(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘art

“If you want to understand today you have to search yesterday”*…

… and for your searching pleasure here are all of our yesterdays, in an animation scrolling by at 1.5 million years per second…

Earth is 4.5 billion years old – which is approximately the same amount of time it took us to create this video. We’ve scaled the complete timeline of our Earth’s life into our first animated movie!… Hop on a musical train ride and experience how long a billion years really is. It’s the perfect background for your next party, a great way to take a break from studying, or a fascinating companion while you’re on the go…

From German animation house Kurzgesagt (“in a nutshell”)…

Posters here.

* Pearl Buck

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As we trace our steps, we might recall that it was on this date in 1913 that Gulf Refining Company opened the first “drive-in filling station” in Pittsburgh. It was the first architect-designed station and the first to distribute free road maps; it also offered tube and tire installation, free water and air, and crankcase services.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

December 1, 2023 at 1:00 am

“Romanticism is precisely situated neither in choice of subject, nor exact truth, but in the way of feeling”*…

Beethoven at 30 (1800)

The estimable Ted Gioia is exploring the possibility that we are at the cusp of a major change in the zeitgeist– the beginning of a new age of Romanticism…

I made a flippant remark a few months ago. It was almost a joke.

But then I started taking it seriously.

I said that technocracy had grown so oppressive and manipulative it would spur a backlash. And that our rebellion might resemble the Romanticist movement of the early 1800s.

We need a new Romanticism, I quipped. And we will probably get one.

A new Romanticism? Could that really happen? That seems so unlikely.

Even I didn’t take this seriously (at first). I was just joking. But during the subsequent weeks and months, I kept thinking about my half-serious claim.

I realized that, the more I looked at what happened circa 1800, the more it reminded me of our current malaise.

  • Rationalist and algorithmic models were dominating every sphere of life at that midpoint in the Industrial Revolution—and people started resisting the forces of progress.
  • Companies grew more powerful, promising productivity and prosperity. But Blake called them “dark Satanic mills” and Luddites started burning down factories—a drastic and futile step, almost the equivalent of throwing away your smartphone.
  • Even as science and technology produced amazing results, dysfunctional behaviors sprang up everywhere. The pathbreaking literary works from the late 1700s reveal the dark side of the pervasive techno-optimism—Goethe’s novel about Werther’s suicide, the Marquis de Sade’s nasty stories, and all those gloomy Gothic novels. What happened to the Enlightenment?
  • As the new century dawned, the creative class (as we would call it today) increasingly attacked rationalist currents that had somehow morphed into violent, intrusive forces in their lives—an 180 degree shift in the culture. For Blake and others, the name Newton became a term of abuse.
  • Artists, especially poets and musicians, took the lead in this revolt. They celebrated human feeling and emotional attachments—embracing them as more trustworthy, more flexible, more desirable than technology, profits, and cold calculation.

That’s the world, circa 1800.

The new paradigm shocked Europe when it started to spread. Cultural elites had just assumed that science and reason would control everything in the future. But that wasn’t how it played out.

Resemblances with the current moment are not hard to see.

These considerations led me, about nine months ago, to conduct a deep dive into the history of the Romanticist movement. I wanted to see what the historical evidence told me.

I’m now structuring my research in chronological order—that’s a method I often use in addressing big topics.

I make no great promises for what I share below. These are just notes on what happened in Western culture from 1800 to 1804—listed year-by-year.

Sharing these is part of my process. I expect this will generate useful feedback, and guide me on the next phase of this project…

Because music is always my entry point into cultural changes, it plays a key role here in how I analyze past (and present) events. I firmly believe that music is an early indicator of social change. The notes below are offered as evidence in support of that view…

[There follows a fascinating– and compelling– account of those five years, featuring Napoleon, Haydn, Beethoven, Woodsworth, Coleridge, Herder, Schelling, the Marquis de Sade, Novalis, Ann Radcliffe, and others]

… Beethoven turns against Napoleon—and this is emblematic of the aesthetic reversal sweeping through Europe. Not long ago, Beethoven and other artists looked to French rationalism as a harbinger of a new age of freedom and individual flourishing. But this entire progress-obsessed ideology is unraveling.

It’s somehow fitting that music takes the lead role in deconstructing a tyrannical rationalism, and proposing a more human alternative.

Could that happen again?

  • Imagine a growing sense that algorithmic and mechanistic thinking has become too oppressive.
  • Imagine if people started resisting technology as a malicious form of control, and not a pathway to liberation, empowerment, and human flourishing—soul-nurturing riches that must come from someplace deeper.
  • Imagine a revolt against STEM’s dominance and dictatorship over all other fields?
  • Imagine people deciding that the good life starts with NOT learning how to code.

If that happened now, wouldn’t music stand out as the pathway? What could possibly be more opposed to brutal rationalism running out of control than a song?

But what does that kind of music sound like? In 1800, it was Beethoven. And today?…

Why it may be 1800 all over again: “Notes Toward a New Romanticism,” from @tedgioia in his terrific newsletter, The Honest Broker.

* Charles Baudelaire

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As we review vibes on the verge, we might send rational birthday greetings to an avatar of the Enlightenment against which the Romantics rebelled, Francois-Marie Arouet, better known as Voltaire; he was born on this date in 1694.  The Father of the Age of Reason, he produced works in almost every literary form: plays, poems, novels, essays, and historical and scientific works– more than 2,000 books and pamphlets (and more than 20,000 letters).  He popularized Isaac Newton’s work in France by arranging a translation of Principia Mathematica to which he added his own commentary.

A social reformer, Voltaire used satire to criticize the intolerance, religious dogma, and oligopolistic privilege of his day, perhaps nowhere more sardonically than in Candide.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 21, 2023 at 1:00 am

“The world is a globe — the farther you sail, the closer to home you are”*…

A good globe is a thing of beauty and a source of wonder, perhaps none more than those made by Peter Bellerby, founder of artisan globemakers Bellerby & Co. Globemakers, one of only two handmade globemaking companies in the world. In an excerpt from his book, The Globemakers: The Curious Story of an Ancient Craft, he explains how it’s done…

The simplest way to make a globe is to construct a sphere and paint it. The earliest globes would have been made of wood or metal, with the celestial or terrestrial map painted directly on by hand. Later, in the sixteenth century, hollow globes were made of thin sheets of metal which were then hand-painted. Mapping doesn’t lend itself to painting and lettering by hand, and cartography was in its infancy, so early painted globes were necessarily very inaccurate.

Later makers pasted blank gores onto the sphere to create a more forgiving canvas for the hand-painted map and lettering. These are called manuscript globes. The invention of the printing press meant that maps could be printed as gores. A silversmith or skilled engraver would etch a reverse map on copper plates before printing using a process known as intaglio, from the Italian word for ‘carving.’ In intaglio printing the etched plate is coated with ink, then wiped to leave ink only in the incised depressions, before being run through an etching press, in which dampened paper picks up the ink to create the printed image. Copper is a soft metal, so the plates lose their clarity relatively quickly; smaller print runs were therefore common. The effect, though, is very satisfying, with an intense character to the image. The globemaker then pasted the printed gores onto the globe and finally the painter would add color.

It was at this point that the globemaking craft became assimilated with the printing and publishing industry. Globes were after all now printed just like books, and since this time each edition has been referred to as a ‘publication.’ And as in book publishing, copying the map from a rival’s globe is plagiarism.

The golden age of the printed and then hand-painted globe coincided with the age of European expansion, reaching its peak at the beginning of the seventeenth century. In this period, as astronomical, geographical and cartographical knowledge developed apace, globemakers too were inspired to experiment and refine their art. In turn, the proliferation of printing presses made it possible over time to produce more globes at a less than exorbitant cost so they became more affordable to a greater number of people.

Nevertheless, the acquisition or commission of a globe was still the preserve of the aristocracy and the affluent merchant class. Because of the delicate and time-consuming nature of the work, a budding globemaker probably would have required considerable financial backing. Globes therefore were prized symbols of status and prestige.

Studying these venerable antique globes, it was striking to see how little the methods of manufacture had changed from the mid-sixteenth century until the twentieth century, albeit there is always a mystery about the exact construction and methods because so much is hidden under the surface – it was only in the last century that the rot set in. I knew that I had high aspirations but did not want to simply reproduce some sort of cheap faux-antique facsimile. Instead, my ambition was to produce a handmade globe that felt classic yet at the same time unusual, relevant and contemporary…

Read on for a fascinating unpacking of the ingenuity and skill involved: “On the Artisanal Craft of Making a Globe,” from @globemakers in @lithub.

* Terry Pratchett

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As we spin the sphere, we might send cartographical birthday greetings to Dimitrie Cantemir; he was born on this date in 1673. A Moldavian prince, statesman, and man of letters, he led a storied life as a statesman (twice serving as voivode of Moldavia), but also distinguished himself as a philosopher, historian, composer, musicologist, linguist, ethnographer, and geographer.

To that lattermost distinction, Cantemir’s c. 1714 manuscript map of Moldova (as the region which Moldavia centered was also known) was the first real map of the country, containing geographical detail as well as administrative information. Printed in 1737 in the Netherlands, it formed the basis of most European maps of the country for decades.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 26, 2023 at 1:00 am

“It is often our mightiest projects that most obviously betray the degree of our insecurity– the construction of fortifications, for instance”*…

From Public Domain Review, a look at a 17th century book that collects (beautiful) plans for forts and fortifications…

What is the peculiar appeal of military architecture? Whether Norman castle or Cold War concrete, there is a kind of sublimity that belongs to defensive design. It stems obviously from the massive scale of construction, and from the luxury of uncompromised execution that generous defence budgets afford. But there is also pleasure to be taken in the unornamented purity of style of structures that have been built solely for practical ends.

These qualities are abundant in the work of the seventeenth-century French military engineer Allain Manesson Mallet. Born in Paris in 1630, Manesson studied mathematics before becoming a soldier (he added the name Mallet in tribute to his teacher). In 1663, he was posted to Alentejo as an army engineer in the service of the Portuguese king Alfonso VI, where he fortified chateaux, until the Treaty of Lisbon in 1668. He returned to France with an appointment as mathematics instructor at the court of Louis XIV.

He recorded his military ideas in a highly successful manual, The Works of Mars (i.e. “the art of war”) in 1671. A year later came German and Dutch editions (the source of the images above), even though France was by then at war with the Netherlands.

Manesson’s book encompassed theories of fortifications from their origins in designs developed in the sixteenth century by Michelangelo and the architect Vincenzo Scamozzi, including more recent innovations of French and Dutch engineers….

More– and many more renderings of ramparts: “The Works of Mars” from @PublicDomainRev.

* W. G. Sebald, Austerlitz

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As we build bastions, we might understand the Dutch interest in Manesson’s manual as we recall that it was on this date in 1602 that the Spanish-held city of Grave in the Netherlands was taken, at the end of a two-month siege, by a Dutch and English army led by Maurice of Orange and Francis Vere respectively.

Part of the Eighty Years’ War and the Anglo–Spanish War, the Siege of Grave and its ultimate fall were severe enough to cause a major mutiny in the Spanish army.

Siege of Grave in 1602 from a print by Simon Fokke (source)

“I was obliged to be industrious”*…

There’s an old joke that goes something like this: Mozart, on dying too young, finds himself in Heaven. He’s approached by God, who suggests that Mozart might become the conductor of Heaven’s orchestra. Mozart, taken aback, exclaims, “I’m flattered Lord, but surely Kapellmeister Bach is here and would be a more appropriate choice.” to which God responds, “I am Bach.”

Tyler Cowan with an argument that the joke isn’t so far off…

I’ve been reading and rereading biographies of Bach lately (for some podcast prep), and it strikes me he might count as the greatest achiever of all time.  That is distinct from say regarding him as your favorite composer or artist of all time.  I would include the following metrics as relevant for that designation:

1. Quality of work.

2. How much better he was than his contemporaries.

3. How much he stayed the very best in subsequent centuries.

4. Quantity of work.

5. Peaks.

6. Consistency of work and achievement.

I see Bach as ranking very, very high in all these categories.  Who else might even be a contender for greatest achiever of all time?  Shakespeare?  Maybe, but Bach seems to beat him for relentlessness and quantity (at a very high quality level).  Beethoven would be high on the list, but he doesn’t seem to quite match up to Bach in all of these categories.  Homer seems relevant, but we are not even sure who or what he was.  Archimedes?  Plato or Aristotle?  Who else?…

In any case, a reminder that we should all be listening to more Bach: “Is Bach the greatest achiever of all time?“, from @tylercowen.

* Johann Sebastian Bach

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As we muse on magnificence, we might send melodic birthday greetings to Girolamo Frescobaldi; he was born on this date in 1583. A composer and keyboard virtuoso, he created some of the most influential music of the 17th century. His work influenced Bach, Johann PachelbelHenry Purcell, and other major composers.

Indeed, Bach is known to have owned a number of Frescobaldi’s works, including a manuscript copy of Frescobaldi’s Fiori musicali (Venice, 1635), which Bach signed and dated 1714 and performed in Weimar the same year.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 13, 2023 at 1:00 am

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