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Introducing The Reconstructionists: A Yearlong Celebration of History’s Remarkable Women

Illustrated portraits of trailblazing women across art, science, and literature.

It can be extraordinarily challenging to write about notable women without ghettoizing it as “women’s issues,” and yet some of the most remarkable hearts and minds to drive humanity forward have come equipped with two X chromosomes. It gives me enormous pleasure to announce a new collaboration with artist Lisa Congdon, titled The Reconstructionists — a yearlong celebration of remarkable women across art, science, and literature, both famous and esoteric, who have changed the way we define ourselves as a culture and live our lives as individuals of any gender.

Every Monday in 2013, we’ll be publishing an illustrated portrait of one such trailblazing woman, along with a hand-lettered quote that captures her spirit and a short micro-essay about her life and legacy. We’re launching with four portraits — writers Anaïs Nin and Gertrude Stein, artist Agnes Martin, and inventor/actor Hedy Lamarr — for a taste of the project’s scope and sensibility, but will be publishing one per week for the remainder of the year.

The project borrows its title from Anaïs Nin, one of the 52 female icons, who wrote of “woman’s role in the reconstruction of the world” in a poetic 1944 diary entry — a sentiment that encapsulates the heart of what this undertaking is about: women who have reconstructed, in ways big and small, famous and infamous, timeless and timely, our understanding of ourselves, the world, and our place in it. (Nin’s work was also how Lisa and I first crossed paths creatively, which adds a private celebratory element to the public project.)

The site was generously and thoughtfully designed by wonder-worker Kelli Anderson, my collaborator on the Curator’s Code project and one remarkable woman herself.

Please enjoy.

BP

Susan Sontag on Art: Illustrated Diary Excerpts

“Art is a form of consciousness.”

Earlier this year, I asked artist extraordinaire Wendy MacNaughton to illustrate Susan Sontag’s meditations on love, based on my collected highlights from the second volume of Sontag’s published diaries, As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980 (public library). Today, we’re thrilled to release our second collaboration, this time highlighting Sontag’s reflections on art — adding to history’s most timeless definitions — which I culled from more than 1,000 pages of diary entries from both the same volume and the one preceding it, Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947-1963 (public library). Enjoy.

The artwork is available on Etsy as an 11×14″ print on heavy cotton rag paper with razored edges in a limited edition of 300, signed and numbered, bearing a hand-stamped inscription on the back. We’re donating a portion of the proceeds to A Room of Her Own, a foundation supporting women writers and artists.

The excerpts:

All aesthetic judgment is really cultural evaluation. (9/3/1956)

All great art contains at its center contemplation, a dynamic contemplation. (9/10/1964)

Modern aesthetics is crippled by its dependence upon the concept of ‘beauty.’ As if art were ‘about’ beauty—as science is ‘about’ truth! (9/10/1964)

Art is a form of consciousness (11/1/1964)

Art is a form of nourishment (of consciousness, the spirit) (11/25/1964)

Could get a new art movement every month just by reading Scientific American. (3/26/1965)

Art is the production of mental events in / as a concrete sensuous form (12/4/1979)

Why has there been no new international style in 50 years? Because the new ideas, the new needs are not yet clear. (Hence, we content ourselves with variations + refinements on Art Deco and, for refreshment + fusions, parodistic — ‘pop’ — revivals of older styles.) (8/8/1975)

The only interesting ideas are heresies (6/30/1975)

Both volumes of Sontag’s diaries are unspeakably excellent. Sample them with her thoughts on writing, censorship, boredom, aphorisms, and freedom, her beliefs at age 14 vs. 24, her 10 rules for raising a child, and her list of “rules and duties for being 24.”

See more of Wendy’s magnificent work on her site (designed by the inimitable Kelli Anderson), find her prints on Etsy and 20×200, and follow her on Twitter.

BP

Cultural History Gem: Saul Bass’s Original Pitch for the Bell Systems Logo Redesign, 1969

The greatest graphic designer of all time traces the evolution of consumer culture via the telephone.

For many of us, Saul Bass endures as the greatest graphic designer of all time and an unmatched master of the film title sequence. But Bass was also a keen branding savant, who helped shape the identities of clients as diverse as Continental Airlines, The Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Minolta, Quaker Oats, Kleenex, and the J. Paul Getty Trust.

In 1969, Bass was tasked with reimagining the visual identity of the American Bell Telephone Company, commonly referred to as “Ma Bell,” in an effort to modernize the old-timey bell-and-circle logo by eliminating its datedness but preserving its comforting familiarity. This rare footage captures the full half-hour of Bass and his team’s original pitch to Bell, which envisioned an entire ecosystem of identity well beyond the logo — signage, print, outdoor, and even executive cufflinks. The pitch could well have been masterminded by Don Draper, itself a fascinating and layered piece of cultural history covering the evolution of consumerism through the story of the telephone and the larger context of changing social expectations.

We’re fighting a war. Making a peace. Integrating. Segregating. Getting richer. Getting poorer. It’s quite a time to be alive.

Business has its particular problems — young people refusing good jobs; investors are more influenced by publicity than performance; customers complaining about the finest products produced anywhere in the world….Many of us here today remember when it was quite different. The pursuit of happiness had ground to a halt. Survival was the goal — just to have a job, but to have a job with security: That was the prize in 1933. How long a product lasted was more important than how well it looked. Wall Street had forgotten blue sky and was now talking blue chip. Down-to-earth, safe — that was the place to be.

[…]

How a thing looks today is as important as how well it works. As never before, people are influenced by what they see.

In 1983, after the breakup of Bell Systems, Bass also designed the famous AT&T “globe” logo, which AT&T didn’t update until 2005. (And, many have said, never should have.)

For a glimpse of how logo design has changed since the age of Bass, see this fantastic recent PBS Off Book micro-documentary, featuring Brain Pickings favorites Kelli Anderson and Steven Heller, complete with a Curator’s Code mention:

[A logo] is informed and reinforced by the things we see every day, and it’s important to acknowledge that entire invisible vocabulary.” ~ Kelli Anderson

For the ultimate Bass gold, don’t miss the indispensable Saul Bass: A Life in Film and Design, one of the best art and design books of 2011 and quite possibly among the best of all time.

Open Culture

BP

Book Spine Poetry vol. 3: New York

The charismatic chaos of the city, captured in book spines.

It’s National Poetry Month and the book spine poetry fun continues with another installment, this time about New York.

People occupy everything
Everything sings:
A glorious enterprise!
This is New York

The inadvertent poets:

Catch up on the first two installments, entitled The Future and Get Smarter.

BP

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