Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘art’

13 SEPTEMBER, 2011

Wonderstruck: Remarkable New Work from Brian Selznick

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What a 50-year fold in the spacetime continuum of New York has to do with three pounds of love and Scorsese.

You might recall author and illustrator extraordinaire Brian Selznick from his magnificent The Adventures of Hugo Cabret, a masterpiece of a children’s book inspired by Georges Méliès, the first “cinemagician,” and currently being made into a film by Martin Scorsese.

Today, Selznick is back with his much-anticipated Wonderstruck, which tells the parallel stories of Ben and Rose, two children trying to find their place of belonging in the world. One story takes place is 1977 and is told in text, the other in 1927 and is told in pictures. The two narratives weave back and forth, in Selznick’s signature style of intricate and ephemeral pencil sketches, to converge into a single story in the end.

But this is no ordinary 12-page children’s book — like Selznick’s previous tome, the mesmerizing 600-page volume weighs in at nearly three pounds and features hundreds of his original illustrations, whose intricate details exude incredible thoughtfulness and truthfulness to the era, bound to leave any adult, indeed, wonderstruck.

I really love working with a great amount of detail, I love doing research, I love making sure that every inch of the drawing has a reason to exist. It’s a very immersive experience to be inside the time period, having done all this research.” ~ Brian Selznick

And as book trailer fetishists, we have to give props to publisher Scholastic for the true feat of 2D/3D animation and analog/digital storytelling in the book’s beautiful trailer:

Selznick seems to share the Brain Pickings ethos of endless curiosity, discovery and learning through the research and creative process:

I write about things I love. In Wonderstruck, I write about museums, and I write about deaf culture, and I write about New York in 1927 and 1977. I did as much research as I possibly could on all of those things, and I learned so much, and I loved so much of what it was I discovered, and so what I hope for the reader is when they read this book, when they open this book up and see the pictures and read the stories and watch how they come together, that the love that I felt for all of these different elements and these different characters comes through for them.” ~ Brian Selznick

Absolutely beautiful and full of fascinating detail, Wonderstruck is a living testament to all that makes books — and their creators — so very special, and a true artifact of human creativity and curiosity.

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12 SEPTEMBER, 2011

The Unwilling Tourist: Vintage Czech Illustration Captures the Life of the Refugee

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What the dawn of the Czech avant-garde has to do with UN statistics and outsmarting Hitler.

Lawyer, politician, illustrator, cartoonist and dadaist are not the kinds of vocations that frequently converge in a single polyglot, but they did in Adolf Hoffmeister (1902-1973), whose illustrations, collages, and caricatures of prominent personalities shaped the Czech avant-garde. But parallel to his prolific creative career was a seemingly endless life on the run from political prosecution. In 1939, he spent seven month in prison in Paris, where he had emigrated. After France’s capitulation, Hoffmeister went to Morocco, where he faced time in a concentration camp. He finally made his way to New York in 1941 as a free man before returning to his homeland of then-Czechoslovakia in 1945.

As soon as he got to New York, Hoffmeister published The Animals Are in Cages, released in the UK under the title The Unwilling Tourist — a stunningly illustrated book that captured his experience of life on the run from the Nazis with equal parts humor and poignancy, spotted on the excellent 50 Watts (which you should be reading voraciously, or run the risk of having a profoundly impoverished experience of the curated web). More than a mere treat of vintage illustration — which it most certainly is — Hoffmeister’s work exudes a certain timeless tragicomic lament for the fate of refugees, or “unwilling tourists,” displaced by disaster and turmoil, of which the world netted 25.2 million in 2010 per UN statistics.

From the book’s flap:

Many books have been written by refugees, and all have ground their axe of bitter tragedy almost to the exclusion of everything else; but not so with Hoffmeister. Here is the only one of them whose native fund of humor is still so great that he must take a laughing-stock of tragedy. ‘Laugh, clown, laugh,’ both pen and pencil insist. Yet at no single moment does Hoffmeister lose sight of the final tragedy of the uprooted — for he too has made the hopeless march. But he also made this book one of the most permanent and perfect indictments, both in word and in picture, of all those who have contributed to the creation and the torture of the Unwilling Tourist.”

Though the book is long out of print, you can snag yourself a used copy with some poking around Amazon or sifting through your best-stocked local used bookstore — it’s very much worth the scavenger hunt.

via 50 Watts

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12 SEPTEMBER, 2011

5 Timeless Books of Insight on Fear and the Creative Process

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From Monet to Tiger Woods, or why creating rituals and breaking routines don’t have to be conflicting notions.

“Creativity is like chasing chickens,” Christoph Niemann once said. But sometimes it can feel like being chased by chickens — giant, angry, menacing chickens. Whether you’re a writer, designer, artist or maker of anything in any medium, you know the creative process can be plagued by fear, often so paralyzing it makes it hard to actually create. Today, we turn to insights on fear and creativity from five favorite books on the creative process and the artist’s way.

ART & FEAR

Despite our best-argued cases for incremental innovation and creativity via hard work, the myth of the genius and the muse perseveres in how we think about great artists. And yet most art, statistically speaking, is made by non-geniuses but people with passion and dedication who face daily challenges and doubts, both practical and psychological, in making their art. (And let’s pause here to observe that “art” can encompass an incredible range of creative output, from painting to music to literature and everything in between.) In Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, working artists David Bayles and Ted Orland explore not only how art gets made, but also how it doesn’t — what stands in the way of the creative process and how to overcome it. Fear, of course, is a cornerstone of those obstacles.

In the ideal — that is to say, real — artist, fears not only continue to exist, they exist side by side with the desires that complement them, perhaps drive them, certainly feed them. Naive passion, which promotes work done in ignorance of obstacles, becomes — with courage — informed passion, which promotes work done in full acceptance of those obstacles.

THE WAR OF ART

Steven Pressfield is a prolific champion of the creative process, with all its trials and tribulations. You might recall his most recent book, Do The Work, from our omnibus of five manifestos for life. But Pressfield is best-known for The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, which tackles our greatest forms of resistance (“Resistance” with a capital R, that is) to the creative process head-on.

Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember our rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.

Resistance is experienced as fear; the degree of fear equates the strength of Resistance. Therefore, the more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that that enterprise is important to us and to the growth of our soul.

THE CREATIVE HABIT

There’s hardly a creative bibliophile who hasn’t read, or at least heard of, Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life. It frames creativity as the product of preparation, routine and persistent effort — which may at first seem counterintuitive in the context of the Eureka! myth and our notion of the genius suddenly struck by a brilliant idea, but Tharp demonstrates it’s the foundation of how cultural icons and everyday creators alike, from Beethoven to professional athletes to ordinary artists, hone their craft, cultivate their genius and overcome their fears.

There’s nothing wrong with fear; the only mistake is to let it stop you in your tracks.

Athletes know the power of triggering a ritual. A pro golfer may walk along the fairway chatting with his caddie, his playing partner, a friendly official or scorekeeper, but when he stands behind the ball and takes a deep breath, he has signaled to himself it’s time to concentrate. A basketball player comes to the free-throw line, touches his socks, his shorts, receives the ball, bounces it exactly three times, and then he is ready to rise and shoot, exactly as he’s done a hundred times a day in practice. By making the start of the sequence automatic, they replace doubt and fear with comfort and routine.

THE COURAGE TO CREATE

In 1975, six years after the great success of his wildly influential book Love & Will, existential psychologist Rollo May published The Courage to Create — an insightful and compelling case for art and creativity as the centripetal force, not a mere tangent, of human experience, and a foundation to science and logic. May draws on his extensive experience as a therapist to offer a blueprint for breaking out of our patterns of creative stagnation. Particularly interesting are his observations on fear, technology and irrationality, which might at first seem akin to the techno-paranoia propagated by Orson Welles and, more recently, Nicholas Carr, but are in fact considered counsel against our propensity for escapism, all the more relevant in the age of the digital convergence, nearly four decades after May’s insights.

What people today do out of fear of irrational elements in themselves and in other people is to put tools and mechanisms between themselves and the unconscious world. This protects them from being grasped by the frightening and threatening aspects of irrational experience. I am saying nothing whatever, I am sure it will be understood, against technology or mechanics in themselves. What I am saying is that danger always exists that our technology will serve as a buffer between us and nature, a block between us and the deeper dimensions of our experience. Tools and techniques ought to be an extension of consciousness, but they can just as easily be a protection against consciousness. [...] This means that technology can be clung to, believed in, and depended on far beyond its legitimate sphere, since it also serves as a defense against our fears of irrational phenomena. Thus the very success of technological creativity [...] is a threat to its own existence.

TRUST THE PROCESS

More than 13 years later, Shaun McNiff’s Trust the Process: An Artist’s Guide to Letting Go remains a cocoon of creative reassurance that unpacks the artist’s process into small, simple, yet remarkably effective steps that together choreograph a productive and inspired sequence of creativity. Never preachy or patronizing, McNiff captures both the exhilaration and the terror of creating — and, more importantly, how the two complement one another, even in the face of fear.

The empty space is the great horror and stimulant of creation. But there is also something predictable in the way the fear and apathy encountered at the beginning are accountable for feelings of elation at the end. These intensities of the creative process can stimulate desires of consistency and control, but history affirms that few transformative experiences are generated by regularity.

When asked for advice on painting, Claude Monet told people not to fear mistakes. The discipline of art requires constant experimentation, wherein errors are harbingers of original ideas because they introduce new directions for expression. The mistake is outside the intended course of action, and it may present something that we never saw before, something unexpected and contradictory, something that may be put to use.

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