Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘art’

03 MAY, 2012

Litographs: Classic Books as Typographic Prints Supporting Global Literacy

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Literature and art converge to combat book famine and bibliowaste.

A modern paradox: While the developing world is experiencing the worst “book famine” in decades, an estimated 40% of books printed in the “developed world” go to waste, eventually destroyed by the publishers themselves. Having a tremendous soft spot for art and design projects inspired by literary classics, I love everything about Danny Fein’s Litographs project, which addresses this paradox through beautiful prints by a team of artists, made of upcycled classic texts, many in the public domain. The books remain fully legible in the final print. Thanks to a partnership with the International Book Bank, every print sold sends a book to a community in need.

The Moby-Dick litograph is the loveliest take on the Melville classic since Matt Kish’s page-by-page illustrations.

'Think not, is my eleventh commandment; and sleep when you can, is my twelfth.'

This 24 x 36 inch print (full view at top, close-up zoom at bottom) includes approximately the first third of Moby Dick. The 18 x 24 inch print includes approximately the first sixth of the book.

For a fine complement to the wonderful Beholding Holden artwork, a knock-out litograph of The Catcher in the Rye:

'What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn't happen much, though.'

This 24 x 36 inch print (full view at top, close-up zoom at bottom) includes the full text of The Catcher in the Rye. The 18 x 24 inch print includes approximately the first half of the book.

As a lover of all things Alice in Wonderland, the Alice litograph makes my heart sing.

'If everybody minded their own business, the world would go around a great deal faster than it does.'

This 24 x 36 inch print (full view at top, close-up zoom at bottom) includes the full text of both Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. The 18 x 24 inch print includes the full text of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

Though it’s hard to outshine Stefanie Posavec’s Writing Without Words project based on the Jack Kerouac classic, this On The Road litograph is quite lovely:

'I was surprised, as always, be how easy the act of leaving was, and how good it felt. The world was suddenly rich with possibility.'

This 24 x 36 inch print (full view at top, close-up zoom at bottom) includes the full text of On the Road. The 18 x 24 inch print includes approximately the first half of the book.

'...for the shield may be as important for victory, as the sword or spear.'

This 24 x 36 inch print (full view at top, close-up zoom at bottom) includes approximately the first third of On the Origin of Species. The 18 x 24 inch print includes approximately the first sixth of the book.

All the litographs are available in color as well as black-and-white, and you can see the full full collection on the project site.

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02 MAY, 2012

Ounce Dice Trice: Exploring the Whimsy of Words in Extraordinary Names for Ordinary Things

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Cartography for the land of linguistic imagination.

As a lover of language and children’s books, I found myself head over heels with Ounce Dice Trice — poet Alastair Reid and beloved artist Ben Shahn’s marvelous exploration of the nooks and crannies of language, real and imagined, through obscure, esoteric, and invented words for familiar things that are as mind-bending as they are tongue-twisting. It’s part Lewis Carroll, part Shel Silverstein, part something entirely its own and entirely refreshing.

The title comes from the playful alternative words bored shepherds used when they grew tired of counting their sheep the usual way.

Reid, best-known for his translations of Jorge Luis Borges and Pablo Neruda, writes to his young readers — and, it feels, to the eternal child in each of us — in the introduction:

And if you grow to love words for their own sake, you will begin to collect words yourself, and you will be grateful, as I am, to all the people who collect odd words and edit odd dictionaries, out of sheer astonishment and affection.

Conceptually delightful and beautifully illustrated, Ounce Dice Trice will put your relationship with language through a kaleidoscope of whimsy, stirring you to rediscover the sound and feel of words as they tug mischievously at your tongue.

Thanks, Marylaine; images via NYRB

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02 MAY, 2012

John Updike on the Ethics and Poetics of Criticism

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“Submit to whatever spell, weak or strong, is being cast. Better to praise and share than blame and ban.”

As Sir Ken Robinson thoughtfully observed, we live in a kind of “opinion culture” where not having an opinion is a cultural abomination. At the same time, the barrier of entry for making one’s opinions public is lower than ever. The tragedy of our time might well be that so many choose to set those opinions apart by making them as contrarian and abrasive as possible. But what E. B. White once wisely pointed to as the role and social responsibility of the writer — “to lift people up, not lower them down” — I believe to be true of the role and social responsibility of the critic as well, for thoughtful criticism is itself an art and a creative act.

We need to relearn the skills of making criticism constructive rather than destructive, and we need look no further than the introduction to John Updike’s 1977 anthology of prose, Picked-Up Pieces, where the beloved author and critic codifies the ethics and poetics of criticism by offering the following six rules to reviewing graciously and fairly. Though they were written with literature in mind, at their heart is an ethos that applies to critique and criticism in any discipline.

My rules, drawn up inwardly when l embarked on this craft, and shaped intaglio-fashion by youthful traumas at the receiving end of critical opinion, were and are:

  1. Try to understand what the author wished to do, and do not blame him for not achieving what he did not attempt.
  2. Give him enough direct quotation–at least one extended passage–of the book’s prose so the review’s reader can form his own impression, can get his own taste.
  3. Confirm your description of the book with quotation from the book, if only phrase-long, rather than proceeding by fuzzy precis.
  4. Go easy on plot summary, and do not give away the ending. (How astounded and indignant was I, when innocent, to find reviewers blabbing, and with the sublime inaccuracy of drunken lords reporting on a peasants’ revolt, all the turns of my suspenseful and surpriseful narrative! Most ironically, the only readers who approach a book as the author intends, unpolluted by pre-knowledge of the plot, are the detested reviewers themselves. And then, years later, the blessed fool who picks the volume at random from a library shelf.)
  5. If the book is judged deficient, cite a successful example along the same lines, from the author’s ouevre or elsewhere. Try to understand the failure. Sure it’s his and not yours?

To these concrete five might be added a vaguer sixth, having to do with maintaining a chemical purity in the reaction between product and appraiser. Do not accept for review a book you are predisposed to dislike, or committed by friendship to like. Do not imagine yourself a caretaker of any tradition, an enforcer of any party standards, a warrior in an idealogical battle, a corrections officer of any kind. Never, never (John Aldridge, Norman Podhoretz) try to put the author ‘in his place,’ making him a pawn in a contest with other reviewers. Review the book, not the reputation. Submit to whatever spell, weak or strong, is being cast. Better to praise and share than blame and ban. The communion between reviewer and his public is based upon the presumption of certain possible joys in reading, and all our discriminations should curve toward that end.

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