Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘art’

08 SEPTEMBER, 2011

This Must Be The Place: Poetic Short Films Explore ‘Home’

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What 19th-century farming has to do with solar panels and the creative losses of digital photography.

From filmmakers Ben Wu and David Usui of Lost & Found Films comes This Must Be The Place — an inspired ongoing series of short films exploring the idea of home and what our private sanctuaries mean to us. The latest film in the series, Coffer, takes us to the small kingdom of an upstate New York farmer named John Coffer. Tucked between his quiet rural routines is a profound creative and philosophical lens on contemporary culture, articulated with remarkable humility and authenticity.

I got a bug to do wet plate photography in ’76. In this day and age of digital, it’s so easy to just shoot thousands of pictures a day. Each individual picture becomes rather insignificant. Whereas, with the tintype, it’s very intentional and you’re not gonna make very many in a day. They become valued objects, not just an image. Each image is absolutely unique, like a painting.”

I have created a hybrid situation where there are certain things I continue to do in the old, 19th-century way — somethings may be the way it was done before Christ, as far as I know — but then there are cutting-edge, high-tech things that I have here and do. I have a wind generator, solar panels, a laptop computer. You can blend these old, timeless things with the latest technology to do the things that need to be done in life. I think there’s going to be more people looking back for models from the past, and use it to blend in with new ideas and technology today.”

(This sentiment is reminiscent of Molly Landreth’s tender vintage portraits.)

Coffer follows last year’s excellent Byun — the story of an eccentric Korean artist and collector-of-everything living in Brooklyn, who takes a hands-on approach to the concept of combinatorial creativity:

You can create a lot of stories by putting all these objects together.”

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08 SEPTEMBER, 2011

Asylum: Inside the Haunting World of 19th-Century Mental Hospitals

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What straitjackets have to do with Eames chairs and the mutations of policy ideals.

One of the 19th-century’s most notorious socioarchitectural phenomena were the “insane asylums” that housed the era’s mentally ill — enormous and stunning buildings whose architecture stood in stark contrast with the ominous athmosphere of their inner workings. Fascinated by this phenomenon and its ghosts, photographer Christopher Payne set out to document the afterlife of those baleful buildings in Asylum: Inside The Closed World Of State Mental Hospitals — a compendium of images that peel away at a lost world and, in the process, offer a provocative portrait of the history of our (mis)treatment of the mentally ill. A foreword by iconic neuroscientist Oliver Sacks (remember him?) frame the photographs in a sociocultural context of how these institutions evolved and what role they came to play, both in their time and in our reflections on history.

Autopsy theater, St. Elizabeth's Hospital, Washington, DC

Image courtesy of Christopher Payne via NPR

Patient dresses, Clarinda State Hospital, IA

Image courtesy of Christopher Payne via NPR

Mead building lobby, Yankton State Hospital, SD

Image courtesy of Christopher Payne via NPR

Straitjacket, Logansboard State Hospital, IN

Image courtesy of Christopher Payne via NPR

What’s most peculiar about those asylums is that they, like much of policy dysmorphia that begins with an idealistic vision and ends in a social malady, began with the idea of “moral treatment” wherein the ill would be removed from the city and placed in these Utopian environments, many of which were fully self-sufficient and even generated their own electricity, and put to meaningful work.

Asylums offered a life with its own special protections and limitations, a simplified and narrowed life perhaps, but within this protective structure, the freedom to be as mad as one liked and, for some patients at least, to live through their psychoses and emerge from their depths as saner and stabler people.

In general, though, patients remained in asylums for the long term. There was little preparation for return to life outside, and perhaps after years cloistered in an asylum, residents became ‘institutionalized’ to some extent, and no longer desired, or could no longer face, the outside world.” ~ Oliver Sacks

Beauty salon, Trenton State Hospital, NJ

Image courtesy of Christopher Payne via NPR

Patient suitcases, Bolivar State Hospital, TN

Image courtesy of Christopher Payne via NPR

Buffalo State Hospital, NY

Image courtesy of Christopher Payne via NPR

Unclaimed cremation urns, Oregon State Hospital, OR

Image courtesy of Christopher Payne via NPR

Hiding in Payne’s photographs are peculiar objects that survived almost untouched amidst the general decay of their surroundings — a colorful armchair here, some toothbrushes there, slippers, even some Eames chairs.

Patient toothbrushes, Hudson River State Hospital, NY

Image courtesy of Christopher Payne via NPR

Typical ward, Buffalo State Hospital, NY

Image courtesy of Christopher Payne via NPR

Asylum is part Library of Dust, part Urban Atrophy, part its own room in humanity’s haunted house of collective memory.

via NPR

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05 SEPTEMBER, 2011

Spitting in the Face of Creativity?

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Lessons in plagiarism from Polish magazine Przekrój.

I adore the work of Israeli illustrator Noma Bar, whose clever and thought-provoking negative space illustrations and minimalist portraits of cultural icons you might recall. Last week, reader Michal Korsun alerted me to something that angers and saddens me in equal parts — Przekrój, Poland’s oldest weekly news magazine, plagiarized Bar’s brilliant portrait of Hitler, on the cover no less.

I passed the image on to Bar’s representation and quickly heard back from the artist himself, who confirmed that it was indeed a case of plagiarism — Daniel Horowitz, the illustrator who created the image (and who has since removed it from his portfolio site), neither sought permission for a derivative graphic nor acknowledged the very clear “inspiration” for the cover. Besides the very cut-and-dry fact that it’s illegal to steal, creatively or otherwise, what’s most heartbreaking about this is that it takes a clever visual metaphor Bar spent time and thought on, adds no value or commentary, and instead just subtracts from the creative merit of the original work — to sell a magazine, remember.

In Noma’s own words:

‘Take a sad song and make it better’…. In this case, [Horowitz] didn’t make it better. The balance, detail and tension in the face — all lost. I would be a bit more encouraged if I felt that I learned something new about Hitlers face — unfortunately, I didn’t. It’s an obvious trace of photo and a random barcode.”

While I’m a vocal proponent of remix culture, it’s important to understand the line between remix and rip-off. The law still struggles with this distinction and, in many cases, draws the line in such a way that it discourages remix. But as far as I’m concerned — and some of the thought-leaders in this space tend to agree — it comes down to a rather simple litmus test: If a derivative work changes the original in a creatively meaningful way, or offers cultural commentary or critique on it, then it’s a new original work of its own creative merit; if it merely parrots or mimics the original while adding no context or commentary, then it’s a rip-off.

That a publication of Przekrój’s stature and legacy is unable or unwilling to make that distinction is a disgrace to both journalism and creative culture.

UPDATE 9/5/2011 10:23PM: Daniel Horowitz has gotten in touch with me to give his side of the story. Here’s what he had to say, published here with his permission — be your own judge:

Just got back to [Brooklyn] from my trip to Europe and I am quite interested to read the many remarks including your own on the subject of plagiarism and the resemblance of my illustration to that of Noma Bars. A much more interesting article would be how two artists arrived at the same conceptual solution independently, which is in fact what is the case, altogether much less sensational than ‘Spitting in the Face of Creativity’.

With my reputation at stake and working for many of the same international clients as Bar does, why on earth would I care to jeopardize my position by plagiarizing anyone’s work, especially in a such an open way. You also accused me that I had the illustration up on my site and then took it down. I make visual metaphors daily for a living, hundreds and thousands over the course of a career, and in this case I apparently wasn’t the first to think of replacing Hitler’s mustache with a barcode.

I was more surprised than anyone when Mr. Bar’s illustration was brought to my attention, and the similarity is more a comment on the fact that we think and solve visual problems alike than anything more.

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