Brain Pickings

A Beautiful 1928 Letter to 16-Year-Old Jackson Pollock from His Dad

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“The secret of success is… to be fully awake to everything about you.”

As a lover of letters, I was thrilled to stumble across this 1928 gem from Jackson Pollock’s father, LeRoy, to his son, uncovered by occasional Brain Pickings contributor Michelle Legro in the Family issue of the always-excellent Lapham’s Quarterly.

Found in American Letters 1927-1947: Jackson Pollock & Family, the letter is a beautiful paean to what matters most in life, and how to cultivate it. Pollock pére writes:

Well Jack I was glad to learn how you felt about your summer’s work & your coming school year. The secret of success is concentrating interest in life, interest in sports and good times, interest in your studies, interest in your fellow students, interest in the small things of nature, insects, birds, flowers, leaves, etc. In other words to be fully awake to everything about you & the more you learn the more you can appreciate & get a full measure of joy & happiness out of life.

Jackson and LeRoy Pollock at the Grand Canyon, 1927 (Smithsonian Collection)

Full text below, courtesy of Lapham’s Quarterly:

Dear Son Jack,

Well it has been some time since I received your fine letter. It makes me a bit proud and swelled up to get letters from five young fellows by the names of Charles, Mart, Frank, Sande, and Jack. The letters are so full of life, interest, ambition, and good fellowship. It fills my old heart with gladness and makes me feel ‘Bully.’ Well Jack I was glad to learn how you felt about your summer’s work & your coming school year. The secret of success is concentrating interest in life, interest in sports and good times, interest in your studies, interest in your fellow students, interest in the small things of nature, insects, birds, flowers, leaves, etc. In other words to be fully awake to everything about you & the more you learn the more you can appreciate & get a full measure of joy & happiness out of life. I do not think a young fellow should be too serious, he should be full of the Dickens some times to create a balance.

I think your philosophy on religion is okay. I think every person should think, act & believe according to the dictates of his own conscience without too much pressure from the outside. I too think there is a higher power, a supreme force, a governor, a something that controls the universe. What it is & in what form I do not know. It may be that our intellect or spirit exists in space in some other form after it parts from this body. Nothing is impossible and we know that nothing is destroyed, it only changes chemically. We burn up a house and its contents, we change the form but the same elements exist; gas, vapor, ashes. They are all there just the same.

I had a couple of letters from mother the other day, one written the twelfth and one the fifteenth. Am always glad to get letters from your mother, she is a Dear isn’t she? Your mother and I have been a complete failure financially but if the boys turn out to be good and useful citizens nothing else matters and we know this is happening so why not be jubilant?

The weather up here couldn’t be beat, but I suppose it won’t last always, in fact we are looking forward to some snowstorms and an excuse to come back to the orange belt. I do not know anything about what I will do or if I will have a job when I leave here, but I am not worrying about it because it is no use to worry about what you can’t help, or what you can help, moral ‘don’t worry.’

Write and tell me all about your schoolwork and yourself in general. I will appreciate your confidence.

You no doubt had some hard days on your job at Crestline this summer. I can imagine the steep climbing, the hot weather, etc. But those hard things are what builds character and physic. Well Jack I presume by the time you have read all this you will be mentally fatigued and will need to relax. So goodnight, pleasant dreams and God bless you.

Your affectionate Dad

Find more everyday poetics in the fantastic collection of letters, from which this gem came. Complement with Jackson Pollock, as a grown man at the end of his life, on art, labels, and mortality.

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Three Primary Colors: OK Go and Sesame Street Explain Basic Color Theory in Stop-Motion

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In my nearly six years of writing and editing Brain Pickings, I’ve used the word “awesome” as an adjective exactly once. Today, this is about to change — because Three Primary Colors, a new collaboration between OK Go and Sesame Street explaining the basics of color theory in stop-motion, is nothing short of awesome. In fact, it might just be the finest treat for budding designers since Geometry of Circles, the fantastic 1979 Sesame Street animation with original music by Philip Glass.

UPDATE: Reader Jesse Jarnow points out the video was conceived and directed by his father, the legendary PBS stop-motion animator Al Jarnow of Celestial Navigations fame, and is his first PBS animation in a quarter century.

There’s also a companion OK Go color game for your edutainment. For another color-lovers treat, don’t forget the excellent PANTONE: The Twentieth Century in Color.

via PopTech

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Lost in Learning: Celebrating the Art and Spirit of Discovery

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What Galileo has to do with Columbus, The Library of Congress, and rediscovering the great purpose of art.

For four years, Bulgarian-born, Boston-based photographer Eva Koleva Timothy traveled the world, from Oxford’s libraries to Florence’s cathedrals, to pin down the ghosts of the intellectual restlessness that made humanity turn its gaze into the heavens, point its lens across the seas, and channel its fervor onto the canvas. The result is Lost in Learning: The Art of Discovery — a beautiful project-turned-book that breathes new life into historical photographs, manuscripts, and other archival materials to reveal timeless insights on curiosity, creativity, and intellectual inquiry based on the work and legacy of iconic thinkers from the Age of Discover, including Sir Isaac Newton, Leonardo da Vinci, Christopher Columbus, and Galileo Galilei.

Alongside each striking black-and-white image, playing with light and refraction to an incredibly dimensional effect, are Timothy’s poetic meditations on the minds and mindsets responsible for some of our civilization’s most significant feats of discovery, and what they reveal about the nature and future of contemporary creative thought.

Far from a mere lens on nostalgia and the romantic past, at the project makes a passionate case for resuscitating the cult of discovery as a driving force of culture’s future. British poet Ralph Windle writes in the foreword:

For all its rich evocation of history, however, this monograph looks forward more than back… Something much more important is happening here, and it connects in an exciting, novel way with one of the mainstream developments in contemporary literature and art.”

At its heart, Lost in Learning, which Timothy calls “an art book for the Dreamers,” is a beautiful crusade to rediscover discovery and reinstate curiosity as the great purpose of art and the great gift of the artist.

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