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Posts Tagged ‘art

“Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future”*…

 

Robot-assisted farming

It’s easy to chuckle at the prognostications of yore– where’s my jet pack?!?  But as long-time readers will recall, there was one writer whose predictions were uncannily on the money:  Jules Verne.

His Paris in the 20th Century, for example, describes air conditioning, automobiles, the Internet, television, even electricity, and other modern conveniences very similar to their real world counterparts, developed years– in many cases, decades– later.   From the Earth to the Moon, apart from using a space gun instead of a rocket, is uncannily similar to the real Apollo Program: three astronauts are launched from the Florida peninsula– from “Tampa Town” ( only 130 miles from NASA’s Cape Canaveral)– and recovered through a splash landing.  And in other works, he predicted helicopters, submarines, projectors, jukeboxes, and the existence of underwater hydrothermal vents that were not invented/discovered until long after he wrote about them.

Verne’s writings caught the imagination of his countrymen.  As Singularity Hub reports,

Starting in 1899, a commercial artist named Jean-Marc Côté and other artists were hired by a toy or cigarette manufacturer to create a series of picture cards as inserts, according to Matt Noval who writes for the Smithsonian magazine. The images were to depict how life in France would look in a century’s time, no doubt heavily influenced by Verne’s writings. Sadly, they were never actually distributed. However, the only known set of cards to exist was discovered by Isaac Asimov, who wrote a book in 1986 called “Futuredays” in which he presented the illustrations with commentary…

In what some French people might consider an abomination, one illustration depicted the modern kitchen as a place of food science. While synthetic food in commercial products is sadly more common today than we’d like to admit (sorry Easy Cheese lovers, but I’m calling you out), the rise of molecular gastronomy in fine dining has made food chemistry a modern reality. It may seem like food science has its limitations, but one only needs to consider efforts to grow meat in a laboratory to see how far technology may go…

“Food Science”

See them all at “19th Century Artists Predicted the Future in This Series of Postcards.”

[A re-post, inspired by this piece in Upworthy.]

* Niels Bohr

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As we console ourselves that, while the future may be another country, we may still speak the language, we might recall that it was on this date in 1888 that William Seward Burroughs of St. Louis, Missouri, received patents on four adding machine applications (No. 388,116-388,119), the first U.S. patents for a “Calculating-Machine” that the inventor would continue to improve and successfully market.  The American Arithmometer Corporation of St. Louis, later renamed The Burroughs Corporation, became– with IBM, Sperry, NCR, Honeywell, and others– a major force in the development of computers.  Burroughs also gifted the world his grandson, Beat icon William S. Burroughs.

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“The only difference between me and a madman is I’m not mad”*…

 

Dali sketching Harpo as he plays a harp with barbed wire for strings and spoons, knives, and forks glued to its frame– a gift from Dali.

Salvador Dali loved the Marx Brothers. He loved their madcap, anarchic comedy. In particular Dali loved Harpo Marx—the blonde corkscrew-haired comic mime whose visual comedy—unlike the quick witty repartee of his brother Groucho—was universal and needed no translation. Dali described Harpo as one of America’s three great Surrealists—the other two being Walt Disney and Cecil B. DeMille.

The pair first met at a party in Paris in 1936. Harpo told Dali how much he liked his paintings. Dali told Harpo how much he loved his films—in particular Animal Crackers, which he described as “the summit of the evolution of comic cinema.” Dali gushed over Harpo’s performance where he pulled fish and cutlery from his pocket and shot the hats of beautiful women—this was true Surrealism!

Understandably, the two men became friends…

Dali brought Harpo a gift—a movie script he wanted the Marx Brothers to make. The script was called Giraffes on Horseback Salads or The Surrealist Woman. It was a series of unconnected scenes typed in blue ribbon over twenty-two pages with various notes written in ink. Dali had already made two infamous films with his friend the director Luis Buñuel—Un Chien Andalou (1929) and L’Age d’Or. Now he wanted to cast Harpo and cinema’s “greatest Surrealist act,” the Marx Brothers, in a film that just might revolutionize Hollywood—or maybe not

More on this extraordinary friendship– and a taste of Dali’s treatment for Giraffes on Horseback Salads— at “When Dali Met Harpo.”

[TotH to friend P.R.]

* Salvador Dali

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As we recall that the Marx Brothers had a remarkable range of friends, we might send classy birthday greetings to one of them, Lou Gehrig; he was born Heinrich Ludwig Gehrig on this date in 1903.  A first baseman for the New Your Yankees for 16 years, he was know (for his stamina) as “The Iron Horse.”  A member of six World Series champion teams, he was an All-Star seven consecutive times, a Triple Crown winner once, an American League (AL) Most Valuable Player twice.  He had a career .340 batting average, .632 slugging average, and a .447 on base average; he hit 493 home runs and had 1,995 runs batted in (RBI).  Elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939– the year of his retirement– he was the first Major League player to have his uniform number (4) retired by a team.

He is pictured here with friends:

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Written by LW

June 19, 2016 at 1:01 am

“We are charmed by neatness”*…

 

In the spirit of our earlier examination of Knolling (“To Knoll It Is To Love It…“)…

… from Austin Radcliffe

Things Organized Neatly.

* Ovid

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As we get things lined up, we might spare a thought for for an enemy of ordered neatness (at least, of the complacent intellectual kind), Thomas Samuel Kuhn; he died on this date in 1996.  A physicist, historian, and philosopher of science , Kuhn believed that scientific knowledge didn’t advance in a linear, continuous way, but via periodic “paradigm shifts.”  Karl Popper had approached the same territory in his development of the principle of “falsification” (to paraphrase, a theory isn’t false until it’s proven true; it’s true until it’s proven false).  But while Popper worked as a logician, Kuhn worked as a historian.  His 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions made his case; and while he had– and has— his detractors, Kuhn’s work has been deeply influential in both academic and popular circles (indeed, the phrase “paradigm shift” has become an English-language staple).

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“This is the last avant-garde. Bold new forms. The power to shock.”*…

 

Avant Garde was a seminal, but somewhat obscure, magazine, launched in 1968, that broke taboos, rattled some nerves, and made more than a few enemies. The brainchild of Ralph Ginzburg, am adventurous publisher, it was the third major collaboration between Ginzburg and Herb Lubalin, the magazine’s widely-admired art director.

Avant Garde is the magazine that gave birth to a much maligned and equally lauded typeface of the same name. A typeface that reveled in the mutability of letterforms, exhibited brilliantly by its extensive set of ligatured characters. The magazine’s logo, which inspired the typeface, is a perfect encapsulation of what the magazine represented in 1968, the year the magazine launched: exciting, vibrant, edgy, with just the right amount of playfulness to move it out of the corporateness its geometric sans serif forms might otherwise imply. The magazine ran for 3 years, spanning 14 square-sized issues, and only folded due to Ralph Ginzburg losing his long-running legal battle with the US government over obscenity charges (partly stemming from Ralph’s and Herb’s first collaboration, Eros magazine)…

Now Alexander Tochilovsky and The Herb Lubalin Study Center of Design and Typography at the Cooper Union have digitized the entire run of Avant Garde and made it available on the web.

* Don DeLillo, White Noise

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As we speculate on The Shock of the New, we might send masterfully-observed birthday greetings to Saul Erik Steinberg; he was born on this date in 1914.  A cartoonist and illustrator (best known for his work for The New Yorker, most notably View of the World from 9th Avenue), he described himself as “a writer who draws.”

People who see a drawing in the New Yorker will think automatically that it’s funny because it is a cartoon. If they see it in a museum, they think it is artistic; and if they find it in a fortune cookie they think it is a prediction.

–  Saul Steinberg

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Written by LW

June 15, 2016 at 1:01 am

“A book is a garden, an orchard, a storehouse, a party, a company by the way, a counselor, a multitude of counselors”*…

 

There are dead encyclopedias lurking everywhere, in basements and garbage dumps and church sales, because the publishing industry had such success at selling them to Americans in the 20th century. At their 18th-century Enlightenment origins, encyclopedias were for the educated elite. In the United States, historian Ann Katherine Johnson writes, reference books like encyclopedias and dictionaries began the 19th century as a luxury good—“tools for a relative few”—and exited as “mass-produced books designed ‘for the people.’ ” By the 20th century, in North America, encyclopedias had become a middle-class social tradition.

“Through most of the twentieth century, as many as 90 percent of American encyclopedias were sold door to door,” writes Jack Lynch in his book You Could Look It Up. Encyclopedia salespeople became so common as to be the butt of some pretty good jokes. But their pitch—“If you want to get ahead, you’ll invest in a set”—hit on some serious anxieties. “They were selling not books but a lifestyle, a future, a promise of social mobility,” Lynch writes. “You are holding your family’s future in your hands right now,” a 1961 ad for World Book, featuring a feminine hand grasping an order form, promised.

The advent of the home personal computer, and then the internet, killed the print encyclopedia dead. Why does this feel like such a tragedy to me? Encyclopedias were full of ideology, but pretended to be neutral; as proponents of the Wikipedia model point out, there is some advantage to the way we perceive authority now, as a distributed, ever-evolving web of edits and updates, performed by self-appointed experts who should be trusted only so far and no further. Yet my sense of nostalgia persists.

Artists Brian Dettmer and Guy Laramée tap these feelings in their work. Dettmer explodes encyclopedias, ransacking their interiors for illustrations and scattered words, putting them on display in new configurations. When you look at the resulting pieces, you recover some of that feeling of endless browsing, catching your eye on one image, then another; in fleeting impressions, you get a sense of the kind of world the encyclopedia portrayed. Laramée, on the other hand, approaches the books as objects, leaving them closed and monolithic, their art and words lost to the viewer. Sculpted into landscapes, they transcend their form, becoming something totally new…

More examples of Dettmer’s and Laramée’s work, and Rebecca Onion’s interview with them at “How Two Artists Turn Old Encyclopedias Into Beautiful, Melancholy Art.”

* Charles Baudelaire

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As we look it up, we might that it was on this date in 1897 that Karl Elsener patented a pen knife with a large blade, a second smaller cutting blade, a corkscrew, and wood fiber grips, which he called the Officer’s and Sports Knife.  Six years earlier Elsener had produced the second knife requisitioned by the Swiss Army, the first to be produced in Switzerland.  That knife– the Soldier Knife— was issued to officers and soldiers as a rifle maintenance tool (it also had a can-opener for ration tins). This original model was issued for almost 60 years, until 1951, with only small updates. With the addition of the Officer’s and Sports Knife, Elsenser launched his company, Victorinox, into pocket knife production for the general public, and created the “prepared for anything” category we’ve come to know as Swiss Army Knives.

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Written by LW

June 12, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Whatever is a reality today… is going to be, like the reality of yesterday, an illusion tomorrow”*…

 

Marina Apollonio. Spazio Ad Attivazione Cinetica 6B, 1966-2015. El Museo del Barrio

Artists, like neuroscientists, are masters of visual systems. Through experimentation and observation, artists have developed innovative methods for fooling the eye, enabling flat canvases to appear three-dimensional, for instance. Neuroscience—and more recently the subfield of neuroaesthetics—can help to explain the biology behind these visual tricks, many of which were first discovered by artists. “I often go to art to figure out questions to ask about science,” says Margaret Livingstone, Takeda Professor of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School. “Artists may not study the neuroscience per se, but they’re experimentalists.”

During the 1960s, Op Art—short for “Optical art”—combined the two disciplines by challenging the role of illusion in art. While earlier painters had created the illusion of depth where there was none, Op artists developed visual effects that called attention to the distortions at play. Abstract and geometric, their works relied upon the mechanics of the spectator’s eye to warp their compositions into shimmering and shifting displays of line and color. The Museum of Modern Art announced this international artistic trend in 1965 in a seminal exhibition titled “The Responsive Eye.” Since then, neuroscientists have continued to probe the mechanisms by which the human eye responds to these mind-bending works…

More on this intersection of art and science at “The Neuroscience of Op Art.” (And click here for a re-visit to Victor Vasarely, one of the fathers of Op Art.)

* Luigi Pirandello

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As we cross our eyes, we might spare a thought for Leon Botha; he died on this date in 2011, at the age of 26.  An important South African painter and DJ, Botha was one of the world’s oldest survivors of progeria.

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Written by LW

June 5, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Yes, but does Maine have anything to SAY to Florida?”*…

 

The Rite of Spring: dancers in Nicholas Roerich’s original costumes

Art takes time, both to be created and to be understood. On May 29, 1913, Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, a ballet, premiered in Paris and promptly saw its audience descend into chaos. What was this new noise calling itself orchestral music? Did they hate it? Did they like it? Were they supposed to like it? Now the ballet and score are classics, but for some critics, this new style was simply another nail in the coffin of true artistry…

From Henry T. Fink’s The Noble Contempt for Melody (1914):

Are melodies out of fashion? Not with the public, which enjoys them more than ever. But the tailless foxes known as Futurists or cacophonists are doing their darnedest to create the impression that they are building up a new musical art, far nobler than the music of the past, into which so puerile a thing as melody cannot be allowed to enter.

Not content with boycotting melody, these cubists also make war on concord. Not for them is what Shakespeare called the “sweet concord of sounds.” Their music is an endless chain of premeditated discords—shrill, harsh, ear piercing. Concord, they tell us in word and deed, is for the old fogeys who like melodies and other sweets. The musical dishes of the future, according to their recipes, will be made up entirely of mustard, horseradish, vinegar, red pepper, curry, and asafetida. Guten appetit, kinder!

Scriabin, Stravinsky, Ferruccio Busoni, Leo Ornstein, Erik Satie, and a dozen others have thrown their hats in the ring, and each one tries to go the others one better in the cult of cacophony and general lawlessness. They remind one of the sportsmen who vie with each other in breeding ugliness into bulldogs.

From the ever-illuminating Lapham’s Quarterly.

* (Our old friend) Ralph Waldo Emerson

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As we trip the light fantastic, we might recall that it was on this date in 1982 that President Ronald Reagan signed the unanimously-passed Resolution of the Joint Houses of Congress, declaring square dancing the national folk dance of the United States.

Bent Creek Ranch Square Dance Team dancing at the Mountain Music Festival, Asheville, North Carolina (c. 1940)

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Written by LW

June 1, 2016 at 1:01 am

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