Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘art’

09 SEPTEMBER, 2011

Illustrated Flowcharts to Find Answers to Life’s Big Questions

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Flowcharting your way to happiness, or why you should be looking for people who intimidate you.

From ever-inventive designer Stefan G. Bucher of You Deserve a Medal and Daily Monster fame comes 344 Questions: The Creative Person’s Do-It-Yourself Guide to Insight, Survival, and Artistic Fulfillment — a delightful pocket-sized compendium of flowcharts and lists illustrated in Bucher’s unmistakable style to help you figure out life’s big answers, in the vein of today’s inadvertent running theme of self-help-books-that-aren’t-really-“self-help”-books.

Besides Bucher’s own questions, the tiny but potent handbook features contributions from 36 beloved cross-disciplinary creators, including Brain Pickings favorites Christoph Niemann, Stefan Sagmeister, Marian Bantjes, Doyald Young, and Jakob Trollbäck.

Let’s be clear: I want this book to be useful to you. There are many great how-to books and biographies out there, and even more gorgeous collections of current and classic work to awe and inspire. But looking at catalogs of artistic success won’t make you a better artist any more than looking at photos of healthy people will cure your cold. You’ve got to take action!” ~ Stefan G. Bucher

(Sure, this may be somewhat remiss in overlooking the basic mechanism of combinatorial creativity, but it’s it’s hard to argue with the need to make ideas happen rather than just contemplating them.)

Though Bucher designed the book as a sequence, it also works choose-you-own-adventure-style and, as Bucher is quick to encourage, asks for hands-on interaction — dog-earing, marginalia, doodles. “If you keep this book in mint condition, I’ve failed,” he says.

We are all different people, but we face a lot of the same questions. The point of this book is to give you lots of questions you can use to look at your life — in a new way, with a different perspective, or maybe just in more detail than you have before — so you can find out how you work, what you want to do, and how you can get it done in a way that works for you. Specifically.” ~ Stefan G. Bucher

Thoughtfully conceived and charmingly executed, wonderfully playful yet infinitely useful, 344 Questions is the kind of treat in which anyone with a beating heart and firing neurons would find delight — and, more likely than not, find some big answers, too.

Page images copyright © 2012. Pearson Education, Inc. and New Riders

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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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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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