Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘art’

11 AUGUST, 2011

Tom Gauld’s Both: If Edward Gorey Did Contemporary Quirk-Comics

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What a morally outraged sweetcorn kernel has to do with some not-so-bright astronauts and Mexican wrestlers.

London-based cartoonist and artist Tom Gauld might just be the Edward Gorey of our time, channeling his wry humor and macabre aesthetic through exquisite black-and-white illustrations. In 2002, he collaborated with fellow RCA alum Simone Lia on Both — a lovely little book blending two previous volumes, unequivocally titled First and Second. It’s a quirky story about, well, a morally outraged sweetcorn kernel, some Mexican wrestlers, some astronauts, a rabbit, bread and bhagis, among other oddballs, who explore the bittersweetness of the world through offbeat vignettes and minimalist narratives full of sometimes subtle, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny humor.

Though the book is currently out of print, you can snag a used copy on Amazon for as little as $8 or try hunting it down at your favorite local offbeat bookstore.

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09 AUGUST, 2011

Radioactive Orchestra: Making Music from Nuclear Isotopes

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Getting excited about excited states, or what Marie Curie has to do with experimental music.

In 2011, the need to understand radioactivity glared at us with more urgency than ever, in the face of the Fukushima disaster and continued debates about nuclear energy. In May, we took a more playful and artistic look at the issue with Lisa Redniss’s Radioactive, the beautiful cyanotype-illustrated story of Marie Curie’s life and legacy, and today we turn to another cross-disciplinary illuminator: The Radioactive Orchestra — a project aiming to explain radioactivity through music by inviting you to compose tunes with 3,175 of the most interesting radioactive isotopes in an effort to glean new understanding of what radiation really is.

It works like this: Melodies are created by simulating the decay of an atomic nucleus from an excited nuclear state down to its ground state. A single gamma photon is released for every step of the energy loss and, by representing the energy of the photon as the pitch of a note, the photon plays a note each time this happens. For an added touch of synesthesia, this is also visualized by a colorful ray coming out of the atomic nucleus. Because every isotope has a unique set of possible excited states and decay patterns, it also has a unique sonic fingerprint.

It’s really exciting to do a project where we can listen to radiation. There has never really been a way to sense the radiation around us. You can neither see it nor hear it.”

The project comes from Swedish nuclear safety organization KSU and DJ Axel Boman, and is a fine addition to this running list of experimental music projects. (Besides, if you can play the HIV virus and the number pi, why shouldn’t you play an isotope or two?)

So go ahead, give it a whirl.

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08 AUGUST, 2011

Photography Speaks: 150 Photographers On Their Art

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What cubism and Lewis Carroll have to do with the foundations of modern photojournalism.

There’s something about photography that makes its fundamental ethos spill over into a multitude of disciplines and resonate on a deep human level. In 1989, Brooks Johnson set out to unearth that x-factor by hunting down the writings of yesteryear’s greatest photographers and asking the era’s greatest living ones to reach within and extract the essence of their art. The result was Photography Speaks: 66 Photographers on Their Art, followed by Photography Speaks II: 76 Photographers on Their Art in 1995 and the 2004 crown jewel, Photography Speaks: 150 Photographers On Their Art — a remarkable anthology of micro-essays by icons like Robert Frank, Cindy Sherman, Eadweard Muybridge, Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange and a wealth more. Each glorious double-page spread features one image from each photographer on the right-hand page, facing biographical background and a short, insightful personal reflection on the left.

Ilse Bing, American (b. Germany), 1899-1998

John Guttman, American (b. Germany), 1905-1998

Jan Groover, American, 1943-

Besides the rockstar photographers, the tome is also sprinkeld with cross-disciplinary surprises, creators like Lewis Carroll, René Magritte and David Hockney better-known for an art other than photography but whose photographic pursuits are nonetheless unmissable works of art.

Almost all cubist pictures are about things close to us. They don’t jump off the wall at you. You have to go to them, and look, and look. The camera does not bring anything close to you; it’s only more of the same void that we see. This is also true of television, and the movies. Between you and the screen there’s a window, you’re simply looking through a window. Cubism is a much more involved form of vision. It’s a better way of depicting reality, and I think it’s a truer way. It’s harder for us to see because it seems to contradict what we believe to be true. People complain that when they see a portrait of Picasso where, for instance, somebody has three eyes! It’s much simpler than that. It’s not that the person had three eyes, it’s that one of the eyes was seen twice. This reads the same way in my photographs. The fact that people can read photographs in this way made me think we’ve been deceived by the single photograph—by this image of one split second, in one fixed spot. I now see this fault in all photographs, and I can tell when drawings or paintings have been made from photographs. You can sense when the picture is not felt through space.” ~ David Hockney

From the practicalities of photography to the grandest theories of art, Photography Speaks is an extraordinary time-capsule for the cognition and emotion that fueled history’s most timeless and influential photographs, a rare backdoor into the minds of the creators who envisioned them and brought them to life.

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