Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘culture’

28 OCTOBER, 2011

My Faraway One: The Love Letters of Georgia O’Keeffe & Alfred Stieglitz

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How to woo like an artist, or what the overuse of the dash has to do with finding the most generous muse.

There is something relentlessly alluring about unearthing the private letters of luminaries — young Hemingway’s missives, the illustrated correspondence of beloved artist Edward Gorey, cultural icons’ letters to their 16-year-old selves, letters to children by 1970s luminaries on the love of books. But make them love letters, and we’re on a whole different level of mesmerism. Such is the case of My Faraway One: Selected Letters of Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz: Volume One, 1915-1933, the product of an ambitious digitization project by Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, a fine addition to these 7 favorite digitization projects in the humanities.

This exceptional volume gathers 650 meticulously selected and annotated letters exchanged between one of the most prominent couples in art history, photographer Alfred Stieglitz (1864–1946) and legendary artist Georgia O’Keeffe (1887–1986), who over the course of their 30-year romance exchanged more than 5,000 letters — roughly 25,000 pages — on everything from the rich detail of their daily lives to the breathless angels and demons of their passion.

Culled by editor Sarah Greenough, these missives — sometimes sweet (“Dearest Duck”), sometimes steamy (“the sensuousness of you touching the sensuousness of me”), always profoundly heartfelt (“I love you, Dearest One, if I am capable of love”) — reveal a rare glimpse of the tender humanity behind the cultural icons and, along the way, offer a richer understanding of their creative process as artists.

Photograph of Georgia O'Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz kissing at Lake George, 1929

Letter from Georgia O'Keeffe to Alfred Stieglitz on letterhead 'Los Gallos, Taos New Mexico,' May 14, 1929

From one of O’Keefe’s spicy letters, which seem to somehow mirror the fluid, light urgency of her floral paintings:

Dearest — my body is simply crazy with wanting you — If you don’t come tomorrow — I don’t see how I can wait for you — I wonder if your body wants mine the way mine wants yours — the kisses — the hotness — the wetness — all melting together — the being held so tight that it hurts — the strangle and the struggle.

And from Stieglitz, as O’Keeffe became his photographic muse:

– How I wanted to photograph you — the hands — the mouth — & eyes — & the enveloped in black body — the touch of white — & the throat –

(As a compulsive dasher myself — sometimes to a painful degree — I found their excessive use of dashes both comforting and charming.)

Letters from Stieglitz to O'Keeffe, November 2-4, 1916

Letters from Stieglitz to O'Keeffe, November 8-10, 1916

How much we have in common. — Traits. — Both turn everything we touch into something really living — & amusing — for ourselves. — Both can laugh — really laugh — even at our heartaches… 300 years you want to live!! — I wish I could give you that as a gift –

Perhaps most poetic of all is that the couple’s romance, captured in the 600 stirring pages of My Faraway One, embodies those highest ideals of being not merely lovers but also each other’s finest muses, greatest fans and most constructive critics — which makes it as much an invaluable piece of art history as it is a personal yet universal fragment of human aspiration.

Images courtesy of Alfred Stieglitz / Georgia O’Keeffe Archive, Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library // HT ArtInfo

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27 OCTOBER, 2011

The Little Book of Hindu Deities: Pixar Animator Rethinks Mythology

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What the goth Goddess of Time has to do with elephant head transplants and Pixar’s pastimes.

What if you could cross The Night Life of Trees, the magical artwork based on Indian mythology, with The Ancient Book of Myth and War, that delightful side project by a team of Pixar animators? You’d get The Little Book of Hindu Deities: From the Goddess of Wealth to the Sacred Cow — an impossibly charming illustrated almanac of gods and goddesses by Pixar animator Sanjay Patel. These beautiful stories from Indian mythology span the entire spectrum of human experience — petty quarrels and epic battles, love and betrayal, happiness and loss — with equal parts humor and respect, pairing each full-color illustration with a lively profile of that deity.

In the book’s introduction, Patel notes his fascination with Japanese animation, which influenced his style in depicting the Hindu deities — a curious case of creative cross-pollination across cultures. For an added smile, Patel originally self-published the book before Plume picked it up.

A playful morphology of a mythological pantheon, The Little Book of Hindu Deities is as captivating and entertaining as it is informative without being encyclopedic — a light and joyful journey into Hinduism by way of the contemporary pop culture aesthetic.

Patel’s follow-up, The Big Poster Book of Hindu Deities, featuring 12 stunning removable prints, is also very much worth a look.

HT @ShamilaJiwa; images courtesy of Sanjay Patel

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27 OCTOBER, 2011

Learners Will Inherit the Earth: Alistair Smith on Fixing Education

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How to get unstuck, or why being a learner is infinitely better than being a knower.

We’ve previously explored the brokenness of educational paradigms and 10 essential books to rethink education. Now, from the fantastic Do Lectures, one of our 10 favorite cross-disciplinary conferences, comes this brilliant and brave talk on why we need to change the way we learn by Alistair Smith, accelerated learning pioneer and one of the UK’s leading innovators in new learning methods. From the importance of pattern recognition in learning to the practice of practice to smart uses of physical space, Smith — whose book, High Performers: The Secrets of Successful Schools is a fine addition to the essential education reading list — lays out a thoughtful blueprint for reclaiming learning back from the institutionalized and dysmorphic grip of education.

At times of change, the learners are the ones who will inherit the world, while the knowers will be beautifully prepared for a world which no longer exists.”

Getting stuck is not a problem. Staying stuck is. Good learners practice getting unstuck, and here’s how: Turn that around — praise for progress, don’t praise for perfection.”

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