Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘lists’

02 DECEMBER, 2011

The Astonishing Visual Lists of Autistic Savant Gregory Blackstock

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From owls to lighthouses, or what a sixty-something retired pot washer can teach us about art and love.

He has been called an “anthropologist of the everyday,” a beacon of Outsider Art. His work is part Lists, part Drawing Autism, part Pictorial Webster’s, part something entirely its own and entirely remarkable. Seattle-based artist Gregory Blackstock is an autistic savant who, after retiring from a lifetime as a pot washer at the age of 58, captivated the art world with the obsessive, meticulous drawings he’d been making over 18 years of after-hours. Blackstock’s Collections, the brainchild of Karen Light-Piña of Garde Rail Gallery, who discovered Blackstock in 2003, catalogs his astounding visual lists of everything from hats to owl varieties, made with a pencil, a black marker, some crayons, and superhuman attention to detail.

Each of the lists, which feature such diverse and offbeat entries as Monsters of the Deep, The Great Cabbage Family, Classical Clowns, Our State Lighthouses, and The Irish Joys — is lovingly captioned in Blackstock’s wonderfully neat yet almost child-like handwriting.

In the introduction, Light-Piña recounts the following anecdote, which captures both the sharp precision of Backstock’s mind and the degree to which it is like water to a fish for the artist:

His remarkable memory serves Blackstock well as he renders images on paper with paper, markers, and crayons. I commented on how many tiny differences there were in the teeth from one saw blade to the next in his piece The Saws. He replied, in a somewhat frustrated tone, that it took him two visits to Home Depot to memorize them all. He uses no straightedge (‘No need,’ he says) yet his layout is impeccable. And if asked, he can reproduce the same images exactly, time and again — a skill to cartooning or illustration, professions in which Blackstock might have excelled under different circumstances.”

The book is also a thoughtful meditation on the mystique of Savant Syndrome and how it has wedged itself in popular culture as the source of such astonishing art. In the foreword, physician Darold A. Treffert reflects:

Savant Syndrome, then, is a three-legged stool. It combines idiosyncratic circuits and genetic memory, intense motivation and practice, and a supportive and loving family and/or caretakers who value the savant not just for what he or she does but for who he or she is… Savants are geniuses who live among us; they hint at geniuses that might lie within us.”

A glimpse of a striking mind that falls somewhere between Daniel Tammet’s and Stephen Wiltshire’s, Blackstock’s Collections is nothing short of extraordinary.

Thanks, Carol in Seattle

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24 NOVEMBER, 2011

John Lennon’s Handwritten To-Do List

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What a broken bathroom hook has to do with Norwegian ethnography and the cable guy.

I’m relentlessly intrigued by the lists and to-do’s of famous creators, which reveal a private everyday facet of the public creative self. Last week, the talented Wendy MacNaughton (yep, her) recreated Leonardo da Vinci’s, and now comes John Lennon’s hand-written to-do list, a fine addition to this week’s vintage Beatles love. (Going for a mere $3,000 on this auction site.)

As a bibliophile, I was thrilled to see a fragment of Lennon’s reading list — including this book on the mystery of the Hope Diamond, an unnamed tome by Norwegian adventurer and ethnographer Thor Heyerdahl, and Margaret Trudeau’s Beyond Reason, a memoir about life as a wild hippie flower child turned Prime Minister’s first lady — as well as mundane errands like fixing the bathroom hook and all-too-relatable tediums like being home when the cable guy shows up.

For more little-known Lennon, don’t miss Bob Bonis’s lost Beatles photographs.

HT chained and perfumed; HT this isn’t happiness

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09 SEPTEMBER, 2011

Illustrated Flowcharts to Find Answers to Life’s Big Questions

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Flowcharting your way to happiness, or why you should be looking for people who intimidate you.

From ever-inventive designer Stefan G. Bucher of You Deserve a Medal and Daily Monster fame comes 344 Questions: The Creative Person’s Do-It-Yourself Guide to Insight, Survival, and Artistic Fulfillment — a delightful pocket-sized compendium of flowcharts and lists illustrated in Bucher’s unmistakable style to help you figure out life’s big answers, in the vein of today’s inadvertent running theme of self-help-books-that-aren’t-really-“self-help”-books.

Besides Bucher’s own questions, the tiny but potent handbook features contributions from 36 beloved cross-disciplinary creators, including Brain Pickings favorites Christoph Niemann, Stefan Sagmeister, Marian Bantjes, Doyald Young, and Jakob Trollbäck.

Let’s be clear: I want this book to be useful to you. There are many great how-to books and biographies out there, and even more gorgeous collections of current and classic work to awe and inspire. But looking at catalogs of artistic success won’t make you a better artist any more than looking at photos of healthy people will cure your cold. You’ve got to take action!” ~ Stefan G. Bucher

(Sure, this may be somewhat remiss in overlooking the basic mechanism of combinatorial creativity, but it’s it’s hard to argue with the need to make ideas happen rather than just contemplating them.)

Though Bucher designed the book as a sequence, it also works choose-you-own-adventure-style and, as Bucher is quick to encourage, asks for hands-on interaction — dog-earing, marginalia, doodles. “If you keep this book in mint condition, I’ve failed,” he says.

We are all different people, but we face a lot of the same questions. The point of this book is to give you lots of questions you can use to look at your life — in a new way, with a different perspective, or maybe just in more detail than you have before — so you can find out how you work, what you want to do, and how you can get it done in a way that works for you. Specifically.” ~ Stefan G. Bucher

Thoughtfully conceived and charmingly executed, wonderfully playful yet infinitely useful, 344 Questions is the kind of treat in which anyone with a beating heart and firing neurons would find delight — and, more likely than not, find some big answers, too.

Page images copyright © 2012. Pearson Education, Inc. and New Riders

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14 JULY, 2011

The Lists, To-dos and Illustrated Inventories of Great Artists

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What a 21-point scale of self-confidence has to do with Adolf Konrad’s carry-on and Picasso’s favorite artists.

After a voyeuristic look inside the notebooks and sketchbooks of great creators, here comes a peek inside an even more private facet of the creative self: the list. Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists’ Enumerations from the Collections of the Smithsonian Museum offers a surprisingly intriguing glimpse of some of the 20th century’s most remarkable creators — including Pablo Picasso, Joseph Cornell, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Andrew Wyeth and Janice Lowry, among dozens of others — revealing their personal habits, priorities and decision-making schemata through the lens of the seemingly mundane and, in the process, demystifying artmaking and the creative life.

From a list Finnish-born architect Eero Saarinen made of his second wife’s positive attributes, to designer Harry Bertoia’s 1932 self-rating chart for a school assignment, rating 21 of his characteristics on a spectrum from Very Poor to Excellent, to Picasso’s recommendations of artists he liked for Walt Kuhn’s 1913 Armory Show, these wonderful and fascinating seventy-or-so artifacts reveal as much about their creators as they do about the values, fixations and points of interest of their respective eras.

Eero Saarinen's list of Aline Bernstein's good qualities, ca. 1954. Aline and Eero Saarinen papers, 1857-1972.

Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Art; copyright F+W Media Inc. 2011.

Harry Bertoia's 'My-self Rating Chart' school assignment. Harry Bertoia papers, 1917-1979.

Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Art; copyright F+W Media Inc. 2011.

Pablo Picasso's recommendations for the Armory Show for Walt Kuhn, 1912. Walt Kuhn, Kuhn family papers, and Armory Show Records, 1859-1978.

Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Art; copyright F+W Media Inc. 2011.

Janice Lowry's Journal #98, 2002-2003.

Image courtesy of the Archive of American Art.

Franz Kline's receipt from John Heller's Liquor Store, Dec. 31, 1960. Elisabeth Zogbaum papers regarding Franz Kline, 1928-1965.

Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Art; copyright F+W Media Inc. 2011.

Adolf Konrad's graphic packing list, Dec. 16, 1973. Adolf Ferdinand Konrad papers, 1962-2002.

Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Art; copyright F+W Media Inc. 2011.

Complement Lists with pioneering journalist Nellie Bly’s illustrated packing list and Barthes’s likes and dislikes, illustrated.

via GMSV; images via Imprint

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