Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘art’

10 SEPTEMBER, 2012

The First Ads for Famous Books

By:

Because even genius needs share of voice to succeed.

In Read Me: A Century of Classic American Book Advertisements (public library), New York Times book critic Dwight Garner offers “a visual survey of book advertisements, plucked from yellowing newspapers, journals and magazines large and small, from across the United States during the twentieth century” — more than 300 of them, to be precise, including some of modern history’s most beloved literary classics by favorite authors like Susan Sontag, Kurt Vonnegut, Joan Didion, Anaïs Nin, and Ray Bradbury. What emerges is a curious alternative history of literature and its parallel evolution alongside twentieth-century communication arts and advertising. But, perhaps most importantly, it serves as a necessary antidote to the genius myth, demonstrating that icons are very much made, not merely celebrated for their “God”-given talent.

1925

1926

1926

1934

1948

1948

1954

Garner writes of the new visual language of the 60s:

Author photographs, in the 1960s, were increasingly put to bold use. Susan Sontag pops out of a 1963 ad for her first novel, The Benefactor, glancing provocatively from the page as if she were an intellectual Cleopatra.

1963

1966

1969

1970

1970

1971

1971

1974

1985

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07 SEPTEMBER, 2012

Hand-Lettered Illustrations of Emily Dickinson’s Poetry

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“Tell all the Truth but tell it slant . . .The Truth must dazzle gradually / Or every man be blind”

As a lover of literature-inspired art and a longtime admirer of San Diego artist David Clemesha’s whimsical hand-lettered illustrations of classic nursery rhymes, I was utterly delighted to see Clemesha extend his signature style to literature for grown-ups, turning to the poetry of recent Literary Jukebox favorites Emily Dickinson, William Blake, and T. S. Eliot. Here are Clemesha’s takes on Dickinson, based on texts from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson.

The Soul has Bandaged moments —
When too appalled to stir —
She feels some ghastly Fright come up
And stop to look at her —

Salute her — with long fingers —
Caress her freezing hair —
Sip, Goblin, from the very lips
The Lover — hovered — o’er —
Unworthy, that a thought so mean
Accost a Theme — so — fair —

The soul has moments of Escape —
When bursting all the doors —
She dances like a Bomb, abroad,
And swings upon the Hours,

As do the Bee — delirious borne —
Long Dungeoned from his Rose —
Touch Liberty — then know no more,
But Noon, and Paradise —

The Soul’s retaken moments —
When, Felon led along,
With shackles on the plumed feet,
And staples, in the Song,

The Horror welcomes her, again,
These, are not brayed of Tongue –

The Railway Train

I like to see it lap the Miles –
And lick the Valleys up —
And stop to feed itself at Tanks —
And then — prodigious step

Around a Pile of Mountains —
And supercilious peer
In Shanties — by the sides of Roads —
And then a Quarry pare

To fit its sides
Complaining all the while
In horrid — hooting stanza —
Then chase itself down Hill —

And neigh like Boanerges —
Then — punctual as a Star
Stop — docile and omnipotent
At its own stable door —

The sky is low, the clouds are mean,
A travelling flake of snow
Across a barn or through a rut
Debates if it will go.

A narrow wind complains all day
How some one treated him;
Nature, like us, is sometimes caught
Without her diadem.

Did the harebell loose her girdle
To the lover bee,
Would the bee the harebell hallow
Much as formerly?

Did the paradise, persuaded,
Yield her moat of pearl,
Would the Eden be Eden,
Or the earl an earl?

To fight aloud is very brave,
But gallanter, I know,
Who charge within the bosom,
The cavalry of woe.

Who win, and nations do not see, 5
Who fall, and none observe,
Whose dying eyes no country
Regards with patriot love.

We trust, in plumed procession,
For such the angels go,
Rank after rank, with even feet
And uniforms of snow.

I did not reach Thee
But my feet slip nearer every day
Three Rivers and a Hill to cross
One Desert and a Sea
I shall not count the journey one
When I am telling thee.

Two deserts, but the Year is cold
So that will help the sand
One desert crossed-
The second one
Will feel as cool as land
Sahara is too little price
To pay for thy Right hand.

The Sea comes last — Step merry, feet,
So short we have to go —
To play together we are prone,
But we must labor now,
The last shall be the lightest load
That we have had to draw.

The Sun goes crooked —
That is Night
Before he makes the bend.
We must have passed the Middle Sea-
Almost we wish the End
Were further off —
Too great it seems
So near the Whole to stand.

We step like Plush,
We stand like snow,
The waters murmur new.
Three rivers and the Hill are passed —
Two deserts and the sea!
Now Death usurps my Premium
And gets the look at Thee.

God made a little gentian;
It tired to be a rose
And failed, and all the summer laughed.
But just before the snows
There came a purple creature
That ravished all the hill;
And summer hid her forehead,
And mockery was still.
The frosts were her condition;
The Tyrian would not come
Until the North evoked it.
‘Creator! shall I bloom?’

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —

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05 SEPTEMBER, 2012

Elegantissima: The Design and Typography of Louise Fili

By:

Three decades of typographic magic, graphic elegance, and combinatorial creativity.

For more than three decades, graphic designer Louise Fili* has been producing some of the most consistently exquisite typography, frequently hand-drawn and building upon thoughtfully curated vintage sources. In her decade as art director for Pantheon Books, she created nearly two thousand book jackets, each with remarkable attention to detail. Since 1989, she has expanded and extended her singular lens to restaurant menus and food packaging through her namesake design studio. The new monograph Elegantissima: The Design and Typography of Louise Fili (public library) offers, for the first time, a sweeping look at Fili’s work and the philosophy behind it.

But Fili’s greatest gift is perhaps the extraordinary ability to seek out vintage gems — and to do so with great taste — which she then reimagines and combines into entirely new designs that aren’t mere homage to the past but, rather, an entirely original visual language with an entirely original point of view.

In the foreword, the inimitable Steven Heller observes Fili’s power of combinatorial creativity, something another design hero, Paula Scher, has previously spoken to:

What Louise does instead is build upon things passé to enliven her contemporary graphic statements — even when the result has vintage resonance.

Almost every example in this book can be unpacked to discover its influences and inspirations (and herein are detailed case studies). However, the manner in which these component parts are reassembled is uniquely Louise’s. It is all too easy to add pre-cooked ingredients from archival sources, but to then transform them into designs that are at once familiar and entirely novel — well, that takes extreme discipline.

For a charming aside, here’s a heart-warming anecdote about Heller and Fili’s relationship:

Dear Louise,

I just wanted to tell you that I think your book and book jacket designs for Pantheon are excellent Consistently so.

Every time I am struck by a book in our bookroom or on the in-coming table it is something you’ve been responsible for.

Best regards,

[signed] Steve Heller

On March 9, 1982, when I was art director of the New York Times Book Review, I sent the grammatically challenged note above to Louise Fili, whom I had never met and, in fact, had never laid eyes on before. A little more than a year later we were married.

This intimate disclosure is essential, lest anyone reading this foreword to Louise’s monograph presume I lack critical objectivity. Strictly speaking, at the time I wrote the note I was a genuinely objective fan of Louise’s typographic elegance, visual flair, and conceptual ingenuity, as well as her keen expertise with illustration — an area I knew something about.

Appropriately lavish and stunning, Elegantissima is the perfect showcase of Fili’s intricate, arresting, and always elegant work.

* …who looks strikingly like Anaïs Nin

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