Watch 3000 Years of Art, a 1968 Experimental Film That Takes You on a Visual Journey Through 3,000 Years of Fine Art

Even if we can't name them, we've all seen hundreds of the most important paintings in art history, and even if we can't name it, we've all heard "Classical Gas." 3000 Years of Art, the 1968 experimental film above, officiates an aesthetic union of about 2500 of those much-seen, highly influential images and Mason Williams' instrumental hit song, all in just over three minutes.

Initially released on The Mason Williams Phonograph Record in 1967, the track went on, with the help of 3000 Years of Art, to become "one of the earliest records that used a visual to help promote it on television, which probably qualifies it as one of the earliest music videos." Those words come from Williams himself, who posted the video to his own Youtube channel.

When "Classical Gas" first became a hit, he writes, "I was also the head writer for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour on CBS. I had seen a film titled God Is Dog Spelled Backwards at The Encore, an off beat movie house in L.A. The film was a collection of approximately 2500 classical works of art, mostly paintings, that flashed by in three minutes. Each image lasted only two film frames, or twelve images a second! At the end of the film the viewer was pronounced 'cultural' since they had just covered '3000 years of art in 3 minutes!'"

Contacting the short's creator, a UCLA student by the name of Dan McLaughlin, Williams asked if he could re-cut its imagery to "Classical Gas" for a Smothers Brothers segment. First airing on the show in the summer of 1968 — the same year that saw another of the show's writers, a young man by the name of Steve Martin, bring his talents directly to the air — the resulting proto-music-video rocketed Williams' song to another sphere of popularity entirely. Not only that, it "opened the door to realizations that the viewer's mind could absorb this intense level of visual input" with its use of kinestasis, the phenomenon whereby a montage of still images creates its own kind of motion.

Following the idea to its then-logical conclusion, Williams soon after wrote a skit for the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour "projecting the idea that someday VJs would be playing hit tapes on TV." And so the trajectories of easy-listening instrumental music, gently subversive television comedy, and art history intersected to give the world an early glimpse of MTV, Youtube, and whichever host of even shorter-form, intenser viewing experiences comes next.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities 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.

Learn to Code with Harvard’s Popular Intro to Computer Science Course: The 2017 Edition

In recent months, Harvard has been rolling out videos from the 2017 edition of Computer Science 50 (CS50), the university's introductory coding course designed for majors and non-majors alike. Taught by David Malan, a perennially popular professor (you'll see why), the one-semester course (taught mostly in C) combines courses typically known elsewhere as "CS1" and "CS2."

Even if you're not a Harvard student, you're welcome to follow CS50 online by heading over to this site here. There you will find video lectures (stream them all above or access them individually here), problem sets, quizzes, and other useful course materials. Once you've mastered the material covered in CS50, you can start branching out into new areas of coding by perusing our big collection of Free Online Computer Science Courses, a subset of our larger collection, 1,300 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

Note: Harvard's CS50 is also available as a MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) on edX. Also taught by David Malan, the course can be taken in a self-paced format for free. Find it here.

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Hear a 19-Hour Playlist of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Favorite Music: Schubert, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, and… Yvette Guilbert

Among his many varied interests—which, in addition to philosophy, included aeronautical engineering and architectureLudwig Wittgenstein was also a great lover of music. Given his well-deserved reputation for intellectual austerity, we might assume his musical tastes would tend toward minimalist composers of the early 20th century like fellow Austrian Arnold Schoenberg. The “orderly serialism,” of Schoenberg’s atonal music “does seem an obvious complement to Wittgenstein’s philosophy,” writes Grant Chu Covell. “Observers have wondered why the famously arrogant thinker who attempted to infuse philosophy with logic didn’t find Schoenberg’s 12-tone system attractive.”

But indeed, he did not—in fact, Wittgenstein despised almost all modern music and seemed to believe that “nothing of value had been composed after the 19th century’s demise.” While his philosophical work made as radical a break with the past as Schoenberg’s theory, when it came to music, the philosopher was a strict traditionalist who “liked to say that there were only six truly great composers: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms and Labor.”

This last name will hardly be familiar to most readers. Labor, a blind organist and composer, was a close friend of the Wittgenstein family and a teacher of Ludwig’s brother Paul (and of Schoenberg as well). Although he lived into the twentieth century, Labor mainly drew his influence from early music.

The extravagantly wealthy Wittgensteins were a musical family—both Ludwig’s older brothers became musicians. Wittgenstein’s parents and grandparents knew Brahms, adopted violinist Joseph Joachim, a distant cousin, into the family, and frequently hosted such luminaries as Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss. Ludwig himself learned to play the clarinet and “was a fastidious listener,” Covell notes. “Acquaintances marveled at his virtuoso whistling. His repertoire included Brahms’ Haydn Variations and other symphonic works. He would unhesitatingly correct others’ inaccurate humming or singing.” He supposedly had an “untiring obsession with perfect recreations of the classics.”

The philosopher’s perfectionism lead to some harsh critical judgments. “Brahms is Mendelssohn without the flaws,” he wrote. He declared Mahler “worthless… quite obviously it took a set of very rare talents to produce this bad music.” What did Wittgenstein value in music besides an ideal of perfection? Grammar, silence, and profundity. “The music of the Baroque era… made use of the special effect of silence,” writes Yael Kaduri at Contemporary Aesthetics. “The general pause of the Baroque was used to illustrate concepts such as eternity, death, infinity and silence in vocal music.” These concepts “did not disappear in the transition to the classic era.” Haydn’s music in particular “contains so many general pauses that it seems they form an intrinsic component of his musical language.”

Wittgenstein had other criteria as well, much of it, surely, as enigmatic as the principles that governed his thought. What does become clear, Covell argues, is that “Wittgenstein could only have been attracted to common-practice tonality, with its codified rules and delineation between ornament and form.” He needed “a system the details of which enhance an underlying structure.” In the playlist above, you can hear a selection of the philosopher's favorites. Compiled by Wittgenstein biographer Ray Monk, the playlist omits Haydn, for some reason, but includes Wagner and Romantic composer Georges Bizet.

You’ll also find one rare exception to Wittgenstein’s obsession with classical musical order: cabaret actress and singer Yvette Guilbert, favorite subject of artist Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and onetime star of the Moulin Rouge. The famously solitary, severe, and ill-tempered philosopher may have, it seems, nurtured a softer side after all.

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

Ditching the Lecture Hall for the Recording Studio: One Historian Is Using the Power of Podcasting to Inspire a Whole New Audience

History is dying at U.S. colleges and universities.  Enrollment in undergraduate history courses is way down since 2010, and the number of history degrees awarded annually has likewise been falling faster and faster.  The most recent data show a 9% nationwide drop in history degrees awarded in 2014 compared to 2013, with an even sharper 13% decline at the nation’s top universities, including Yale, Harvard, and Stanford. (1,2,3,4)  So, is history just getting old?

On the contrary.  At least outside of academia, history has never been more popular.  Cultural icons including Barack Obama and Bill Gates have cited history books such as Yuval Noah Harari's Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind and Steven Pinker's Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress as among their favorite books of all time.  The History Channel has enjoyed a resurgence in viewership since 2013, and judging by the reception of more epic productions, from Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-winning movie Lincoln in 2012 to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash hit musical Hamilton in 2015, it’s clear that public hunger for history is only growing.  What, then, accounts for lackluster lecture hall attendance?

“Part of the problem is that much of academic history has become too esoteric,” says podcaster Brad Harris, who holds a PhD from Stanford in the history of science and technology.  “Course content has been shifting away from big ideas like the rise of modern science and democracy to narrower studies of things like the politics of emotion and cultural constructions, which many students find less relevant to their interests.”  Moreover, Harris contends that college history courses have never been more cynical.  “Too many professors dwell on what humanity has done wrong–who we’ve oppressed, what we’ve destroyed–and not enough on what humanity has done right–who we’ve liberated, what we’ve invented.  Where’s the inspiration?  It’s no wonder people are ditching history lectures.”  And now, so has Brad Harris.

Since leaving academia in 2015, Harris has been working full-time to offer an attractive alternative for people who want to learn history, providing content that is as informative as a college lecture but as entertaining as a cinematic production: a podcast called How It Began: A History of the Modern World.  Available everywhere podcasts are found, and also from his website, howitbegan.com, How It Began interprets a broad array of the most important scientific, technological, and cultural advancements in history, from dog domestication to the Scientific Revolution.  Here is an excerpt from the show's introductory episode:

In each episode, we will fly through the centuries to follow the seeds of an innovation or discovery as it blossoms into one of the many fruits of modernity.  Far from a catalog of dead men and dates, How It Began offers a cinematic-like immersion into the stories behind some of our species’ greatest achievements.  The overall theme?  Celebration!  We are fortunate to be descended from men and women who dared to dream big and even die for the cause of progress.  Their work is unfinished, and some parts of modernity are even worse than before.  But most are better, much better.  And we have more tools than ever to fix what’s still broken.  

Brad Harris hopes his show’s focus on modern progress will captivate people who crave more inspiring explorations of history, and judging by How It Began's reception so far, he seems well on his way to achieving exactly that.  

Episodes are between 30 and 60 minutes long and released every month or so.  The podcast explores a wide range of topics, from the rise of modern surgery and computers to the development of the English language and the theory of evolution.  "Wolves to Dogs: The Origin of our Alliance" was one of the most popular episodes of Season One.   In a more recent episode, Harris reveals the surprising correlations between the spread of coffee consumption and the establishment of modern institutions:

Sources:
1. "New Data Show Large Drop in History Bachelor's Degrees," Perspectives on History, American Historical Association, March 2016: https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/march-2016/new-data-show-large-drop-in-history-bachelors-degrees
2. "Survey Finds Fewer Students Enrolling in College History Courses," Perspectives on History, American Historical Association, September 2016: https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/september-2016/survey-finds-fewer-students-enrolling-in-college-history-courses
3. "The Rise and Decline of History Specializations over the Past 40 Years," Perspectives on History, American Historical Association, December 2015: https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/december-2015/the-rise-and-decline-of-history-specializations-over-the-past-40-years
4. "The Decline and Fall of History," Niall Ferguson, published by The American Council of Trustees and Alumni, October 2016: https://www.goacta.org/images/download/Ali-Ferguson-Merrill-Speech.pdf

 

This is a guest post by Morgan Stewart, an educational consultant and founder of Within Reach Educational Consultants.

Jane Austen Used Pins to Edit Her Manuscripts: Before the Word Processor & White-Out

Before the word processor, before White-Out, before Post It Notes, there were straight pins. Or, at least that's what Jane Austen used to make edits in one of her rare manuscripts. In 2011, Oxford's Bodleian Library acquired the manuscript of Austen's abandoned novel, The Watsons. In announcing the acquisition, the Bodleian wrote:

The Watsons is Jane Austen’s first extant draft of a novel in process of development and one of the earliest examples of an English novel to survive in its formative state. Only seven manuscripts of fiction by Austen are known to survive.The Watsons manuscript is extensively revised and corrected throughout, with crossings out and interlinear additions.

Janeausten.ac.uk (the web site where Austen's manuscripts have been digitized) takes a deeper dive into the curious quality of The Watsons manuscript, noting:

The manuscript is written and corrected throughout in brown iron-gall ink. The pages are filled in a neat, even hand with signs of concurrent writing, erasure, and revision, interrupted by occasional passages of heavy interlinear correction.... The manuscript is without chapter divisions, though not without informal division by wider spacing and ruled lines. The full pages suggest that Jane Austen did not anticipate a protracted process of redrafting. With no calculated blank spaces and no obvious way of incorporating large revision or expansion she had to find other strategies – the three patches, small pieces of paper, each of which was filled closely and neatly with the new material, attached with straight pins to the precise spot where erased material was to be covered or where an insertion was required to expand the text.

According to Christopher Fletcher, Keeper of Special Collections at the Bodleian Library, this prickly method of editing wasn't exactly new. Archivists at the library can trace pins being used as editing tools back to 1617.

You can find The Watsons online here:

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in August, 2014.

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An Animated Introduction to the Existentialist Philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre… and How It Can Open Our Eyes to Life’s Possibilities

Among the vogue names of midcentury Western philosophy, few ever rose to such cultural heights as that of Jean-Paul Sartre. Fans once dropped it whenever they could, and made sure to be seen reading Being and Nothingness wherever they could. But why did his particular ideas so captivate his readers, and what — now that French philosophy fever has, for the most part died down — do we still stand to gain from familiarizing ourselves with them? This six-and-a-half-minute animated Sartre primer from Alain de Botton's School of Life can get us started understanding them.

Sartre's entry in the accompanying site The Book of Life breaks his existentialist philosophy down into four key insights: "Things are weirder than we think," "We are free," "We shouldn’t live in ‘Bad faith’," and "We’re free to dismantle Capitalism."

Or in other words, everyday logic can give way to sheer absurdity; that absurdity provides us glimpses of the vast and usually unacknowledged possibilities of life (which exist not least because nothing has any fixed purpose); we have an obligation to acknowledge those possibilities and our freedom to choose between them; and we need not live under a system that operates to limit those possibilities. But how do we actually act on any of this?

On the most basic level, Sartre helps us realize that "things do not have to be the way they are." He "urges us to accept the fluidity of existence and to create new institutions, habits, outlooks and ideas. The admission that life doesn’t have some preordained logic and is not inherently meaningful can be a source of immense relief when we feel oppressed by the weight of tradition and the status quo." That notion must have exuded a special appeal in the postwar West, when the enormous growth of large-scale industrial and corporate organizations started to make life seem frighteningly regimented.

Things may look quite different here in the 21st century, nearly 40 years after Sartre's death, but even after all our supposed enlightenment and empowerment since then, we'd do well to heed his insistence that nothing in our lives, or thoughts, or our economy really has to be the way it is. And since none of it, in his view, came down to us divinely ordained, we can change any of it whenever and however we wish. We have that great power, but with great power, as the Spider-Man comics say, comes great responsibility. No wonder we so often prefer to pretend we have no choice.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities 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.

Enroll in Harvard’s Free Online Architecture Course: An Introduction to the History & Theory of Architecture

So, you want to be an architect. Where to begin? It seems like a very big aspiration. One theorist argues that modernist architecture has been “characterized by a thaumaturgic… ambition which would heal the ‘diseases’ of individuals and society.” As anyone who’s spent much time in a housing project, faceless office park, or strip mall might attest, more recent approaches can also have “the power of hurting.”

If you’re intent on wielding the power of architecture for good, you’ll need many years of study and apprenticeship. But whether you’re just getting your feet wet or have already waded into the field, you’ll likely gain quite a lot of understanding from “The Architectural Imagination,” a free online course from Harvard's Graduate School of Design, in which you will “learn how to ‘read’ architecture as a cultural expression as well as a technical achievement.” The course, which begins on February 28th, is free, but for $99 students can also receive a certificate of completion.

“Architecture is one of the most complexly negotiated and globally recognized cultural practices,” notes the course introduction. Building design “involves all of the technical, aesthetic, political, and economic issues at play within a given society.” In addition to creating single-family dwellings, architects are tasked with designing harmonious spaces through which thousands of people might move on a daily basis.

Successful design requires more than an understanding of the necessary relationships between form and function. “In some ways,” the course trailer video above tells us, “it’s just what exceeds necessity that is architecture. And it’s the opening onto that excess that makes architecture a fundamentally human endeavor.”

Healing society? Grasping the big issues in arts, politics, and engineering? Designing for the “fundamentally human”? These are deep briefs indeed. A more lighthearted approach to the field—the tongue-in-cheek “I Am an Architect” rap above—suggests a couple simpler prerequisites for the aspiring architect: a lifelong passion for making things (with blocks, Legos, Jenga, etc.), and, of course, a pair of black plastic glasses. If you can relate, sign up for Harvard’s “The Architectural Imagination” and find many more edX Architecture courses here.

via Arch Daily

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

Is Charles Bukowski a Self-Help Guru? Hear Five of His Brutally Honest, Yet Oddly Inspiring, Poems and Decide for Yourself

I don't know if he’s been replaced as a major influence on young, restless (and almost exclusively male) aspiring writers, but once upon a time—if you weren’t into the romantic wanderlust of Kerouac but still considered yourself a fringe character—it might be to the hard-boiled shit-talking of wise old man Charles Bukowski that you turned. Upon first learning this, and being a busy college student, I decided to take a crash course and checked out a documentary.

I did not find myself charmed all at once. But one can fall in love with an author’s persona yet loathe them on the page. Bukowski’s crudeness and bad humor on film could not hide the deep wells of sadness in which he seemed to swim, as if—like some ancient cynic philosopher—he knew something profound and terrible and spared us the telling of it by posing as a drunken, half-mad street-corner raconteur. I had to go and read him.

In his idiom—that of an eloquent streetwise barfly—Bukowski can be every bit as passionate and profound as his hero Dostoevsky. His unforgettable mixing of comic seediness and casual abuse with a deeply tragic mourning over the human condition, while not to everyone’s taste, make his decades-long struggle out of penury and obscurity a feat worthy of the telling in his semi-autobiographical prose and poetry.

But does it make him a role model? For anyone but certain young, mostly male, aspiring writers maybe spending more time drinking than writing, that is?

A fair number of people seem to think so, and I leave it to you to decide, first by listening to the Bukowski poems read here, posted on YouTube with heavy, inspirational background music. Some are given new titles to sound more like self-help seminars—such as “Reinvent Your Life” at the top (originally “No Leaders, Please”). The video reading called “Go all the way,” second from top, changes the title of “Roll the Dice,” a classic picture of Bukowski’s uncompromising commitment to “going all the way,” even if it means “freezing on a park bench” and “losing girlfriends, wives, relatives, jobs and maybe your mind.”

Solidly middle-class parents might approve of the first poem’s sentiments, which could be wedged into a suitably vague, yet bold-sounding commencement speech or a job recruiter’s pep talk. But “Roll the Dice” simply goes too far. “It could mean jail, it could mean derision, mockery, isolation”? This won’t do at all. Hear another reading of “Roll the Dice” by inspirational rock star Bono further up, just after the more Bukowski-like Tom Waits reads “The Laughing Heart,” frequently referenced for its intensity of feeling. Like Thomas Hardy or Leonard Cohen, the bard of the barstools could look life straight in the eye, see all of its bleakness and violence, and still manage at times to catch a divine glimmer.

And for the many aspirants to whom Bukowski has appealed, we have, further up, “So, You Want to Be a Writer?” Before you hear, or read, this poem, be advised: these are not warm words of encouragement or helpful life-coaching in verse. It is the kind of raw talk no respectable writing teacher will give you, and maybe they’re right not to, who’s to say? Except a man who went all the way, froze on park benches, went to jail, lost girlfriends, wives, relatives, jobs and maybe his mind? Read an excerpt of Bukowski’s writing advice below, and just above, hear the author himself read “Friendly Advice to a Lot of Young Men,” which urges them to do virtually anything they like, “But don’t write poetry.”

don’t be like so many writers,
don’t be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don’t be dull and boring and
pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-
love.
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
sleep
over your kind.
don’t add to that.
don’t do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.

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

Finding Meaning in Music: A Short Documentary on How a Young Tech Pioneer, Confronting His Mortality, Prepared for His Final Violin Performance

The doctor breaks the news. You have terminal cancer, and you might have only a few months to live. How would you spend those final days? That's a question that Eric Sun had to confront when doctors told him he had a glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer, in 2016. Only 32 years old, Sun had studied computer science and economics at Stanford, then went to work at Facebook in 2008. Everything was on track. Until it wasn't. Then big decisions had to be made.

Last month, the New Yorker published a poignant profile on Sun, documenting how, facing mortality, he found refuge--and maybe some kind of deeper meaning--in music. The related video above, "Finding Meaning in Music," lets you see Sun returning to his lifelong passion--playing violin--and getting ready for his final performance. In the end, it's art that nourishes the soul.

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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.

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The Brian Eno Discography: Stream 29 Hours of Recordings by the Master of Ambient Music

45 years have passed since Brian Eno left Roxy Music to strike out on his own, launching a more or less unprecedented career spread across music popular and experimental as well as other forms of art entirely. It seems to have worked out for him: young stars like James Blake, Owen Pallett, and Seun Kuti continue to seek out the boundary-pushing creative oversight he previously brought as producer to acts like David Bowie and U2, and his own work as a "non-musician" (which began with him twisting knobs and pushing buttons almost at random with Roxy Music) continues apace, his latest album Reflection having come out just last year.

If you looked for Reflection at the record store, physical or digital, you might well find it filed under "ambient," a genre Brian Eno often gets credited with, though never seems to claim credit for, inventing.

Whether or not he came up with that atmospheric, almost spatial form of music single-handedly — or its computer-composed cousin generative music, which you can experience with Reflection in app form — matters less than the intellectual framework he's built, and that he continually dismantles and rebuilds, around it.

Though Eno has always insisted on the importance of deep feeling in music, perceiving a kind of sacredness in acts like singing and dancing, the creation of his own music has also involved no small amount of cogitation, the fruits of which you can hear in the 29-hour Spotify playlist above. (If you don't have Spotify's free software, you can download it here.) If you got into Eno through his ambient work, what you hear on much of this sonic journey through his discography might surprise you: the jaggedness of a "Sky Saw" from Another Green World, the cyberpunk beats of Nerve Net, or the nervy grooves on his collaborations with former Talking Heads David Byrne. All of it evidences that Eno never runs out of musical ideas, nor the fascination to execute them; no wonder Roxy Music leader Bryan Ferry, nearly half a century later, wants to collaborate with him again.

The playlist starts with Eno's first album, 1974's Here Come the Warm Jets, and then moves through the rest of his discography chronologically. It may not include every album Eno ever made. But it certainly seems to include every Eno album currently available on the streaming service.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities 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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