A Quick Six Minute Journey Through Modern Art: How You Get from Manet’s 1862 Painting, “The Luncheon on the Grass,” to Jackson Pollock 1950s Drip Paintings

Even those not intimately familiar with Jackson Pollock’s work know to file him under a category called “abstract expressionism,” but somehow his massive paintings — and the layer upon layer of drips that constitute their visual and textural surface — still seem to slip categorization. Some of the painter’s fans would surely claim that, more than sixty years after his death, he does indeed still stand apart. But how far apart, really? Evan Puschak, better known as the Nerdwriter, takes on that question in the video essay above, “How Art Arrived at Jackson Pollock.”

Puschak considers a particular Pollock painting from 1950, “the only abstract work of art that has ever floored me in person as soon as my eyes caught it,” and asks why appreciation comes so much more easily for him with it than with other non-figurative works of art. “I don’t think the power of this Pollock depends on its place in the history of art.” he says. “Its style, its use of color, its hyperactivity are intrinsic qualities, but I do think the history of art has a lot to say.” In many ways, “they’re the culmination of something that has a foggy beginning about a century or two before, with the gradual end of church and noble patronage of the arts and the dawn of painters painting what was important to them.”

This line of thinking sets Puschak in search of the beginning of modern art itself, which some find in the early 1860s in the highly figurative work of Edouard Manet, with its “flattened” imagery and “scandalous subject matter.” Monet and his colleagues brought about the movement known as Impressionism, “concerning themselves not with the objects they see in the world but how the light plays off them.” From then on the degree of abstraction intensifies with each subsequent movement in painting, and by the turn of the 20th century “art has unraveled. Its centuries-long aim of reproducing the physical world in perspective, color and form is rapidly being abandoned.”

The highly compressed six-minute journey that Puschak takes through art history to get him to Pollock’s “drip paintings,” which the artist began creating in the 1940s, also includes stops at post impressionism; the work of Vincent Van Gogh (notably his “ugliest masterpiece” Night Cafe, subject of a previous Nerdwriter analysis); Wassily Kandinsky and Pablo Picasso; Dada and the Surrealist Manifesto, all in the span of less than a hundred years. “A fast-changing world contributed hugely, of course, but beyond that I do believe there’s a drive in us to take things as far as they can go, and the century of modern art is an exhilarating example of that” — and the oeuvre of Pollock himself remains an example of “how irrepressible human creativity can be.”

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Watch Portrait of an Artist: Jackson Pollock, the 1987 Documentary Narrated by Melvyn Bragg

The MoMA Teaches You How to Paint Like Pollock, Rothko, de Kooning & Other Abstract Painters

Dripped: An Animated Tribute to Jackson Pollock’s Signature Painting Technique

60-Second Introductions to 12 Groundbreaking Artists: Matisse, Dalí, Duchamp, Hopper, Pollock, Rothko & More

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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

How Cinemas Taught Early Movie-Goers the Rules & Etiquette for Watching Films (1912): No Whistling, Standing or Wearing Big Hats

I admit, I sometimes pay a premium at a certain dinner theater chain with a lobby-slash-bar designed to look like classic indie video stores of yore. It’s not only the padded recliners and half-decent grub that keeps me coming back. Nope, it’s the rules. Printed on the menu are a list of disruptive behaviors that will get you unceremoniously tossed out—no refunds and no backsies.

I’ve never seen it happen. Given what people put down for tickets, dinner, drinks, and/or a babysitter, it’s unlikely many risk blowing the evening. But knowing that the theater takes silence seriously brings serious moviegoers peace of mind. What is a movie, after all, without the all-important dialogue, music, and sound cues?

Well, it’s silent film. And even then, when movies were sound-tracked with live accompaniment and dialogue appeared on title cards, people worried very much about distractions. It just so happens that talking and texting (obviously) were the least of early audience’s concerns.

For one thing, the cinema was a place where classes, races, sexes, and ages “mixed much more freely than had been Victorian custom,” notes Rebecca Onion at Slate. There were the usual concerns about corruption of the “delicate sensibilities” of ladies.

“But female cinema-goers were just as likely to be seen as a problem,” writes Onion, “given their supposed propensity for wearing big hats and chatting.” The melting pot demographic of the nickelodeon could be exhilarating, and audience members found they sometimes lost their inhibitions. “Somehow you enter into the spirt of the thing,” observed author W.W. Winters in 1910. “Don’t you slip away from yourself, lose your reticence, reserve, pride, and a few other things?”

These days we’re accustomed to cramming in elbow-to-elbow next to anyone and everyone, and we mostly heed the onscreen cajoling to put our phones away and keep quiet, even when we aren’t quarantined in specialty boutique chains or local arthouse theaters. Then again, if certain behaviors weren’t an issue, there wouldn’t be ads prohibiting them.

Enormous hats and applause (and applause with things other than hands) may be relics of cinema’s infancy. But swap out those admonitions for others of the smartphone variety and these lantern slides instructing viewers in 1912 about proper movie theater etiquette don’t look so different from today… sort of.

We might want for intermissions to return, especially after the two-hour mark, and wouldn’t it be nice if, instead of keeping us in our seats for post-credit scenes, big blockbuster movies just said “Good Night”? See more of these delightful public service announcements from 1912 nickelodeons at Back Story Radio.

via Slate

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

3 Iconic Paintings by Frida Kahlo Get Reborn as Vans Skate Shoes

Attention Frida Kahlo tchotchke hounds.

You can scratch that itch, even if your summer itinerary doesn’t include Mexico City (or Nashville, Tennessee, where the Frist Museum is hosting Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Mexican Modernism from the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection through September 2).

Taking its cue from Doc Marten’s Museum Collection, Vans is releasing three shoes inspired by some of the painter’s most iconic works, 1939’s The Two Fridas, 1940’s Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, and—for those who prefer a more subtly Frida-inspired shoe, 1954’s refreshingly fruity Viva la Vida.

Vans’ limited edition Frida Kahlo collection hits the shelves June 29. Expect it to be snapped up quickly by the Waffleheads, Vans’ dedicated group of collectors and customizers, so don’t delay.

If this line doesn’t tickle your fancy, there is of course an abundance of Frida Kahlo tribute footwear on Etsy, everything from huaraches and Converse All-Stars to socks and baby booties.

via Juxtapoz/MyModernMet

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

Meet Emma Willard, the First Female Map Maker in the U.S., and Her Brilliantly Inventive Maps (Circa 1826)

Americans have never like the word “empire,” having seceded from the British Empire to ostensibly found a free nation. The founders blamed slavery on the British, naming the king as the responsible party. Three of the most distinguished Virginia slaveholders denounced the practice as a “hideous blot,” “repugnant,” and “evil.” But they made no effort to end it. Likewise, according to the Declaration of Independence, the British were responsible for exciting “domestic insurrections among us,” and endeavouring “to  bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages.”

These denunciations aside, the new country nonetheless began a course identical to every other European world power, waging perpetual warfare, seizing territory and vastly expanding its control over more and more land and resources in the decades after Independence.

U.S. imperial power was asserted not only by force of arms and coin but also through an ideological view that made its appearance and growth an act of both divine and secular providence. We see this view reflected especially in the making of maps and early historical infographics.

In 1851, three years after war with Mexico had halved that country and expanded U.S. territory into what would become several new states, Emma Willard, the nation’s first female mapmaker, created the “Chronographer of Ancient History” above, a visual representation to “teach students about the shape of historical time,” writes Rebecca Onion at Slate. The Chronographer is a “more specialized offshoot of Willard’s master Temple of Time, which tackled all of history”—or all six thousand years of it, anyway, since “Creation BC 4004.”

Willard made several such maps, illustrating an idea popular among 18th and 19th century historians, and illustrated in many similar ways by other artists: casting history as a succession of great empires, one taking over for another. Viewers of the map stand outside the temple’s stable framing, assured they are the inheritors of its historical largesse. Other visual metaphors told this story, too. Willard, as Ted Widmer points out at The Paris ReviewWillard was an “inventive visual thinker,” if also a very conventional historical one.

In an earlier map, from 1836, Willard visualized time as a series of branching imperial streams, flowing downward from “Creation.” Curiously, she situates American Independence on the periphery, ending with the “Empire of Napoleon” at the center. The U.S. was both something new in the world and, in other maps of hers, the fruition of a seed planted centuries earlier. Willard’s mapmaking began as an effort to supplement her materials as “a pioneering educator,” founder of the Emma Willard School in Troy, New York, and a “versatile writer, publisher and yes, mapmaker,” who “used every tool available to teach young readers (and especially young women) how to see history in creative new ways.”

In another “chronographer” textbook illustration, she shows the “History of the U. States or Republic of America” as a tree which had been growing since 1492, though no such place as the United States existed for most of this history. Maps, writes Sarah Laskow at Atlas Obscura, “have the power to shape history” as well as to record it. Willard’s maps told grand, universal stories—imperial stories—about how the U.S. came to be. In 1828, when she was 41, “only slightly older than the United States of America itself,” Willard published a series of maps in her History of the United States, or Republic of America.

This was “the first book of its kind—the first atlas to present the evolution of America.” Willard’s maps show the movement of Indigenous nations in plates like “Locations and Wanderings of The Aboriginal Tribes… The Direction of their Wanderings,” below—these were part of “a story about the triumph of Anglo settlers in this part of the world. She helped solidify, for both her peers and her students, a narrative of American destiny and inevitability, writes University of Denver historian Susan Schulten. Willard was “an exuberant nationalist,” who generally “accepted the removal of these tribes to the west as inevitable.”

Willard was a pioneer in many respects, including, perhaps, in her adoptation of European neoclassical ideas about history and time in the justification of a new American empire. Her snapshots of time collapse “centuries into a single image,” Schulten explains, as a way of mapping time “in a different way as a prelude to what comes to next.” See many more of Willard’s maps from The History of the United States, or Republic of America, the first historical atlas of the United States, at Boston Rare Maps.

via The Paris Review

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

19th Century Japanese Woodblock Prints Creatively Illustrate the Inner Workings of the Human Body

Folks with a passing knowledge of ukiyo-e, the Japanese woodblock print art form popular in the 17th through 19th centuries, will be familiar with its landscapes, as well as its portraits of courtesans and kabuki actors. But often these prints were educational, demonstrated by these very odd anatomical prints that promote good health as it relates to our internal workings.

Long before animated monsters warned us about our mucus-filled chests, Japanese artists like Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865) filled the guts of these men and women with little workers, making sure the human body worked like a functioning village or town.

In the first print, Inshoku Yojo Kagami (“Mirror of the Physiology of Drinking and Eating”), a man dines on fish and drinks sake. Inside, little men scurry about a pool wrapped in intestines, stoke a fire under the heart, all the while a scholar keeps reference materials nearby. Down below lonely figures guard the “urine gate” and the “feces gate,” surely one of the worst jobs in all the body economy.

One of Kunisada’s students created a print for the women, focusing on the reproductive organs, called Boji Yojo Kagami (“Rules of Sexual Life”). Keen eyed viewers will note that the miniature workers here are all women, so at least there’s some equality at play.

The two prints were meant as instructional, pointing out best health practices, and warning against overindulgence and excess.

Other prints are just as inventive: a back and abdomen covered in children playing familiar games; another featuring popular kabuki actors standing in for various organs. (Now, that is just crying out for a modern remake). The last print shows a pregnant woman whose belly contains Tainai jukkai no zu (Ten realms within the body), a Buddhist idea that you can read more about here. As for their function inside the womb, that is for others of a higher consciousness to discern.

via Spoon & Tamago

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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.

How to Rescue a Wet, Damaged Book: A Handy Visual Primer

How to save those wet, damaged books? The question has to be asked. Above, you can watch a visual primer from the Syracuse University Libraries–people who know something about taking care of books. It contains a series of tips–some intuitive, some less so–that will give you a clear action plan the next time water and paper meet.

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Deliberate Practice: A Mindful & Methodical Way to Master Any Skill

Each and every day we eat, we sleep, we read, we brush our teeth. So why haven’t we all become world-class masters of eating, sleeping, reading, and teeth-brushing? Most of us, if we’re honest with ourselves, plateaued on those particular skills decades ago, despite never having missed our daily practice sessions. This should tell us something important about the difference between practicing an action and simply doing it a lot, a distinction at the heart of the concept of “deliberate practice.” As the Sprouts video above explains it, deliberate practice “is a mindful and highly structured form of learning by doing,” a “process of continued experimentation to first achieve mastery and eventually full automaticity of a specific skill.”

Psychologist Anders Ericsson, the single figure most closely associated with deliberate practice, draws a distinction with what he calls naive practice: “Naive practice is people who just play games,” and in so doing “just accumulate more experience.” But in deliberate practice, “you actually pinpoint something you want to change. And once you have that specific goal of changing it, you will now engage in a practice activity that has a purpose of changing that.”

As a post on deliberate practice at Farnam Street puts it, “great performers deconstruct elements of what they do into chunks they can practice. They get better at that aspect and move on to the next,” often under the guidance of a teacher who can more clearly see their strengths and weaknesses in action.

“Most of the time we’re practicing we’re really doing activities in our comfort zone,” says the Farnam Street post. “This doesn’t help us improve because we can already do these activities easily” — just as easily, perhaps, as we eat, sleep, read, and brush our teeth. But we also fail to improve when we operate at the other end of the spectrum, in the “panic zone” that “leaves us paralyzed as the activities are too difficult and we don’t know where to start. The only way to make progress is to operate in the learning zone, which are those activities that are just out of reach.” As in every other area of life, what challenges us too much frustrates us and what challenges us too little bores us; only at just the right balance do we benefit.

But striking that balance presents challenges of its own, challenges that have ensured a readership for writings on the subject of how best to engage in deliberate practice by Ericsson as well as many others (such as writer-entrepreneur James Clear, whose beginner’s guide to deliberate practice you can read online here). The video above on Ericsson’s book Peak: How to Master Almost Anything explains his view of the goal of deliberate practice as to develop the kind of library of “mental representations” that masters of every discipline — golfers, doctors, guitarists, comedians, novelists — use to approach every situation that might arise. Developing those mental representations requires specific goals, intense periods of practice, immediate feedback during that practice, and above all, frequent discomfort. Everyone enjoys mastery once they attain it, but if you find yourself having too much fun on the way, consider the possibility that you’re not practicing deliberately enough.

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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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Arab Photography Archive Puts 22,000 Historic Images Online: Get a Rare Glimpse into Life and Art in the Arab World

The history of photography, as most of us know it, has expanded by several thousand images and several more countries, thanks to the launch last month of the Arab Image Foundation’s online archive of photography “from the Middle East, North Africa, and the Arab diaspora dating from the mid-nineteenth century,” as the Getty’s photography blog The Iris reports.

The Beirut-based non-profit AIF has since digitized 22,000 images from its physical collection of 500,000+ photographs, collected since 1997, notes the Foundation, in “research missions and projects in Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Iraq, Iran, Mexico, Argentina and Senegal.” AIF hopes to eventually upload 55,000 scanned images, but funding issues have made the project a challenge.

Nonetheless, the trove of photos and negatives already made available not only significantly expands our view of photography’s reach and scope, but also our view of the Arab world—recording lost traditions, modernisms, and an array of cultural practices and attitudes that may surprise us, and that have since been suppressed in many of these same societies.

“From same-sex kisses and men in drag,” writes India Stoughton for the BBC, “to nude portraits and children posing with assault rifles, the Arab Image Foundation is replete with startling and sensationalist photographs.”  There are many photographs of flamboyant stage performers and celebrities. And there are many more conventional collections, such as the family portraits of Palestinians living in Jerusalem, Nablus, Ramallah, and Jaffa before 1948.

Amidst the hundreds of stiff portraits and awkward family photos, the archive features candid street shots and “many images of historic events and figures.” It also documents “watershed moments that have been overlooked by history.” Pin-up photography and pictures of male bodybuilders in Egypt; surrealist experiments with double exposures in 1924 by Lebanese photographer Marie al-Khazen, “one of the first female photographers in the Middle East,” writes Stoughton.

Al-Khazen’s “avant-garde compositions and habit of photographing herself and other women enjoying traditionally male pastimes, such as smoking, driving and hunting, made her a fascinating and unconventional figure.” The same adjectives apply to many of the photographers in this archive, whose work often shocks and surprises, but just as often communicates in more subtle ways the texture of everyday life for people in the Middle East and North Africa over the course of the late-19th to mid-20th centuries.

These images capture the daily lives of overlooked people groups, like the Bedouin hunters of Syria, as well as the lives of regular people before conservative regimes swept into power around the region and wiped away traces of modernization and the personal, religious, creative, and sexual freedoms we see represented. Now this photographic history joins several other comprehensive online libraries of historic photography, such as Europeana Photography, the George Eastman Museum, the Soviet Union’s premier photo magazine, and many more.

While not as extensive as some of these other collections, the AIF’s digital project is no less essential for the light it sheds on a past, and a medium, that continues to prove itself resistant to stereotypes. Enter the Arab Image Foundation’s digital archive here, and learn more about how these photographs have been digitally preserved at The Iris.

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

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