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How a Cat Boosts Your Creativity

“… the tranquility of the cat will gradually come to affect you.”

History is laced with cat-loving creators, from Hemingway’s profound affection for his felines to Edison’s pre-YouTube boxing cats to the traditions of Indian folk art. But hardly anyone has made a greater case for the cat as a creative stimulant and a mystical muse of writing than Muriel Spark in this wonderful passage from A Far Cry from Kensington (public library):

If you want to concentrate deeply on some problem, and especially some piece of writing or paper-work, you should acquire a cat. Alone with the cat in the room where you work … the cat will invariably get up on your desk and settle placidly under the desk lamp. The light from a desk lamp … gives a cat great satisfaction. The cat will settle down and be serene, with a serenity that passes all understanding. And the tranquility of the cat will gradually come to affect you, sitting there at your desk, so that all the excitable qualities that impede your concentration compose themselves and give your mind back the self-command it has lost. You need not watch the cat all the time. Its presence alone is enough. The effect of a cat on your concentration is remarkable, very mysterious.

Complement with some more tips on boosting creativity from John Cleese, T. S. Eliot, and some of today’s most exciting cross-disciplinary creators.

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Faking It: A Visual History of 150 Years of Image Manipulation Before Photoshop

Two-headed daguerreotypes, Dadaist photomontages, and how the subversion of optical reality got its start.

“The painter constructs, the photographer discloses,” Susan Sontag famously asserted in On Photography. But in the quarter century since, the rise of digital photography and image manipulation software has increasingly transmogrified the photographer into a constructor of reality, a reality in which believing is seeing. Still, image manipulation dates much further back — in fact, to the dawn of photography itself. Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop (public library), the companion book to the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition of the same title, traces the evolution of image manipulation from the 1840s to the 1990s, when computer software first began to revolutionize the alteration of photographs.

Man on Rooftop with Eleven Men in Formation on His Shoulders (Unidentified American artist, ca. 1930)
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Dirigible Docked on Empire State Building, New York (Unidentified American artist, 1930)
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
A Powerful Collision (Unidentified German artist, 1914)
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

These images — artful, subversive, unapologetic in their unreality — serve sometimes to amuse and entertain, sometimes to deliberately deceive, sometimes to comment on social and political issues, and always to give pause with how they tease and taunt our assumptions of optical reality and visual representation.

Met curator Mia Fineman writes in the introduction:

Over the past twenty years, photography has undergone a dramatic transformation. Mechanical cameras and silver-based film have been replaced by electronic image sensors and microchips; instead of shuffling through piles of glossy prints, we stare at the glowing screens of laptops, tablets, and mobile phones; negative enlargers and chemical darkrooms have given way to personal computers and image-processing software. Digital cameras and applications such as Photoshop have create, look at, and think about photographs. Among the most profound cultural effects of these new technologies has been a heightened awareness of the malleability of the photographic image and a corresponding loss of faith in photography as an accurate, trustworthy means of representing the visual world. As viewers, we have become increasingly savvy, even habitually skeptical, about photography’s claims to truth.

The Vision (Orpheus Scene) (F. Holland Day, 1907)
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Aberdeen Portraits No. 1 (George Washington Wilson, 1857)
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Fading Away (Henry Peach Robinson, 1858)
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Lenin and Stalin in Gorki in 1922 (Unidentified Russian artist, 1949)
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec as Artist and Model (Maurice Guibert, ca. 1900)
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Man Juggling His Own Head (Unidentified French artist, Published by Allain de Torbéchet et Cie. ca. 1880)
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Two-Headed Man (Unidentified American artist, ca. 1930)
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Room with Eye (Maurice Tabard, 1930)
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Hearst Over the People (Barbara Morgan, 1939)
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Sueño No. 1: Articulos eléctricos para el hogar / Dream No. 1: Electrical Appliances for the Home (Grete Stern, 1948)
Image courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
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Rework: Beck and Others Remix the Music of Philip Glass for the Iconic Composer’s 75th Birthday

Half a century of music innovation, reimagined.

As he approached his 75th birthday, beloved avant-garde composer Philip Glass, a champion of transformation as creative authorship, reached out to Beck and asked him to enlist some of his favorite contemporary musicians in remixing Glass’s most iconic pieces. The result, out today, is Rework: Philip Glass Remixed — a spellbinding two-disc collection curated by Beck and featuring remixes by a dozen celebrated artists, including Amon Tobin (“Warda’s Whorehouse Inside Out Version”), Tyondai Braxton (“Rubric”), Memory Tapes (“Floe ’87”), and Beck himself (“NYC: 73-78”).

My indisputable favorites: Johann Johannsson’s remix of “Protest” and Peter Broderick’s “Island”.

Beck has kindly offered up his contribution to the album, a 20-minute masterwork woven of snippets from more than 20 Glass tracks, on SoundCloud:

Rework comes out on vinyl next month. You can hear the entire album on NPR’s First Listen.

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