When Salvador Dalí Created Christmas Cards That Were Too Avant Garde for Hallmark (1960)

The nature of mar­ket­ing in the near­ly-over 2010s, with all its unex­pect­ed brand crossovers and col­lab­o­ra­tions, gave rise to many strange com­mer­cial bed­fel­lows. But for sheer artis­tic shock val­ue, did any of them sur­pass Christ­mas of 1960, when Sal­vador Dalí designed hol­i­day greet­ing cards for Hall­mark? It was the rare inter­sec­tion of the kind of com­pa­ny that has built an empire on broad­ly appeal­ing, inof­fen­sive expres­sions of love and fes­tiv­i­ty and an artist who once said, “I don’t do drugs. I am drugs.”

“Hall­mark began repro­duc­ing the paint­ings and designs of con­tem­po­rary artists on its Christ­mas cards in the late 1940s, an ini­tia­tive that was led by com­pa­ny founder Joyce Clyde Hall,” writes the Wash­ing­ton Post’s Ana Swan­son.

The art of Pablo Picas­so, Paul Cezanne, Paul Gau­guin, Vin­cent Van Gogh and Geor­gia O’Keeffe all took a turn on Hallmark’s Christ­mas cards.” And so, Swan­son quotes Hall as writ­ing in his auto­bi­og­ra­phy, “through the ‘unso­phis­ti­cat­ed art’ of greet­ing cards, the world’s great­est mas­ters were shown to mil­lions of peo­ple who might oth­er­wise not have been exposed to them.”

Hall­mark signed Dalí on in 1959. The painter of The Per­sis­tence of Mem­o­ry and Cru­ci­fix­ion (Cor­pus Hyper­cubus) asked the greet­ing-card giant for “$15,000 in cash in advance for 10 greet­ing card designs, with no sug­ges­tions from Hall­mark for the sub­ject or medi­um, no dead­line and no roy­al­ties.” The designs Dalí came up with includ­ed “Sur­re­al­ist ren­di­tions of the Christ­mas tree and the Holy Fam­i­ly,” as well as some “vague­ly unset­tling” images, such as a head­less angel play­ing a lute and the three wise men atop some insane-look­ing camels. Ulti­mate­ly, Hall­mark only pro­duced two of the Dalí cards, a nativ­i­ty scene and a depic­tion of the Madon­na and Child. Alas, even those rel­a­tive­ly tame images did­n’t go over well.

Dalí’s “take on Christ­mas,” as Patrick Regan writes in Hall­mark: A Cen­tu­ry of Car­ing, was “a bit too avant garde for the aver­age greet­ing card buy­er,” and the neg­a­tive pub­lic response soon con­vinced Hall­mark to drop Dalí’s cards from their prod­uct line — thus ensur­ing their future as sought-after col­lec­tor’s items. As inaus­pi­cious as the mar­riage of Dalí and Hall­mark might seem, the artist did pos­sess a com­mer­cial sense more in line with Joyce Clyde Hal­l’s than not: in his life­time Dalí cre­at­ed a range of prod­ucts rang­ing from prints to books (includ­ing a cook­book) to tarot decks, and even appeared in tele­vi­sion com­mer­cials. Not all of his ven­tures were suc­cess­ful, but as with his Hall­mark Christ­mas cards — about which you can learn more at the site of Span­ish lan­guage and lit­er­a­ture pro­fes­sor Rebec­ca M. Ben­der — some­times the fail­ures are more mem­o­rable than the suc­cess­es.

via the Wash­ing­ton Post.

The images above come cour­tesy of the Hall­mark Archives.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Sal­vador Dalí’s Tarot Cards Get Re-Issued: The Occult Meets Sur­re­al­ism in a Clas­sic Tarot Card Deck

John Waters Makes Hand­made Christ­mas Cards, Says the “Whole Pur­pose of Life is Christ­mas”

Watch Ter­ry Gilliam’s Ani­mat­ed Short, The Christ­mas Card (1968)

Andy Warhol’s Christ­mas Art

Sal­vador Dalí Goes Com­mer­cial: Three Strange Tele­vi­sion Ads

Sal­vador Dalí’s 1973 Cook­book Gets Reis­sued: Sur­re­al­ist Art Meets Haute Cui­sine

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.

Revisiting Band Aid’s Cringe-Inducing 1984 Single, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”

We all know, don’t we, that the 1984 char­i­ty hit “Do They Know It’s Christ­mas?” qual­i­fies as pos­si­bly the worst Christ­mas song ever record­ed? Does that go too far? The song’s writer, Bob Geld­of, went even fur­ther, once say­ing, “I am respon­si­ble for two of the worst songs in his­to­ry. One is ‘Do They Know It’s Christ­mas?’ and the oth­er one is ‘We Are the World.’”

There’s no objec­tive mea­sure for such a thing, but I’m not inclined to dis­agree, with due respect for the mil­lions Geld­of, co-orga­niz­er and co-pro­duc­er Midge Ure, and British celebri­ty super­group Band Aid raised to feed vic­tims of famine in Ethiopia in the mid-80s. Revis­it­ing the lyrics now, I’m shocked to find they’re even more ridicu­lous and cringe-induc­ing than I remem­bered.

We can quick­ly dis­pense with the absur­di­ty of the title. As an exas­per­at­ed Spo­ti­fy employ­ee help­ful­ly point­ed out recent­ly in a series of anno­ta­tions, “the peo­ple of Ethiopia prob­a­bly did know it was Christmas—it’s one of the old­est Chris­t­ian nations in the world” with a major­i­ty Chris­t­ian pop­u­la­tion.

The song’s aid recip­i­ents are referred to as “the oth­er ones” who live in “a world of dread and fear.” Lis­ten­ers are enjoined to “thank God it’s them instead of you.” And two years after Toto’s “Africa,” Band Aid man­ages to deliv­er the clum­si­est, most ill-informed stan­za per­haps ever writ­ten about the con­ti­nent:

And there won’t be snow in Africa
This Christ­mas time
The great­est gift they’ll get this year is life
Where noth­ing ever grows
No rain or rivers flow
Do they know it’s Christ­mas time at all?

Trou­bling­ly, the song “ped­dles myths about the cause of the famine,” writes Greg Evans at The Inde­pen­dent, “sug­gest­ing it was down to a drought, rather than the cor­rupt gov­ern­ment mis­us­ing inter­na­tion­al aid.”

But it’s Christ­mas, as you prob­a­bly know, so let’s not be too hard on “Do They Know It’s Christ­mas?” The artists who par­tic­i­pat­ed, includ­ing George Michael, Bono, Boy George, Sting, and many oth­ers had a sig­nif­i­cant impact on the enter­tain­ment industry’s role in inter­na­tion­al aid, for good and ill. The song was re-record­ed three times, in 1989, 2004, and 2014, and it has become, believe it or not, “the sec­ond best­selling sin­gle in Britain’s his­to­ry,” Lau­ra June points out at The Out­line.

Evans notes that “a report­ed £200m was raised via sales of the sin­gle which went towards the relief fund and it lat­er went on to inspire the icon­ic Live Aid con­cert in July 1985, which raised a fur­ther £150m.” (Some of that mon­ey, it was lat­er dis­cov­ered, inad­ver­tent­ly made it into the hands of Ethiopia’s cor­rupt gov­ern­ment.) Oth­er ben­e­fit events, like Farm Aid in the U.S., would fol­low Geld­of and Urge’s lead, and the mod­el proved to be an endur­ing way for artists to sup­port caus­es they cared about.

See the unbear­ably earnest orig­i­nal video at the top of the post and, just above, a thir­ty-minute mak­ing of film with a who’s who of mid-1980s British pop roy­al­ty learn­ing to sing “let them know it’s Christ­mas time again” togeth­er.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Stream a Playlist of 68 Punk Rock Christ­mas Songs: The Ramones, The Damned, Bad Reli­gion & More

Stream 22 Hours of Funky, Rock­ing & Swing­ing Christ­mas Albums: From James Brown and John­ny Cash to Christo­pher Lee & The Ven­tures

Hear Paul McCartney’s Exper­i­men­tal Christ­mas Mix­tape: A Rare & For­got­ten Record­ing from 1965

Relive 16 Hours of His­toric Live Aid Per­for­mances with These Big YouTube Playlists: Queen, Led Zep­pelin, Neil Young & Much More

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

Watch The Insects’ Christmas from 1913: A Stop Motion Film Starring a Cast of Dead Bugs

Kind Read­er,

Will you do us the hon­or of accept­ing our hol­i­day invi­ta­tion?

Carve five min­utes from your hol­i­day sched­ule to spend time cel­e­brat­ing The Insects’ Christ­mas, above.

In addi­tion to offer­ing brief respite from the chaos of con­sumerism and mod­ern expec­ta­tions, this sim­ple stop-motion tale from 1913 is sur­pris­ing­ly effec­tive at chas­ing away hol­i­day blues.

Not bad for a short with a sup­port­ing cast of dead bugs.

Ani­ma­tor Ladis­las Stare­vich began his cin­e­mat­ic manip­u­la­tions of insect car­cass­es ear­ly in the 20th cen­tu­ry while serv­ing as Direc­tor of Kau­nas, Lithuania’s Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry. He con­tin­ued the exper­i­ment after mov­ing to Moscow, where he added such titles as Insects’ Avi­a­tion Week, Amus­ing Scenes from the Life of Insects and famous­ly, The Cameraman’s Revenge, a racy tale of pas­sion and infi­deli­ty in the insect world.

The Insects’ Christ­mas is far gen­tler.

Think Frog­gy Went a Courtin’, or Miss Spider’s Wed­ding with an old time Christ­mas spin

Shades too of John­ny Gruelle’s Raggedy Ann and oth­er sto­ries where­in toys wait for their human own­ers to retire, so they may spring to life—though Starewizc’s sleepy doll seems to have more in com­mon with the Christ­mas tree’s absent own­ers than the tiny Father Christ­mas orna­ment who clam­ors down to par­ty al fres­co with the insects.

Con­tem­po­rary com­pos­er Tom Peters under­scores the whole­some vin­tage action—skiing, skat­ing, squab­bling over a Christ­mas cracker—with a mix of tra­di­tion­al car­ols and orig­i­nal music per­formed on ukulele, drum, and a six-string elec­tric bass with a 5‑octave range.

And the moment when Father Christ­mas con­jures fes­tive dec­o­ra­tions for a Char­lie Brown-ish tree is tru­ly mag­i­cal. See if your lit­tlest Hayao Miyaza­ki fan does­n’t agree.

Enjoy more of Ladis­las Starevich’s stop­mo­tion ouevre on YouTube, as well some of Tom Peters’ oth­er scores for silent films.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Cameraman’s Revenge (1912): The Tru­ly Weird Ori­gin of Mod­ern Stop-Motion Ani­ma­tion

The Tale of the Fox: Watch Ladis­las Starevich’s Ani­ma­tion of Goethe’s Great Ger­man Folk­tale (1937)

The His­to­ry of Stop-Motion Films: 39 Films, Span­ning 116 Years, Revis­it­ed in a 3‑Minute Video

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Mon­day, Jan­u­ary 6 when her month­ly book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain cel­e­brates Cape-Cod­di­ties (1920) by Roger Liv­ingston Scaife. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Ram Dass (RIP) Offers Wisdom on Confronting Aging and Dying

After his dis­missal from Har­vard for research­ing LSD with Tim­o­thy Leary, Richard Alpert left the U.S. for India in 1967. He devot­ed him­self to the teach­ings of Hin­du teacher Neem Karoli Baba and returned to the States a per­ma­nent­ly changed man, with a new name and a mes­sage he first spread via the col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly-edit­ed and illus­trat­ed 1971 clas­sic Be Here Now.

In the “philo­soph­i­cal­ly misty, stub­born­ly res­o­nant Bud­dhist-Hin­du-Chris­t­ian mash-up,” writes David March­ese at The New York Times, Ram Dass “extolled the now-com­mon­place, then-nov­el (to West­ern hip­pies, at least) idea that pay­ing deep atten­tion to the present moment—that is, mindfulness—is the best path to a mean­ing­ful life.” We’ve grown so used to hear­ing this by now that we’ve like­ly become a lit­tle numb to it, even if we’ve bought into the premise and the prac­tice of med­i­ta­tion.

Ram Dass dis­cov­ered that mind­ful aware­ness was not part of any self-improve­ment project but a way of being ordi­nary and aban­don­ing excess self-con­cern. “The more your aware­ness is expand­ed, the more it becomes just a nat­ur­al part of your life, like eat­ing or sleep­ing or going to the toi­let” he says in the excerpt above from a talk he gave on “Con­scious Aging” in 1992. “If you’re full of ego, if you’re full of your­self, you’re doing it out of right­eous­ness to prove you’re a good per­son.”

To real­ly open our­selves up to real­i­ty, we must be will­ing to put desire aside and become “irrel­e­vant.” That’s a tough ask in a cul­ture that val­ues few things more high­ly than fame, youth, and beau­ty and fears noth­ing more than aging, loss, and death. Our cul­ture “den­i­grates non-youth,” Ram Dass wrote in 2017, and thus stig­ma­tizes and ignores a nat­ur­al process every­one must all endure if they live long enough.

[W]hat I real­ized many years ago was I went into train­ing to be a kind of elder, or social philoso­pher, or find a role that would be com­fort­able as I became irrel­e­vant in the youth mar­ket. Now I’ve seen in inter­view­ing old peo­ple that the minute you cling to some­thing that was a moment ago, you suf­fer. You suf­fer when you have your face lift­ed to be who you wish you were then, for a lit­tle longer, because you know it’s tem­po­rary.

The minute you pit your­self against nature, the minute you pit your­self with your mind against change, you are ask­ing for suf­fer­ing.

Old­er adults are pro­ject­ed to out­num­ber chil­dren in the next decade or so, with a health­care sys­tem designed to extract max­i­mum prof­it for the min­i­mal amount of care. The denial of aging and death cre­ates “a very cru­el cul­ture,” Ram Dass writes, “and the bizarre sit­u­a­tion is that as the demo­graph­ic changes, and the baby boomers come along and get old, what you have is an aging soci­ety and a youth mythology”—a recipe for mass suf­fer­ing if there ever was one.

We can and should, Ram Dass believed, advo­cate for bet­ter social pol­i­cy. But to change our col­lec­tive approach to aging and death, we must also, indi­vid­u­al­ly, con­front our own fears of mor­tal­i­ty, no mat­ter how old we are at the moment. The spir­i­tu­al teacher and writer, who passed away yes­ter­day at age 88, con­front­ed death for decades and helped stu­dents do the same with books like 2001’s Still Here: Embrac­ing Aging, Chang­ing, and Dying and his series of talks on “Con­scious Aging,” which you can hear in full fur­ther up.

“Record­ed at the Con­scious Aging con­fer­ence spon­sored by the Omega Insti­tute in 1992,” notes the Ram Dass Love Serve Remem­ber Foun­da­tion, the con­fer­ence “was the first of its kind on aging. Ram Dass had just turned six­ty.” He begins his first talk with a joke about pur­chas­ing his first senior cit­i­zen tick­et and says he felt like a teenag­er until he hit fifty. But jok­ing aside, he learned ear­ly that real­ly liv­ing in the present means fac­ing aging and death in all its forms.

Ram Dass met aging with wis­dom, humor, and com­pas­sion, as you can see in the recent video above. As we remem­ber his life, we can also turn to decades of his teach­ing to learn how to become kinder to our­selves and oth­ers (a dis­tinc­tion with­out a real dif­fer­ence, he argued), as we all face the inevitable togeth­er.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Wis­dom of Ram Dass Is Now Online: Stream 150 of His Enlight­ened Spir­i­tu­al Talks as Free Pod­casts

You’re Only As Old As You Feel: Har­vard Psy­chol­o­gist Ellen Langer Shows How Men­tal Atti­tude Can Poten­tial­ly Reverse the Effects of Aging

Bertrand Russell’s Advice For How (Not) to Grow Old: “Make Your Inter­ests Grad­u­al­ly Wider and More Imper­son­al”

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

Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, the Most Troubling Christmas Film Ever Made

Those in search of non-stan­dard Christ­mas movies to watch this hol­i­day sea­son will have long since tired of hear­ing rec­om­men­da­tions of Die Hard. While the cop-ver­sus-ter­ror­ists hit that made Bruce Willis an action star does indeed fea­ture an unusu­al­ly high body count for a pic­ture set at Christ­mas­time, it adheres in oth­er respects to the usu­al Hol­ly­wood con­tours. For seri­ous Yule­tide cin­e­mat­ic sub­ver­sion you need the work of Stan­ley Kubrick, who made an entire career out of refus­ing to hon­or the expec­ta­tions of genre. Specif­i­cal­ly, you need the final work of Stan­ley Kubrick: Eyes Wide Shut, which adapts Arthur Schnit­zler’s Dream Sto­ry, a novel­la of fin-de-siè­cle Vien­na, into a vision of wealth, sex, and deca­dence — as well as secre­cy and pos­si­ble mur­der — in New York at the end of the mil­len­ni­um.

“The film was billed as an erot­ic thriller star­ring the two hottest — and, yes, mar­ried — actors, at the time,” says Wise­crack­’s Jared Bauer in the video above. But since its release 20 years ago, “what was ini­tial­ly dis­missed as a failed piece of erot­i­ca has proven, upon fur­ther inspec­tion, to be some­thing way deep­er: an explo­ration of soci­ol­o­gy, dreams, desire — and yes, sex — through the lens of New York City’s elite.”

It all begins when Tom Cruise’s well-to-do doc­tor Bill Har­ford hears his wife, played by Nicole Kid­man, con­fess a fan­ta­sy she once had about anoth­er man. This sends him into an all-night jour­ney into the sex­u­al under­world, one designed to be expe­ri­enced by the view­er, as Nerd­writer Evan Puc­schak has argued, like an immer­sive vir­tu­al-real­i­ty expe­ri­ence, and one whose cen­tral themes man­i­fest in every sin­gle scene.

Kubrick fills Eyes Wide Shut with pros­ti­tu­tion, of both the obvi­ous fur-coat-on-the-street-cor­ner vari­ety and its many sub­tler instan­ti­a­tions at every lev­el of soci­ety as well. “At its deeply cyn­i­cal core,” says Bauer, “the film asks the ques­tion: are we all some­body’s whore?” The video’s analy­sis draws heav­i­ly on “Intro­duc­ing Soci­ol­o­gy,” Tim Krei­der’s analy­sis in Film Quar­ter­ly. Krei­der writes that “almost every­one in this film pros­ti­tutes them­selves, for var­i­ous prices”: true on the sur­face lev­el of the women at the occult masked orgy at which the doc­tor finds him­self in the mid­dle of the night, but just as true on a deep­er lev­el of Mr. and Mrs. Har­ford them­selves. “The real pornog­ra­phy in this film,” accord­ing to Krei­der, “is in its lin­ger­ing depic­tion of the shame­less, naked wealth of Mil­len­ni­al Man­hat­tan, and of the obscene effect of that wealth on our soci­ety, and on the soul.”

It is in a toy store that the film, with what Bauer calls its “metaphor of Christ­mas as an orgy of con­sump­tion,” con­cludes. As their young daugh­ter looks for things to buy, the Har­fords dis­cuss what to do about the rev­e­la­to­ry expe­ri­ences of the past two days. Kid­man’s famous final line sug­gests that the cou­ple is “doomed to repeat the same pet­ty jeal­ousies again and again, while poten­tial­ly spend­ing beyond their means — you know, the Amer­i­can Dream.” It also “con­nects to the title of the film, which evokes a sense of enlight­ened false con­scious­ness. We may know that we’re being screwed over and con­trolled by the wealthy and pow­er­ful, but at least it’s Christ­mas and we can play with our toys, both com­mer­cial and sex­u­al. So our eyes are firm­ly, delib­er­ate­ly shut, because that’s the only way to tol­er­ate this world.” Kubrick has tak­en us a long way indeed from It’s a Won­der­ful Life, but per­haps we can con­sid­er the ever-greater res­o­nance and rel­e­vance of Eyes Wide Shut his final Christ­mas gift to us.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Are Stan­ley Kubrick Films Like Immer­sive Video Games? The Case of Eyes Wide Shut

How Stan­ley Kubrick Made His Mas­ter­pieces: An Intro­duc­tion to His Obses­sive Approach to Film­mak­ing

Dis­cov­er the Life & Work of Stan­ley Kubrick in a Sweep­ing Three-Hour Video Essay

How Stan­ley Kubrick Became Stan­ley Kubrick: A Short Doc­u­men­tary Nar­rat­ed by the Film­mak­er

The Shin­ing and Oth­er Com­plex Stan­ley Kubrick Films Recut as Sim­ple Hol­ly­wood Movies

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.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #24 Considers Holiday Viewing: What’s Canon?

Join Mark Lin­sen­may­er, Eri­ca Spyres, and Bri­an Hirt for a spe­cial “snake draft,” where we take turns pick­ing the hol­i­day films and TV spe­cials that we think are (or should be) part of Amer­i­ca’s year­ly view­ing tra­di­tions.

Were I to list all the shows and films we men­tion, that would give away our picks now, would­n’t it? Com­pare your intu­itions about what is clas­sic or sem­i­nal or over-rat­ed with ours!

Here are some arti­cles with most of the like­ly sus­pects to get you warmed up:

We did NOT before­hand actu­al­ly look at IMD­B’s Top 25 Christ­mas Movies or their Great­est Christ­mas Spe­cials list, but YOU cer­tain­ly can. Nei­ther did we look this rank­ing of the var­i­ous ver­sions of A Christ­mas Car­ol by Dave Trum­bore. While we’re at it, here are times where TV shows ripped off It’s a Won­der­ful Life.

Oth­er ref­er­ences and infor­ma­tion: 

When does A Christ­mas Sto­ry take place? 1940; read triv­ia about that film. The Dare Daniel pod­cast has a bru­tal take-down of the lit­tle-seen 2012 sequel  that serves as a great sub­sti­tute for actu­al­ly view­ing that pile of garbage.

You can watch the quick ver­sion of the very fun­ny Riff­trax run­ning com­men­tary on the Star Wars Hol­i­day Spe­cial on YouTube or buy the whole thing. Did George Lucas real­ly want to smash all copies of it as Mark said?

Bri­an refers to this arti­cle, “Diag­nos­ing the Home Alone Bur­glars’ Injuries: A Pro­fes­sion­al Weighs In” by Lau­ren Hansen.

It’s actu­al­ly the Thanks­giv­ing Char­lie Brown spe­cial that has been blast­ed as racist, not the Xmas one. Here’s an arti­cle about the his­to­ry of Franklin being includ­ed in the strip.

When­ev­er dis­cussing or watch­ing It’s a Won­der­ful Life, I can’t help but think of the Sat­ur­day Night Live “lost end­ing” to the film.

This episode includes bonus dis­cus­sion that you can only hear by sup­port­ing the pod­cast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This pod­cast is part of the Par­tial­ly Exam­ined Life pod­cast net­work.

Pret­ty Much Pop: A Cul­ture Pod­cast is the first pod­cast curat­ed by Open Cul­ture. Browse all Pret­ty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

Richard Feynman’s “Lost Lecture:” An Animated Retelling

Nobel prize-win­ning physi­cist Richard Feyn­man is “famous in a num­ber of dimen­sions,” says sci­ence and math explain­er Grant Sander­son of the YouTube chan­nel 3blue1brown in the video above. “To sci­en­tists, he’s a giant of 20th cen­tu­ry physics… to the pub­lic, he’s a refresh­ing con­tra­dic­tion to the stereo­types about physi­cists: a safe-crack­ing, bon­go-play­ing, mild­ly phi­lan­der­ing non-con­formist.” Feyn­man is also famous, or infa­mous, for his role in the Man­hat­tan Project and the build­ing of the first atom­ic bomb, after which the FBI kept tabs on him to make sure he would­n’t, like his col­league Klaus Fuchs, turn over nuclear secrets to the Sovi­ets.

He may have led an excep­tion­al­ly event­ful life for an aca­d­e­m­ic sci­en­tist, but to his stu­dents, he was first and fore­most “an excep­tion­al­ly skill­ful teacher… for his uncan­ny abil­i­ty to make com­pli­cat­ed top­ics feel nat­ur­al and approach­able.” Feynman’s teach­ing has since influ­enced mil­lions of read­ers of his wild­ly pop­u­lar mem­oirs and his lec­ture series, record­ed at Cal­tech and pub­lished in three vol­umes in the ear­ly 1960s. (Also see his famous course taught at Cor­nell.) For decades, Feyn­man fans could list off­hand sev­er­al exam­ples of the physicist’s acu­men for explain­ing com­plex ideas in sim­ple, but not sim­plis­tic, terms.

But it wasn’t until the mid-nineties that the pub­lic had access to one of the finest of his Cal­tech lec­tures. Dis­cov­ered in the 1990s and first pub­lished in 1996, the “lost lecture”—titled “The Motion of the Plan­ets Around the Sun”—“uses noth­ing more than advanced high school geom­e­try to explain why the plan­ets orbit the sun ellip­ti­cal­ly rather than in per­fect cir­cles,” as the Ama­zon descrip­tion sum­ma­rizes. You can pur­chase a copy for your­self, or hear it Feyn­man deliv­er for free just below.

Feyn­man gave the talk as the guest speak­er in a 1964 fresh­man physics class. He address­es them, he says, “just for the fun of it”; none of the mate­r­i­al would be on the test. Nev­er­the­less, he end­ed up host­ing an infor­mal 20-minute Q&A after­wards. Giv­en his audi­ence, Feyn­man assumes only the most basic pri­or knowl­edge of the sub­ject: an expla­na­tion for why the plan­ets make ellip­ti­cal orbit around the sun. “It ulti­mate­ly has to do with the inverse square law,” says Sander­son, “but why?”

Part of the prob­lem with the lec­ture, as its dis­cov­er­ers David and Judith Goodstein—husband and wife physi­cist and archivist at Caltech—found, involves Feynman’s exten­sive ref­er­ence to fig­ures he draws on the black­board. It took some time for the two to dig these dia­grams up in a set of class notes. In Sanderson’s video at the top, we get some­thing per­haps even bet­ter: ani­mat­ed phys­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tions of the math­e­mat­ics that deter­mine plan­e­tary motion. We need not know this math in depth to grasp what Feyn­man calls his “ele­men­tary” expla­na­tion.

“Ele­men­tary” in this case, despite com­mon usage, does not mean “easy,” Feyn­man says. It means “that very lit­tle is required to know ahead of time in order to under­stand it, except to have an infi­nite amount of intel­li­gence.” That last part is a typ­i­cal bit of humor. Even those of who haven’t pur­sued math or physics much beyond the high school lev­el can learn the basic out­lines of plan­e­tary motion in Feynman’s wit­ty lec­ture, sup­ple­ment­ed by the video visu­al aids Sander­son offers at the top.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Feyn­man Lec­tures on Physics, The Most Pop­u­lar Physics Book Ever Writ­ten, Is Now Com­plete­ly Online

‘The Char­ac­ter of Phys­i­cal Law’: Richard Feynman’s Leg­endary Course Pre­sent­ed at Cor­nell, 1964

The Richard Feyn­man Tril­o­gy: The Physi­cist Cap­tured in Three Films

Learn How Richard Feyn­man Cracked the Safes with Atom­ic Secrets at Los Alam­os

Richard Feyn­man on the Bon­gos

Richard Feyn­man Plays the Bon­gos

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

A Beautiful New Book of Japanese Woodblock Prints: A Visual History of 200 Japanese Masterpieces Created Between 1680 and 1938

Japan­ese wood­block prints, espe­cial­ly in the style known in Japan­ese as ukiyo‑e, or “pic­tures of the float­ing world,” por­tray the social, nat­ur­al, and super­nat­ur­al realms in a way no oth­er art form ever has. They also repay the atten­tion you give them, one rea­son we here on Open Cul­ture have tried to share with you every oppor­tu­ni­ty to down­load them — from the archive at Ukiyo‑e.org, for exam­ple, or at the Library of Con­gress — and build your own dig­i­tal col­lec­tion.

But appre­ci­at­ing Japan­ese wood­block prints on a screen is one thing, and appre­ci­at­ing them in large-scale repro­duc­tions on paper is quite anoth­er. At least that’s one implic­it premise of the book Japan­ese Wood­block Prints (1680–1938), new­ly pub­lished by Taschen.

As a pub­lish­er, Taschen has made its for­mi­da­ble name in part by col­lect­ing between two cov­ers the less­er-known work of famous artists of the recent past: Andy Warhol’s hand-illus­trat­ed books, for exam­ple, or Sal­vador Dalí’s cook­book and tarot deck.

Nev­er an out­fit to fear accu­sa­tions of immod­esty, Taschen’s projects also include “XXL books” like a 500-page, 14-pound vol­ume on Jean-Michel Basquiat. Sur­pass­ing even that book in length by more than 200 pages, Japan­ese Wood­block Prints con­tains, accord­ing to Taschen’s offi­cial site, an artis­tic real­i­ty where “breath­tak­ing land­scapes exist along­side blush-induc­ing erot­i­ca; where demons and oth­er­world­ly crea­tures tor­ment the liv­ing; and where sumo wrestlers, kabu­ki actors, and cour­te­sans are rock stars.”

“For this tome, Taschen spent three years repro­duc­ing wood­block prints from muse­ums and pri­vate col­lec­tions from around the world,” writes Colos­sal’s Andrew Lasane. “Writ­ten by Andreas Marks, head of the Japan­ese and Kore­an Art Depart­ment at the Min­neapo­lis Insti­tute of Art, the book is divid­ed chrono­log­i­cal­ly into sev­en chap­ters begin­ning with the 17th cen­tu­ry ear­ly mas­ters and con­clud­ing with the Shin-hanga move­ment.” (That last is a late 19th- and ear­ly 20th-cen­tu­ry wood­block style, in which we once fea­tured ren­der­ings of Hayao Miyaza­k­i’s char­ac­ters.)

No mat­ter our tem­po­ral and cul­tur­al dis­tance from the Japan­ese mas­ters of ukiyo‑e, we’ve near­ly all been cap­ti­vat­ed by their work at one time or anoth­er, most often when we run across pieces of it online. With Japan­ese Wood­block Prints, Taschen means to get those of us who pre­fer print even more cap­ti­vat­ed — and at the same time, to teach us more than a lit­tle about the cul­tur­al and his­tor­i­cal con­text of all these land­scapes, cityscapes, mon­sters, beau­ties, and his­tor­i­cal fig­ures at which we mar­vel.

If you want to pick up a copy of this artis­tic work, you can make a pur­chas on Ama­zon.

via Colos­sal

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Enter a Dig­i­tal Archive of 213,000+ Beau­ti­ful Japan­ese Wood­block Prints

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

Down­load Hun­dreds of 19th-Cen­tu­ry Japan­ese Wood­block Prints by Mas­ters of the Tra­di­tion

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

Japan­ese Kabu­ki Actors Cap­tured in 18th-Cen­tu­ry Wood­block Prints by the Mys­te­ri­ous & Mas­ter­ful Artist Sharaku

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

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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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.