Brain Pickings

Stefan Sagmeister on Sustaining Creativity

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It’s hard not to love celebrated graphic designer and creative provocateur Stefan Sagmeister. In this excellent talk from The 99%, he shares some nuggets of insight on creative habituation, desensitization and how not to take creativity for granted — something that could befall most of us as we do what we do day in and day out, regardless of how much we may enjoy it and how much pride we may take in it.

Both of Sagmeister’s books, Things I Have Learned In My Life So Far and Made You Look, remain absolutely indispensable. Sample the magic below:

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The Do’s and Don’ts of Photography

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In 2006, Charles H. Traub, chair of the graduate MFA program in photography at the School of Visual Arts and former director of New York’s renowned Light Gallery, collected some of the most compelling writing on photography in The Education of a Photographer — a fantastic anthology, co-authored by living legend Steven Heller, exploring what it means to become a contemporary photographer through remarkable essays from leading designers, editors, and gallery owners.

One of my favorite parts of the book is a list of maxims, The Do’s and Don’ts of Graduate Studies: Maxims from the Chair, outlining the art and science of photography with prescriptive pragmatism, conceptual insight and a healthy dose of stern humor.

The Do’s

  • Do something old in a new way
  • Do something new in an old way
  • Do something new in a new way, Whatever works… works
  • Do it sharp, if you can’t, call it art
  • Do it in the computer — if it can be done there
  • Do fifty of them — you will definitely get a show
  • Do it big, if you cant do it big, do it red
  • If all else fails turn it upside down, if it looks good it might work
  • Do Bend your knees
  • If you don’t know what to do, look up or down — but continue looking
  • Do celebrities — if you do a lot of them, you’ll get a book
  • Connect with others — network
  • Edit it yourself
  • Design it yourself
  • Publish it yourself
  • Edit, When in doubt shoot more
  • Edit again
  • Read Darwin, Marx, Joyce, Freud, Einstein, Benjamin, McLuhan, and Barth
  • See Citizen Kane ten times
  • Look at everything — stare
  • Construct your images from the edge inward
  • If it’s the “real world,” do it in color
  • If it can be done digitally — do it
  • Be self centered, self involved, and generally entitled and always pushing — and damned to hell for doing it
  • Break all rules, except the chairman’s

The Don’ts

  • Don’t do it about yourself — or your friend — or your family
  • Don’t dare photograph yourself nude
  • Don’t look at old family albums
  • Don’t hand color it
  • Don’t write on it
  • Don’t use alternative process — if it ain’t straight do it in the computer
  • Don’t gild the lily — AKA less is more
  • Don’t go to video when you don’t know what else to do
  • Don’t photograph indigent people, particularly in foreign lands
  • Don’t whine, just produce

My favorite has to be “Read Darwin, Marx, Joyce, Freud, Einstein, Benjamin, McLuhan, and Barth,” affirming my belief in the importance of cross-disciplinary curiosity in informing, inspiring and enriching the creative process.

The entire book is an absolute treasure and I couldn’t recommend it more.

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HeyKiki: A Platform for Crowd-Accelerated Learning

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The future of peer-to-peer knowledge-sharing, or what skydiving has to do with interior design.

The digital age can easily be the holden age of human knowledge, with unprecedented access to the world’s information and ever-growing platforms on which to share it making us all students and all teachers — something TED’s Chris Anderson has so eloquently termed crowd-accelerated learning. But while digital platforms may be a powerful tool for theoretical knowledge, they leave something to be said for hands-on learning and the ancient art of apprenticeship. Startup HeyKiki aims to bridge the two by building an online platform that connects eager learners with skilled instructors offline. From billiards to Buddhism, HeyKiki helps you master what you always wanted to learn but never knew where to start — or, better yet, what you didn’t even know you wanted to learn until you found a fascinating expert in it nearby.

A localization engine helps you find like-minded activity enthusiasts and teachers in your area, and if you happen to have a skill you’d like to share, you can post your class, workshop or other instructional offering for free, Craigslist-style.

Part Skillshare, part Meetup, part School of Everything, HeyKiki is a skill and knowledge destination for the modern metro-Renaissance man and woman, a wonderful and promising intersection of self-initiated learning and the power of community.

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The Englishman who Posted Himself

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In 1898, British prankster W. Reginald Bray decided to test the limits of the Royal Mail. He began a series of experiments, mailing everything from turnips to rabbit skulls to Russian cigarettes — and, on three occasions, himself — up until his death in 1939.

This fall, author John Tingey is telling Bray’s fascinating story in The Englishman who Posted Himself and Other Curious Objects — a detailed chronicle of the bizarre and ingenious ways in which the otherwise ordinary Brit hacked the information system of his time.

Perhaps even more curiously, over the course of his long correspondence-pranking career, Bray also amassed the world’s largest collection of autographs, including ones from Charlie Chaplin, Laurence Olivier and Maurice Chevalier.

The book, absorbing and visually captivating, also features a photograph of Bray being delivered to his own doorstep in 1900, when he became the first person to send a human being through the mail. (Though he did previously pilot-test it with an Irish terrier, who made it through the postal system in one piece, albeit a barking and disgruntled one.)

via VSL; photos HT Acejet 170

In 2010, we spent more than 4,500 hours bringing you Brain Pickings — the blog, the newsletter and the Twitter feed — over which we could’ve seen 53 feature-length films, listened to 135 music albums or taken 1,872 trips to the bathroom. If you found any joy and inspiration here this year, please consider supporting us with a modest donation — it lets us know we’re doing something right.





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.