Where Do Ideas Come From? David Lynch, Robert Krulwich, Susan Orlean, Chuck Close & Others Reveal Their Creative Sources

Ask any cre­ator sub­ject to fre­quent inter­views which ques­tions they dread, and one in par­tic­u­lar will come up more than any oth­er: “Where do you get your ideas?” Some have read­i­ly spo­ken and writ­ten on the sub­ject — Isaac Asi­mov, Neil Gaiman, David Lynch — but most, even if they’ve had tru­ly aston­ish­ing ideas, have giv­en the sub­ject of ideas in gen­er­al lit­tle thought. The video above, named after the infa­mous ques­tion, com­piles a vari­ety of answers from a vari­ety of peo­ple, younger and old­er, famous and less so, into a five-minute search for the source of human cre­ativ­i­ty.

“I get ideas in frag­ments,” says Lynch, whose voice we hear amid the many oth­ers in the video. “It’s as if, in the oth­er room, there’s a puz­zle and all the pieces are togeth­er. But in my room, they just flip one piece at a time into me.”

When a good idea comes along, says a twelve-year-old named Ursu­la, “that’s the feel­ing they call inspi­ra­tion.” But Radi­o­lab host Robert Krul­wich has a dim view of inspi­ra­tion: “I’m a lit­tle sus­pi­cious of the idea like, ‘In the begin­ning there was noth­ing and then there was light.’ I don’t think I’ve had that expe­ri­ence, and for oth­er peo­ple who’ve said that they’ve had that expe­ri­ence, I’m not sure I believe them.”

“Inspi­ra­tion is for ama­teurs,” says artist Chuck Close. “The rest of us just show up and get to work. Every great idea came out of work, every­thing.” Chalk up anoth­er point in favor of Thomas Edis­on’s famous break­down of genius as one per­cent inspi­ra­tion and 99 per­cent per­spi­ra­tion — but what kind of per­spi­ra­tion? As pro­fes­sion­al skate­board­er Ray Bar­bee sees it, “most peo­ple start off by mim­ic­k­ing some­thing, but then it turns into their own thing because they don’t real­ly have the abil­i­ty to mim­ic it pre­cise­ly,” a process that pro­duces “orig­i­nal­i­ty from copy­ing.”

“When­ev­er I fin­ish a sto­ry,” says New York­er writer Susan Orlean, “I go through a peri­od of time where I feel like I will nev­er again have an idea.” But it nev­er lasts as long as it feels: “One day you fall onto some­thing, and it just looks you in the face and says, ‘I’m the one.’ ” That “one” could take the form, accord­ing to the video’s con­trib­u­tors, of a chance encounter, a sen­tence in a sto­ry, a yel­low ball bounc­ing down the street, a soli­tary lawn chair seen from a train win­dow, a dump trick, or many oth­er even less expect­ed enti­ties besides. You just have to be primed and ready to con­nect it in an inter­est­ing man­ner to oth­er things in your head, in your envi­ron­ment, and in the cul­ture. “Luck is what hap­pens when prepa­ra­tion meets oppor­tu­ni­ty,” goes a well-known quote often attrib­uted to Seneca — and so, it seems, is cre­ativ­i­ty.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

An Ani­mat­ed David Lynch Explains Where He Gets His Ideas

Isaac Asi­mov Explains the Ori­gins of Good Ideas & Cre­ativ­i­ty in Nev­er-Before-Pub­lished Essay

Where Do Great Ideas Come From? Neil Gaiman Explains

John Cleese on the Ori­gin of Cre­ativ­i­ty

Rod Ser­ling: Where Do Ideas Come From?

Kurt Von­negut: Where Do I Get My Ideas From? My Dis­gust with Civ­i­liza­tion

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.

Russian History & Literature Come to Life in Wonderfully Colorized Portraits: See Photos of Tolstoy, Chekhov, the Romanovs & More

Col­orized episodes of I Love Lucy verge on sac­ri­lege, but Olga Shirn­i­na, a trans­la­tor and ama­teur col­orist of con­sid­er­able tal­ent, has unques­tion­ably noble goals when col­oriz­ing vin­tage por­traits, such as that of the Romanovs, above.

In her view, col­or has the pow­er to close the gap between the sub­jects of musty pub­lic domain pho­tos and their mod­ern view­ers. The most ful­fill­ing moment for this artist, aka Klimblim, comes when “sud­den­ly the per­son looks back at you as if he’s alive.”

A before and after com­par­i­son of her dig­i­tal makeover on Nadezh­da Kolesniko­va, one of many female Sovi­et snipers whose vin­tage like­ness­es she has col­orized bears this out. The col­or ver­sion could be a fash­ion spread in a cur­rent mag­a­zine, except there’s noth­ing arti­fi­cial-seem­ing about this 1943 pose.

“The world was nev­er mono­chrome even dur­ing the war,” Shirn­i­na reflect­ed in the Dai­ly Mail.

Mil­i­tary sub­jects pose a par­tic­u­lar chal­lenge:

When I col­orize uni­forms I have to search for info about the colours or ask experts. So I’m not free in choos­ing col­ors. When I col­orize a dress on a 1890s pho­to, I look at what col­ors were fash­ion­able at that time. When I have no lim­i­ta­tions I play with colours look­ing for the best com­bi­na­tion. It’s real­ly quite arbi­trary but a cou­ple of years ago I trans­lat­ed a book about colours and hope that some­thing from it is left in my head.

She also puts her­self on a short leash where famous sub­jects are con­cerned. Eye­wit­ness accounts of Vladimir Lenin’s eye col­or ensured that the revolutionary’s col­orized iris­es would remain true to life.

And while there may be a mar­ket for rep­re­sen­ta­tions of punked out Russ­ian lit­er­ary heroes, Shirn­i­na plays it straight there too, eschew­ing the dig­i­tal Man­ic Pan­ic where Chekhov, Tol­stoy, and Bul­gakov are con­cerned.

Her hand with Pho­to­shop CS6 may restore celebri­ty to those whose stars have fad­ed with time, like Vera Komis­sarzhevskaya, the orig­i­nal ingenue in Chekhov’s much per­formed play The Seag­ull and wrestler Karl Pospis­chil, who showed off his physique sans culotte in a pho­to from 1912.

Even the unsung pro­le­tari­at are giv­en a chance to shine from the fields and fac­to­ry floors.

Browse an eye pop­ping gallery of Olga Shirnina’s work on her web­site.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Beau­ti­ful, Col­or Pho­tographs of Paris Tak­en 100 Years Ago—at the Begin­ning of World War I & the End of La Belle Époque

Col­orized Pho­tos Bring Walt Whit­man, Char­lie Chap­lin, Helen Keller & Mark Twain Back to Life

Venice in Beau­ti­ful Col­or Images 125 Years Ago: The Rial­to Bridge, St. Mark’s Basil­i­ca, Doge’s Palace & More

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

The World’s Oldest Multicolor Book, a 1633 Chinese Calligraphy & Painting Manual, Now Digitized and Put Online

We think of Johannes Gutenberg’s print­ing press (cir­ca 1440) to have begun the era of the print­ed book, since his inven­tion allowed for mass pro­duc­tion of books on a scale unheard of before. But we must date the inven­tion of print­ing itself much earlier—nearly 600 years earlier—to the Chi­nese method of xylog­ra­phy, a form of wood­block print­ing. Also used in Japan and Korea, this ele­gant method allowed for the repro­duc­tion of hun­dreds of books from the 9th cen­tu­ry to the time of Guten­berg, most of them Bud­dhist texts cre­at­ed by monks. In the 11th cen­tu­ry, writes Eliz­a­beth Paler­mo at Live Sci­ence, a Chi­nese peas­ant named Bi Sheng (Pi Sheng) devel­oped the world’s first mov­able type.” The tech­nol­o­gy may have also arisen inde­pen­dent­ly in the 14th cen­tu­ry Yuan Dynasty and in Korea around the same time.

Despite these inno­va­tions, xylog­ra­phy remained the pri­ma­ry method of print­ing in Asia. The “daunt­ing task” of cast­ing the thou­sands of char­ac­ters in Chi­nese, Japan­ese, and Kore­an “may have made wood­blocks seem like a more effi­cient option for print­ing these lan­guages.” This still-labor-inten­sive process pro­duced books and illus­tra­tions for sev­er­al cen­turies, a good many of them incred­i­ble works of art in their own right.

In 1633, a Chi­nese print­er named Hu Zhengyan invent­ed a tech­nique known as douban, a form of poly­chrome xylog­ra­phy that led to the cre­ation of the world’s old­est mul­ti­col­or print­ed book, Shi zhu zhai shu hua pu (Man­u­al of Cal­lig­ra­phy and Paint­ing), con­tain­ing, per­haps, writes Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Library, “the most beau­ti­ful set of prints ever made.” And now thanks to Cam­bridge, the man­u­al has been care­ful­ly dig­i­tized and made avail­able online.

Pub­lished by Hu Zhengyan’s Ten Bam­boo Stu­dio in Nan­jiang, this man­u­al for teach­ers con­tains 138 pages of mul­ti­col­or prints by fifty dif­fer­ent artists and cal­lig­ra­phers and 250 pages of accom­pa­ny­ing text. “The method” that pro­duced the stun­ning arti­fact “involves the use of mul­ti­ple print­ing blocks which suc­ces­sive­ly apply dif­fer­ent coloured inks to the paper to repro­duce the effect of water­colour paint­ing.” Kept untouched in Cambridge’s “most secure vaults,” the book was unsealed for the first time just a cou­ple years ago. “What sur­prised us,” remarked Charles Aylmer, head of the Library’s Chi­nese Depart­ment, “was the amaz­ing fresh­ness of the images, as if they had nev­er been looked at for over 300 years.”

The 17th cen­tu­ry copy is “unique in being com­plete, in per­fect con­di­tion and in its orig­i­nal bind­ing.” (Anoth­er, incom­plete, copy was acquired in 2014 by the Hunt­ing­ton Library in San Mari­no, CA.) The book con­tains many “detailed instruc­tions on brush tech­niques,” writes CNN, “but its phe­nom­e­nal beau­ty has meant from the out­set that it has held a greater posi­tion” than oth­er such man­u­als. Like anoth­er gor­geous mul­ti­col­or paint­ing text­book, the Man­u­al of the Mus­tard Seed Gar­den, made in 1679, this text had a sig­nif­i­cant impact on the arts in both Chi­na and Japan, “where it inspired a whole new branch of print­ing.”

Con­sid­ered “one of the most his­tor­i­cal­ly and artis­ti­cal­ly impor­tant illus­trat­ed books of 17th cen­tu­ry Chi­nese wood­block art,” notes Liesl Brad­ner at the L.A. Times, Hu Zhengyan’s text reflects a time when lit­er­a­cy lev­els were ris­ing. Along with them came “increas­ing con­sumer demand for the print­ed word and images, which ush­ered in a gold­en era of Chi­nese pic­to­r­i­al paint­ing.” You can page through dig­i­tal scans of the entire book, from cov­er to cov­er, at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cambridge’s Dig­i­tal Library. Note: There are 388 pages in total. Click on the arrows at the top of this page to move through the text.

via MetaFil­ter

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Behold the Mas­ter­piece by Japan’s Last Great Wood­block Artist: View Online Tsukio­ka Yoshitoshi’s One Hun­dred Aspects of the Moon (1885)

Down­load 2,500 Beau­ti­ful Wood­block Prints and Draw­ings by Japan­ese Mas­ters (1600–1915)

An Epic Retelling of the Great Chi­nese Nov­el Romance of the Three King­doms: 110 Free Episodes and Count­ing

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

Google’s DeepMind AI Teaches Itself to Walk, and the Results Are Kooky, No Wait, Chilling

In 2014, Google acquired Deep­Mind, a com­pa­ny which soon made news when its arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence soft­ware defeat­ed the world’s best play­er of the Chi­nese strat­e­gy game, Go. What’s Deep­Mind up to these days? More ele­men­tal things–like teach­ing itself to walk. Above, watch what hap­pens when, on the fly, Deep­Mind’s AI learns to walk, run, jump, and climb. Sure, it all seems a lit­tle kooky–until you real­ize that if Deep­Mind’s AI can learn to walk in hours, it can take your job in a mat­ter of years.

Watch a primer explain­ing how Deep­Mind works here. And find more AI resources in the Relat­eds below.

via Twist­ed Sifter

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence: A Free Online Course from MIT

Experts Pre­dict When Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence Will Take Our Jobs: From Writ­ing Essays, Books & Songs, to Per­form­ing Surgery and Dri­ving Trucks

Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence Pro­gram Tries to Write a Bea­t­les Song: Lis­ten to “Daddy’s Car”

Two Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence Chat­bots Talk to Each Oth­er & Get Into a Deep Philo­soph­i­cal Con­ver­sa­tion

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Director Michel Gondry Makes a Charming Film on His iPhone, Proving That We Could Be Making Movies, Not Taking Selfies

What’s direc­tor Michel Gondry up to these days? Appar­ent­ly, try­ing to show that you can do smart things–like make seri­ous movies–with that smart­phone in your pock­et. The direc­tor of Eter­nal Sun­shine of the Spot­less Mind and the Noam Chom­sky ani­mat­ed doc­u­men­tary Is the Man Who Is Tall Hap­py? has just released “Détour,” a short film shot pure­ly on his iPhone 7 Plus. Sub­ti­tled in Eng­lish, “Détour” runs about 12 min­utes and fol­lows “the adven­tures of a small tri­cy­cle as it sets off along French roads in search of its young own­er.” Watch it, then ask your­self, was this real­ly not made with a tra­di­tion­al cam­era? And then ask your­self, what’s my excuse for not get­ting out there and mak­ing movies?

Accord­ing to Europe 1, the film took about two weeks to make, dur­ing which Gondry used the video soft­ware Filmic Pro, which costs $14.99 in Apple’s app store.

“Détour” will be added to our col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, 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. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent

Michel Gondry’s Finest Music Videos for Björk, Radio­head & More: The Last of the Music Video Gods

Noam Chom­sky Talks About How Kids Acquire Lan­guage & Ideas in an Ani­mat­ed Video by Michel Gondry

French Film­mak­er Michel Gondry Cre­ates a Steamy New Music Video for The White Stripes

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How Aristotle Invented Computer Science

In pop­u­lar con­cep­tions, we take the com­put­er to be the nat­ur­al out­come of empir­i­cal sci­ence, an inher­i­tance of the Enlight­en­ment and sub­se­quent sci­en­tif­ic rev­o­lu­tions in the 19th and 20th cen­turies. Of course, mod­ern com­put­ers have their ancient pre­cur­sors, like the Antikythera Mech­a­nism, a 2,200-year-old bronze and wood machine capa­ble of pre­dict­ing the posi­tions of the plan­ets, eclipses, and phas­es of the moon. But even this fas­ci­nat­ing arti­fact fits into the nar­ra­tive of com­put­er sci­ence as “a his­to­ry of objects, from the aba­cus to the Bab­bage engine up through the code-break­ing machines of World War II.” Much less do we invoke the names of “philoso­pher-math­e­mati­cians,” writes Chris Dixon at The Atlantic, like George Boole and Got­t­lob Frege, “who were them­selves inspired by Leibniz’s dream of a uni­ver­sal ‘con­cept lan­guage,’ and the ancient log­i­cal sys­tem of Aris­to­tle.” But these thinkers are as essen­tial, if not more so, to com­put­er sci­ence, espe­cial­ly, Dixon argues, Aris­to­tle.

The ancient Greek thinker did not invent a cal­cu­lat­ing machine, though they may have exist­ed in his life­time. Instead, as Dixon writes in his recent piece, “How Aris­to­tle Cre­at­ed the Com­put­er,” Aris­to­tle laid the foun­da­tions of math­e­mat­i­cal log­ic, “a field that would have more impact on the mod­ern world than any oth­er.”

The claim may strike his­to­ri­ans of phi­los­o­phy as some­what iron­ic, giv­en that Enlight­en­ment philoso­phers like Fran­cis Bacon and John Locke announced their mod­ern projects by thor­ough­ly repu­di­at­ing the medieval scholas­tics, whom they alleged were guilty of a slav­ish devo­tion to Aris­to­tle. Their crit­i­cisms of medieval thought were var­ied and great­ly war­rant­ed in many ways, and yet, like many an empiri­cist since, they often over­looked the crit­i­cal impor­tance of Aris­totelian log­ic to sci­en­tif­ic thought.

At the turn of the 20th cen­tu­ry, almost three hun­dred years after Bacon sought to tran­scend Aristotle’s Organon with his form of nat­ur­al phi­los­o­phy, the for­mal log­ic of Aris­to­tle could still be “con­sid­ered a hope­less­ly abstract sub­ject with no con­ceiv­able appli­ca­tions.” But Dixon traces the “evo­lu­tion of com­put­er sci­ence from math­e­mat­i­cal log­ic” and Aris­totelian thought, begin­ning in the 1930s with Claude Shan­non, author of the ground­break­ing essay “A Sym­bol­ic Analy­sis of Switch­ing and Relay Cir­cuits.” Shan­non drew on the work of George Boole, whose name is now known to every com­put­er sci­en­tist and engi­neer but who, in 1938, “was rarely read out­side of phi­los­o­phy depart­ments.” And Boole owed his prin­ci­ple intel­lec­tu­al debt, as he acknowl­edged in his 1854 The Laws of Thought, to Aristotle’s syl­lo­gis­tic rea­son­ing.

Boole derived his oper­a­tions by replac­ing the terms in a syl­lo­gism with vari­ables, “and the log­i­cal words ‘all’ and ‘are’ with arith­meti­cal oper­a­tors.” Shan­non dis­cov­ered that “Boole’s sys­tem could be mapped direct­ly onto elec­tri­cal cir­cuits,” which hith­er­to “had no sys­tem­at­ic the­o­ry gov­ern­ing their design.” The insight “allowed com­put­er sci­en­tists to import decades of work in log­ic and math­e­mat­ics by Boole and sub­se­quent logi­cians.” Shan­non, Dixon writes, “was the first to dis­tin­guish between the log­i­cal and the phys­i­cal lay­er of com­put­ers,” a dis­tinc­tion now “so fun­da­men­tal to com­put­er sci­ence that it might seem sur­pris­ing to mod­ern read­ers how insight­ful it was at the time.” And yet, the field could not move for­ward with­out it—without, that is, a return to ancient cat­e­gories of thought.

Since the 1940s, com­put­er pro­gram­ming has become sig­nif­i­cant­ly more sophis­ti­cat­ed. One thing that hasn’t changed is that it still pri­mar­i­ly con­sists of pro­gram­mers spec­i­fy­ing rules for com­put­ers to fol­low. In philo­soph­i­cal terms, we’d say that com­put­er pro­gram­ming has fol­lowed in the tra­di­tion of deduc­tive log­ic, the branch of log­ic dis­cussed above, which deals with the manip­u­la­tion of sym­bols accord­ing to for­mal rules.

Dixon’s argu­ment for the cen­tral­i­ty of Aris­to­tle to mod­ern com­put­er sci­ence takes many turns—through the qua­si-mys­ti­cal thought of 13th-cen­tu­ry Ramon Llull and, lat­er, his admir­er Got­tfried Leib­niz. Through Descartes, and lat­er Frege and Bertrand Rus­sell. Through Alan Tur­ing’s work at Bletch­ley Park. Nowhere do we see Aris­to­tle, wrapped in a toga, build­ing a cir­cuit board in his garage, but his modes of rea­son­ing are every­where in evi­dence as the scaf­fold­ing upon which all mod­ern com­put­er sci­ence has been built. Aristotle’s attempts to under­stand the laws of the human mind “helped cre­ate machines that could rea­son accord­ing to the rules of deduc­tive log­ic.” The appli­ca­tion of ancient philo­soph­i­cal prin­ci­ples may, Dixon con­cludes, “result in the cre­ation of new minds—artificial minds—that might some­day match or even exceed our own.” Read Dixon’s essay at The Atlantic, or hear it read in its entire­ty in the audio above.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free Online Com­put­er Sci­ence Cours­es

How the World’s Old­est Com­put­er Worked: Recon­struct­ing the 2,200-Year-Old Antikythera Mech­a­nism

The Books on Young Alan Turing’s Read­ing List: From Lewis Car­roll to Mod­ern Chro­mat­ics

How Ara­bic Trans­la­tors Helped Pre­serve Greek Phi­los­o­phy … and the Clas­si­cal Tra­di­tion

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


Archaeologists Discover the World’s First “Art Studio” Created in an Ethiopian Cave 43,000 Years Ago

Images via PLOS

If you want to see where art began, go to a cave. Not just any cave, but not just one cave either. You’ll find the best-known cave paint­ings at Las­caux, an area of south­west­ern France with a cave com­plex whose walls fea­ture over 600 images of ani­mals, humans, and sym­bols, all of them more than 17,000 years old, but oth­er caves else­where in the world reveal oth­er chap­ters of art’s ear­ly his­to­ry. Some of those chap­ters have only just come into leg­i­bil­i­ty, as in the case of the cave near the Ethiopi­an city of Dire Dawa recent­ly deter­mined to be the world’s old­est “art stu­dio.”

“The Porc-Epic cave was dis­cov­ered by Pierre Teil­hard de Chardin and Hen­ry de Mon­freid in 1929 and thought to date to about 43,000 to 42,000 years ago, dur­ing the Mid­dle Stone Age,” writes Sarah Cas­cone at Art­net.

There, archae­ol­o­gists have found “a stash of 4213 pieces, or near­ly 90 pounds, of ochre, the largest such col­lec­tion ever dis­cov­ered at a pre­his­toric site in East Africa.” The “ancient vis­i­tors to the site processed the iron-rich ochre stones there by flak­ing and grind­ing the raw mate­ri­als to pro­duce a fine-grained and bright red pow­der,” a sub­stance use­ful for “sym­bol­ic activ­i­ties, such as body paint­ing, the pro­duc­tion of pat­terns on dif­fer­ent media, or for sig­nalling.”

In oth­er words, those who used this ochre-rich cave over its 4,500 years of ser­vice used it to pro­duce their tools, which func­tioned like pro­to-stamps and crayons. You can read about these find­ings in much more detail in the paper “Pat­terns of change and con­ti­nu­ity in ochre use dur­ing the late Mid­dle Stone Age (MSA) of the Horn of Africa: The Porc-Epic Cave record” by Daniela Euge­nia Rosso of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Barcelona and Francesco d’Errico and Alain Quef­f­elec of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Bor­deaux. In it, the authors “iden­ti­fy pat­terns of con­ti­nu­ity in ochre acqui­si­tion, treat­ment and use reflect­ing both per­sis­tent use of the same geo­log­i­cal resources and sim­i­lar uses of iron-rich rocks by late MSA Porc-Epic inhab­i­tants.”

The Ethiopi­an site con­tains so much ochre, in fact, that “this con­ti­nu­ity can be inter­pret­ed as the expres­sion of a cohe­sive cul­tur­al adap­ta­tion, large­ly shared by all com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers and con­sis­tent­ly trans­mit­ted through time.” The more evi­dence sites like the Porc-Epic cave pro­vide, the greater the lev­el of detail in which we’ll be able to piece togeth­er the sto­ry of not just art, but cul­ture itself. Cul­ture, as Bri­an Eno so neat­ly defined it, is every­thing you don’t have to do, and though draw­ing in ochre might well have proven use­ful for the pre­his­toric inhab­i­tants of mod­ern-day Ethiopia, one of them had to give it a try before it had any acknowl­edged pur­pose. Lit­tle could they have imag­ined what that action would lead to over the next few tens of thou­sands of years.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Was a 32,000-Year-Old Cave Paint­ing the Ear­li­est Form of Cin­e­ma?

We Were Wan­der­ers on a Pre­his­toric Earth: A Short Film Inspired by Joseph Con­rad

Hear the World’s Old­est Instru­ment, the “Nean­derthal Flute,” Dat­ing Back Over 43,000 Years

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.

Wes Anderson Names 12 of His Favorite Art Films

Image by Raf­fi Asdouri­an, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

Asked to list their favorite films of all times, most direc­tors tend towards the canon. And why not? 8 1/2–loved by Scors­ese and Lynch and many others–is an indis­putable mas­ter­piece, for exam­ple. So is The God­fa­ther, Rashomon, Ver­ti­go, and any num­ber of movies that make top film lists over and over. The point is, most of the time, these lists are samey.

That’s why this list from Wes Ander­son is a hoot. Here he’s not asked to list his favorites of all time, but rather to cre­ate a Top 10 list of Cri­te­ri­on titles. Yet here’s his M.O.: “I thought my take on a top-ten list might be to sim­ply quote myself from the brief fan let­ters I peri­od­i­cal­ly write to the Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion team,” he says.

A lot of these films are rar­i­ties, and Ander­son admits he’s only just seen some of them for the first time. Mar­tin Ritt’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is one. Rober­to Rossellini’s The Tak­ing of Pow­er by Louis XIV is anoth­er. Of the lat­ter, he says, “This is a won­der­ful and very strange movie. I had nev­er heard of it. The man who plays Louis can­not give a con­vinc­ing line read­ing, even to the ears of some­one who can’t speak French—and yet he is fas­ci­nat­ing.”

Anderson’s com­ments are often ques­tions, not defin­i­tive state­ments. Like us, he is just as mys­ti­fied by a film, and that feel­ing is prob­a­bly why he likes them in the first place.

Of that Rosselli­ni film he won­ders “What does good act­ing actu­al­ly mean?” And of Claude Sautet’s Classe tous risques he asks, “Who is our Lino Ven­tu­ra?” refer­ring to the Ital­ian-born French actor who was once described as “The French John Wayne.” (So, the real ques­tion is this: who is our mod­ern day John Wayne?)

We’ll leave the rest for you to read, but for a direc­tor so invest­ed in arti­fice and nos­tal­gia it was a sur­prise to hear how much he loves sur­re­al­ist Luis Buñuel:

“He is my hero. Mike Nichols said in the news­pa­per he thinks of Buñuel every day, which I believe I do, too, or at least every oth­er.”

Wes Ander­son­’s Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion Top 10

1. The Ear­rings of Madame de… (dir. Max Ophuls)
2. Au hasard Balt­haz­ar (dir. Robert Bres­son)
3.Pigs and Battleships/The Insect Woman/Intentions of Mur­der (dir. Shohei Ima­mu­ra)
4. The Tak­ing of Pow­er by Louis XIV (dir. Rober­to Rosselli­ni)
5. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (dir. Mar­tin Ritt)
6. The Friends of Eddie Coyle (dir. Peter Yates)
7. Classe tous risques (dir. Claude Sautet)
8. L’enfance nue (dir. Mau­rice Pialat)
9. Mishi­ma: A Life in Four Chap­ters (dir. Paul Schrad­er)
10. The Exter­mi­nat­ing Angel (dir. Luis Buñuel)

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Wes Anderson’s Charm­ing New Short Film, Castel­lo Cav­al­can­ti, Star­ring Jason Schwartz­man

Wes Ander­son from Above. Quentin Taran­ti­no From Below.

Stan­ley Kubrick’s List of Top 10 Films: The First and Only List He Ever Cre­at­ed

Wes Ander­son & Yasu­jiro Ozu: New Video Essay Reveals the Unex­pect­ed Par­al­lels Between Two Great Film­mak­ers

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.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.