Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘culture’

07 DECEMBER, 2011

What is Generative Art? A 7-Minute PBS Micro-Documentary

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The rhetoric of data, or how to reconcile human and algorithm in the age of collective intelligence.

After their fantastic 7-minute documentary on typography, the fine folks at PBS Off Book are back with another micro-documentary, this time spotlighting generative art and featuring creators like generative composer Luke Dubois, game designer Will Wright, and software artist Scott Draves, who discuss everything from new narratives in visual storytelling to negotiating the relationship between humans and algorithms to the rhetoric of data.

This century is the century of data, that’s the defining thing. Last century was the century of electricity.” ~ Luke Dubois

For more on this ever-fascinating and increasingly relevant subject, don’t miss this omnibus of 7 essential books on data visualization and generative art.

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06 DECEMBER, 2011

Tantra Song: Rare 17th-Century Indian Paintings That Look Like 20th-Century Western Art

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What a deadly bus accident has to do with Paul Klee, Paris, and the poetry of abstraction.

We’ve previously explored some fragments of the spectrum of art inspired by the Hindu tradition, from beautiful artisanal artwork based on Indian mythology to Meena women’s Mandana public art to a Pixar animator’s playfully stylized, Westernized takes on Hindu deities. Now, from the fine folks at Siglio, who brought us the lovely Everything Sings, comes Tantra Song: Tantric Painting from Rajasthan — a striking collection of rare, abstract Tantric paintings based on 17th-century illustrations from Indian religious texts that bridge Eastern spirituality with Western 20th-century art in their haunting reminiscence of the likes of Paul Klee, Agnes Martin, and Daniel Buren.

The images were discovered by French poet Franck André Jamme in 1970 while rummaging through the catalogs of a Parisian art gallery. He became so transfixed by these esoteric artworks that in the 1980s, he traveled to India to find their origins. In 1985, his quest nearly killed him in a bus accident whilst on the Tantric trail across the deserts of Rajasthan. He suffered a series of comas, spent three weeks in a Parisian hospital and six months at home in a hospital bed, and found his mind as broken as his body, unable to live with the memory of what he considered a painful failure. After a long and painful recovery, his obsession with the artworks led him back to India, where he earned the trust of tantrikas — the authentic practitioners of the Tantric tradition — and set out to better understand their meditative art form.

Jamme reflects on why these images spoke to him so powerfully :

It was strange that such modern, occidental-looking patterns already existed in India during the 17th century, and they were so simple, so powerful, so quietly and naturally abstract, so near, as well, to my own field, which was already something like poetry. Poetry is so often like that, isn’t it? Playing with words, using words in such a natural abstract way.”

The stunning images abstract key symbols of Tantric metaphysics and cosmogony, from the bindu, a dot symbolizing the undifferentiated absolute, to the negative space of the shunya, the absolute void of the supreme deity. But what makes these works extraordinary is the poetic contrast between the seeming simplicity of their minimalist geometric forms and the complex, textured humanity of their handmade paper, water stains, and imperfect text — two opposing currents, which ebb and flow in a delicate osmotic balance that could never be achieved digitally, on a sterile screen. Lawrence Rinder observes in the introduction:

It’s not just a desire for the antique or a nostalgic patina that makes the incidental marks so important, it’s precisely that ideal forms — forms plumbed from the depths of the mind, of the soul — need to co-exist with randomness and the emptiness of chance.”

Aesthetically breathtaking and framed in a powerful story about curiosity, creative restlessness, and obsession, Tantra Song is a singular convergence of East and West, bound to mesmerize.

Images courtesy of Siglio; some images via The New York Times Magazine

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05 DECEMBER, 2011

Kathryn Schulz on the Psychology of Regret and How to Live with It

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Three keys to making peace with regret, or what maritime travel has to do with curbside meltdowns.

My friend Kathryn Schulz, who penned the excellent book Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error and who is, in my opinion, one of the finest, bravest, most thoughtful journalists working today, recently gave a TED talk about regret. As the new owner of ink that makes me very happy, what got me to pay even closer attention was Kathryn’s extended example of her own tattoo as a lens for examining the psychology of regret, a vehicle for her characteristically potent formula of universal wisdom channelled through personal anecdotes and hard data.

Make sure you watch to the very end, it’s well worth it.

If we have goals and dreams and we want to do our best, and if we love people and we don’t want to hurt them or lose them, we should feel pain when things go wrong. The point isn’t to live without any regrets, the point is to not hate ourselves for having them… We need to learn to love the flawed, imperfect things that we create, and to forgive ourselves for creating them. Regret doesn’t remind us that we did badly — it reminds us that we know we can do better.”

For a related TED treat on imperfection and vulnerability, don’t miss Brené Brown’s wonderful talk on wholeheartedness, then add some of these essential books on the psychology of happiness to your reading list.

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