How The Pink Panther Painted The Mona Lisa’s Smile: Watch the 1975 Animation, “Pink Da Vinci”

Just a little fun to send you into the summer weekend. Above, we present the 1975 animated short, “Pink Da Vinci,” which IMDB frames as follows:

Another battle of the paintbrush between the Pink Panther and a diminutive painter, who this time is Leonardo Da Vinci, painting his masterpiece, the Mona Lisa. The little Da Vinci paints a pouting mouth on the Mona Lisa, but the Pink Panther decides to covertly replace the pout with a smile. When the smile wins the appreciation of an art patron, Da Vinci is enraged and repaints the pout. The Pink Panther repeatedly changes the pout to a smile while the little painter is not looking, and ultimately it is the Pink Panther’s version of the Mona Lisa that hangs in the Louvre.

If this whets your appetite, watch 15 hours of Pink Panther animations here.

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The Epic of Gilgamesh, the Oldest-Known Work of Literature in World History

You’re probably familiar with The Epic of Gilgamesh, the story of an overbearing Sumerian king and demi-god who meets his match in wild man Enkidu. Gilgamesh is humbled, the two become best friends, kill the forest guardian Humbaba, and face down spurned goddess Ishtar’s Bull of Heaven. When Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh goes looking for the only man to live forever, a survivor of a legendary pre-Biblical flood. The great king then tries, and fails, to gain eternal life himself. The story is packed with episodes of sex and violence, like the modern-day comics that are modeled on ancient mythology. It is also, as you may know, the oldest-known work of literature on Earth, written in cuneiform, the oldest-known form of writing.

This is one version of the story. But Gilgamesh beaks out of the tidy frame usually put around it. It is a “poem that exists in a pile of broken pieces,” Joan Acocella writes at The New Yorker, “in an extremely dead language.”

If Gilgamesh were based on a real king of Ur, he would have lived around 2700 BC. The first stories written about him come from some 800 years after that time, during the Old Babylonian period, after the last of the Sumerian dynasties had already ended. The version we tend to read in world literature and mythology courses comes from several hundred years later, notes the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Ira Spar:

Some time in the twelfth century B.C., Sin-leqi-unninni, a Babylonian scholar, recorded what was to become a classic version of the Gilgamesh tale. Not content to merely copy an old version of the tale, this scholar most likely assembled various versions of the story from both oral and written sources and updated them in light of the literary concerns of his day, which included questions about human mortality and the nature of wisdom…. Sin-leqi-unninni recast Enkidu as Gilgamesh’s companion and brought to the fore concerns about unbridled heroism, the responsibilities of good governance, and the purpose of life. 

This so-called “Standard Babylonian Version,” as you’ll learn in the TED-Ed video at the top by Soraya Field Fiorio, was itself only discovered in 1849 — very recent by comparison with other ancient texts we regularly read and study. The first archaeologists to discover it were searching not for Sumerian literature but for evidence that proved the Biblical stories. They thought they’d found it in Nineveh, in the excavated library of King Ashurbanipal, the oldest library in the world. Instead, they discovered the broken, incomplete tablets containing the story of Gilgamesh and Utnapishtim, who, like Noah from the Hebrew Bible, built an enormous boat in advance of a divinely ordered flood. The first person to translate the passages was so excited, he stripped off his clothes.

The flood story wasn’t the knock-down proof Christian scholars hoped for, but the discovery of the Gilgamesh epic was even more important for our understanding of the ancient world. What we know of the story, however, was already edited and redacted to suit a millennia-old agenda. The Epic of Gilgamesh “explains that Gilgamesh, although he is king of Uruk, acts as an arrogant, impulsive, and irresponsible ruler,” Spar writes. “Only after a frustrating and vain attempt to find eternal life does he emerge from immaturity to realize that one’s achievements, rather than immortality, serve as an enduring legacy.”

Other, much older versions of his story show the mythical king and his exploits in a different light. So how should we read Gilgamesh in the 21st century, a few thousand years after his first stories were composed? You can begin here with the TED-Ed summary and Crash Course in World Mythology video further up. Dig much deeper with the lecture above from Andrew George, Professor of Babylonian at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).

George has produced one of the most highly respected translations of Gilgamesh, Acocella writes, one that “gives what remains of Sin-leqi-unninni’s text” and appends other fragmentary tablets discovered in Baghdad, showing how the meaning of the cuneiform symbols changed over the course of the millennia between the Old Babylonian stories and the “New Babylonian Version” of the Epic of Gilgamesh we think we know. Hear a full reading of Gilgamesh above, as translated by N.K. Sanders.

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

Discover The Grammar of Ornament, One of the Great Color Books & Design Masterpieces of the 19th Century

In the mid-17th century, young Englishmen of means began to mark their coming of age with a “Grand Tour” across the Continent and even beyond. This allowed them to take in the elements of their civilizational heritage first-hand, especially the artifacts of classical antiquity and the Renaissance. After completing his architectural studies, a Londoner named Owen Jones embarked upon his own Grand Tour in 1832, rather late in the history of the tradition, but ideal timing for the research that inspired the project that would become his legacy.

According to the Victoria and Albert Museum, Jones visited “Italy, Greece, Egypt and Turkey before arriving in Granada, in Spain to carry out studies of the Alhambra Palace that were to cement his reputation.”

He and French architect Jules Goury, “the first to study the Alhambra as a masterpiece of Islamic design,” produced “hundreds of drawings and plaster casts” of the historical, cultural, and aesthetic palimpsest of a building complex. The fruit of their labors was the book Plans, Elevations, Sections and Details of the Alhambra, “one of the most influential publications on Islamic architecture of all time.”

Published in the 1840s, the book pushed the printing technologies of the day to their limits. In search of a way to do justice to “the intricate and brightly colored decoration of the Alhambra Palace,” Jones had to put in more work researching “the then new technique of chromolithography — a method of producing multi-color prints using chemicals.” In the following decade, he would make even more ambitious use of chromolithography — and draw from a much wider swath of world culture — to create his printed magnum opus, The Grammar of Ornament.

With this book, Jones “set out to reacquaint his colleagues with the underlying principles that made art beautiful,” write Metropolitan Museum of Art curator Femke Speelberg and librarian Robyn Fleming. “Instead of writing an academic treatise on the subject, he chose to assemble a book of one hundred plates illustrating objects and patterns from around the world and across time, from which these principles could be distilled.” To accomplish this he drew on his own travel experiences as well as resources closer at hand, including “the museological and private collections that were available to him in England, and the objects that had been on display during the Universal Exhibitions held in London in 1851 and 1855.”

The Grammar of Ornament was published in 1856, emerging into a Britain “dominated by historical revivals such as Neoclassicism and the Gothic Revival,” says the V&A. “These design movements were riddled with religious and social connotations. Instead, Owen Jones sought a modern style with none of this cultural baggage. Setting out to identify the common principles behind the best examples of historical ornament, he formulated a design language that was suitable for the modern world, one which could be applied equally to wallpapers, textiles, furniture, metalwork and interiors.”

Indeed, the patterns so lavishly reproduced in the book soon became trends in real-world design. They weren’t always employed with the intellectual understanding Jones sought to instill, but since The Grammar of Ornament has never gone out of print (and can even be downloaded free from the Internet Archive), his principles remain available for all to learn — and his painstakingly artistic printing work remains available for all to admire — even in the corners of the world that lay beyond his imagination.

You can purchase a complete and unabridged color edition of The Grammar of Ornament online.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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.

When David Bowie Played Andy Warhol in Julian Schnabel’s Film, Basquiat

Many actors have played Andy Warhol over the years, but not as many as you might think. Crispin Glover played him in The Doors, Jared Harris played him in I Shot Andy Warhol, Guy Pearce played him in Factory Girl, and Bill Hader played him in Men in Black III, but with a twist: he is actually an agent who is so bad as his cover role as an artist, he’s “painting soup cans and bananas, for Christ sakes!” On television John Cameron Mitchell has acted the Warhol role in Vinyl, and Evan Peters briefly portrayed him in American Horror Story: Cult.

But you might suspect our favorite Warhol would be the one acted by David Bowie in Julian Schnabel’s 1996 Basquiat, the biopic of the Black street artist who was taken into the art world fold by Warhol, and wound up collaborating with him in last works by both artists. Jeffrey Wright plays Basquiat in one of his earliest roles.

Now, you might watch this scene from Basquiat above (and another below) and say, well, that’s just mostly Bowie. But I would say, yes, that’s kind of the point. Andy Warhol is an enigmatic figure, a legend to many, a man who hid behind a constructed persona; David Bowie is too. When one plays the other, a weird sort of magic happens. Fame leaks into fame. Many actors might do better with the mannerisms or the voice, but the charisma…that is all Bowie. After singing about the painter back in 1972, Bowie finally collapsed their visions together in the art of film, where reality and fantasy meet and meld.

Around this time in the mid 1990s, Bowie was very much a part of the New York/London art scene. He was on the editorial board of Modern Painters magazine and interviewed Basquiat director (and artist) Julian Schnabel, Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst, and Balthus. A conceptual artist-slash-serial killer became one of the main characters of his overlooked 1995 Eno collaboration Outside. He was both a collector and an artist, which we’ve focused on before. And he was thinking about the new world opening up because of the internet. Bowie’s artist brain saw the possibilities and the dangers, and also the raw capitalist potential. He offered shares in himself as an IPO in 1997 and released a single as Tao Jones Index, three puns in one. Bowie never predicted the idiocy of the NFT, but he certainly would have laughed wryly at it.

In this Charlie Rose interview to promote Basquiat, Bowie and Schnabel discuss the role of Warhol, the role of art, and the reality of the art world.

“It was more of an impersonation, really,” says Bowie about his Warhol. “That’s how I approach anything.” Of note, however, is how quickly Bowie moves away from discussing himself or the film to talk about larger issues of art and commerce. Bowie does admit that he and Schnabel disagree on a lot of things, and you can see it in their body language. But there’s also a huge respect. It’s a fascinating interview, go watch the whole thing.

Bonus: Below watch Bowie meeting Warhol back during the day…

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the Notes from the Shed podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

What’s the Role of a Director in Constructing Comedy? Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #100

What makes for a good comedy film or show? Funny people reading (or improvising) funny lines is not enough; an good director needs to capture (or recreate in the editing room) comic timing, construct shots so that the humor comes through and coach the actors to make sure that the tone of the work is consistent.

Your Pretty Much Pop hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt are joined by Heather Fink to discuss the role of the director in making a comedy (or anything else) actually good. Heather has directed for TV, film, and commercials and spent a lot of time doing sound (a boom operator or sound utility) for productions like Saturday Night Live, Get Out, The Morning Show, and Marvel’s Daredevil.

We talk about maintaining comedy through the tedious process of filming, putting actors through sex scenes and other hardships, not telling them how to say their lines, comedians in dramas, directing improv/prank shows, and more. We touch on include Bad Trip, Barry, and Ted Lasso, and more.

Watch some of Heather’s work:

  • Alleged, a short about dramatizing accusations against Steven Segal
  • Inside You, a film she wrote, directed, and (reluctantly) starred in
  • The Focus Group, a short Heather directed written by and starring Sara Benincasa

We used some articles to bring various directors and techniques to mind:

Hear more of this podcast at This episode includes bonus discussion that you can access by supporting the podcast at 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.

The Aesthetic of Evil: A Video Essay Explores Evil in the Films of Bergman, Hitchcock, Kubrick, Scorsese & Beyond

Movies have heroes and villains. Or at least children’s movies do; the more sophisticated the audience, the hazier the line between good and evil becomes, until it finally seems to vanish altogether. Not that cinema directed toward genuinely mature audiences dispenses with those concepts entirely: rather, it makes art out of the ambiguity and interpenetration between them. This is true, to an extent, even in some of the recent wave of big-budget superhero movies, in the main exercises in rolling an “adult” texture onto stories essentially geared toward adolescents. Hence the appearance of the Joker, Batman’s grinning arch-nemesis, in “The Aesthetic of Evil,” the Cinema Cartography video essay above.

In the Joker of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, “we see an evil that’s relentless, primarily because the core function is complete and total anarchy. Whatever order is established, whoever it’s under ,must be destroyed. As a result, an epoch is created where any rules or codes of conduct are broken. Anything that you anticipate will happen, will result in the opposite.”

This Joker made an outsized cultural impact with not just the explicitness of his disorder-oriented morality, but also a material-transcending performance by Heath Ledger. In that same era, Jamie Hector took a comparatively minimalist but equally memorable turn in David Simon’s series The Wire as Marlo Stanfield, a drug kingpin “too villainous for the villains.” Like the Joker, Marlo is a law unto himself, “willing to destroy the equilibrium of any facet of the world there is, on a whim.”

These two represent just one of the forms evil has taken in recent decades. The essay’s other examples range from Psycho‘s Norman Bates and 2001’s HAL 9000 to The King of Comedy‘s Rupert Pupkin and Fanny and Alexander‘s stepfather Edvard — or rather, the unwelcome transformation of the family Edvard represents. The most diabolical evil does not confine itself within the person of the antagonist, especially not in the work of Michael Haneke, which twice appears in “The Aesthetic of Evil.” Benny’s Video is on one level about a murderous adolescent; on another, it’s about the “evasion of the real” that seduces us all. The White Ribbon is on one level about random acts of violence in a small village; on another, it’s about how evil reflects “the collective consciousness of a society.” Haneke’s films have often been described as difficult to watch, and that may well have less to do with what they show than what they know: even if we aren’t all villains, we’re certainly not heroes.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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.

Explore Divine Comedy Digital, a New Digital Database That Collects Seven Centuries of Art Inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy

The number of artworks inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy in the seven hundred years since the poet completed his epic, vernacular masterwork is so vast that referring to the poem inevitably means referring to its illustrations. These began appearing decades after the poet’s death, and they have not stopped appearing since. Indeed, it might be fair to say that the title Divine Comedy (simply called Comedy before 1555) names not only an epic poem but also its many constellations of artworks and interpretations, which would have filled a modest-sized set of Dante encyclopedias before the internet.

Luckily for art historians and Dante scholars working today, there is now Divine Comedy Digital, a beautifully designed database which brings these artworks — spread out all over the world — together in one virtual place.

The interface requires no special Dante knowledge to navigate, though it helps to be familiar with the poem and/or have a reference copy nearby when looking through the menus. Dividing neatly into the poem’s three books (or cantiche), the menu at the left further breaks down into circles (Inferno), terraces (Purgatorio), and Cantos (all three books).

Toggling between options in a menu on the right allows visitors to see the number of illustrated verses in each Canto or the number of artworks. Within a matter of minutes, you’ll be discovering Dante illustrations you never knew existed, from Salvador Dali’s The Delightful Mount (1950, above) to Alessandro Vellutello’s Dante and St. Bernard, Mary and the Trinity (1544) and hundreds of others in the years in-between.

Calling itself a “slow surfing site,” Divine Comedy Digital contains a handy tutorial if you do get lost and allows users “not only to navigate through the collection, but also to suggest missing artworks.” So far, the 17th and 18th centuries are hugely underrepresented, though not for a lack of Dante-inspired artwork made in that two-hundred year period. The gaps mean there is much more Dante art to come.

Released in June of this year, the project is the work of The Visual Agency, “an information design agency specialized in data-visualization based in Milan and Dubai” and was created to celebrate the 700th anniversary of Dante’s death. As he continues to inspire artists for the next few hundred years, perhaps the work based on his epic poem will trend more digital than medieval, creating interpretations the poet never could have dreamt. Enter the Divine Comedy Digital project here.

You can also see some of the earliest illustrated editions of Dante’s Divine Comedy (1487-1568), courtesy of Columbia University, here.

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Visualizing Dante’s Hell: See Maps & Drawings of Dante’s Inferno from the Renaissance Through Today

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

Frida Kahlo: The Life of an Artist

Frida Kahlo has been a martyr to art history. Her twinned self-portrait The Two Fridas sits at number 87 on a list of the 100 most popular paintings (behind Diego Rivera’s The Flower Carrier and Cassius Coolidge’s Dogs Playing Poker series). She is “one of the most iconic and contradictory cultural figures around,” Judy Cox writes: “a card-carrying Communist whose image adorned a bracelet worn by Theresa May, a feminist who has her own barbie doll.”

Her cultural credentials sell. Her work is acclaimed as a leading example of indigenismo, as Denver art museum senior curatorial assistant Jesse Laird Ortega writes, “a political, intellectual, and artistic movement that celebrated indigenous peoples in Mexico.” Kahlo herself is lauded as “a passionate nationalist who advocated for the revolution… and supported farmers and workers.”

This praise sounds suspicious to other critics. “Missing from the public discourse about the artist are discussions about how the ‘nationalism’ that Kahlo promoted,” Joanna Garcia Cheran argues, “both in her art and personal style perpetuated the construction of a mythologized Indianness at the expense of Indigenous people.” Kahlo only began wearing the rebozos and other indigenous fashions she made famous when she married Diego Rivera (for the first time) in 1929.

Does Paul Priestly, the host of the Art History School video lesson above, help smooth out the contradictions of Kahlo’s life and art? No, but to be fair, he makes no pretense to higher criticism. The lesson is a basic introduction (with a content warning for younger viewers) to the well-known facts of Frida’s life, those amply covered in documentaries like Ken Madel’s Frida Kahlo: A Ribbon Around a Bomb and (with plenty of dramatic license, of course) the Salma Hayek-starring biopic Frida.

Priestley’s video is a sound introduction to Kahlo’s life, however, precisely because it shies away from hagiography or theory. He walks us through the facts of the artist’s life in brief, with clips of a woman reading Frida’s own words and images of her work alongside photographic portraits of herself at every stage of life, allowing viewers to see the side-by-side development of Kahlo’s art and her public persona.

In the midst of Kahlo worship and iconoclasm, what seems too often neglected is Kahlo’s complex humanity. She was not one thing or another — neither wholly Marxist saint, nor a bourgeois appropriator; neither wholly feminist hero, nor tragic victim of patriarchal male hero worship: she was both and neither, at many times, a figure twinned in her imagination and split in half by cultural logics that want to claim and possess art and artists for their own.

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

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