Brain Pickings

A Sky Full of Kindness: Rob Ryan’s Remarkable Cut-Paper Illustrations

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Lessons on love from two illustrated birds, or why we never really grow up.

I have a soft spot for intricate paper art, and hardly does it get more intricate and beautiful than in the work of British artist Rob Ryan, whose papercuts and screen prints are imbued with a kind of whimsy to which the screen does little justice. His new book, A Sky Full of Kindness, captures this delicate analog magic through a narrative crafted entirely out of exquisite cut-paper illustrations that whisper to you pithy, poetic words to make your heart smile. It tells the story of a few adventurous birds, but it’s really a story about love, overcoming fear, and being human. A follow-up to Ryan’s equally delightful 2009 gem, This Is For You, the slim but infinitely delightful tome is as much a work of a work of art as it is an homage to the beauty and poetry of paper books.

Ryan’s work is also on Etsy and the fine folks there have put together this lovely short film about him, part of their excellent Handmade Portraits series:

We’re all the same people we were when we were children, we’re just bigger, and pretend that we’re not.”

One of the most poetic artworks from the book is also available as a screenprint on Etsy:

Simon Lewin over in the UK has a wonderful Instagram sneak peek of the book itself:

Part Live Now in spirit, part The Night Life of Trees in analog whimsy, and entirely original at its heart, A Sky Full of Kindness is a rare piece of visual philosophy bound to make you glow on the inside.

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Six Famous Thought Experiments, Animated in 60 Seconds Each

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From Ancient Greece to quantum mechanics, or what a Chinese room and a cat have to do with infinity.

From the fine folks at the Open University comes 60-Second Adventures in Thought, a fascinating and delightfully animated series exploring six famous thought experiments.

The Paradox of the Tortoise and Achilles comes from Ancient Greece and explores motion as an illusion:

The Grandfather Paradox grapples with time travel:

Chinese Room comes from the work of John Searle, originally published in 1980, and deals with artificial intelligence:

Hilbert’s paradox of the Grand Hotel, proposed by German mathematician David Hilbert, tackles the gargantuan issue of infinity:

The Twin Paradox, first explained by Paul Langevin in 1911, examines special relativity:

Schrödinger’s Cat, devised by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger in 1935, is a quantum mechanics mind-bender:

For more such fascination and cognitive calisthenics, you won’t go wrong with Peg Tittle’s What If….Collected Thought Experiments in Philosophy .

via Open Culture

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Depression-Era Woodcuts by Lynd Ward, Father of the Graphic Novel

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What vintage woodcut engravings have to do with #OccupyWallStreet.

Some time ago, we marveled at the work of graphic novel pioneer Lynd Ward (1905-1985), whose stunning wordless woodcuts sparked a new dawn of visual storytelling. The genre has since expanded across everything from Hollywood to serious nonfiction — cue in these 10 masterpieces of graphic nonfiction or the recent Richard Feynman graphic biography. From the Library of America comes a fantastic celebration of Ward’s legacy: Lynd Ward: Six Novels in Woodcuts collects the artist’s most seminal work in a treasure trove of woodcut goodness created between 1929 and 1937, incredibly costly and near-impossible to find prior to the publication of this volume.

More than mere eye candy — which the stark, bold, intensely detailed wood engravings certainly are — Ward’s work is also a thoughtful meditation on both the nature of art and the nature of society before and during the Great Depression, exploring a number of social and labor issues that have found a Renaissance in today’s #OccupyWallStreet movement and the general socioeconomic tensions of our time.

An introduction from the one and only Art Spiegelman adds an appropriate dose of entertaining snark and perceptive cultural commentary.

[Ward] is one of only a handful of artists anywhere who ever made a ‘graphic novel’ until the day before yesterday.” ~ Art Spiegelman

The Library of America has an excellent interview with Spiegelman (PDF):

All novels require some mental adjustment in order to understand a writer’s meaning. But yes, in Ward’s books you have something that has its own operating system. This requires slowing down to understand it. Come at it from one angle and you’re looking at a bunch of incoherent, unconnected pictures. From another angle you see a very tightly woven narrative that rewards contemplation and a revisiting of how it’s told as well as what’s being told. Each of his books teaches itself.”

At the end of each wordless story you’ll find the artist’s comments about his creative process and inspiration for the story, which adds another layer of fascination as you compare and contrast those with your own visceral interpretation of the narrative.

In keeping with this revived interest in Ward’s work, independent filmmakers 217 Films are currently working on a documentary about the artist, titled O Brother Man: The Art and Life of Lynd Ward and scheduled to release in December.

Wordless yet speaking volumes about art and social justice, Lynd Ward: Six Novels in Woodcuts is a beautiful and layered piece of cultural history, the kind of work you return to again and again only to find new dimensions each time.

Images courtesy of the Library of America

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