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14 DECEMBER, 2010

2010’s Best Long Reads: Art, Design, Film & Music

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Longreads and Brain Pickings have teamed up to highlight the most fascinating in-depth stories published on the web this year, starting with Art, Design, Film & Music. Below are 10 must-reads from 2010, exploring everything from the beauty of trash to the manipulation of a TV game show to the personal and professional relationships that are forged — and shattered — in the name of art.

PLEASE ALLOW ME TO CORRECT A FEW THINGS

Please Allow Me to Correct a Few Things (Bill Wyman, Slate, Nov. 5, 2010)

Time to read: 20 minutes (5,103 words)

Not an actual letter written by Mick Jagger, responding point-by-point to offending passages in Keith Richards’ autobiography, Life. It’s better: Music critic Bill Wyman created this fictional correspondence to construct an in-depth history of Mick and Keith’s relationship.

“He’s just trying to get my attention, I think, in the end. The remaining part of the rancor comes from the fact that he knows he lost me, many years ago.”

CRIMES OF ART?

Crimes of the Art? (Michael Shnayerson, Vanity Fair, Dec. 1, 2010, 7062 words)

Time to read: 28 minutes (7,062 words)

A disturbing and heartbreaking portrait of a family grappling with its late father’s legacy: Was artist Larry Rivers a genius, an abuser, or both?

“Emma declares her father guilty of nothing less than child pornography, over a period of six years, with herself and Gwynne as his unwilling subjects.”

NEW YORK’S GARBAGE ANTHROPOLOGIST

New York’s Garbage Anthropologist (Alex Carp, The Believer, September 2010, 4009 words)

Time to read: 16 minutes (4,009 words)

There’s art in everything, even garbage. The Believer interviews Robin Nagle, the resident “garbage anthropologist” for New York City’s Department of Sanitation.

“Every single thing you see is future trash. Everything. So we are surrounded by ephemera, but we can’t acknowledge that, because it’s kind of scary.”

THE MARK OF A MASTERPIECE

The Mark of a Masterpiece (David Grann, The New Yorker, July 12, 2010, 16034 words)

Time to read: 64 minutes (16,034 words)

Peter Paul Biro uses fingerprint technology to help authenticate works of art–and writer David Grann puts the entire process under a microscope.

“When I asked Biro if he worried that his method might be flawed, he said that during nearly two decades of fingerprint examinations he had ‘not made one mistake.’ He added, ‘I take a long time and I don’t allow myself to be rushed.'”

STEPHEN TOBOLOWSKY: THE X FACTOR

Stephen Tobolowsky: The X Factor, Part One (Stephen Tobolowsky, The Awl, Aug. 2010, 4021 words)

Time to read: 16 minutes (4,021 words)

Character actor Stephen Tobolowsky is probably best known as Ned Ryerson from the movie Groundhog Day, and as Sandy Ryerson on the Fox show Glee. Few stories offer a more realistic glimpse of an actor’s life and what it’s like to audition in Hollywood. (Read part two here.)

“Message to young actors: When you first come to L.A. and you start to despair, remember the X-Factor. Hollywood is not like school. There is no syllabus and there are no grades-here you can succeed by complete failure.”

TV’S CROWNING MOMENT OF AWESOME

TV’s Crowning Moment of Awesome (Chris Jones, Esquire, Aug. 1, 2010, 5085 words)

Time to read: 20 minutes (5,085 words)

Esquire’s Chris Jones is on many Longreads best-of lists for his incredible profile of Roger Ebert (Click here to read it), but let’s not forget his investigation into a mysterious win on TV’s The Price Is Right. How, exactly, did Terry Kneiss make history by guessing the exact value of his Showcase Showdown?

“Terry believed that his brain and his eyes and his strong, deep voice made him the perfect vessel for exploiting weakness, for capitalizing on the imperfections of others — for seeing in their patterns an opportunity, a chance for him to break the game.”

AND GOD CREATED CONTROVERSY

And God Created Controversy (Jon Ronson, The Guardian, Oct. 9, 2010, 3141 words)

Time to read: 13 minutes (3,141 words)

If you aren’t a hardcore Juggalo, you can at least thank the Insane Clown Posse for inspiring some of the most bizarre stories of the past year. This one supposedly outs them as evangelical Christians. (See also: Inside the Gathering of the Juggalos, by Camille Dodero, Village Voice.)

“I suddenly wonder, halfway through our interview, if I am looking at two men in clown make-up who are suffering from depression.”

THE MAN WHO MAKES YOUR iPHONE

Apple & Design: The Man Who Makes Your iPhone (Frederik Balfour and Tim Culpan, Businessweek, Sept. 9, 2010, 5204 words)

Time to read: 21 minutes (5,204 words)

… paired with …

INTERVIEW WITH JOHN SCULLEY

Interview with John Sculley (Leander Kahney, Cult of Mac, Oct. 14, 2010, 8322 words)

Time to read: 33 minutes (8,322 words)

Two men who have worked close to Steve Jobs, in different ways: The first is a profile of Terry Gou, CEO of Foxconn, the China-based manufacturer whose 300,000 employees build the iPhone and other products. The second is an interview with former Apple CEO John Sculley, who looks back on his time working with Jobs and the mistakes he made.

“[Steve Jobs] was a person of huge vision. But he was also a person that believed in the precise detail of every step. He was methodical and careful about everything — a perfectionist to the end.”

CHERAYLA DAVIS: AMATEUR

Cherayla Davis: Amateur (Paul Hiebert, The Awl, Oct. 26, 2010, 2477 words)

Time to read: 10 minutes (2,477 words)

One aspiring singer’s story of near-misses and changing priorities–culminating in a performance at the Apollo Theater’s Amateur Night.

“‘I was tired of being poor, and a lot of people have to be poor before they make it, but I’m just not willing to do that,’ Cherayla said. ‘You know how someone says “You’re so talented, you’re going to be the next _______!” I don’t receive that anymore from people, and I don’t want that.'”

See more Longreads 2010 “best-of” lists here.

Mark Armstrong is a digital strategist, writer and founder of Longreads, a community and Twitter service highlighting the best long-form stories on the web. His thoughts about the future of publishing and content can be found here.

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13 DECEMBER, 2010

Walt & El Grupo: The Story of Disney’s Political Propaganda

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In 1941, Nelson Rockefeller, Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs, asked Walt Disney to make a goodwill tour across South America, hoping the universal popularity of his characters would help diffuse anti-Axis sentiments in the region. It was a bad time for Walt — on top of his personal inclination for introversion, WWII had cut off his business in Europe, he had just lost a third of his workforce in a fiercely fought strike, and he owed Bank of America $3.4 million. But when the government agreed to underwrite the tour expenses, Disney took off for Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile with his wife Lily and a posse of 16 artists dubbed “El Grupo.” Among them was director Theodore Thomas, son of the celebrated animator Frank Thomas, who took it upon himself to record the extraordinary journey on 16mm film.

Walt & El Grupo is the product of Thomas’ labor, brimming with letters, photographs and rare footage of the places El Grupo visited, as well as interviews with people who welcomed Disney into their homes. The film captures not Walt’s familiar soft, avuncular public persona but his passionate, driven, inventive side as an artist and entrepreneur at the tipping point of a career that forever changed the world of animation.

The DVD features fascinating audio commentary from Historian J.B. Kaufman and the director hismself, three exclusive segments from the Director’s Cut version, the original theatrical trailers for Saludos Amigos (1942) and The Three Caballeros (1944), and a fantastic Photos In Motion feature, which traces how the photos literally came to life.

Walt & El Grupo is a priceless and vibrant timecapsule of a unique time in the history of both the global politics and creative culture, revealing a rare portrait of a man who came to define the childhoods of generations and, in the process, play a key role in shaping the visual literacy of our time.

via VSL

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09 DECEMBER, 2010

Dust Serenade: Interactive MIT Installation Honors Sound Science Pioneer

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In the latter part of the 1800s, German physicist August Kundt devised an ingenious experiment that allowed him to measure the speed of sound in different gases by visualizing its longitudinal waves through fine lycopodium dust — an idea inspired by another German physicist, Ernst Chladni, who in the late 1700s famously visualized sound in solid materials in his seminal sand figures. (Because, as we’ve learned, all creativity builds on what came before.)

This year, a duo of MIT students, Dietmar Offenhuber and Orkan Telhan, and Austrian sound artist Markus Decker teamed up to reenact Kundt’s acoustic experiment in Dust Serenade — an interactive installation consisting of tubes filled with scraps of words and letters — “cut-up theory,” a play on the empirical bravery that made Kandt revolutionary in an era of theoretical inquiry — which turn into figures of dust as sound waves touch them. Viewers can manipulate the frequency of the sound by swiveling a rod to create different sound harmonies, which in turn reconfigure the text in different ways.

‘Dust Serenade’ intends to remind us the materiality of sound. We invite visitors to rethink about the tension between their theoretical knowledge and the sensory experience.”

The project was funded by MIT’s Council for the Arts and the Austrian Federal Ministry for Education, Arts and Culture. It is currently on exhibition at the rather wonderful MIT Museum until December 24 — do stop by if you get a chance.

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08 DECEMBER, 2010

A Year of Mornings: 3191 Miles Apart

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How photographers do long-distance relationships.

When best friends Stephanie and Mav had to move apart, the fruits of telecommunication weren’t enough of a bond for them. Instead, the two artists launched 3191 — a photoblog named after the exact distance between their homes. Every morning for a year each of them posted a photo of herself and some other environmental element of her morning, then posted the pictures side by side for a parallel universe in a shared moment. (A project we originally featured nearly three years ago.)

So wonderful was the concept and so artful the photographs, that Stephanie and Mav eventually got a book deal and A Year of Mornings: 3191 Miles Apart was born — a worthy addition to our running list of blog-turned-book success stories.

There’s something incredibly poetic about this exercise in remote togetherness that both uses the connectivity of the digital age and defies its traditional communication platforms. A Year of Mornings isn’t merely a beautiful book of photography, although it certainly is that, but also a powerful meditation on impermanence, remembrance and belonging.

In 2010, we spent more than 4,500 hours bringing you Brain Pickings. If you found any joy and inspiration here this year, please consider supporting us with a modest donation — it’s an appreciated nod of appreciation.





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