Category Archives: art

My life in typefaces

Are you geek enough to watch a TED about typefaces? I am. (Granted, I’m an editor privileged to work with talented graphic designers.) Type designer Matthew Carter (you’ve seen his work) talks about design and the constraints of technology. His words are helpful, I think, whatever your creative endeavor.

“Does a constraint force a compromise?” he asks. “By accepting a constraint are you working to a lower standard?” During Carter’s career, constraints have been imposed by the limitations of printing, screen display, and information technology. But every form of creativity faces constraints of one kind or another. The question is, how do you respond? And can overcoming a particular technical challenge lead to aesthetic discoveries?

Lynda Barry’s strange and wonderful book, “Picture This”

Picture This coverPicture This by artist/cartoonist/teacher Lynda Barry (2010) is among the strangest and most intriguing books I’ve ever read. And in this case, by “read,” I mean “looked at the pictures and read the words,” because in this case the images are more important than the words, though each provides the perfect complement to the other.

Loosely structured, many of the book’s pictures are done on throwaway paper — a yellowed dictionary page, phone book pages, old magazines. Recurring story lines include the dysfunctional romance of Mr. Beak and Mr. Trunk, cousins Marlys and Arna and their adventures in art, ads for “Don’t – the imaginary cigarette with controllable smoke,” and especially the Near-Sighted Monkey, a sort of bespectacled trickster figure who is partly the alter ego of Barry herself. Continue reading

Animated poem about a kite… and so much more

I’ve featured animated poems a few times before on this blog. Here’s one I enjoyed after finding it on Open Culture. This video of Leonard Cohen’s “A Kite is a Victim” is an example of how a good reader and clever animator can add something to a poem that you won’t find on the printed page… even though the performance feels faithful to the original.

The poem itself is rich in metaphor. It’s about a kite but so much more.

The video may be new to me, but it’s been around a long time. It’s part of Poets on Film No. 1, an animated short released by Canada’s National Film Board in 1977.

How much are audiences influenced by reputation?

How much does an author’s or artist’s identity influence our perceptions of quality? By now you’ve probably heard that Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling quietly published a detective novel under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. The book received good reviews but sold poorly until the author’s true identity was revealed. (Stephen King had a similar experience with his Richard Bachman pseudonym some years ago.)

In commenting on the above, the biologist Jerry Coyne raises an interesting question on his blog:

So here’s a conundrum for you, one that I’ve asked some of my artistic friends.  Imagine that Beethoven had never written his Fifth Symphony. But then, a few years ago, someone finds the score of that piece in a stack of old papers—written by someone other than Beethoven, say, one Gustav Biederstücker.  What would happen? Continue reading

Singapore’s mechanical forest

This opened a year ago, but I only just learned of it via Science Dump. Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay park, which includes some 220,000 species of plants from around the world, added these massive “supertrees” and connecting walkways. In addition to how cool they look, the mechanical trees, which stand as tall as 50 meters (and which are home to many real plants), “provide ventilation ductwork, rainwater collection and generate solar power which provides lighting to the various conservatories below.”

Gardens by the Bay is part of Singapore’s larger plan to improve quality of life through more greenery in the city. Having never been there I can’t say how extensive or successful this plan is, but when I saw the pictures I wondered if this is a peek at what cities of the future might look like. Maybe the people will look back at our mostly barren concrete-and-steel cities with the same dismay that we feel about the grim, filthy, and soot-blackened cities of the Industrial Revolution. Our descendants may lump us in with the pioneering generations of urban dwellers, back when the human race was just beginning to learn the basics of urban living.

More photos and video here.

When good work goes bad

Ira Glass, above, offers encouragement to frustrated creators; poet John Neihardt, quoted below, offers a different perspective (also encouraging, I think).

Glass (of NPR’s This American Life) explains that when you’re a beginner (such as a writer, artist, or any sort of creator), your taste is better than your skill. So you get frustrated because you can tell that your work isn’t very good. A lot of people quit at this point.

But there’s a positive side to recognizing that your work is bad, Glass says. It means you have good taste, and right now your “killer taste” exceeds your present skill, but it’s pointing in the right direction. The only solution is to produce a lot of work and keep getting better.

I think there’s a little more to it than that, in that doing work improves your taste. The poet John Neihardt (best remembered for his collaboration with Lakota holy man Black Elk in Black Elk Speaks) wrote about this in his 1972 memoir, All is but a Beginning. He describes the thrill of writing his first poem as a young boy: Continue reading

Math geek as artist: Robert Lang’s origami

Robert Lang at work on an American flag. Via Wikimedia Commons

Here’s a fascinating little video, plus some additional thoughts about art, science, and creativity below. This is so much more than folding little paper cranes. Robert Lang talks about the intersection of art and mathematics, and shows how “problems that you solve for aesthetic value only, turn out to have an application in the real world.” Not to mention some mind-blowing designs.

Lang’s eighteen-minute TED talk is fast paced, lively, and funny. Here are some highlights: Continue reading