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The Art of Richard Feynman: The Great Physicist’s Little-Known Sketches and Drawings, Collected by His Daughter

“I wanted to convey an emotion I have about the beauty of the world…this feeling about the glories of the universe.”

Just like Sylvia Plath and Queen Victoria, Nobel-winning physicist Richard Feynmanchampion of scientific culture, graphic novel hero, crusader for integrity, holder of the key to science, adviser of future generations, bongo player — was a surprisingly gifted semi-secret artist. He started drawing at the age of 44 in 1962, shortly after developing the visual language for his famous Feynman diagrams, after a series of amicable arguments about art vs. science with his artist-friend Jirayr “Jerry” Zorthian — the same friend to whom Feynman’s timeless ode to a flower was in response. Eventually, the two agreed that they’d exchange lessons in art and science on alternate Sundays. Feynman went on to draw — everything from portraits of other prominent physicists and his children to sketches of strippers and very, very many female nudes — until the end of his life.

The Art of Richard P. Feynman: Images by a Curious Character (public library) collects a quarter century of Feynman’s drawings, curated by his daughter Michelle, beginning with his first sketches of the human figure in 1962 and ending in 1987, the year before his death.

Dancer at Gianonni’s Bar (1968)

In an introductory essay titled “But Is It Art?,” Feynman recounts his arrangement with Jerry and observes the intersection of art and science:

I wanted very much to learn to draw, for a reason that I kept to myself: I wanted to convey an emotion I have about the beauty of the world. It’s difficult to describe because it’s an emotion. It’s analogous to the feeling one has in religion that has to do with a god that controls everything in the universe: there’s a generality aspect that you feel when you think about how things that appear so different and behave so differently are all run ‘behind the scenes’ by the same organization, the same physical laws. It’s an appreciation of the mathematical beauty of nature, of how she works inside; a realization that the phenomena we see result from the complexity of the inner workings between atoms; a feeling of how dramatic and wonderful it is. It’s a feeling of awe — of scientific awe — which I felt could be communicated through a drawing to someone who had also had that emotion. I could remind him, for a moment, of this feeling about the glories of the universe.

Female Posing (1968)
Equations and Sketches (1985)
Martha Bridges (1965)
Hans Bethe (date N/A)
Michelle Feynman (1981)
Sketch with Last Line by Carl Feynman, age 2 (1962)

Once Feynman decided to sell the drawings upon a friend’s suggestion, he was cautious of people fetishizing them because of his academic prominence and the sheer curiosity of a distinguished scientist who dabbles in art, so he decided to adopt a pseudonym: Ofey. Feynman explains the origin:

My friend Dudley Wright suggested ‘Au Fait,’ which means ‘It is done’ in French. I spelled it O-f-e-y, which turned out to be a name the blacks used for ‘whitey.’ But after all, I was whitey, so it was all right.

From Behind (1985)
Jirayr Zorthian (date N/A)
Nude from the Rear (1979)
Nude Sleeping (1975)
Portrait of a Stripper (1969)

In the introductory essay, Feynman also considers the differences in teaching art and teaching science, a disconnect Isaac Asimov has famously addressed in his passionate case for creativity in science education. Feynman writes:

I noticed that the teacher didn’t tell people much (the only thing he told me was my picture was too small on the page). Instead, he tried to inspire us to experiment with new approaches. I thought of how we teach physics: We have so many techniques—so many mathematical methods—that we never stop telling the students how to do things. On the other hand, the drawing teacher is afraid to tell you anything. If your lines are very heavy, the teacher can’t say, “Your lines are too heavy.” because some artist has figured out a way of making great pictures using heavy lines. The teacher doesn’t want to push you in some particular direction. So the drawing teacher has this problem of communicating how to draw by osmosis and not by instruction, while the physics teacher has the problem of always teaching techniques, rather than the spirit, of how to go about solving physical problems.

1 Minute Line Drawing (1985)
Portrait of a Woman (1983)
Sheet of Studies (date N/A)
Rufus (1985)
Richard Feynman’s First Drawing (1962)

Though The Art of Richard P. Feynman: Images by a Curious Character is sadly long out of print and thus a collector’s item, you can find the essay “But Is It Art” in the fantastic 1985 anthology Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Curious Character).

It’s Okay To Be Smart; images courtesy Museum Syndicate


Can Money Buy Us Happiness? The Psychology of Materialism, Animated

Experiences vs. things, or why the emotional rewards of pro-social spending outshine those of self-interest.

“Money has never made man happy, nor will it, there is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more of it one has the more one wants,” Ben Franklin is often (perhaps mis-)quoted as having proclaimed. In asking what you would do if money were no object, Alan Watts echoed Franklin as he advocated for liberating creative purpose from money-work. But what does science say? Count on AsapSCIENCE to illustrate the answer:

Humans are very sensitive to change: When we get a raise or commission, we really enjoy it — but we adapt at incredible speeds to our new wealth. Some studies have shown that in North America additional income beyond $75,000 a year ceases to impact day-to-day happiness.

AsapSCIENCE have previously covered the science of productivity, what alcohol does to your brain, why we blush, the science of lucid dreaming, how music enchants the brain, the neurobiology of orgasms, and why we are all female.

Complement with this delightful vintage illustrated primer on how people earn and use money, an amusing and somewhat unsettling memento from the golden age of consumer culture.


Benjamin Franklin on True Happiness

“Virtue is … the only true happiness of the mind and the best means of preserving the health of the body.”

The secret of happiness has been sought in cultivating optimism, in celebrating everyday moments, in finding one’s creative purpose, and in embracing uncertainty, but it remains forever elusive and forever alluring.

Writing in a 1785 essay titled “On True Happiness,” originally printed in the Pennsylvania Gazette and eventually published in On True Happiness and Other Essays (public library), Founding Father Benjamin Franklin (January 17, 1706–April 17, 1790) considers the essence of the universal human pursuit that eventually found its way onto the United States Constitution, which Franklin co-signed.

Franklin writes:

The desire of happiness in general is so natural to us that all the world are in pursuit of it; all have this one end in view, though they take such different methods to attain it, and are so much divided in their notions of it.

Evil, as evil, can never be chosen; and though evil is often the effect of our own choice, yet we never desire it but under the appearance of an imaginary good.

Many things we indulge ourselves in may be considered by us as evils, and yet be desirable; but then they are only considered as evils in their effects and consequences, not as evils at present and attended with immediate misery.

Reason represents things to us not only as they are at present, but as they are in their whole nature and tendency; passion only regards them in their former light. When this governs us we are regardless of the future, and are only affected with the present. It is impossible ever to enjoy ourselves rightly if our conduct be not such as to preserve the harmony and order of our faculties and the original frame and constitution of our minds; all true happiness, as all that is truly beautiful, can only result from order.

Whilst there is a conflict betwixt the two principles of passion and reason, we must be miserable in proportion to the struggle, and when the victory is gained and reason so far subdued as seldom to trouble us with its remonstrances, the happiness we have then is not the happiness of our rational nature, but the happiness only of the inferior and sensual part of us, and consequently a very low and imperfect happiness to what the other would have afforded us.

If we reflect upon any one passion and disposition of mind abstract from virtue, we shall soon see the disconnexion between that and true, solid happiness. It is of the very essence, for instance, of envy to be uneasy and disquieted. Pride meets with provocations and disturbances upon almost every occasion. Covetousness is ever attended with solicitude and anxiety. Ambition has its disappointments to sour us, but never the good fortune to satisfy us; its appetite grows the keener by indulgence, and all we can gratify it with at present serves but the more to inflame its insatiable desires.

The passions, by being too much conversant with earthly objects, can never fix in us a proper composure and acquiescence of mind. Nothing but an indifference to the things of this world, an entire submission to the will of Providence here, and a well-grounded expectation of happiness hereafter, can give us a true satisfactory enjoyment of ourselves. Virtue is the best guard against the many unavoidable evils incident to us; nothing better alleviates the weight of the afflictions or gives a truer relish of the blessings of human life.

What is without us has not the least connexion with happiness only so far as the preservation of our lives and health depends upon it. Health of body, though so far necessary that we cannot be perfectly happy without it, is not sufficient to make us happy of itself. Happiness springs immediately from the mind; health is but to be considered as a condition or circumstance, without which this happiness cannot be tasted pure and unabated.

Virtue is the best preservative of health, as it prescribes temperance and such a regulation of our passions as is most conducive to the well-being of the animal economy, so that it is at the same time the only true happiness of the mind and the best means of preserving the health of the body.

If our desires are to the things of this world, they are never to be satisfied. If our great view is upon those of the next, the expectation of them is an infinitely higher satisfaction than the enjoyment of those of the present.

There is no happiness then but in a virtuous and self-approving conduct. Unless our actions will bear the test of our sober judgments and reflections upon them, they are not the actions and consequently not the happiness of a rational being.

Complement On True Happiness and Other Essays with Franklin’s ingenious reverse-psychology trick for handling haters, then revisit these seven essential books on happiness.


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