Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘books’

24 JANUARY, 2013

Celebrating Cassandre: Gorgeous Vintage Posters by One of History’s Greatest Graphic Designers

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“He translated the essence of a thing — like a train, a ship, or a person — to the most ‘graphic’ expression.”

French-Ukrainian painter, commercial artist, set designer, lithographer, and general visual savant Adolphe Jean-Marie Mouron, better-known as A. M. Cassandre, is celebrated as one of the most influential graphic designers in history. Though perhaps best-known for his iconic 1932 Dubonnet wine posters, highlighted in The Phaidon Archive of Graphic Design, Cassandre created an enormous corpus of graphically groundbreaking work, including travel posters, typefaces, and advertising. His sensibility was influenced by cubism, surrealism and the work of painters like Picasso and Ernst, yet his aesthetic was breathtakingly original. But Cassandre’s story is as tragic as his design is brilliant — after losing his advertising agency business at the onset of WWII and serving in the French army, Cassandre eventually returned to design and easel painting after the war but struggled with bouts of depression for many years, until he took his own life in 1968.

In 1985, Cassandre’s son Henri told the story of his father’s life and legacy in A. M. Cassandre (public library) — a beautiful volume published by Rizzoli, but sadly long out of print.

In Debbie Millman’s excellent How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer — which gave us Massimo Vignelli on intellectual elegance and Paula Scher on creativity — celebrated Swiss designer Steff Geissbühler extols Cassandre:

DM: Who is your favorite graphic designer?

SG: A.M. Cassandre.

DM: Why?

SG: A.M. Cassandre was the ultimate poster designer — he knew exactly how to use scale, perspective, focus, and color to express the essence of the message. He was one of the few painters who created and understood the power of the poster and, with that, created the profession we now call ‘graphic design.’ His formal ideas have never lost power and grab me to this day. He made typography an integral part of the image. He translated the essence of a thing — like a train, a ship, or a person — to the most ‘graphic’ expression.

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24 JANUARY, 2013

Penn Jillette on Why Every Day is a Holiday

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“For atheists, everything in the world is enough and every day is holy.”

Penn Jillette’s brand of smug and often vulgar humor isn’t ordinarily my cup of tea, but the title essay in his recently released Every Day is an Atheist Holiday!: More Magical Tales from the Author of God, No! (UK; public library) offers a rather poignant meditation on atheism as a secular philosophy of celebrating life:

In Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll invents the idea of the un-birthday. If we celebrated those we’d have 364 more (in a leap year) un-birthdays than birthdays. Atheists have always had the corner on un-holidays. Christmas, Easter, Good Friday, Ramadan, Rosh Hashanah, the day Tom Cruise had sex with a woman are all holidays in some religion but they’re never a celebration of life. The joy is the exception that proves the rules. It’s the celebration of a joy that we don’t have.

The word ‘holiday’ comes from ‘holy day’ and holy means ‘exalted and worthy of complete devotion.’ By that definition, all days are holy. Life is holy. Atheists have joy every day of the year, every holy day. We have the wonder and glory of life. We have joy in the world before the lord is come. We’re not going for the promise of life after death; we’re celebrating life before death. The smiles of children. The screaming, the bitching, the horrific whining of one’s own children. … Sunsets, rock and roll, bebop, Jell-O, stinky cheese, and offensive jokes.

For atheists, everything in the world is enough and every day is holy. Every day is an atheist holiday. It’s a day that we’re alive.

But, of course, as Dostoyevsky keenly noted in The Brothers Karamazov, “The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.”

Every Day is an Atheist Holiday! is the sequel to Jillette’s God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales.

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23 JANUARY, 2013

Popular Lies About Graphic Design

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Debunking the misconceptions, half-truths, and dangerous mythology of creativity.

“Aphoristic thinking is impatient thinking,” Susan Sontag famously wrote in her private rant against intellectual shorthand. And yet, young creators starting out are bombarded with aphorisms and simple mantras to which to adhere, without much questioning. While there might be tremendous value in learning how to think like a great graphic designer, the operative word is still “think.” In Popular Lies About Graphic Design (UK; public library), New-York-based British designer Craig Ward sets out to debunk the “misconceptions, half truths and, in some cases, outright lies” embedded in the familiar aphorisms and maxims instilled in young designers — a crusade against putting blind religion rather than critical thought at the heart of the discipline. From myths about work ethic to the cult of ideas, Ward tackles 35 such “lies” with all the deftness of a proper devil’s advocate.

For instance, he takes head-on the contention that nothing is truly original — an idea famously championed by Mark Twain (“…all ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources…”) and Lord Byron (“To be perfectly original one should think much and read little, and this is impossible, for one must have read before one has learnt to think.”). Ward writes:

The human brain is a wondrous and infinitely complex organ, its capabilities and limits still, as yet, undefined. When fed the right combination of inspiration points a well educated, well read, hydrated and healthy brain will come up with original idea after original idea.

With its aesthetic minimalism and conceptual clarity, Popular Lies About Graphic Design manages to walk the challenging line between being critical without being complacently contrarian.

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