Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘art’

17 NOVEMBER, 2010

Alphabets: A Miscellany of Letters by David Sacks

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It’s no secret we’re obsessed with alphabet books. But a new book by David Sacks offers much more depth than the designerly eye candy the genre lends itself to.

Alphabets: A Miscellany of Letters is an ambitious exploration of the pervasiveness of letters in everyday life, tracing our visual vocabulary to its roots in Egyptian hieroglyphs, Kanji characters and other ancient alphabets with rich illustrations, beautiful graphic design and typography, found objects, graffiti and more.

B from Linotype Zootype

The Zootype font, with its animal heads poking holes into the backs of letters, was created by Argentine designer Victor Garcia in 1997

E in lights

Composed of thousands of E-letters, rendered in a bright neon light, this image seems almost kinetic

F from Peter Blake's Alphabet

Pop artist Peter Blake is a master of typographic collages and found objects

Sacks explores the persona of each of the 26 letters of the alphabet, treating it as a separate symbol with its own design history and cultural legacy. It’s interesting to consider letters outside the context of text and words — suddenly, they come to life as conceptual creations that carry a powerful and complex aesthetic, symbolic and interpretational charge.

The letter N, rendered in grass

X from Pin Ups

From a provocative book shaping letters out of women's bodies represented by negative space

And for a special tickle of our appetite for creative derivatives of the London Tube map, this gem:

Q from A to Z

London-based designer and illustrator Tim Fishlock posterized Harry Beck's famous alphabet made of sections and lines from the London Underground map

From Braille to the Morse code to Muji alphabet ice cube moulds, Alphabets covers an astounding range of linguistic symbolism, giving the nostalgically familiar alphabet book of our childhoods an adult upgrade with remarkable design sophistication and aesthetic sensibility.

Images courtesy of The Guardian

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17 NOVEMBER, 2010

Denis Dutton’s Provocative Darwinian Theory of Beauty

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Why the cultural conditioning of your eye has nothing on the evolutionary biology of it.

What, exactly, is beauty? This question has been occupying the minds of philosophers, anthropologists, neuroscientists, art critics and ordinary people alike for centuries of human history. And while many may subscribe to the “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” theory, this, it turns out, may not be the case. Arts & Letters Daily editor and philosopher Denis Dutton counters this adage by presenting a provocative Darwinian theory of beauty in his excellent TED talk, animated by Andrew Park of The RSA — it’s the smartest thing you’ll watch this week, likely this month, and possibly this year.

Dutton argues:

I have no doubt whatsoever that the experience of beauty, with its emotional intensity and pleasure, belongs to our evolved human psychology. The experience of beauty is one component in a whole series of Darwinian adaptations. Beauty is an adaptive effect, which we extend and intensify in the creation and enjoyment of works of art and entertainment.

Dutton debunks the commonly accepted academic explanation of beauty as something in the “culturally conditioned” eye of the beholder by demonstrating that beauty, or aesthetic appreciation, in fact travels across cultures rather easily, hinting at some deeper, universal underpinning of what we find beautiful. To explain this, Dutton reverse-engineers our present aesthetic taste by constructing a fascinating Darwinian evolutionary history of our artistic expression and aesthetic taste

For us moderns, virtuoso technique is used to create imaginary worlds in fiction and in movies, to express intense emotions with music, painting and dance. But still, one fundamental trait of the ancestral personality persists in our aesthetic cravings: The beauty we find in skilled performances. From Lascaux to the Louvre to Carnegie Hall, human beings have a permanent innate taste for virtuoso displays in the arts. We find beauty in something done well.

So is beauty in the eye of the beholder? No! It’s deep in our minds, it’s a gift handed down from the intelligent skills and rich emotional lives of our most ancient ancestors. Our powerful reaction to images, to the expression of emotion in art, to the beauty of music, to the night sky, will be with us and our descendants for as long as the human race exists.

For a deeper dive into Dutton’s work and insights, be sure to grab his brilliant 2008 book, The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution. The New Yorker, in reviewing the book, aptly noted that Dutton has done for art what Steven Pinker has for language, philosophy and religion in offering a compelling Darwinian explanation. Sample it with this hour-long but very much worthwhile talk by Dutton, part of the Authors @ Google series.

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15 NOVEMBER, 2010

Tree of Codes: A Literary Remix

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In our present culture, we’ve come to see the art of remix as a product of digital media. But author Jonathan Safran Foer (of Everything Is Illuminated fame) reminds us of its analog quintessence in his brilliant Tree of Codes (public library) project — a book created by cutting out chunks of text from Foer’s favorite novel, The Street of Crocodiles by Polish author Bruno Schulz, rearranging the text to form an entirely different story. The die-cut narrative hangs in an aura of negative space, adding the necessary touch of designerliness to what’s already a hipster-ready concept.

The result is a beautiful blend of sculpture and storytelling, adding a layer of physicality to the reading experience in a way that completely reshapes your relationship with text and the printed page.

Vanity Fair has an excellent interview with Foer talking about his creative process on this project and contemporary art at large.

I thought: What if you pushed it to the extreme, and created something not old-fashioned or nostalgic but just beautiful? It helps you remember that life can surprise you.” ~ Jonathan Safran Foer

The making of the book is a true marvel of human ingenuity:

Tree of Codes is part Nina Katchadourian’s Sorted Books, part Brian Dettmer’s carved book sculptures, part something else entirely — and wholly recommended.

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12 NOVEMBER, 2010

Edible Landscapes: Miniature Vignettes Made from Food

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What Martian landscapes have to do with London’s skyline and the mutations of Thanksgiving.

CARL WARNER FOOD LANDSCAPES

British photographer Carl Warner doesn’t look at broccoli and cabbage leaves the way you do. He seems in them trees and sunset skies. His fantasy food landscapes are part Ansel Adams, part Anthony Bourdaine, painstakingly hand-crafted with only minimal Photoshop involvement.

London Skyline

Riverbank walls: panini; lamppost: mackerel, asparagus, onion, vanilla pods; London Eye: green beans; courgette, leek, lemon, rhubarb supports; The Dome: green melon.

Coconut Haystacks

Parsley trees with horseradish trunks, red cabbage sky, toasted almonds as distant haystacks, and loaves of bread for hills

Chinese Junk

The roster of ingredients includes dried lotus leaves for snails, noodles for the wood floor, physalis lanterns, and the obscure wild green yamakurage for the rope.

Celery Rain Forest

Canope made of okra with dried chili oarsman, tiny mushroom hat and a cardamom pod; path: pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and lentils

Cart & Balloons

Balloons made of red onion, apple, garlic bulb and other fruits; balloon baskets: nuts; hills and fields: bread, cucumber, string beans, green beans, corn, asparagus

Warner’s book, Food Landscapes, came out last month and is a page-turner of visually delicious fascination.

via NPR

MATTHEW CARDEN SMALL WORLD

Almost two years ago, we spotlighted photographer Matthew Carden’s Small World — a series of stunning macro photographs exploring our relationship with food through a compelling blend of playfulness and meditation on wastefulness.

Lambs

Monks walking on a lettuce-and-bread mountain trail

Sprinkles

Take a ride down the sprinkles-covered hill

Carden’s work is a timely prompt for reflection around Thanksgiving, a holiday designed as appreciation for our blessings yet one that has mutated into a celebration of gluttony and excess.

MATTHEW ALBANESE STRANGE WORLDS

We featured Matthew Albanese’s Strange Worlds at length back in February, but his miniature condiment landscapes are worth a revisit. The remarkably detailed creations, made out of everyday culinary materials like cinnamon, paprika, jello and corn syrup, depict emotive visions of surreal, often otherworldly landscapes.

Tornado made of steel wool, cotton, ground parsley and moss

A Martian landscape, made out of 12 pounds paprika, cinnamon, nutmeg, chili powder and charcoal

See more of Albanese’s fantastic and fantastical work here.

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