Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘design’

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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10 DECEMBER, 2010

3 Ways to Visualize the David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest

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What dotted lines have to do with telenovelas, pop culture reverence and analog GPS.

David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, a favorite book of many, is the kind of genre-bender that will thwart your mind with its convoluted narrative, plethora of allusions and cultural references, and multilateral connections between the characters. Navigating its maze of relationships and 400 footnotes could drive even the most seasoned literary disentanglers up the reading room wall.

So today, we look at three visual efforts to deconstruct the iconic novel.

INFINITE JEST CHARACTER FLOWCHART

To illuminate the essential points of the novel’s plot, German designer Jonny set out to flowchart the novel’s most essential characters, revealing an amusingly complex ecosystem that’s part Shakespearean play, part Mexican telenovela.

GEOLOCATION PHOTO TOUR

If the characters aren’t enough of a brilliant mess for you, David Foster Wallace adds another layer of confusion with a slew of locations that would send any GPS spinning. One brave Infinite Jest reader decided to take a tour of Boston, photographing all the locations mentioned in the book, then plotting them on a map.

INFINITE JEST CHARACTER DIAGRAM

From designer Sam Potts comes another visualization of the relationships between the characters, this time in the form of a diagram.

It’s really, really hard to know where exactly to delimit the Great Concavity. Where the novel is vague, a map must be specific, even when it is being demapped. I did the best that makes sense to me.” ~ Sam Potts

Since family is an important theme in the novel, a dotted line represents additional metadata showing a family connection.

The reverence in the designer’s tone as he explicitly points out that the diagram is no substitute for actually reading the novel bespeaks the height of the pedestal Infinite Jest has erected for itself in pop culture:

The best I can hope for in terms of this diagram’s relationship to Infinite Jest is that it’s a) as accurate as I could make it and b) a reminder of the seemingly endless details and pleasures to be found in Wallace’s masterpiece.” ~ Sam Potts

The poster is available as a free downloadable PDF and sold as a 36″ x 24″ print on 80# Lynx Opaque paper for a well-justified $20.

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02 DECEMBER, 2010

Stefan Sagmeister on Sustaining Creativity

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It’s hard not to love celebrated graphic designer and creative provocateur Stefan Sagmeister. In this excellent talk from The 99%, he shares some nuggets of insight on creative habituation, desensitization and how not to take creativity for granted — something that could befall most of us as we do what we do day in and day out, regardless of how much we may enjoy it and how much pride we may take in it.

Both of Sagmeister’s books, Things I Have Learned In My Life So Far and Made You Look, remain absolutely indispensable. Sample the magic below:

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