Philosopher Portraits: Famous Philosophers Painted in the Style of Influential Artists

Ludwig Wittgenstein/Piet Mondrian:

Ludwig Wittgenstein & Piet Mondrian

What do the Austrian-British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein and the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian have in common? For philosopher and artist Renée Jorgensen Bolinger, the two have similar beliefs about the logic of space.

"Many of Mondrian's pieces explore the relationships between adjacent spaces," says Bolinger "and in particular the formative role of each on the boundaries and possibilities of the other. I based this painting [see above] off of Wittgenstein's Tractatus, in which he develops a theory of meaning grounded in the idea that propositions have meaning only insofar as they constrain the ways the world could be; a meaningful proposition is thus very like one of Mondrian's color squares, forming a boundary and limiting the possible configurations of the adjacent spaces."




An Assistant Professor at Princeton, Bolinger studied painting a Biola University before making philosophy her second major. "I actually came to philosophy quite late in my college career," Bolinger says, "only adding the major in my junior year. I was fortunate to have two particularly excellent and philosophic art teachers, Jonathan Puls and Jonathan Anderson, who convinced me that my two passions were not mutually exclusive, and encouraged me to pursue both as I began my graduate education."

Bolinger now works primarily on the philosophy of language, with side interests in logic, epistemology, mind and political philosophy. She continues to paint. We asked her how she reconciles her two passions, which seem to occupy opposite sides of the mind. "I do work in analytic philosophy," she says, "but it's only half true that philosophy and painting engage opposite sides of the mind. The sort of realist drawing and painting that I do is all about analyzing the relationships between the lines, shapes and color tones, and so still very left-brain. Nevertheless, it engages the mind in a different way than do the syllogisms of analytic philosophy. I find that the two types of mental exertion complement each other well, each serving as a productive break from the other."

Bolinger has created a series of philosopher portraits, each one pairing a philosopher with an artist, or art style, in an intriguing way. In addition to Wittgenstein, she painted ten philosophers in her first series, many of them by request. They can all be seen on her web site, where high quality prints can be ordered.

G.E.M. Anscombe/Jackson Pollock:

G.E.M. Anscombe & Jackson Pollock

Bolinger says she paired the British analytic philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe with the American abstract painter Jackson Pollock for two reasons: "First, the loose style of Pollock's action painting fits the argumentative (and organizational) style of Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, which Anscombe helped to edit and was instrumental in publishing. Second, her primary field of work, in which she wrote a seminal text, is philosophy of action, which has obvious connections to the themes present in any of Pollock's action paintings."

Gottlob Frege/Vincent Van Gogh:

Gottlob Frege & Van Gogh

Bolinger paired the German logician, mathematician and philosopher Gottlob Frege with the Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh as a tongue-in-cheek reference to Van Gogh's famous painting The Starry Night and Frege's puzzle concerning identity statements such as "Hesperus is Phosphorus," or "the evening star is identical to the morning star."

Bertrand Russell/Art Deco:

Bertrand Russell & Art Deco

Bolinger painted the British logician and philosopher Bertrand Russell in the Art Deco style. "This pairing is a bit more about the gestalt, and a bit harder to articulate," says Bolinger. "The simplification of form and reduction to angled planes that takes place in the background of this Art Deco piece are meant to cohere with Russell's locial atomism (the reduction of complex logical propositions to their fundamental logical 'atoms')."

Kurt Gödel/Art Nouveau:

Kurt Godel & Art Nouveau

Bolinger paired the Austrian logician Kurt Gödel with Art Nouveau. "The Art Nouveau movement developed around the theme of mechanization and the repetition of forms," says Bolinger, "and centrally involves a delicate balance between organic shapes -- typically a figure that dominates the portrait -- and schematized or abstracted patterns, often derived from organic shapes, but made uniform and repetitive (often seen in the flower motifs that ornament most Art Nouveau portraits). I paired this style with Kurt Gödel because his work was dedicated to defining computability in terms of recursive functions, and using the notion to prove the Completeness and Incompleteness theorems."

To see more of Renée Jorgensen Bolinger's philosopher portraits, click here to visit her site.

Note: This post originally appeared on our site back in 2013.

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NASA Enlists Andy Warhol, Annie Leibovitz, Norman Rockwell & 350 Other Artists to Visually Document America’s Space Program

It’s hard to imagine that the space-crazed general public needed any help getting worked up about astronauts and NASA in the early 60s.

Perhaps the wild popularity of space-related imagery is in part what motivated NASA administrator James Webb to create the NASA Art Program in 1962.

Although the program's handpicked artists weren’t edited or censored in any way, they were briefed on how NASA hoped to be represented, and the emotions their creations were meant capture—the excitement and uncertainty of exploring these frontiers.

NASA was also careful to collect everything the artists produced while participating in the program, from sketches to finished work.




In turn, they received unprecedented access to launch sites, key personnel, and major events such as Project Mercury and the Apollo 11 Mission.

Over 350 artists, including Andy Warhol, Norman Rockwell, and Laurie Anderson, have brought their unique sensibilities to the project. (Find NASA-inspired art by Warhol and Rockwell above.)

(And hey, no shame if you mistakenly assumed Warhol’s 1987 Moonwalk 1 was created as a promo for MTV…)

Jamie Wyeth’s 1964 watercolor Gemini Launch Pad includes a humble bicycle, the means by which technicians traveled back and forth from the launch pad to the concrete-reinforced blockhouse where they worked.

Photographer Annie Leibovitz offers two views of NASA’s first female pilot and commander, Eileen Collins—with and without helmet.

Postage stamp designer, Paul Calle, one of the inaugural group of participating artists, produced a stamp commemorating the Gemini 4 space capsule in celebration of NASA's 9th anniversary. When the Apollo 11 astronauts suited up prior to blast off on July 16, 1969, Calle was the only artist present. His quickly rendered felt tip marker sketches lend a backstage element to the heroic iconography surrounding astronauts Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins. One of the items they carried with them on their journey was the engraved printing plate of Calle’s 1967 commemorative stamp. They hand-canceled a proof aboard the flight, on the assumption that post offices might be hard to come by on the moon.

More recently, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has enlisted a team of nine artists, designers, and illustrators to collaborate on 14 posters, a visual throwback to the ones the WPA created between 1938 and 1941 to spark public interest in the National Parks. You can see the results at the Exoplanet Travel Bureau.

View an album of 25 historic works from NASA’s Art Program here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, September 9 for another season of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

An Artist Crochets a Life-Size, Anatomically-Correct Skeleton, Complete with Organs

How to make a life-sized facsimile of a human skeleton:

  1. Download files published under a Creative Commons license, and arrange to have them 3-D printed.

or

  1. Do as artist Shanell Papp did, above, and crochet one.

The latter will take considerably more time and attention on your part. Papp gave up all extracurricular activities for four months to hook the woolen skeleton around her work and school schedule. Equipping it with internal organs ate up another four.

To ensure accuracy, Papp armed herself with anatomical textbooks and an actual human skeleton on loan from the University of Lethbridge, where she was an undergrad. The brain has gray and white matter, there's marrow in the bones, the stomach contains half-digested wool food, and the intestines can be unspooled to a realistic length.

The grueling 2006 project did not exhaust her fascination for the intricacies of human anatomy. The University of Saskatchewan granted her open access to draw in the gross anatomy lab while she pursued her MFA.

 

As she told MICE magazine:

I wanted this work to illustrate all of the organs and bones everyone shares and to not highlight differences. Much of anatomical history is about defining difference, by comparative analysis. This can set up strange taxonomies and hierarchies. I wasn't interested in participating in that; I wanted to expose the fragile, common, and unseen things in all of us.  

The finished piece, which is displayed supine on a gurney she nabbed for free during a mortuary renovation, incorporates many of Papp’s other abiding interests: horror, medical history, Frankenstein, crime investigation, and mortuary practices.




Papp, who taught herself how to crochet from books as a child, using whatever yarn found its way to her grandma’s junk shop, appreciates how her chosen medium adds a layer of homey softness and familiarity to the macabre.

It’s also not lost on her that fiber arts, often dismissed as too “crafty” by the establishment, were an important component of 70s-era feminist art, though in her view, her work is more of a statement on the history of textile manufacturing, which is to say the history of labor and class struggle.

See more of Shanell Papp’s work here.

All images in this post by Shanell Papp.

via designboom/Mymodernmet

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, September 9 for another season of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

A 9th Century Manuscript Teaches Astronomy by Making Sublime Pictures Out of Words

Concrete or visual poetry does not get much respect these days. Tersely defined at the Poetry Foundation as “verse that emphasizes nonlinguistic elements in its meaning" arranged to create “a visual image of the topic,” the form looks like a clever but frivolous novelty in our very serious times. It has seemed so in times past as well.

When Guillaume Apollinaire published his 1918 Calligrammes, his major collection of poems after he fought on the front lines of the first world war, he included several visual poems. Critics like Louis Aragon, “at his most hard-nosed,” notes Stephen Romer at The Guardian, “criticized it sharply for its aestheticism and frivolity.”




Apollinaire also wrote of war as a dazzling spectacle, a tendency that “raised the hackles of critics.” One can see there is moral merit to the objection, even if it misreads Apollinaire. But why should visual poetry not credibly illustrate phenomena we find sublime, just as well as it illustrates potted Christmas trees?

Indeed, the form has always done so, argues prolific visual poet Karl Kempton, until it took a “dystopian” turn after World War I. In his vast history of visual poetry, Kempton reaches back into ancient Buddhist, Sufi, European, and Indigenous cultural history. Forms of visual poetry, he writes, “are associated with ongoing traditions and numerous unfolding pathways traceable to humankind’s earliest surviving communication marks.”

Not as ancient as the examples into which Kempton first dives, the pages here from a manuscript called the Aratea nonetheless show us a use of the form that dates back over 1000 years, and incorporates “nearly 2000 years of cultural history,” writes the Public Domain Review. “Making use of two Roman texts on astronomy written in the 1st century BC, the manuscript was created in Northern France in about 1820.”

The text that has been arranged into images wasn’t originally poetry, though one might argue that arranging it thus makes us read it that way. Instead, the words are taken from Hyginus’ Astronomica, a “star atlas and book of stories” of somewhat uncertain origin. The poems in lined verse below each image are by 3rd century BC Greek poet Aratus (hence the title), “translated into Latin by young Cicero.”

If this feels like hefty material for a literary production that might seem more whimsical than awe-inspiring, we must consider that the manuscript’s first—and necessarily few—readers would have seen it differently. The text is a visual mnemonic device, the red dots showing the positions of the stars in the constellations: an aesthetic pedagogy that threads together visual perception, memory, imagination, and cognition.

“The passages used to form the images describe the constellation which they create on the page,” the Public Domain Review writes, “and in this way they become tied to one another: neither the words nor the images would make full sense without the other to complete the scene.” We are encouraged to read the stars through art and literature and to read poetry with an illustrated mythological star chart in hand.

The Aratea is a fascinating manuscript not only for its visually poetic illuminations, but also for its significance across several spans of time. Its physical existence is necessarily tied to the British Library where it resides. One of the institution’s first artifacts, it was “sold to the nation in 1752 under the same Act of Parliament which created the British Museum.”

“Part of a larger miscellany of scientific works,” including several notes and commentaries on natural philosophy, as the British Library describes it, the medieval text uses classical sources to contemplate the heavens in a form that is not only pre-Christian and pre-Roman, but perhaps, as Kempton argues, dates to the origins of writing itself.

via The Public Domain Review

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

There’s a Tiny Art Museum on the Moon That Features the Art of Andy Warhol & Robert Rauschenberg

This week is the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, and though we have yet to send an artist into space (photographer Michael Najjar is apparently still training to become the first), there is a tiny art museum on the moon, and it’s been there since November 1969, four months after man set foot on the lunar service, and in the afterglow of that amazing summer.

Don’t expect a walkable gallery, however. The museum is actually a ceramic wafer the size of a postage stamp, but what an impressive list: John Chamberlain, Forrest Myers, David Novros, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol.




As you can see, the six kept it minimal. Rauschenberg drew a single line. Abstract artist Novros created a black square with intersecting white lines that look like a circuit board. Sculptor Chamberlain also created a geometric shape like circuitry. Oldenburg left his signature, which at the time resembled an old Mickey Mouse. Myers, who initiated the project, drew a “linked symbol.” And Andy Warhol drew a “stylized signature” but let’s be honest, it’s a penis. Yes, Warhol put a dick pic on the moon.

The museum was not an officially sanctioned project. It had to be smuggled onto the Apollo 12 lunar lander. This took some doing and it started with Myers.

He might not be as well known as his fellows, but Myers was one of the forces behind the Soho art scene in the ‘60s, who saw the industrial area blossom with artists looking for cheap rents and large spaces.

Myers had been thinking about putting art on the moon, but all his entreaties to NASA were met with silence--neither a no nor a yes. It would have to be smuggled on board, he decided, but for such an operation, he’d need someone on the inside.

Fortunately, there was a non-profit that was helping connect artists with engineers, called Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) and Rauschenberg was one of its founders. Through E.A.T., Myers met Bell Labs’ Fred Waldhauer who loved the moon museum project, and came up with the idea of the small wafers. Sixteen wafers were produced (other accounts say 20), one to go on Apollo 12, the others to go back to the artists (one now resides in MOMA’s collection). Waldhauer knew an engineer with Grumman who was working on the Apollo 12, and he agreed to sneak the ceramic wafer on board. But how would they know this ultra secret mission was accomplished?

Two days before the Apollo launch, Myers received a telegram from Cape Canaveral:
"YOUR ON' A.O.K. ALL SYSTEMS GO.
JOHN F."

The artwork was not the only object sent to the moon on that mission. Engineers placed personal photos in the same place: in between the gold thermal insulation pads that would be shed when the lander left the moon’s surface.

Only when Apollo 12’s re-entry capsule was on its way back to earth did Myers reveal to the press his successful stunt. However, unless we sent astronauts back to the exact same spot we don’t really know if the museum ever made its way there. Maybe it landed the wrong way up? Maybe other wafers moved in through gentrification, raised rents, and the moon museum had to move to Mars. We’ll never find out.

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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.

Behold Fantastical Illustrations from the 13th Century Arabic Manuscript Marvels of Things Created and Miraculous Aspects of Things Existing

Religion, history, medicine, poetry, ethnography, zoology, cosmology, political philosophy—in many a medieval text, these categories all seem to melt together. Or rather, they don’t exist separately in the way we think of them, as labels on a library shelf and courses in a catalogue. The same logical rules do not apply—the appeal to authority, for example is not a fallacy so much as a primary methodology. If knowledge came from the right prophet, scholar, or sage, it could be trusted, a mode of thinking that gave rise to monsters, phantoms, and outlandish beings of all kinds.

It’s easy to call these methods primitive, but so-called medieval ways of thinking are still very much with us, and thinkers hundreds and thousands of years ago have had surprisingly scientific approaches, despite limited resources and technologies.




We find both the fantastical and the scientific woven together in medieval manuscripts, illuminating and commenting on each other. And we find exactly that in the works of Abu Yahya Zakariya' ibn Muhammad al-Qazwini, Persian writer, physician, astronomer, geographer, and author of a 13th century treatise called ‘Ajā’ib al-makhlūqāt wa-gharā’ib al-mawjūdāt, or Marvels of Things Created and Miraculous Aspects of Things Existing.

This work is “the most well-known example,” writes the National Library of Medicine, “of a genre of classical Islamic literature that was concerned with ‘mirabilia’ or wonders of creation.” Drawing on 50 different authors, including several ancient Islamic geographers and historians, Qazwini weaves myth, legend, and science, tying them together with stories and poetry. The Qur’an and hadith are significant sources—for a section on “angelology,” for example. When the cosmography comes down to earth, moving down through the ranks of humans, beasts, plants, and minerals, all sorts of weird, folkloric terrestrial creatures show up.

The phoenix (or Simurgh), for example, and the Homa, or paradise bird—which lands on someone’s head and instantly makes them king—sit comfortably next to eagles, vultures, and ostriches, all of which are construed as marvelous or miraculous in some way.

The treatise covered all the wonders of the world, and the variety of the subject matter (humans and their anatomy, plants, animals, strange creatures at the edges of the inhabited world, constellations of stars, zodiacal signs, angels, and demons) provided great scope for the artist.

First written in Arabic in the late 1200s and dedicated to the governor of Baghdad, the manuscript was “immensely popular” in the Islamic world. It was translated into Persian and Turkish and copied out in richly illustrated editions for centuries. The images here come from a Persian translation, “thought to hail from 17th-century Mughal India,” writes The Public Domain Review, and the art vividly displays the “eclectic mix of topics” in al-Qazwini’s book. These were subjects that “challenged understanding”—often because they concerned things that do not exist, and often because they described natural phenomenon that could not yet be explained.

“From humans and their anatomy to strange mythical creatures; from plants and animals to constellations of stars and zodiacal signs,” The Public Domain Review explains, the treatise purported to survey all the “known” world. Al-Qazwini embellished his explorations for entertainment purposes, but he also created extensive taxonomies and described practical science like the use of “a type of pitch or tar that we today know as asphalt,” San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum notes in their catalogue description of another illustrated manuscript, in Arabic, from 1650. For al-Qazwini and his readers, as for other 13th-century scholars, writers, and readers around the world, the boundaries between faith, fact, and fiction were permeable, and imagination sometimes seems to have been the ultimate authority.

via The Public Domain Review 

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

What Happened to the 1200 Paintings Painted by Bob Ross? The Mystery Has Finally Been Solved

Very few artists enjoy the degree of recognition that’s been conferred upon the late television educator Bob Ross, though sales of his work hover around zero.

It’s not due to scarcity. Ross pumped out three nearly-identical paintings per episode of his series, The Joy of Painting (watch them online here). That's 403 episodes over the course of 31 seasons on public television—or 1209 canvases of clouds, mountains, and “happy little trees.”

Shouldn’t economics dictate that these would have only increased in value following their creator’s untimely death from lymphoma in 1994?




A handful have been donated to the Smithsonian National Museum Of American History’s permanent collection. Leaving those aside, why are there no Bob Rosses fetching high prices on the auction block?

Is the painter’s legendary hypnotic appeal a factor? Did he subconsciously manipulate even the most cutthroat collectors into a state of sentimental attachment wherein profit matters not a jot?

As The New York Times-produced video above points out, Ross’ great mission in life was to get others painting—quickly and joyfully.

Which is not to say he blithely tossed the fruits of his labor into the incinerator after that purpose had been served.

The reason Ross’ paintings aren’t on the market is they’re neatly stacked in cardboard cartons at Bob Ross Inc. in Herndon, Virginia. It hardly constitutes archival storage, but the boxes are neatly numbered, and everything is accounted for.

And that is where they’re likely to remain, according to executive assistant Sarah Strohl and president Joan Kowalski, the daughter of Ross’ longtime business partner. (Her mother, Annette is Ross’ former student and the foremost authenticator of his work.)

For now, if anyone endeavors to sell you a Bob Ross original, it’s safe to assume it’s a fake.

Better yet, paint your own. Bob Ross Inc. tends to both the master’s reputation and his lucrative off-screen business, selling instructional books and painting supplies.

Be forewarned, though, it’s won't be as easy as the ever-placid master made it seem. Have a look at these comedians scrambling to keep up with his moves for the Bob Ross Challenge, a fundraiser for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Ross, of course, never broke a sweat on camera, which lends a bit of cognitive dissonance to the Times’ video’s frenetic editing. (I never thought I’d have to issue a seizure warning for something Bob Ross-related, but those canvases flash by awfully quickly at the 1:09 mark and again at 10:36. )

Explore a complete database of 31 seasons’ worth of Bob Ross’ Joy of Painting artworks here. Or watch all of the televised shows here. Just don’t expect to purchase one any time soon.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC on September 9 for the kick off of another season of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

 

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