Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘knowledge’

09 SEPTEMBER, 2010

Art in the Age of Commerce: The Mona Lisa Curse


What television has to do with art heists, JFK and Andy Warhol.

Over the past half-century, renowned art critic Robert Hughes has watched a certain story unfold in culture — a story of how commerce changed our relationship to art and, in the process, what art stands for as cultural currency. In The Mona Lisa Curse, an ambitious documentary temporarily available on YouTube in its entirety, Hughes — curmudgeonly and keenly insightful as ever — traces the evolution of the art world’s devolution. From archival footage of Hughes, once a suave TIME critic, in his 1960’s prime to insider accounts of some of the greatest art events and deals of today, the series is as much an exemplar of investigative journalism as it is an absorbing and eye-opening piece of cultural storytelling.

I’ve seen with growing disgust the fictionalization of art, the vast inflation of prices, and the effect of this upon artists and museums. The entanglement of big money with art has become a curse on how art is made, controlled and, above all, in the way that it’s experienced. And this curse has infected the entire art world.”

Apart from drugs, art is the biggest unregulated market in the world, with contemporary art sales estimated at around $18 billion a year, boosted by regimens of new-rich collectors and serviced by a growing army of advisors, dealers and auctioneers. As Andy Warhol once observed, ‘Good business is the best art.'”

The Kennedys managed to turn the Mona Lisa into a kind of 15th-century television set — instead of 1.5 million people looking at one image flashed on 1.5 million screens, you had them all looking at it on one screen, which was the picture itself, and that was the only difference. They didn’t come to look at the Mona Lisa, they came in order to have seen it. And there is a crucial distinction, since one is reality and experience, and the other one is simply phantom.”

via VSL

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01 JULY, 2010

Razzle Dazzle: The Fabrication of Fame


Parasites, heroes, and what our primal desires have to do with Frank Sinatra.

What, exactly, is fame? That’s precisely what The Museum of Moving Image explores in Razzle Dazzle — a fascinating new six-part video essay about how Hollywood has portrayed the various facets of fame, from heroism to infamy and everything in between.

This series about the individual’s primal desire to be loved and feared. To be known, period, by strangers. To be recognized and appreciated, whether for cultural importance, athletic skill, artistic excellence, or God-given natural endowments. It’s about the difference between success and celebrity, and how the two words have become interchangeable.”

The first chapter lays the groundwork for how Hollywood fits into the larger context of modern image culture, with subsequent chapters focusing on specific archetypes that dominate the media landscape — the Hero, the Parasite, the Fraud, the Maverick.

The media are the supercharged electrical currents that fame and infamy plug into.”

The series explores the craftsmanship of celebrity and the caveats of fame. (Which, as Frank Sinatra snarkily and brilliantly pointed out to young George Michael in 1990, may not be so bad after all.)

What BBC’s excellent The Century of the Self did for our understanding of consumerism, Razzle Dazzle does for our understanding of celebrity. And the parallels between the two – between what we’re conditioned to buy and what we’re conditioned to buy into – reveal remarkably similar mechanisms of manipulation.

We also highly recommend The Story of Hollywood: An Illustrated History — a lavish visual record of Hollywood’s collective rise to fame, featuring more than 800 rare vintage images from private collections and government archives. It explores the very mechanisms of glamour manufacturing and the various currencies of fame in a way that pulls you into the smoke and mirrors and arms you with powerful reality goggles, but leaves it up to you to decide whether or not to use them.


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21 JUNE, 2010

Information Pioneers: The Unsung Heroes of the Information Age


What striking down Hitler has to do with laying the groundwork for the iPhone.

Last week, we looked at a BBC retrospective of art history — something deeply ingrained in our cultural appreciation DNA, celebrated everywhere from liberal arts academia to the dinner party table. Today, we are looking at something far less widely acclaimed but no less important: Geek history.

Information Pioneers, a new series by BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, spotlights five vastly different people whose legacy shaped the information society we live in today — Ada Lovelace, the ultimate “woman in tech” whose work sprouted the very first algorithm; Alan Turing, who laid the groundwork for computer science; Hedy Lamarr, actress-turned-wireless-communication-inventor; Sir Clive Sinclair, creator of the pocket calculator; and the great Sir Tim Berners-Lee, widely credited as the father of the World Wide Web.*

A short film portrays each of the pioneers, who were culled from a shortlist of 150, nominated by BCS members, and a different “celebrity advocate” — Ortis Deley, Kate Russell, Miranda Raison, Phil Tufnell, Dom Joly — narrates each story.

You can vote for one of the five — so far, Alan Turing has a staggering 40% lead — or rant about the non-inclusion of your favorite pioneer for a chance to win a well-curated pack of books, each inspired by the life and philosophy of one of the five pioneers.

Mostly, Information Pioneers is a refreshing effort to celebrate those whose legacy is infused in just about every aspect of modern life yet remains largely unknown outside the computer science world. Here’s to you, geek gods of yore and unsung heroes of the information age.


CORRECTION: Per Vint Cerf’s comment below, Vint being an actual “father of the Internet,” Tim Berners Lee is commonly considered the “father of the World Wide Web,” not of the Internet.

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