Brain Pickings

Noma Bar’s Negative Space Illustrations

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What hippies have to do with Wall Street, Iraq and the Little Red Riding Hood.

We’ve been longtime fans of Israeli illustrator Noma Bar, whose mastery of negative space — the space between and around the subjects of an image, which can frame another subject in and of itself — never ceases to amaze, adding a new layer of thoughtfulness to the classic figure-ground illusion of perception. As he recently redesigned a handful of Don DeLillo classics for Picador Books, we were reminded of our favorite Noma Bar classic: Negative Space — an anthology of Bar’s most compelling work from various high-profile magazines, commenting on some of today’s most pressing sociopolitical issues with the artist’s signature provocative subtlety.

A sneak peek of the book follows, but we highly recommend you indulge in its entirety — it’s a rare tapas bar of brain food and eye candy.

Beware The Wolves: Artwork for an article on older men who pursue younger women

Fat Cat: Artwork for an article on how CEOs invest their personal wealth

The Big Squeeze: Artwork for an article on the oil politics behind the Iraq war

Artwork for a piece on gun crime and violence

When Doves Cry: Mourning the loss of the hippy dream with white doves and a VW van

Thought-provoking and visually stunning, Negative Space is the kind of blend of aesthetics and ethics we’d like to see more of in the world.

Images courtesy of Creative Review

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Michael Wolff on the Three Muscles of Creativity

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Earlier this year, we featured a beautifully filmed, intimately narrated short documentary about Scott Schuman, better known as The Sartorialist, part of Intel’s Visual Life series. This month, the series is back with a fantastic episode about iconic designer Michael Wolff of Wolff Olins fame, whose insights on curiosity and appreciation as a central gateway to creativity resonate deeply with our own mission.

I have three muscles, without which I couldn’t do my work. The first is curiosity. (You can call it inquisitiveness, you can call it questioning.) The second muscle [is] the muscle of appreciation. It’s not questioning so much as it is noticing… how joyful things can be, how colorful things can be, what already exists as an inspiration. The muscle of curiosity and the muscle of appreciation enable the muscle of imagination.

Everybody knows that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. What few people realize it is only through the parts that the whole gets delivered. I see seeing as a muscular exercise, like I see curiosity. It’s a kind of being open, really: If you walk around with a head full of preoccupation, you’re not going to notice anything in your visual life.” ~ Michael Wolff

A brand is really a way of remembering what something is like for future reference — something you value, something you feel attracted to. The job of a brand identity, how you package all of that — the purpose, the vision, what it does, what it brings — how you make that so that people can take it and receive it and value it and treasure it and choose it, that’s the whole process of branding. That’s what it is.” ~ Michael Wolff

The film comes from the fine folks at m ss ng p eces, the same team who took us behind the scenes of a TED talk in January.

There’s a certain packaging of human beings that takes place in order to reveal ourselves authentically, or in order to pretend to be something other than what we are.” ~ Michael Wolff

Wolff’s wisdom on branding and identity is encapsulated in the 1995 classic, The New Guide to Identity: How to Create and Sustain Change Through Managing Identity — a thoughtful blueprint for design-driven adaptation in a world of impermanence and inevitable change.

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Wheels of Change: How The Bicycle Empowered Women

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A visual history of the steed upon which women rode into a new world.

As much as I love bike culture and everything bikes stand for, I, like many, may have underestimated the profound significance of the bicycle as a cultural agent of change. Thanks to a brilliant new book, I no longer do. National Geographic‘s Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (With a Few Flat Tires Along the Way) (public library) tells the riveting story of how the two-wheel wonder pedaled forward the emancipation of women in late-nineteenth-century America and radically redefined the normative conventions of femininity.

To men, the bicycle in the beginning was merely a new toy, another machine added to the long list of devices they knew in their work and play. To women, it was a steed upon which they rode into a new world.” ~ Munsey’s Magazine, 1896

Image: Colorado Historical Society (Cycling West, Vol. 6 April 15, 1897, Scan #30000557) | via Sarah Goodyear / Grist.org

A follow-up to Sue Macy’s excellent Winning Ways: A Photohistory of American Women in Sports, published nearly 15 years ago, the book weaves together fascinating research, rare archival images, and historical quotes that bespeak the era’s near-comic fear of the cycling revolution. (“The bicycle is the devil’s advance agent morally and physically in thousands of instances.”)

Image: History Colorado (Lillybridge Collection, Scan #20000294 | via Sarah Goodyear / Grist.org

From allowing young people to socialize without the chaperoning of clergymen and other merchants of morality to finally liberating women from the constraints of corsets and giant skirts (the “rational dress” pioneered by bike-riding women cut the weight of their undergarments to a “mere” 7 pounds), the velocipede made possible previously unthinkable actions and interactions that we now for granted to the point of forgetting the turbulence they once incited.

Image: (c) Beth Emery Collection | via Sarah Goodyear / Grist.org

“Success in life depends as much upon a vigorous and healthy body as upon a clear and active mind.” ~ Elsa von Blumen, American racer, 1881

Image: (c) Hulton Archive/Getty Images | via Sarah Goodyear / Grist.org

Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel.” ~ Susan B. Anthony, 1896

Image: (c) Norman Batho Collection | via Sarah Goodyear / Grist.org

Many [female cyclists on cigar box labels] were shown as decidedly masculine, with hair cut short or pulled back, and smoking cigars, then an almost exclusively male pursuit. This portrayal reflected the old fears that women in pants would somehow supplement men as breadwinners and decision-makers.” ~ Sue Macy

Poignant and playful, Wheels of Change explores the early history of women in bicycling with equal parts illuminating insight and freewheeling fun.

via Sarah Goodyear / Grist

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Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.