Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘art’

02 MARCH, 2012

David Foster Wallace on Art vs. TV and the Motivation to be Smart

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“…what we need…is seriously engaged art that can teach us again that we’re smart.”

In early 1996, journalist David Lipsky accompanied 34-year-old David Foster Wallace on the last leg of his tour for his breakout novel, Infinite Jest for an ambitious Rolling Stone interview. The feature was never published, but in 2010, some 14 years after the road trip and two years after Wallace’s suicide, Lipsky released the transcript in Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace. Among the many thoughtful, revealing conversations is this remarkably sharp insight by Wallace on the TV vs. the arts, the capacity for intellectual stimulation, and the challenge of creating the motivation for it in the first place:

You teach the reader that he’s way smarter than he thought he was. I think one of the insidious lessons about TV is the meta-lesson that you’re dumb. This is all you can do. This is easy, and you’re the sort of person who really just wants to sit in a chair and have it easy. When in fact there are parts of us, in a way, that are a lot more ambitious than that. And what we need… is seriously engaged art that can teach again that we’re smart. And that’s the stuff that TV and movies — although they’re great at certain things — cannot give us. But that have to create the motivations for us to want to do the extra work, to get those other kinds of art… Which is tricky, because you want to seduce the reader, but you don’t want to pander or manipulate them. I mean, a good book teaches the reader how to read it.

Clay Shirky, of course, has written a great deal about the enormous intellectual and creative resources that are being opened up as we shift away from TV in Cognitive Surplus. But Wallace’s point about motivations resonates particularly deeply with me as I consider my role — and Brain Pickings’ highest aspiration — to motivate people to be interested in things they didn’t know they were interested in until they are.

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01 MARCH, 2012

NYTimes Data Artist Jer Thorp on Humanized Data at the Intersection of Science, Art, and Design

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On the poetics of probability, or what the architecture of the social web has to do with landing in Hawaii.

In his fantastic recent talk from TEDxVancouver, my friend Jer Thorp — data artist in residence at The New York Times and Brain Pickings regular — takes us on a sweeping tour of his work and ethos, living at the intersection of science, art, and design.

[We need] an inclusion in this dialogue from artists, from poets, from writers — from people who can bring a human element into this discussion. Because I believe that this world of data is going to be transformative to us.”

Among the projects Jer shows are All The Names, Project Cascade, a New York Times initiative that visualizes the underlying structures of conversation and activity on the social web, a harrowing algorithmic installation displaying the names of those who perished in the 9/11 attacks not based on alphabetical order but based on data about who they were and where they were with when they died, GoodMorning!, a beautiful visualization of 11,000 “good morning” tweets sent over a 24-hour period, NYTimes: 365/360, which captures the top organizations and personalities for every year between 1985 and 2001 and the connections between them in a single graphic for each year, and Open Paths, which allows you to liberate your iPhone location data from Apple’s grip to own, use, or donate to meaningful research.

Underpinning Jer’s examples is a powerful common thread of humanizing data and making it a living piece of our personal histories and cultural poetics.

Inspired? Jer has made much of his source code freely available, along with excellent tutorials, and hosts regular workshops on how to wring magic from data.

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29 FEBRUARY, 2012

Sparkle and Spin: A 1957 Children’s Book About Words by Iconic Designer Paul Rand

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A mid-century lens on the relationship between language and image, shape and sound, thought and expression.

As a lover of children’s books and mid-century design, I have a particular soft spot for vintage children’s books by iconic mid-century designers. After last week’s look at Saul Bass’s only children’s book, here comes Sparkle and Spin: A Book About Words — an utterly, perhaps paradoxically, delightful 1957 children’s book illustrated by legendary designer and notorious curmudgeon Paul Rand, and written by his then-wife Ann.

(I came across the book in the excellent Children’s Picturebooks: The Art of Visual Storytelling, a treasure trove of seminal vintage children’s books.)

With its bold, playful interplay of words and pictures, the book encourages an understanding of the relationship between language and image, shape and sound, thought and expression, a lens we’ve also seen when Italian novelist and philosopher Umberto Eco introduced young readers to semiotics in the same period.

Though the cover of the 2006 reprint, with its all too literal glitter gimmick, would have likely sent Rand into a vapid fury, the book is an absolute treasure, one I’m happy to see survive the out-of-print fate of all too many mid-century gems.

Sparkle and Spin is part of a Rand trilogy, including Little 1 (1962) and the out-of-print, incredibly hard to find Listen! Listen! (1970).

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Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





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