Silverstein (whose recent posthumous anthology of 137 never-before-seen poems and drawings is among the season’s greatest treats) was also a prolific songwriter. Not only did the album version of his book Where The Sidewalk Ends win a Grammy in 1984 for Best Children’s Recording, but he also collaborated with a number of prominent “grown-up” musicians between 1959 and his death in 1999, including Johnny Cash (“A Boy Named Sue”), Irish Rovers (“The Unicorn Song”), and Bobby Bare (“Daddy What If,” among many others).

Twistable, Turnable Man: A Musical Tribute to the Songs of Shel Silverstein (iTunes link) is a fantastic homage to Silverstein by a formidable roster of contemporary indie music icons, including Andrew Bird, My Morning Jacket, Dr. Dog, Lucinda Williams, and Bobby Bare, Jr., Bobby Bare’s son, performing with his four-year-old daughter Bella.

Rianbow Rumpus has a wonderful interview with Bobby Bare, Jr. on his memories of Silverstein and how the author’s ethic of fearlessness influenced his own songwriting.

via Rainbow Rumpus

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The Divided Brain, Animated

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A hemispheric history of the making of the Western world, or why abstraction is necessary for empathy.

The metaphor of the “left-brain”/”right-brain” divide has permeated pop culture as one of the defining dichotomies of how we think about and describe ourselves. But this metaphor is rooted in a number of neuropsychological realities of how our brains operate — the right hemisphere (the “master”), with its flexibility and capacity for empathy and abstraction but lack of certainty, and the detail-oriented left (the “emissary”), with its preference for mechanisms over living things, its inability to see past the literal, and its propensity for self-interest.

In The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, the product of 20 years of research, renowned psychiatrist and writer Iain McGilchrist delves into the world of difference between our two hemispheres and argues that the formal structures of modern society significantly — and dangerously — prioritize the left brain, resulting in a culture shackled by rigidity and bureaucracy, driven by self-interest, and ultimately incapacitated by its own imbalance.

This book tells a story about ourselves and our world, and about how we got to be where we are now. While much of it is about the structure of the human brain — the place where mind meets matter — ultimately it is an attempt to understand the structure of the world that the brain has in part created.” ~ Iain McGilchrist

In this lovely sketchnote animation by The RSA (whose previous animated gems you might recall), McGilchrist talks about the science and philosophy of his work, and makes a passionate case for reprioritizing the right hemisphere.

This organ, which is all about making connections, is profoundly divided… and it’s gotten more divided over the course of human evolution.”

Provocative and fascinating, The Master and His Emissary will give you pause — 600 pages worth of it — about the origin and making of today’s dominant worldviews, both ours as individuals as those of our collective cultural narrative.

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