Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘art’

26 AUGUST, 2011

Illustrated Three-Line Novels by the One-Man Twitter of 1906 France

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What an early 20th-century Parisian dandy had to do with political theater and the rise of micro-nonfiction.

We’ve previously shown that the literati of yore had their own Facebook, and it turns out they had their Twitter, too. Artist, anarchist and literary entrepreneur Félix Fénéon was the one-man Twitter of early 20th-century France. Between May and November of 1906, he wrote 1,220 succinct and near-surrealist three-line reports in the Paris newspaper Le Matin, serving to inform of everything from notable deaths to petty theft to naval expedition disasters. In Illustrated Three-Line Novels: Félix Fénéon, artist Joanna Neborsky captures the best of these enigmatic vignettes in stunning illustrations and collages, inspired by Luc Sante’s English translation of Fénéon’s gems for the New York Review of Books. Sometimes profound, often perplexing, and always prepossessing, these visual snapshots of historical micro-narratives offer a bizarre and beautiful glimpse of a long-gone French era and a man of rare creative genius.

Félix Fénéon was a dandy, a literary bricoleur, and a terrorist, maybe. Biographers dispute his guilt in the 1894 bombing of a restaurant in Paris. As the journalist himself might later have written, ‘A flowerpot left on a windowsill exploded in the Rue de Conde. In the Restaurant Foyot, appetites and the eye of Laurent Tailhad, 40, were lost.’ Fénéon, then a clerk in the government’s War Office, was arrested and tried int he sensational Trial of the Thirty, a piece of political theater aimed at exposing the anarchist underground. After he was acquitted (evidence was flimsy, the prosecution, inept), two policemen followed Fénéon for the next two decades. But how do you shadow a shadow? In life and work, the wraithlike Fénéon — his lean face darkened by a top hat and limned by a goatee that friends said gave him the look of Uncle Sam, or Mephistopheles — preferred to disappear. His love was art, and his subject, the genius of others.”

Illustrated Three-Line Novels: Félix Fénéon comes from indie powerhouse Mark Batty Publisher, who have previously delighted us with explorations of everything from how sounds became letters to why typography might be the key to cross-cultural understanding to what the ecology of Antarctica has to do with remix culture and many, many more treats.

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25 AUGUST, 2011

19th-Century Anthropomorphic Animals from the NYPL Archives

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What kimono-wearing rabbits and ice-skating camels have to do with solving information overload.

The New York Public Library has long been leading the way with smart digitization projects that make its vast and remarkable collections accessible to the world at large. And while the disconnect between accessibility and access may loom larger than ever in the age of information overabundance, it only takes a bit of curiosity and patience to find in these archives utterly fascinating historical materials. Case in point, these weird and wonderful anthropomorphic animals from the 1800s culled from NYPL’s Mid-Manhattan Picture Collection, including some early six-panel comic strips, with original captions from the collection and brimming with the subtle humor of the era — a fine fictional complement to the very real emotional lives of animals you might recall from several weeks ago.

Assembly of the notables at Paris, February 22, 1787 (1875)

Animals kissing, eating, listening to music, and dancing

The duel (1857)

Ice skating camel. (ca. 1898)

King Noble the Lion slaying a sheep (1846)

Monkey throwing a bucket of water at a cat on the street

Nursing the invalid

Pig and bear playing on a swing

Le procès des chiens (1849)

Une visite le jour de l'an : les joujoux (1876-1878)

Rabbits wearing kimonos

For more on the curious history and psychology of anthropomorphism in art and culture, see Lorraine Datson’s Thinking with Animals: New Perspectives on Anthropomorphism.

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25 AUGUST, 2011

A Definitive Guide to Leonardo da Vinci’s Paintings and Drawings

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From anatomy to aviation, or what Leonardo’s drawings reveal about cross-disciplinary creativity.

Leonardo da Vinci possessed a rare kind of cross-disciplinary genius. It’s safe to say the Italian painter, engineer, architect, sculptor, scientist and futurist was one of the greatest minds that ever lived, a kind of intellectual and creative powerhouse that influenced centuries of thinkers to come. Now, his life and legacy live on in the simply titled but wildly ambitous Leonardo da Vinci: The Complete Paintings and Drawings — a remarkable two-volume tome from Taschen () that surveys da Vinci’s life and work in unprecedented detail, from in-depth interpretations of all 34 of his famous paintings to breathtaking full-bleed details of his masterworks to an extensive catalog of 663 of his drawings. This being a Taschen production, it’s as lavish as they come, at 700 pages, 6.5 pounds and nearly the size of the Mona Lisa, and features appropriately supersized blowups of Leonardo’s paintings balanced with insightful contextualizations by Renaissance theorist Frank Zöllner and art historian Johannes Nathan for the perfect blend of scholarly and stunning.

If Leonardo’s thirst for knowledge and discovery was still held in check in this vision by his fear of the threatening unknown, by the end of the 1480s at the latest he had thrown himself with unbridled enthusiasm into the study of a wide range of fields. While working on the preparations for the Sforza monument, he also embarked on more in-depth studies into the proportions of the human body, anatomy and physiology. These studies, which Leonardo’s contemporaries frequently dismissed as the artistically unproductive whims of a restless mind, have been acknowledged since the 19th century as the forerunners of an empirical science based on the accurate observation of natural phenomena. In his studies of the human body, for example, and above all in his direct visual translation of his findings and insights, the artist was undoubtedly many generations ahead of his contemporaries.”

From how the Vitruvian Man revolutionized the anatomical understanding of human proportions to Leonardo’s fascination with the brain to what his flying machine sketches taught the designers and engineers of the then-future, Leonardo da Vinci: The Complete Paintings and Drawings presents a remarkable reminder of the cross-disciplinary curiosity and rigorous dedication that fueled one of humanity’s most prolific, profound and masterful creators.

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