Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘vintage’

31 JANUARY, 2011

Animated Soviet Propaganda

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What warthogs and vultures have to do with the most critical polarization in world politics.

There hardly is a time in world history more politically polarized than the 20th century, which divided the globe in two camps — capitalism and communism — divided at the height of the divergence by the infamous Iron Curtain. The Cold War was very much a war of ideologies and each side relied heavily on the ideological unity of its people, often employing the power of the visual arts — graphic design, animation, illustration — to drive its message home. While the U.S. was producing seminal design work under various WPA programs, the U.S.S.R. was busy churning out its own brand of political propaganda art.

Animated Soviet Propaganda: From the October Revolution to Perestroika chronicles the visual legacy of 60 years of Soviet political history between 1924 and 1984. Forty-one beautifully animated black-and-white and color short films, never before available in the U.S., depict — and exploit — national stereotypes with remarkable visual eloquence that bespeaks the complicated non-relationship between the East and the West during that critical time in political history.

Ideological messaging aside, the films feature some astounding animation techniques that grace today’s trendiest cinematic vocabulary, from stop-motion to paper cutout animation to impressively intricate puppetry

The ambitious collection is divided into four parts, curated not simply by chronology but by recurring themes. American Imperialists features 7 films from the Cold War era, depicting Westerners as money-hungry industrialists who inevitably collapse under the weight of their own greed. Though mocked and derided, it’s interesting to note that Americans nonetheless remain human — which is not the case with other antagonists in Soviet propaganda, as we’ll see in just a second.

Fascist Barbarians is a 17-film reaction to the Nazi invasion in the beginning of WWII. Here, the Nazis are dehumanized and frequently portrayed as undesirable animals — pigs, vultures, warthogs.

Capitalist Sharks is a 6-film assault on the bourgeoisie, weaving sci-fi narratives to envision dystopian scenarios for capitalists’ world domination.

Onward to the Shining Future: Communism features 11 films that romanticize the state and promise a utopian future of universal well-being.

Harvested from Moscow’s iconic Soyuzmultfilm Studios, Animated Soviet Propaganda is an absolute gem of historical insight and a living hallmark of the swaying power of visual communication. With more than 6 hours of rare footage, the collection is not only a priceless political trophy but a prized possession for any design and film history nerd.

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28 JANUARY, 2011

Isaac Asimov on Science and Creativity in Education

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What vintage science fiction has to do with the future of self-directed learning.

I’m deeply fascinated by how the past envisioned the future. Previously: retrofuturistic artwork, Orson Welles’s Future Shock techno-paranoia, a vision for the iPad 23 years before the iPad, Marshall McLuhan’s “global village” concept, and a living timecapsule of futurism by cultural luminaries.

Now comes a brilliant bit from beloved sci-fi author Isaac Asimov, the quintessential futurist, interviewed here by Bill Moyers in 1988. Recorded upon the publication of Assimov’s 391st book, Prelude to Foundation, this three-part interview offers a rare peek inside one of history’s most fascinating minds and was eventually included in the excellent Bill Moyers: A World of Ideas (public library). Asimov shares invaluable insights on science, computing, religion, population growth and the universe, and echoes some of own beliefs in the power of curiosity-driven self-directed learning and the need to implement creativity in education from the onset.

Eventually, Asimov predicts not only the very birth of the Internet, but also a number of today’s digital darlings, from standbys like Wikipedia to experiments like Quora, as well as catchy concepts like Clay Shirky’s “cognitive surplus” — the notion that advances in technology are freeing up more human thought to be put toward creative, pro-social endeavors.

Once we have computer outlets in every home, each of them hooked up to enormous libraries where anyone can ask any question and be given answers, be given reference materials, be something you’re interested in knowing, from an early age, however silly it might seem to someone else… that’s what YOU are interested in, and you can ask, and you can find out, and you can do it in your own home, at your own speed, in your own direction, in your own time… Then, everyone would enjoy learning. Nowadays, what people call learning is forced on you, and everyone is forced to learn the same thing on the same day at the same speed in class, and everyone is different.

Sound familiar?

Moyers: But what about the argument that machines, computers, dehumanize learning?

Asimov: As a matter of fact, it’s just the reverse. It seems to me that, through this machine, for the first time we’ll be able to have a one-to-one relationship between information source and information consumer.

Sound familiar?

Science does not purvey absolute truth, science is a mechanism. It’s a way of trying to improve your knowledge of nature, it’s a system for testing your thoughts against the universe and seeing whether they match.

For more of Asimov’s cunning insight on the role of science and creativity in education, treat yourself to The Roving Mind — a compendium of 62 edifying essays on everything from creationism to censorship to the philosophy of science, in which Asimov predicts with astounding accuracy not only the technological developments of the future but also the complex public debates they have sparked, from cloning to stem-cell research.

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27 JANUARY, 2011

PICKED: Color Story Parallels, Past vs. Present

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Street style photography has evolved from being a hobby for the style conscious to source for inspirational personal style. We recently featured a documentary on Scott Schuman, better known as The Satorialist, who is partially responsible for today’s surge of street style photography.

Originally inspired by Shuman’s work, Color Comparisons is a series of image pairs that draw comparisons between the art world and street style photography, presenting fashion photography alongside vintage ads or classic art with the same color stories. The results are pretty incredible.

Explore the Color Comparisons archive for more color story doppelgängers across the space-time continuum.

Shenee Howard is a writer, designer and creative tactician based in Atlanta, Georgia. She is also an avid story and pop curator. The 90s are her favorite. She founded design/strategy firm You’ll Look Great and is in the process of launching the storytelling blog eight thirty seven. She also spends way too much time sharing links on Twitter.

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24 JANUARY, 2011

Why Man Creates: A Saul Bass Gem from 1968

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I love iconic graphic designer Saul Bass and have a soft spot for luminaries’ musings on the nature of creativity.

Naturally, I’m head over heels with Why Man Creates — a remarkable short documentary from 1968, animated by Bass and alluringly subtitled “a series of explorations, episodes & comments on creativity.”

Playful yet profound, the film is a series of sequences that at first appear unconnected but eventually converge into a compelling exploration of (wo)man’s most fundamental impetus to create, featuring such delightful tongue-in-cheek vehicles as this exchange between Michelangelo and da Vinci:

Whaddaya doin?” ‘I’m painting the ceiling! Whadda you doin?” “I’m painting the floor!”

For more on Bass’s design legacy, and its place in the context of other seminal design work, see the magnificent monograph Saul Bass: A Life in Film & Design.

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