Joni Mitchell Publishes a Book of Her Rarely Seen Paintings & Poetry

Self Portrait.”Art work by Joni Mitchell, from "Morning Glory on the Vine" / Courtesy Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Joni Mitchell is a woman of many talents—too many for the label “singer-songwriter” to encompass. It does not capture the literary depth of her lyricism, the unique strength of her distinctive voice, or the deftness and versatility of her guitar playing. Nor the fact that she’s one of the most interesting personalities in rock (or folk-rock/folk/folk-jazz, whatever). Mitchell’s biography is riveting; her chatty and cantankerous interviews a treat.

And, if you somehow didn’t know from her many album covers, Mitchell is also an accomplished visual artist. “I have always thought of myself as a painter derailed by circumstance,” she said in 2000. “I sing my sorrow and I paint my joy.” It’s a great quote, though she also sings her joy and paints sorrow—as in the portrait of her hero, Miles Davis, made just after his death. (Davis was a painter too, and they bonded over art.)

Mitchell began selling her work “when I was in high school to dentists, doctors—small time,” she told Rolling Stone in 1990. She has written poetry since her teenage years. Her imagistic songwriting came from a love of literary language. “I wrote poetry,” she says, “and I always wanted to make music. But I never put the two things together,” until she heard Dylan’s “Positively Fourth Street” and realized “you could make your songs literature.”

Painter, poet, singer, songwriter, guitarist—all of the artistic sides of Mitchell have mingled throughout her career in the visual splendor of her covers, compositions, and lyrics. They also came together in a rare 1971 book. After the release of Blue, Mitchell “gathered more than thirty drawings and watercolors in a ring binder and paired them with handwritten lyrics and bits of poetry,” writes Amanda Petrusich at The New Yorker.

She had the book handbound in an edition of 100 copies and gave it to friends for the holidays, calling it “The Christmas Book.” Now it has a different title, Morning Glory on the Vine, for a new edition to be released October 22nd. Part of the extensive celebrations for Mitchell’s 75th birthday, this edition fulfills a decade-long desire for the artist. “I always wanted to redo it and simplify the presentation,” she tells Petrusich. “Work is meant to be seen.”

The collection “feels consonant with Mitchell’s songwriting” in that it captures “tantalizing details about home,” in this case the home in Laurel Canyon that she shared with Graham Nash, the inspiration for the Crosby, Stills & Nash song “Our House.” Still life compositions and self-portraits, both “vivid" and "intimate,” complement her vulnerable, playful, “funny and weird,” lyrics and verses. You can see more of the paintings from Morning Glory on the Vine at The New Yorker and preorder a copy of the book here.

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

A 900-Page Pre-Pantone Guide to Color from 1692: A Complete Digital Scan

Human beings got along perfectly well for hundreds of millennia without standardized taxonomies of color, but they didn’t do so in a globally connected culture full of logos, brands, and 24/7 screens. It’s arguable whether the world as we now see it would have been possible without monopolistic color systems like Pantone. They may circumscribe the visual world and dictate color from above. But they also enable international design principles and visual languages that translate easily everywhere.

These circumstances did not yet exist in 1692, when Dutch artist A. Boogert created a huge, almost 900-page book on color, Traité des couleurs servant à la peinture à l'eau. But they were slowly coming into being, thanks to studies by philosopher-scientists like Isaac Newton.

Boogert’s book took enlightenment work on optics in a more rigorous design direction than any of his contemporaries, anticipating a number of influential books on color to come in the following centuries, such as the art history-making studies by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and a book on color used by Charles Darwin during his Beagle voyage.

Boogert’s exhaustive study includes handwritten notes and descriptions and hundreds of hand-painted color swatches. This above-and-beyond effort was not, however, made for scientific or industrial purposes but as a guide for artists, showing how to mix watercolors to make every color in the spectrum. The author even includes a comprehensive unit on whites, grays, and blacks. How much historical influence did Boogert’s text have on the development of standardized color systems, we might wonder? Hardly any at all. Its single copy, notes This is Colossal, “was probably seen by very few eyes.”

The obscure book disappeared in the archives of the Bibliothèque Méjanes in Aix-en-Provence, France. That is, until its discovery recently by Medieval book historian Erik Kwakkel, who posted scans on his Tumblr and translated some of the introduction from the original Dutch. Since then, the complete text has come online: 898 pages of high-resolution digital scans at the Bibliothèque Méjanes site. (Go to this page, click on the picture, then click on the arrows in the lower right side of the page to move through the book.)

If you read Dutch, all the better to appreciate this rare historic artifact. But you don’t need to understand A. Boogert’s explanations on watercolor technique to be staggered by the incredible amount of work that went into this early, overlooked labor of love for systematic approaches to color. Enter the full text here.

h/t David Hale

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

The Japanese Fairy Tale Series: The Illustrated Books That Introduced Western Readers to Japanese Tales (1885-1922)

Everyone in Japan knows the story of Momotaro, the boy born from a peach who goes on to defeat the marauding ogres known as oni. The oldest known written versions of Momotaro's adventures date back to the 17th century, but even then the tale almost certainly had a long history of passage through oral tradition. And though Momotaro may well be the best-known Japanese folk hero, his story is just one in a body of folklore vast enough that few, even among avid enthusiasts, can claim to have mastered it in its entirety.

That vast body of Japanese folklore has provided no small amount of inspiration to comics, animation, and the other modern forms of storytelling that have brought many of these folktales to wider audiences — even global audiences, a project that began in the late 19th century.

Their Western popularization has no greater figurehead than Lafcadio Hearn. A Greek-British writer who moved to Japan in 1890, Hearn later became a naturalized Japanese citizen and wrote such books as Japanese Fairy Tales, Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things, and The Boy Who Drew Cats.

That last title, an English version of a Japanese folktale about a child who vanquishes a goblin rat in a monastery by drawing its natural enemies on the monastery walls, was also adapted in a series of beautifully illustrated crêpe-paper children's books put out by an enterprising Japanese publisher named Takejiro Hasegawa. "In twenty volumes, published between 1885 and 1922, the Fairy Tale series introduced traditional Japanese folk tales, first to readers of English and French, and later to readers of German, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, and Russian," writes the Public Domain Review's Christopher DeCou.

Wanting to model the books on Japanese anthologies published in the sixteenth century, Hasegawa hired traditional Japanese woodblock printers like Kobyashi EitakuSuzuki Kason, and Chikanobu to illustrate them. And, for the translation work, he drew on the local missionary community to which his own English education had put him in contact. "The earliest volumes in the Japanese Fairy Tale Series really were very much a product of Tokyo’s close-knit expat community," DeCou writes. A growing Western interest in Japonisme, as well as "Hasewaga’s wheeling and dealing at World’s Fairs" and the good sense to bring the famous Hearn aboard the project, made the Japanese Fairy Tale Series into an enduring international success.

"At a time when publishing houses in London and New York dominated the market," DeCou writes, "Hasegawa’s press in Tokyo was producing equally beautiful volumes using traditional Japanese craftwork and broadcasting Japan’s culture to the world." You can see more pages of the Japanese Fairy Tale Books at the Public Domain Review, and complete digitizations at the site of book dealer George Baxley as well as at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County and the Internet Archive. Like Hearn, Hasegawa understood that Japanese folklore had the appeal to cross temporal and cultural boundaries. But could even he have imagined that the very books in which he published them would still draw such fascination more than a century later?

via Public Domain Review

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Libraries & Archivists Are Digitizing 480,000 Books Published in 20th Century That Are Secretly in the Public Domain

Image by Jason "Textfiles" Scott, via Wikimedia Commons

All books in the public domain are free. Most books in the public domain are, by definition, on the old side, and a great many aren't easy to find in any case. But the books now being scanned and uploaded by libraries aren't quite so old, and they'll soon get much easier to find. They've fallen through a loophole because their copyright-holders never renewed their copyright, but until recently the technology wasn't quite in place to reliably identify and digitally store them.

Now, though, as Vice's Karl Bode writes, "a coalition of archivists, activists, and libraries are working overtime to make it easier to identify the many books that are secretly in the public domain, digitize them, and make them freely available online to everyone." These were published between 1923 and 1964, and the goal of this digitization project is to upload all of these surprisingly out-of-copyright books to the Internet Archive, a glimpse of whose book-scanning operation appears above.

"Historically, it’s been fairly easy to tell whether a book published between 1923 and 1964 had its copyright renewed, because the renewal records were already digitized," writes Bode. "But proving that a book hadn’t had its copyright renewed has historically been more difficult." You can learn more about what it takes to do that from this blog post by New York Public Library Senior Product Manager Sean Redmond, who first crunched the numbers and estimated that 70 percent of the titles published over those 41 years may now be out of copyright: "around 480,000 public domain books, in other words."

The first important stage is the conversion of copyright records into the XML format, a large part of which the New York Public Library has recently completed. Bode also mentions a software developer and science fiction author named Leonard Richardson who has written Python scripts to expedite the process (including a matching script to identify potentially non-renewed copyrights in the Internet Archive collection) and a bot that identifies newly discovered secretly public-domain books daily. Richardson himself underscores the necessity of volunteers to take on tasks like seeking out a copy of each such book, "scanning it, proofing it, then putting out HTML and plain-text editions."

This work is now happening at American libraries and among volunteers from organizations like Project Gutenberg. The Internet Archive's Jason Scott has also pitched in with his own resources, recently putting out a call for more help on the "very boring, VERY BORING (did I mention boring)" project of determining "which books are actually in the public domain to either surface them on or help make a hitlist." Of course, many more obviously stimulating tasks exist even in the realm of digital archiving. But then, each secretly public-domain book identified, found, scanned, and uploaded brings humanity's print and digital civilizations one step closer together. Whatever comes out of that union, it certainly won't be boring.

via Vice

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Discover the Jacobean Traveling Library: The 17th Century Precursor to the Kindle

Image courtesy of the University at Leeds

In the striking image above, you can see an early experiment in making books portable--a 17th century precursor, if you will, to the modern day Kindle.

According to the library at the University of Leeds, this "Jacobean Travelling Library" dates back to 1617. That's when William Hakewill, an English lawyer and MP, commissioned the miniature library--a big book, which itself holds 50 smaller books, all "bound in limp vellum covers with coloured fabric ties." What books were in this portable library, meant to accompany noblemen on their journeys? Naturally the classics. Theology, philosophy, classical history, classical poetry. The works of Ovid, Seneca, Cicero, Virgil, Tacitus, and Saint Augustine. Many of the same texts that showed up in The Harvard Classics (now available online) three centuries later, and now our collection of Free eBooks.

Apparently three other Jacobean Travelling Libraries were made. They now reside at the British Library, the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, and the Toledo Museum of Art in Toledo, Ohio.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in October, 2017.

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Public Library Receipt Shows How Much Money You’ve Saved by Borrowing Books, Instead of Buying Them

Wichita Public Library has a neat system. They write on their blog: "Every time materials are borrowed from the Wichita Public Library (WPL) customers receive a receipt showing how much they have saved in that visit, the year to date, and their lifetime savings. The information is displayed on the receipt similar to the ways that retail stores show savings to club members or coupon users." They then go on to add: "So far this year, the highest dollar amount saved by a customer's account is $64,734.12. And the highest dollar amount saved by a customer's account since this feature was implemented is $196,076.21." Every book adds up...

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

via Reddit/Boing Boing

Why Should You Read Haruki Murakami? An Animated Video on His “Epic Literary Puzzle” Kafka on the Shore Makes the Case

Haruki Murakami's vast international fan base includes people dedicated to literature. It also includes people who have barely cracked any books in their lives — apart, that is, from Murakami's novels with their distinctive mixture of the lighthearted with the grim and the mundane with the uncanny. Since the publication of his first novel, Hear the Wind Sing, 40 years ago in his native Japan, Murakami has become both a literary phenomenon and an extra-literary phenomenon, and different readers endorse different paths into his unique textual realm.

The TED-Ed video above makes the case for one fan favorite in particular: 2002's Kafka on the Shore, an "epic literary puzzle filled with time travel, hidden histories, and magical underworlds. Readers delight in discovering how the mind-bending imagery, whimsical characters and eerie coincidences fit together." So says the video's narrator, reading from a lesson written by literary scholar Iseult Gillespie (who has also made cases for Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, and Ray Bradbury).

Murakami tells this story, and keeps it fresh through more than 500 pages, by alternating between two point-of-view characters: a teenager "desperate to escape his tyrannical father and the family curse he feels doomed to repeat," who "renames himself Kafka after his favorite author and runs away from home," and an old man with "a mysterious knack for talking to cats."

When the latter is commissioned to use his unusual skill to track down a lost pet, "he’s thrown onto a dangerous path that runs parallel to Kafka’s." Soon, "prophecies come true, portals to different dimensions open up — and fish and leeches begin raining from the sky." But it's all of a piece with Murakami's body of work, with its novels and stories that "often forge fantastic connections between personal experience, supernatural possibilities, and Japanese history." His "references to Western society and Japanese customs tumble over each other, from literature and fashion to food and ghost stories."

All of it comes tied together with threads of music: "As the runaway Kafka wanders the streets of a strange city, Led Zeppelin and Prince keep him company," and he later befriends a librarian who "introduces him to classical music like Schubert." Safe to say that such references put some distance between Murakami's work and that of his character Kafka's favorite writer, to whom Murakami himself has been compared. Kafka on the Shore showcases Murakami's storytelling sensibility, but is it in any sense Kafkaesque? You'll have plenty more questions after taking the plunge into Murakami's reality, but there's another TED-Ed lesson that might at least help you answer that one.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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