Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘culture’

06 JUNE, 2011

Christoph Niemann on Happiness, Work and Creativity

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How yoga is killing kerning, or what chasing butterflies has to do with divine inspiration.

I’m a really big Christoph Niemann fan, so I was thrilled to see him speak last month at Creative Mornings, the fantastic breakfast lecture series by my lovely studiomate Tina (a.k.a. Swiss Miss), dubbed “TED for the rest of us.” Charming, irreverent and self-deprecating as ever, Christoph dances across everything from finding happiness at work to what it takes to have a good idea to the myth of “talent” to how to overcome writer’s block.

Creativity is like chasing chickens.” ~ Christoph Niemann

I found this visual breakdown of Christoph’s daily routine, tongue-in-cheek as it may be, quite interesting:

Here’s an unwitting wink at RSA’s animated version of Steven Johnson’s insights on where good ideas come from, also echoing my favorite TED talk, Elizabeth Gilbert’s.

And something reminiscent of Scott Belsky philosophy on making ideas happen:

Watch, laugh, nod knowingly, and marvel at Christoph’s fantastic signature brand of wit, humor and simple, raw human truth:

(Imagine my terror when Christoph hit it out of the ballpark the way he did, given I was the speaker for the following Creative Mornings — what a tough act to follow!)

In order to have creativity, you have to allow for dead ends to happen.” ~ Christoph Niemann

See more of Christoph’s brilliant work on his site and grab some of his utterly wonderful children’s books for your favorite tiny humans and their parents.

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06 JUNE, 2011

The Moby Awards for Best and Worst Book Trailers

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What zero-gravity intercourse has to do with the future of information and the fate of the printed page.

We have a soft spot for brilliant book trailers here at Brain Pickings, so it was a delight to stumble upon the 2011 Moby Awards for best and worst book trailers, who revealed the winners last week. Zany rather than brainy, and yet uniquely illuminating, the Moby winners — selected by a panel of judges from literary tastemakers like Slate, Flavorpill, GoodReads and The Millions — are a treat of creativity, humor and an occasional profound human truth. Drumroll please…

GRAND JURY AWARD

Subtitled “We’re Giving You This Award Because Otherwise You’d Win Too Many Other Awards,” the quasi-epic mega-award was bestowed upon Gary Shteyngart for his Super Sad True Love Story — a dystopian, profane and, in its own twisted way, relentlessly entertaining vision for the future. (This, friends, is no Optimist’s Tour of the Future, mind you.) Veiled in the love story between a middle-aged man obsessed with eternal life and a 20-something Korean American oppressed by her overbearing parents is a faceted commentary on the obsessions and catastrophes of the information age, adding to the ongoing conversation on what the future of information and the internet may hold.

The James Franco cameo also landed the trailer the award in the Most Celebtastic Performance category.

BEST SMALL HOUSE

Jonathan Safran Foer‘s Tree of Codes, dubbed the “impossible book” for its ambitious production vision, landed atop our list of the best art, design and photography books of 2010 — a remarkable literary remix created by cutting out chunks of text from Foer’s favorite novel, The Street of Crocodiles by Polish author Bruno Schulz, and rearranging the text to form an entirely different story. Its trailer, just as meta as the book itself, scored the Moby Award for Best Small House.

BEST BIG HOUSE

After two excellent books at the intersection of the curious and the macabre, and a controversial TED talk, Mary Roach has done it again with Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, in which she explores the psychology, physiology, technology and politics of sending humans into space. Roach looks beyond the shiny techno-luster of space travel to explore its most fundamental human concerns — eating, having sex and bathing, going to the bathroom, not dying when reentering Earth’s atmosphere — in her signature style of irreverent curiosity, wry humor and irresistible science writing.

Admittedly, however, I was rooting for Steven Johnson in this category with his Where Good Ideas Come From (which topped our list of the best books in business, life and mind for 2010), brilliantly animated by The RSA, a longtime Brain Pickings darling.

STAND-ALONE ART OBJECT

The Book Trailers as Stand-Alone Art Object award went to How Did You Get This Number — a collection of nine thoughtful essays by Sloane Crosley exploring the delights and distresses of youth, from foreign travel to social awkwardness to heartbreak, complete with ten quasi-innocuous federal offenses Crosley has consciously broken in the past 10 years of being, well, a young person with a restless mind and a creative itch.

WORST PERFORMANCE BY AN AUTHOR

Though Jonathan Franzen recently delivered one of the smartest, timeliest, most poignant graduation addresses I’ve ever had the joy of hearing, he didn’t fare so well on the book trailers front, where he scored the Worst Performance by an Author.

And that’s quite unfortunate, because the book the trailer is for — Freedom: A Novel — is commonly considered some of the best fiction to come by in years.

WHAT ARE WE DOING TO OUR CHILDREN?

It’s a Book by award-winning children’s book author Lane Smith is part playful pastime for your favorite tiny human, part poignant manifesto for the printed page in the digital age.

It rightfully snagged the Moby Award in the children’s lit category, edging out Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s excellent The Hidden Alphabet, and is also an honoree in our own selection of 7 best book book trailers.

Want more? See the full list of winners and the finalists with whom they battled it out.

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03 JUNE, 2011

Bibliographic: The 100 Best Design Books of the Past 100 Years

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What James Bond title sequences have to do with the secret of happiness and the evolution of public signage.

Design is an incredibly self-referential for of expression, and that’s quite alright, as I deeply believe creativity is combinatorial — everything borrows from what came before, everything is a remix, all creative work is essentially derivative work. So knowledge of what came before greatly enriches and empowers our creativity. And, over the past century alone, countless books have been published to make sense of the landscape, language and legacy of graphic design, each exploring a specific facet of this complex ecosystem of visual communication. But how does it all fit together? That’s exactly what Jason Godfrey set out to investigate in 2009 in Bibliographic: 100 Classic Graphic Design Books — yes, it’s a graphic design book about graphic design books, and it doesn’t get any more meta than this, and that’s a wonderful thing.

Godfrey culls the 100 most influential design books of the past 100 years, contextualizing each with succinct background text on what makes it exceptional and important. The collection spans an incredible range of style, genre, subject matter, geography, and cultural concern, from the stories of the pioneering type foundries to vintage Polish film posters to classic graphic design manuals by László Moholy-Nagy and Josef Müller-Brockmann to contemporary design visionaries like Stefan Sagmeister and Paula Scher.

A foreword by none other than Steven Heller adds an irresistibly delicious cherry on top.

These vintage books are untapped repositories of design knowledge, as relevant today as they were when first published.” ~ Steven Heller

What makes Bibliographic all the more valuable is that the majority of the books featured have entered collector’s-item status and are quite hard — not to mention expensive — to get on their own.

A few of my favorite titles in the anthology:

  • Long before there was The Visual Miscellaneum or Data Flow, there was Graphis diagrams: The graphic visualization of abstract data — a seminal vision for the convergence of aesthetics and information value, originally published in 1974. Features work by icons like Saul Bass, Leo and Diane Dillon, Milton Glaser, Richard Saul Wurman and many more.
  • Paula Scher is one of my big creative heroes and her Make It Bigger, titled after the most resented yet prevalent client frustration of all, looks at design’s role in corporate culture, exploring what it is that makes design a powerful and effective business tool.
  • As a big fan of found typography and architectural lettering, I can’t stress the delightfulness of Words and buildings: The art and practice of public lettering enough — a fascinating convergence of architecture and graphic design that preceded recent treats like Store Front and Helvetica and the New York City Subway System: The True (Maybe) Story by four decades, exploring the evolution of public signage and typographic wayfinding.
  • He may be known as the granddaddy of grump, a professional curmudgeon, but iconic designer Paul Rand is one of the most remarkable figures in the history of design both as a creative discipline and a business philosophy — his Thoughts on Design, originally published in 1947, is a philosophical treatise on the role of design and the importance of “function-aesthetic perfection” in modern art.
  • Stefan Sagmeister is easily one of my top three favorite designers alive today, and his Things I have learned in my life so far is quite possibly my favorite design book of all time — a poetic reflection on life, the meaning of happiness, and the human condition by way of Sagmeister’s unique, playful, irreverent visual language.

As much an incredible primer for those just dipping their toes in design as a rich and lavish treasure chest of beloved allusions for the polished design nerd, Bibliographic is an absolute gem from cover to glorious cover.

Thanks, @kirstinbutler

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02 JUNE, 2011

Dear Me: Letters by Luminaries to Their 16-Year-Old Selves

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What the renouncement of dieting has to do with love and buying shares in Google.

Some moons ago, I came across this installment in The Rumpus’ wonderful Dear Sugar advice column, which proceeded to dash right past my unforgiving cheesiness radar and settle into that Really Excellent Read place. In it, Sugar shares 40-something wisdom with her 20-something self, reaching for those hard-learned truths with remarkable humor, vulnerability and grace. The piece reminded me of Dear Me: A Letter to My Sixteen-Year-Old Self — an absolutely fantastic older anthology of retrospective letters by luminaries spanning just about the entire cultural spectrum, from Oscar and Pulitzer winners to doctors to comedians to musicians and more, envisioned and compiled by Joseph Galliano. The roster of contributors includes icons like Yoko Ono, Stephen Fry, Debbie Harry and many more, with proceeds from the book benefiting the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

Elton John

Dear Debbie, Moon, Debeel, or Deb,

Just because you have a lot of different names, and maybe feel like there’s a lot of different yours, don’t be confused. Give yourself some time and all the ideas and possibilities that these names conjure up for you will become clear to you. The pieces of the puzzle will reveal themselves and all you have to do is keep finding out what makes you feel happiest and this oftentimes will be the easiest thing for you to do. This is remarkable in itself. That the most obvious is often the best choice and can lead to something wonderful and satisfying.”

~ Debbie Harry

Alan Carr

Actually, buy shares in Google. That should sort just about everything out.” ~ Danny Wallace

Emma Thompson

When he says he doesn’t love you, believe him. He doesn’t.” ~ Emma Thompson

Annie Lennox

Sandra Bernhard

Stephen King

Equal parts poignant and entertaining, Dear Me is an endearing reminder of how much we’ve grown and, perhaps far more importantly, that the only way we grow, the only way we get things right, is by getting them horribly, horribly wrong first — and that’s quite okay.

Thanks to the lovely Letters of Note for the reminder

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