Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘art’

10 AUGUST, 2012

Dr. Seuss’s World War II Political Propaganda Cartoons

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“One-tenth of your income must go into War Bonds if you hope to defeat both the Axis and inflation!”

Dr. Seuss (1904-1991) may be best-remembered for his irreverent rhymes and the timeless prescriptions for living embedded in them, but he was also a prolific maker of subversive secret art and the auteur of a naughty book for adults. Though his children’s books have already been shown to brim with subtle political propaganda, during WWII, like Walt Disney, Geisel lent his creative talents to far more explicit, adult-focused wartime propaganda when he joined the New York daily newspaper PM as a political cartoonist. Dr. Seuss Goes to War: The World War II Editorial Cartoons of Theodor Seuss Geisel (public library) collects 200 of Geisel’s black-and-white illustrations, but more than half of his editorial cartoons were never made publicly available — until now. Dr. Seuss Goes To War: A Catalog of Political Cartoons from UCSD Libraries has digitized the original drawings and newspaper clippings of Geisel’s wartime cartoons, produced between 1941 and 1943. Here’s a sampling:

We're just going to knock out the unnecessary floors designed by F.D.R., published by PM Magazine on May 18, 1942, Dr. Seuss Collection, MSS 230. Mandeville Special Collections Library, UC San Diego

Insure your home against Hitler!, published by PM Magazine on July 28, 1942, Dr. Seuss Collection, MSS 230. Mandeville Special Collections Library, UC San Diego

In Russia a chap, so we're told, knits an object strange to behold. Asked what is his gag, he says 'This is the bag that the great Adolf will hold!,' published by PM Magazine on August 11, 1941, Dr. Seuss Collection, MSS 230. Mandeville Special Collections Library, UC San Diego

Spreading the lovely Goebbels stuff, published by PM Magazine on September 18, 1941, Dr. Seuss Collection, MSS 230. Mandeville Special Collections Library, UC San Diego

Tis Roosevelt, Not Hitler, that the world should really fear, published by PM Magazine on June 2, 1941, Dr. Seuss Collection, MSS 230. Mandeville Special Collections Library, UC San Diego

Boss, maybe you'd better hock me and buy more U.S. Defense Bonds and Stamps!, published by PM Magazine on December 26, 1941, Dr. Seuss Collection, MSS 230. Mandeville Special Collections Library, UC San Diego

Those Americans sure can attack... themselves!, published by PM Magazine on February 11, 1942, Dr. Seuss Collection, MSS 230. Mandeville Special Collections Library, UC San Diego

In Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel: A Biography, Judith and Neil Morgan contextualize the collaboration:

Ted was haunted by the war in Europe, and one evening in Manhattan he showed an editorial cartoon he had drawn to his friend Zinny Vanderlip Schoales, the brilliant, hard-drinking intellectual…. She had joined the patrician liberal Ralph Ingersoll when he launched the tabloid newspaper PM in New York with the backing of Marshall Field III. Zinny took Ted’s cartoon to Ingersoll and PM published it on January 30, 1941…

You, Too, can sink U-Boats, published by PM Magazine on May 24, 1942, Dr. Seuss Collection, MSS 230. Mandeville Special Collections Library, UC San Diego

Cages cost money!, published by PM Magazine on December 15, 1941, Dr. Seuss Collection, MSS 230. Mandeville Special Collections Library, UC San Diego

Don't let them carve THOSE faces on our mountains, published by PM Magazine on December 12, 1941, Dr. Seuss Collection, MSS 230. Mandeville Special Collections Library, UC San Diego

One buck out of every 10!, published by PM Magazine on May 2, 1942, Dr. Seuss Collection, MSS 230. Mandeville Special Collections Library, UC San Diego

Join the C.B.C.!, published by PM Magazine on August 4, 1942, Dr. Seuss Collection, MSS 230. Mandeville Special Collections Library, UC San Diego

Me? I'd give my life for my country, published by PM Magazine on September 1, 1942, Dr. Seuss Collection, MSS 230. Mandeville Special Collections Library, UC San Diego

Maybe it's none of our business... but how much are YOU giving this Christmas in U.S. War Bonds and Stamps?, published by PM Magazine on December 22, 1942, Dr. Seuss Collection, MSS 230. Mandeville Special Collections Library, UC San Diego

Wipe that sneer off his face!, published by PM Magazine on October 13, 1942, Dr. Seuss Collection, MSS 230. Mandeville Special Collections Library, UC San Diego

Time to swap the old book for a set of brass knuckles, published by PM Magazine on December 30, 1941, Dr. Seuss Collection, MSS 230. Mandeville Special Collections Library, UC San Diego

See more on the project site, then graduate to the more subtle, complex political propaganda in Seuss’s children’s books with Tales for Little Rebels: A Collection of Radical Children’s Literature.

Coudal

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08 AUGUST, 2012

The Role of “Ripeness” in Creativity and Discovery: Arthur Koestler’s Seminal Insights, 1964

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“The Latin verb cogito for ‘to think’ etymologically means ‘to shake together.'”

What a wonderful Rube Goldberg machine of discovery literature is, the countless allusions and references in a book guiding you to yet more great works. This was the case with the recent Dancing About Architecture: A Little Book of Creativity, which first flagged the 1939 gem A Technique for Producing Ideas and now brings us to The Act Of Creation (public library) — a seminal treatise on creativity, penned by Hungarian-British journalist and author Arthur Koestler in 1964. In this magnificent 700-page tome, Koestler itemizes the principles of creativity — “the conscious and unconscious processes underlying scientific discovery, artistic originality, and comic inspiration” — and sets out to outline a common pattern that can be trained and perfected.

Koestler’s insights and conclusions resonate deeply with my own beliefs about the combinatorial nature of creativity — this notion that all ideas are, as Mark Twain put it, “second-hand,” born as we constantly copy, transform, and combine old ideas, synthesize existing information, combine eclectic influences, remix material, build on what came before, and connect the seemingly disconnected.

But, Koestler argues, there is one necessary condition for this combinatorial creative fusion — which he terms “bisociation” — to take place. In this passage from the end of Chapter V, he describes that condition beautifully, articulating the backbone of creativity:

But for that fusion to take place a condition must be fulfilled which I called ‘ripeness.’

Concerning the psychology of the creative act itself, I have mentioned the following interrelated aspects of it: the displacement of attention to something not previously noted, which was irrelevant in the old and is relevant in the new context; the discovery of hidden analogies as a result of the former; the bringing into consciousness of tacit axioms and habits of thought which were implied in the code and taken for granted; the uncovering of what has always been there.

This leads to the paradox that the more original a discovery the more obvious it seems afterward. The creative act is an act of creation in the sense of the Old Testament. It creates something in heaven and projects in onto the world becoming a new mind. The more familiar the parts, the more striking the new whole. Man’s knowledge of the changes of the tides and the phases of the moon is as old as his observation that apples fall to earth in the ripeness of time. Yet the combination of these and other equally familiar data in Newton’s theory of gravity changed mankind’s outlook on the world.

‘It is obvious,’ says Hadamard, ‘that invention or discovery, be it in mathematics or anywhere else, takes place by combining ideas. . . . The Latin verb cogito for ‘to think’ etymologically means ‘to shake together.’ St. Augustine had already noticed that and also observed that intelligo means ‘to select among.’

The ‘ripeness’ of a culture for a new synthesis is reflected in the recurrent phenomenon of multiple discovery, and in the emergence of similar forms of art, handicrafts, and social institutions in diverse cultures. But when the situation is ripe for a given type of discovery, it still needs the intuitive power of an exceptional mind, and sometimes a favorable chance event, to bring it from potential into actual existence. On the other hand, some discoveries represent striking tours de force by individuals who seem to be so far ahead of their time that their contemporaries are unable to understand them.

Thus at one end of the scale we have discoveries which seem to be due to more or less conscious, logical reasoning, and at the other end those due to sudden insights which emerge from the creative mind or the unconscious. The same polarity of logic and intuition will be found to prevail in the methods and techniques of artistic creation. It is summed up by two opposite pronouncements: Bernard Shaw’s ‘Ninety per cent perspiration, ten per cent inspiration’, on the one hand, Picasso’s ‘I do not seek — I find’ (je ne cherche pas, je trouve), on the other.

The Act Of Creation is superb in its entirety, essential reading for a holistic creative mind.

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08 AUGUST, 2012

Twilight Zone Creator Rod Serling on Where Good Ideas Come From

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“Ideas are born from what is smelled, heard, seen, experienced, felt, emotionalized.”

The questions of where good ideas come from, what inspiration is made of, why some people are more creative than others, and how we can optimize ourselves for creativity are perhaps as enduring as the act of creation itself.

In this short clip from the vintage TV special Writing for Television, Rod Serling, creator of the cult-classic The Twilight Zone, manages to articulate the combinatorial nature of creativity, as well as Arthur Koestler’s seminal theory of “bisociation,” in a mere sixty-four seconds:

Ideas come from the Earth. They come from every human experience that you’ve either witnessed or have heard about, translated into your brain in your own sense of dialogue, in your own language form. Ideas are born from what is smelled, heard, seen, experienced, felt, emotionalized. Ideas are probably in the air, like little tiny items of ozone.

Half a century later, David Lynch answered the same question.

Complement with pioneering Harvard psychologist Jerome Bruner on the six essential conditions of creativity.

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