Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Illustrated by Salvador Dalí in 1969, Finally Gets Reissued

On canvas and paper, Salvador Dalí created apparently nonsensical realities that nevertheless operated according to logic all their own; in writing, Lewis Carroll, author of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, did the very same. It thus only makes sense, despite their differences in nationality and sensibility as well as their barely overlapping life spans, that their artistic worlds — one with its grotesquely misshapen objects, obscure symbols, and hauntingly empty vistas, the other full of wordplay, whimsy, and mathematics — would one day collide. It happened in 1969, when an editor at Random House commissioned the master surrealist to create illustrations for an exclusive edition of Carroll's timeless story for the house's book-of-the-month club.

"Dalí created twelve heliogravures — a frontispiece, which he signed in every copy from the edition, and one illustration for each chapter of the book," writes Brain Pickings' Maria Popova. "For more than half a century, this unusual yet organic cross-pollination of genius remained an almost mythic artifact, reserved for collectors and scholars," until Princeton University Press saw fit to reprint it for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland's 150th anniversary (much as Taschen recently reissued Dalí's bizarre cookbook Les Diners de Gala). 

Sweetening the deal still further, they've included essays by mathematician and Dalí collaborator Thomas Banchoff as well as Lewis Carroll Society of North America president Mark Burstein.

"Although the outrageousness of Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, who came up with the pen name Lewis Carroll in 1856, was limned within a conventional fairy tale," writes Burstein, "the surrealists deliberately sought outrage and provocation in their art and lives and questioned the nature of reality. For both Carroll and the surrealists, what some call madness could be perceived by others as wisdom." He describes surrealism's initial objective as making "accessible to art the realms of the unconscious, the irrational, and the imaginary, and its influence soon went far beyond the visual arts and literature, embracing music, film, theater, philosophy, and popular culture. As have the Alice books." And with so many realms of the unconscious, the irrational, and the imaginary left to explore, this intersection of Carroll and Dalí's different yet compatible methods of exploration should hold more appeal than ever.

You can find copies of the Princeton reissue of Dalí's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland here.

Related Content:

The Tarot Card Deck Designed by Salvador Dalí

Salvador Dalí’s 1973 Cookbook Gets Reissued: Surrealist Art Meets Haute Cuisine

Salvador Dalí’s Avant-Garde Christmas Cards

Behold Lewis Carroll’s Original Handwritten & Illustrated Manuscript for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1864)

See Ralph Steadman’s Twisted Illustrations of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland on the Story’s 150th Anniversary

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

People Who Swear Are More Honest Than Those Who Don’t, Finds a New University Study

I’ve heard it said many times: “I don’t trust people who don’t swear.” It’s not an empirical statement. Just an intuition, that people who shy away from salty language might also shy away from certain truths—may even be, perhaps, a little delusional. Few people characterize teetotalers of swearing with more bite than Stephen Fry, who believes “the sort of twee person who thinks swearing is in any way a sign of a lack of education or of a lack of verbal interest is just a fucking lunatic.” George Carlin would approve. A comically exaggerated view. No, swearing isn't necessarily a sign of mental illness. But it does correlate strongly with truthtelling.

It seems all the suspicious salts out there may have happened upon a measurable phenomenon. A study published last year with the cheeky title “Frankly, We Do Give a Damn: The Relationship Between Profanity and Honesty,” notes, “the consistent findings across the studies suggest that the positive relation between profanity and honesty is robust, and that relationship found at the individual level indeed translates to the society level.” It’s true, some research shows that people who swear may be likely to violate other social norms, god bless ‘em, but they are also less likely to lie during police interrogations.

After reviewing the literature, the researchers, led by Maastricht University Psychologist Gilad Feldman, describe the results of their own experiments. They asked 276 people to report on their swearing habits (or not) in detail. Those people then took a psychological test that measured their levels of honesty. Next, the team analyzed 70,000 social media interactions, and reported that “profanity and honesty were found to be significantly and positively correlated, indicating that those who used more profanity were more honest in their Facebook status updates.” They did not say whether high levels of honesty on Facebook is desirable.

Finally, Feldman and his colleagues widened their scope to 48 U.S. states, and were able to correlate social media data with measures of government accountability. States with higher levels of swearing had a higher integrity score according to a 2012 index published by the Center for Public Integrity. (Believe or not, New Jersey had some of the highest scores.) All three of their studies yielded similar results. “At both the individual and society level,” they conclude, “we found that a higher rate of profanity use was associated with more honesty.” This does not mean, as Ephrat Livni writes at Quartz, that “people who curse like sailors” won’t “commit serious ethical crimes—but they won’t pretend all’s well online.”

As to the question of whether swearing betrays a lack of education and an impoverished vocabulary, we might turn to linguist, psychologist, and neuroscientist Steven Pinker, who has made a learned defense of foul language, in drily humorous talks, books, and essays. “When used judiciously,” he writes in a 2008 Harvard Brain article, “swearing can be hilarious, poignant, and uncannily descriptive.” His is an argument that relies not only on data but on philosophical reflection and literary appreciation. “It’s a fact of life that people swear,” he says, and so, it’s a fact of art. Shakespeare invented dozens of swears and was never afraid to work blue. Perhaps that’s why we find his representations of humanity so perennially honest.

You can read “Frankly, We Do Give a Damn: The Relationship Between Profanity and Honesty" here. In addition to Gilad Feldman, the research paper was also written by Huiwen Lian (The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology,) Michal Kosinski (Stanford), and David Stillwell (Cambridge).

via Cambridge University

Related Content:

Stephen Fry, Language Enthusiast, Defends The “Unnecessary” Art Of Swearing

Steven Pinker Explains the Neuroscience of Swearing (NSFW)

George Carlin Performs His “Seven Dirty Words” Routine: Historic and Completely NSFW

Free Online Psychology & Neuroscience Courses 

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Watch the Earliest Known Footage of the Jimi Hendrix Experience (February, 1967)

Note: If the video plays and you don't hear sound, look for the volume control in the lower right hand corner of the video.

Within months of moving to London in autumn of 1966, Jimi Hendrix found himself a band, recorded a single, got himself a longterm girlfriend, and proceeded to take the UK by storm. His gigs were essential viewing by rock’s then-royalty--the Who, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Cream, all made sure they caught the American wonder. By the end of the year his first single “Hey Joe” landed him on British television and in the Top 10.

The above video is the first known footage of a live Jimi Hendrix Experience, though the band had been gigging for months. It takes place at the Chelmsford Corn Exchange, in the City of Chelmsford, about 50 miles north-east of London. The date is February 25, 1967, and the gig had only been advertised in the paper two days before (where he was listed as “Jimi Hendric”). As you can see, that’s all it took to fill this old traders building-turned-rock venue to the rafters.

The footage was shot for “Telixer: A Thing of Beat Is a Joy Forever,” a documentary on the current British music scene made for KRO, The Netherlands.

Hendrix and the band launch into Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” with a few ordinary opening bars setting up the guitar magic to follow. He then plays “Stone Free,” the b-side of “Hey Joe.” You can see Pete Townshend and John Entwistle to the side of the stage, very briefly. The footage is intercut with shots of Swinging London and fashion hub Portobello Road, where it is said Hendrix bought his Hussars military jacket.

The website Chelmsford Rocks features a remembrance of that night from Shaun Everett, who was a Mod at the time and knew he had to make his way up on the train after work to catch Hendrix at the “Corn’ole,” as the youth called it.

Everett fills in the rest of the evening:

Hendrix gave two sets. That was the normal arrangement for the Corn'ole. Both sets usually 45 minutes to one hour each and there was absolutely no music to be had after 11.30pm...I have spent a long time looking for myself on that film clip but to no avail. I was probably still at the rear of the venue or even more likely in the local pub for the break!...Hendrix, at the end of the performance, walked straight up to a few of us standing just there and one of my mates lit his joint for him. They were so knocked out by that I recall. My recollection was more nasal. Rock musicians have this uncanny ability to harbour their own post-set aromas about themselves: in this case that unmistakeable aroma of cannabis...I will always remember that part even if my music recollections are a bit sparse. I have also 'dined out' on that anecdote for many years since. I had passed close by the 'God'.

The Corn Exchange hosted many acts over its time as a music venue, including David Bowie and Pink Floyd. But in 1969, the city tore down the 19th century building, assuming something more accommodating for live music would be built in its place. That didn’t happen. On this page you can see the aftermath of the bulldozers, and a modern shot of the city street corner that added so much to rock history.

via Guitar World

Related Content:

Jimi Hendrix Wreaks Havoc on the Lulu Show, Gets Banned From the BBC (1969)

Jimi Hendrix Plays “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” for The Beatles, Just Three Days After the Album’s Release (1967)

Hear a Great 4-Hour Radio Documentary on the Life & Music of Jimi Hendrix: Features Rare Recordings & Interviews

Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

Watch 50 Hours of Nature Soundscapes from the BBC: Scientifically Proven to Ease Stress and Promote Happiness & Awe

A recent study from BBC Earth and UC-Berkeley has shown that watching nature documentaries can inspire "significant increases in feelings of awe, contentedness, joy, amusement and curiosity" and conversely "reduce feelings of tiredness, anger and stress." In short, they can engender what the authors of the study call ‘real happiness’ – a kind of happiness that leads to actual improvement in individuals’ health and wellbeing,

With that in mind, the BBC has just released 50 hours of HD "visual soundscapes" on YouTube, using leftover footage from their Planet Earth II TV seriesTen hours of mountains; ten hours of jungle; ten hours of islands; ten hours of desert; and ten hours of grasslands--they're all featured in the long, soothing soundscape playlist featured above. Use them well.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

via Metafilter

Related Content:

New Study: Immersing Yourself in Art, Music & Nature Might Reduce Inflammation & Increase Life Expectancy

How Walking Fosters Creativity: Stanford Researchers Confirm What Philosophers and Writers Have Always Known

Moby Lets You Download 4 Hours of Ambient Music to Help You Sleep, Meditate, Do Yoga & Not Panic

James Franco Hosts Philosophy Time, a New Videos Series Created to Help Philosophy Reach a Wider Audience

How do you get ordinary people interested in philosophy? If we are to believe the accounts of Plato, this wasn’t so difficult in ancient Athens. One simply lounged around the Acropolis harassing passersby, a tactic sure to fail in most city centers, town squares, and strip malls today. Podcasts and YouTube videos grab their share of eyes and ears, though many in their audiences also sing in the choir. Former Python John Cleese has done his part to popularize philosophical thinking. As someone who has moved between the worlds of academia and popular culture, Cleese has both credibility and visibility on his side. Some younger audiences (I write with apologies to Cleese) may be inclined to tune him out.

How about another actor with both fame and higher ed cred? Someone “very appealing to a younger demographic”? Someone like... James Franco—currently a doctoral student at Yale, and formerly a lecturer and/or student/graduate of UCLA, Columbia, NYU, Brooklyn College, Warren Wilson College, and the Rhode Island School of Design? This might seem like the resume either of an academic dilettante, or of a lifelong student and lover of knowledge.

Given Franco’s commitment to teaching, writing, and developing and starring in literary films like As I Lay Dying, The Sound and the Fury, The Broken Tower, and Howl, we might give him the benefit of the doubt. Not everyone’s a fan, but he does bring a good deal of academic enthusiasm to the role of philosophy popularizer.

Franco also brings along an actual philosopher, Eliot Michaelson, of King’s College, a former teacher of his. He proposed the idea of their project, “Philosophy Time,” while the two were at UCLA together, Michaelson as a grad student and Franco as an undergrad finishing his English degree after taking a hiatus from college to become a star. “We had somehow ended up becoming friends,” writes Michaelson, “In part, probably because I had no idea who he was.” Their long-gestating idea—an attempt to widen philosophy’s audience—has finally come to fruition. In the short episodes here, you can see the two in conversation with Rutgers University’s Andy Egan, at the top (on beauty), Princeton’s Liz Harmon, further up (on the fraught topic of abortion), and Rutgers’ Liz Camp, above and below (on imagination and metaphor).

Michaelson is a moderating influence. Franco’s laid back presentation will remind you of his performances in stoner comedy Pineapple Express, the 83rd Academy Awards ceremony, and the 2008 High Times Stoner of the Year event (though he swears he doesn’t touch the stuff anymore). Squiggly, animated word and thought bubbles add another comic touch. But whether or not viewers are charmed by his persona, they’ll find that he lets his guests do most of the talking, and they each make it plain that philosophy can be fascinating and imminently relevant to our ordinary modern lives. The kinds of questions Socrates needled hapless Athenians with—about beauty, ethics, and language—are just as pressing now as they were 2400 years ago.

You can find the emerging trove of "Philosophy Time" videos on YouTube here.

via Leiter Reports

Related Content:

John Cleese Touts the Value of Philosophy in 22 Public Service Announcements for the American Philosophical Association

James Franco Reads a Dreamily Animated Version of Allen Ginsberg’s Epic Poem ‘Howl’

James Franco Reads 6 Short Poems from His New Collection

140+ Free Online Philosophy Courses

The Partially Examined Life: A Philosophy Podcast

The History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps Podcast, Now at 239 Episodes, Expands into Eastern Philosophy

Discover the Creative, New Philosophy Podcast Hi-Phi Nation: The First Story-Driven Show About Philosophy

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

9-Year-Old Edward Hopper Draws a Picture on the Back of His 3rd Grade Report Card

In a press release issued last week, the Edward Hopper House announced that it will be receiving over 1,000 artifacts and memorabilia documenting Edward Hopper's family life and early years. The collection "consists of juvenilia and other materials from the formative years of Hopper's life and includes original letters, drawings from his school years ... photographs, original newspaper articles, and other items that allow visitors to experience firsthand how Hopper's childhood and home environment shaped his art."

Above you can find Exhibit A from the collection. A picture that young Hopper, only 9 years old, drew on the back of his 3rd grade report card. A sure early sign of his talents.

Portions of this archive will be available for viewing this fall. If you're in Nyack, New York, pay the Edward Hopper House a visit.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

via Art Daily/@TedGioia

Related Content:

How Edward Hopper “Storyboarded” His Iconic Painting Nighthawks

Edward Hopper’s Iconic Painting Nighthawks Explained in a 7-Minute Video Introduction

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) Puts Online 75,000 Works of Modern Art

When Soviet Artists Turned Textiles (Scarves, Tablecloths & Curtains) into Beautiful Propaganda in the 1920s & 1930s

Americans swim in propaganda all the time, even those of us who think the word refers to some exotic form of foreign authoritarianism rather than our own good ol’ home-cooked variety. But the sad fact—admittedly very far down the list of rather tragic facts—is that U.S. propaganda is particularly crude, obnoxious, and unappealing. Contrast, for example, the symbol of the pantsuit, or the casual racism, misogyny, and homicidal fantasies on trucker hats, t-shirts, and beach towels with the alarming pageantry of Maoist China, Stalinist Russia, or name-your-showy-totalitarian-regime.

In the early days of the Soviet Union, state propaganda received a special boost from a cadre of eager and willing avant-garde artists, including poet, actor, director, etc. Vladimir Mayakovsky, who wrote Soviet children’s books, and a number of Russian Futurists who seized the opportunity to promote the new order with totally incomprehensible poetry and art.

In no way regimented or standardized, as were later Socialist Realists, early Soviet propagandists used politics as another material in their work, rather than its primary raison d'être.

These pioneers were joined by experimental composers, filmmakers, and even textile designers, who had a brief moment under the shining Soviet star between 1927 and 1933, when, as one publication from a wealthy collector notes, “a fascinating experiment in textile making took place in the Soviet Union. As the new nation emerged and the Communist party struggled to transform an agrarian country into an industrialized state, a group of young designers began to create thematic textile designs.”

Their designs—adorning tablecloths, sheets, curtains, and scarves and other items of everyday, off-the-rack wear—showcase bold, striking patterns, many, writes Dangerous Minds, “thematic of classical Russian art: you see lush color, dense scapes and even the odd Orientalist trope.” They are also filled with “delightfully propagandist imagery,” notes Marina Galperina at Flavorwire, “of revving tractors, smoke-pumping factor pipes, and babushka-clad women taking a sickle to wheat… woven in between opulent florals and pretty, constructivist squiggles.”

Factory gears, war machines, athletes, and scenes of industry were popular, as were the expected state symbols and iconography—as in the Lenin linen at the top, framed at the top by Marx and Engels; Trotsky at the bottom left has been purged from the textile record. See many more examples of early Soviet textiles at io9, Flashbak, and Messy Nessy.

via English Russia and @TedGioia

Related Content:

Everything You Need to Know About Modern Russian Art in 25 Minutes: A Visual Introduction to Futurism, Socialist Realism & More

A Digital Archive of Soviet Children’s Books Goes Online: Browse the Artistic, Ideological Collection (1917-1953)

Watch the Surrealist Glass Harmonica, the Only Animated Film Ever Banned by Soviet Censors (1968)

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

How Did Akira Kurosawa Make Such Powerful & Enduring Films? A Wealth of Video Essays Break Down His Cinematic Genius

No Japanese filmmaker has received quite as much international scrutiny, and for so long, as Akira Kurosawa. Though now almost twenty years gone, the man known in his homeland as the "Emperor" of cinema only continues to grow in stature on the landscape of global film culture. Film students still watch Rashomon, swords-and-sandals fans still thrill to Seven Samurai and Yojimbo, midcentury crime-picture buffs still turn up for screenings of Drunken Angel and Stray Dog, and many a Shakespeare buff still looks in admiration at his interpretations of Macbeth (as Throne of Blood) and King Lear (as Ran).

How did Kurosawa and his collaborators imbue these and many other acclaimed pictures with such enduring power? An entire subgenre of video essays has emerged to approach an answer to that question. At the top of the post we have one from Tony Zhou, creator of the well-known cinematic video essay series Every Frame a Painting, on Kurosawa's "innate understanding of movement and how to capture it onscreen."

His staging also demonstrates a highly developed sense of space, which Zhou reveals in the short essay just above by breaking down a scene from 1960's corporate-corruption drama The Bad Sleep Well.

All of those film students watching Seven Samurai may not consider it a true action film, at least by their ultra-modern standards, but the way Kurosawa's best-known picture tells its story through artfully rendered movement and violence has stood as an example for action filmmakers ever since. Lewis Bond, the video essayist behind Channel Criswell, draws out the lessons Seven Samurai still holds for action cinema today, in the essay above. But what happens in the frame also gains much of its impact from the construction of the frame itself. A video essayist by the name of Mr. Nerdista looks at Kurosawa's unusual mastery of the art of framing, as seen in Rashomon, in the essay below.

But no film, no matter how skillfully made, could cross as many historical and cultural boundaries as Kurosawa's have with aesthetics alone. The strong moral sense at the dramatic core of his work — a characteristic, too, of the Shakespeare plays from which he drew inspiration — will keep it forever relevant, not because it presents the audience with simple lessons about what to do and what not to do, but because it forces them to consider the most difficult moral questions. This comes most clearly to the fore in 1963's modern-day ransom story High and Low, examined in the Jack's Movie Reviews essay below.

A.O. Scott selected High and Low as a New York Times "Critic's Pick" back in 2012, and you can see him discuss the movie's virtues in this video. It appears as just one of a roundup of Kurosawa-related videos at akirakurosawa.info, a selection that also includes Scott on Rana Criterion Collection clip of Kurosawa experts on the violence of Seven Samurai, a look at Kurosawa's evolution as an artist through four of his best-known movies, a two-part essay on Kurosawa's influences as well as those he has influenced. For as much as all these videos have to say about Kurosawa's movies, though, few of them reference the details of Kurosawa's life. The Emperor, who once wrote that, "there is nothing that says more about its creator than the work itself," would have approved.

Related Content:

How Akira Kurosawa Used Movement to Tell His Stories: A Video Essay

How Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai Perfected the Cinematic Action Scene: A New Video Essay

Akira Kurosawa Painted the Storyboards For Scenes in His Epic Films: Compare Canvas to Celluloid

Akira Kurosawa’s Advice to Aspiring Filmmakers: Write, Write, Write and Read

Akira Kurosawa’s Adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death Finally in Production, Coming in 2020

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Leonardo da Vinci’s Visionary Notebooks Now Online: Browse 570 Digitized Pages

Quick, what do you know about Leonardo da Vinci? He painted the Mona Lisa! He wrote his notes backwards! He designed supercool bridges and flying machines! He was a genius about, um… a lot of other… things… and, um, stuff...

Okay, I’m sure you know a bit more than that, but unless you’re a Renaissance scholar, you’re certain to find yourself amazed and surprised at how much you didn’t know about the quintessential Renaissance man when you encounter a compilation of his notebooks—Codex Arundel—which has been digitized by the British Library and made available to the public.

The notebook, writes Jonathan Jones at The Guardian, represents “the living record of a universal mind.” And yet, though a “technophile” himself, “when it came to publication, Leonardo was a luddite…. He made no effort to get his notes published.”

For hundreds of years, the huge, secretive collection of manuscripts remained mostly unseen by all but the most rarified of collectors. After Leonardo's death in France, writes the British Library, his student Francesco Melzi “brought many of his manuscripts and drawings back to Italy. Melzi’s heirs, who had no idea of the importance of the manuscripts, gradually disposed of them.” Nonetheless, over 5,000 pages of notes “still exist in Leonardo’s ‘mirror writing’, from right to left.” In the notebooks, da Vinci drew “visions of the aeroplane, the helicopter, the parachute, the submarine and the car. It was more than 300 years before many of his ideas were improved upon.”

The digitized notebooks debuted in 2007 as a joint project of the British Library and Microsoft called “Turning the Pages 2.0,” an interactive feature that allows viewers to “turn” the pages of the notebooks with animations. Onscreen glosses explain the content of the cryptic notes surrounding the many technical drawings, diagrams, and schematics (see a selection of the notebooks in this animated format here). For an overwhelming amount of Leonardo, you can look through 570 digitized pages of Codex Arundel here. For a slightly more digestible, and readable, amount of Leonardo, see the British Library’s brief series on his life and work, including explanations of his diving apparatus, parachute, and glider.

And for much more on the man—including evidence of his sartorial “preference for pink tights” and his shopping lists—see Jonathan Jones’ Guardian piece, which links to other notebook collections and resources. The artist and self-taught polymath made an impressive effort to keep his ideas from prying eyes. Now, thanks to digitized collections like those at the British Library, “anyone can study the mind of Leonardo.”

Related Content:

Leonardo Da Vinci’s To Do List (Circa 1490) Is Much Cooler Than Yours

How to Build Leonardo da Vinci’s Ingenious Self-Supporting Bridge: Renaissance Innovations You Can Still Enjoy Today

Download the Sublime Anatomy Drawings of Leonardo da Vinci: Available Online, or in a Great iPad App

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Hear the 150 Greatest Albums by Women: NPR Creates a New Canon of Albums That Puts Women at the Center of Music History

What is it with all the trendpieces on great women artists, writers, directors, singers, etc.? What, indeed. To ask the question is to acknowledge the premise of such pieces. Why should they need to be written at all if women in these fields received fair representation elsewhere? That lists and articles can be written in the hundreds puts the lie to phony claims that "great" women do not exist in every field in numbers. This is especially true in the 20th century, when hard-won political gains opened cultural doors unimaginable to many previous generations. But those gains did not fundamentally alter how cultural histories have been written.

Music critic Anne Powers and Lincoln Center program director Jill Sternheimer recently considered this problem, one which, Powers writes at NPR, persists even in the ways “music history’s being recorded and revised in the digital age.”

They wondered, "why... was the importance of women so often recognized as a trend instead of a source of lasting impact? We came to a conclusion that, in 2017, will likely strike no one as a surprise: that the general history of popular music is told through the great works of men, and that without a serious revision of the canon, women will always remain on the margins.”

This is a truth reinforced in many different ways: by the shelves weighed down with books about Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana, while only one or two about Aretha Franklin or Patti Smith sit nearby; by the radio playlists that still only feature women once or twice every hour.

This isn’t a problem of “representation”—the term we so often hear applied to casting decisions and awards shows. Powers isn’t making a case for diversity in hiring, but for accuracy in writing the historical record. To that end, Powers and Lincoln Center, together with “nearly 50 women who play a role in NPR… compiled and voted” on a list: "Turning the Tables: The 150 Greatest Albums by Women.” You can hear nearly all of those albums in our Spotify playlist below. Calling the list “an intervention, a remedy, a correction,” Powers writes, “These albums were released between 1964, the year The Beatles invaded America… and 2016, when Beyoncé arguably ushered in a new period with her ‘visual album’ Lemonade.”

The point is to offer a view of popular music history with women's work at the center. The list does not represent an "alternate history." It stands for music history, touching upon every significant trend, social issue, set of sonic innovations, and new avenue for self-expression that popular music has intersected in the past fifty years.

Against the argument for “affirmative action”—or simply rewriting old “great album” lists to include more women—Powers argues, “once a canon is formed, it gains an aura of immutability.” Plenty of lists include female artists. Almost none of them include women in the top spots, suggesting that “the paradigms that define greatness remain masculine at their core.” Tokenism, no matter how well-intentioned, does not make for “a shift in perspective beyond the simple mandate to adjust the numbers.”

Ava Duvernay has made a similar argument against mandated “diversity” in Hollywood as a mollifying tactic that maintains status quo power relationships. “The fact that the mainstream starts to gaze at this space doesn’t make it a moment,” she tells Hollywood Reporter, “it makes it a moment for them.” As Powers writes of the way Joni Mitchell was often treated by the rock establishment, "the female musician is a dream, a surprise and a disruptor. She can claim the center of attention, but her rightful point of origin, and the place to which she returns, is a margin."

Instead of marginal inclusion in existing cliques, Powers argues for a cultural shift, a “new canon,” that isn’t hedged with the usual standards that often exclude women on arbitrary purist grounds. Keeping “wide parameters,” the contributors “left room for acknowledged rock-era classics as well as pop hits dismissed by others as fluff.” That disclaimer aside, there’s precious little “fluff” on this list—meaning it’s hard to find albums here that wouldn’t qualify for “greatest” status on more narrowly-defined genre lists. It is a list, that is to say, of 150 great albums, written, recorded, and released over the course of fifty plus years, by some of the most talented writers, players, and musicians in modern music history.

"Lists have their limitations," Powers admits, "They reflect biases and whispered compromises." She and her contributors offer this one "as the beginning of a new conversation" rather than an authoritative statement. At such depth and breadth, however, "Turning the Tables" makes room for nearly every possible genre, from all over the world. Read the full list of 150 albums, with commentary, here. A few of the 150 albums, including Lemonade, Bikini Kill's Yeah Yeah Yeah, Joan Jett's I Love Rock 'n' Roll, Joanna Newsome's Ys, and Laurie Anderson's Big Science aren't on Spotify, so didn't make our playlist above. The top ten albums on the list are:

  1. Joni Mitchell, Blue (Reprise, 1971)
  2. Lauryn Hill, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (Ruffhouse/Columbia, 1998)
  3. Nina Simone, I Put a Spell on You (Philips, 1956)
  4. Aretha Franklin, I Never Loved a Man the Way I Loved You (Atlantic, 1967)
  5. Missy Eliot, Supa Dupa Fly (The Goldmine/Elekra, 1997)
  6. Beyoncé, Lemonade (Parkwood/Columbia 2016)
  7. Patti Smith, Horses (Arista, 1975)
  8. Janis Joplin, Pearl (Columbia, 1971)
  9. Amy Winehouse, Back to Black (Island, 2006)
  10. Carole King, Tapestry (Ode, 1971)

Related Content:

Hear Seven Hours of Women Making Electronic Music (1938-2014)

1200 Years of Women Composers: A Free 78-Hour Music Playlist That Takes You From Medieval Times to Now

Women of Jazz: Stream a Playlist of 91 Recordings by Great Female Jazz Musicians

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness





  • Great Lectures

  • FREE UPDATES!

    GET OUR DAILY EMAIL

    Get the best cultural and educational resources on the web curated for you in a daily email. We never spam. Unsubscribe at any time.



    FOLLOW ON SOCIAL MEDIA

  • About Us

    Open Culture editor Dan Colman scours the web for the best educational media. He finds the free courses and audio books you need, the language lessons & movies you want, and plenty of enlightenment in between.


    Advertise With Us

  • Archives

  • Quantcast