Contribute a Song to WNYC’s Public Song Project & Use Your Creativity to Explore the Public Domain

We rec­og­nize that Open Cul­ture read­ers are a cre­ative bunch.

As proof, we point to your Get­ty Muse­um Chal­lenge entries and the fact that one of your num­ber won Yale Uni­ver­si­ty Press’s Kaf­ka Cap­tion Con­test.

We’ve iden­ti­fied anoth­er oppor­tu­ni­ty to show off your cre­ative streak, com­pli­ments of All Of It with Ali­son Stew­art, a dai­ly live cul­ture pro­gram on WNYC, New York City’s pub­lic radio sta­tion.

You have until Feb­ru­ary 13 to write and record an orig­i­nal song inspired by a work in the pub­lic domain, and sub­mit it to The All Of It Pub­lic Song Project.

Ama­teurs are wel­come to take a crack at it and any genre is crick­et, includ­ing rap, spo­ken word, and instru­men­tals.

Even if you lim­it your­self to the works that entered the pub­lic domain on Jan­u­ary 1 of this year, the pos­si­bil­i­ties are almost end­less.

Should you be inclined toward a faith­ful cov­er, we encour­age you to con­sid­er one of 1927’s deep cuts, like Fats Waller’s “Sooth­in’ Syrup Stomp” or Jel­ly Roll Mor­ton’s “Hye­na Stomp,” though we under­stand the attrac­tion of Irv­ing Berlin’s endur­ing­ly pop­u­lar “Puttin’ on the Ritz”.

Apolo­gies to Emi­ly Joy, the accom­plished young clas­si­cal pianist, above — par­tic­i­pa­tion is lim­it­ed to entrants aged 18 or old­er.

The rest of us are free to invent new lyrics for an exist­ing com­po­si­tion, or a brand new tune for exist­ing lyrics.

You might musi­cal­ize a poem or speech, some dia­logue from a film, or a page from a book.

A blue­grass spin on Fritz Lang’s Metrop­o­lis, per­haps?

A death met­al re-envi­sion­ing of But­ter­cup Days from A.A. Milne’s Now We Are Six?

How about a sis­sy bounce take on these lines from “The Adven­ture of the Mazarin Stone,” the first short sto­ry in Arthur Conan Doyle’s col­lec­tion, The Case-Book of Sher­lock Holmes:

“Bil­ly, you will see a large and ugly gen­tle­man out­side the front door. Ask him to come up.”

“If he won’t come, sir?”

“No vio­lence, Bil­ly. Don’t be rough with him. If you tell him that Count Sylvius wants him he will cer­tain­ly come.”

“What are you going to do now?” asked the Count as Bil­ly dis­ap­peared.

“My friend Wat­son was with me just now. I told him that I had a shark and a gud­geon in my net; now I am draw­ing the net and up they come togeth­er.”

The Count had risen from his chair, and his hand was behind his back. Holmes held some­thing half pro­trud­ing from the pock­et of his dress­ing-gown.

“You won’t die in your bed, Holmes.”

Okay, we’re being sil­ly, but only because we don’t want to put ideas in your head!

You could even con­coct some­thing entire­ly new — per­haps a bal­lad from the POV of To the Light­house’s young James Ram­say, or a dit­ty apol­o­giz­ing to Vir­ginia Woolf for read­ing the Cliffs Notes instead of the actu­al nov­el when it was assigned in your col­lege Women’s Lit­er­a­ture class.

…we’re doing it again, aren’t we?

All right, we’ll leave you to it, with a reminder that any­thing out­side of your pub­lic domain source mate­r­i­al must be whol­ly orig­i­nal — no bor­row­ing a catchy tune from Lennon and McCart­ney, capis­ci?

Win­ners will get a chance to dis­cuss their works on WNYC and all qual­i­fy­ing entries will be post­ed at contest’s end for the public’s lis­ten­ing plea­sure.

Con­test rules and infor­ma­tion on how to sub­mit to The All Of It Pub­lic Song Project can be found here.

Good luck! We can’t wait to hear what you come up with.

Relat­ed Con­tent

What’s Enter­ing the Pub­lic Domain in 2023: Fritz Lang’s Metrop­o­lis, Vir­ginia Woolf’s To the Light­house, Franz Kafka’s Ameri­ka & More

A Search Engine for Find­ing Free, Pub­lic Domain Images from World-Class Muse­ums

400,000+ Sound Record­ings Made Before 1923 Have Entered the Pub­lic Domain

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

A Virtual Tour of Ancient Athens: Fly Over Classical Greek Civilization in All Its Glory

If we seek to under­stand West­ern civ­i­liza­tion, we must look back not just to Rome, but also to Athens. And today, thanks to com­put­er-gen­er­at­ed imagery informed by his­tor­i­cal research, we can look not just to those cities, but at them — or at least at con­vinc­ing dig­i­tal recon­struc­tions, but from angles their actu­al inhab­i­tants could scarce­ly have imag­ined. A few years ago, we fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture the Youtube chan­nel Ancient Athens 3D for its recon­struc­tions of indi­vid­ual struc­tures like the Tem­ples of Ilis­sos and Hep­haes­tus. Its more recent video above offers a twelve-minute vir­tu­al tour of all clas­si­cal Athens in the fifth cen­tu­ry BC, the height of ancient Greek civ­i­liza­tion.

In that peri­od, accord­ing to the video, Athens “was the cen­ter of the arts, the­ater, phi­los­o­phy, and democ­ra­cy.” In the city “great mon­u­ments of archi­tec­ture were built and were large­ly asso­ci­at­ed with the Athen­ian gen­er­al Per­i­cles.”

It was Per­i­cles who led the city-state dur­ing the first two years of the Pelo­pon­nesian War, the con­flict in which Athens would even­tu­al­ly fall to Spar­ta in 404 BC — a defeat that had almost, but not quite come to the city at the moment Ancient Athens 3D cre­ator Dim­itris Tsalka­nis brings it back to life. He includes every­thing from the Acrop­o­lis and the Ago­ra to the Olympieion and the Sacred Gate, all look­ing as if they’ll stand for­ev­er.

Nor does Tsalka­nis ignore even bet­ter-known clas­si­cal Greek build­ings like the Parthenon, whose detailed recon­struc­tion, inside and out, also appears in its own video just above. Com­mis­sioned by Per­i­cles, built on the Acrop­o­lis, and ded­i­cat­ed to the god­dess Athena, “patroness of the city of Athens,” the build­ing remains “a sym­bol of ancient Greece, democ­ra­cy, and West­ern civ­i­liza­tion” near­ly two and half mil­len­nia after its con­struc­tion, and more than two cen­turies after the Earl of Elgin had its mythol­o­gy-depict­ing mar­bles sent off to Eng­land. You can still see them at the British Muse­um (at least for now), and for that mat­ter you can still vis­it the Parthenon itself in Athens — or at least the ruins there­of, whol­ly untouched by dig­i­tal mag­ic.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Explore Ancient Athens 3D, a Dig­i­tal Recon­struc­tion of the Greek City-State at the Height of Its Influ­ence

What Ancient Greece Real­ly Looked Like: See Recon­struc­tions of the Tem­ple of Hadri­an, Curetes Street & the Foun­tain of Tra­jan

How Ancient Greek Stat­ues Real­ly Looked: Research Reveals Their Bold, Bright Col­ors and Pat­terns

Watch Art on Ancient Greek Vas­es Come to Life with 21st Cen­tu­ry Ani­ma­tion

What Did Ancient Greek Music Sound Like?: Lis­ten to a Recon­struc­tion That’s ‘100% Accu­rate’

An 8‑Minute Ani­mat­ed Flight Over Ancient Rome

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.

Stephen King’s 20 Rules for Writers

Image by the USO, via Flickr Com­mons

In one of my favorite Stephen King inter­views, for The Atlantic, he talks at length about the vital impor­tance of a good open­ing line. “There are all sorts of the­o­ries,” he says, “it’s a tricky thing.” “But there’s one thing” he’s sure about: “An open­ing line should invite the read­er to begin the sto­ry. It should say: Lis­ten. Come in here. You want to know about this.” King’s dis­cus­sion of open­ing lines is com­pelling because of his dual focus as an avid read­er and a prodi­gious writer of fiction—he doesn’t lose sight of either per­spec­tive:

We’ve talked so much about the read­er, but you can’t for­get that the open­ing line is impor­tant to the writer, too. To the per­son who’s actu­al­ly boots-on-the-ground. Because it’s not just the reader’s way in, it’s the writer’s way in also, and you’ve got to find a door­way that fits us both.

This is excel­lent advice. As you ori­ent your read­er, so you ori­ent your­self, point­ing your work in the direc­tion it needs to go. Now King admits that he doesn’t think much about the open­ing line as he writes, in a first draft, at least. That per­fect­ly craft­ed and invit­ing open­ing sen­tence is some­thing that emerges in revi­sion, which can be where the bulk of a writer’s work hap­pens.

Revi­sion in the sec­ond draft, “one of them, any­way,” may “neces­si­tate some big changes” says King in his 2000 mem­oir slash writ­ing guide On Writ­ing. And yet, it is an essen­tial process, and one that “hard­ly ever fails.” Below, we bring you King’s top twen­ty rules from On Writ­ing. About half of these relate direct­ly to revi­sion. The oth­er half cov­er the intangibles—attitude, dis­ci­pline, work habits. A num­ber of these sug­ges­tions reli­ably pop up in every writer’s guide. But quite a few of them were born of Stephen King’s many decades of tri­al and error and—writes the Barnes & Noble book blog—“over 350 mil­lion copies” sold, “like them or loathe them.”

1. First write for your­self, and then wor­ry about the audi­ence. “When you write a sto­ry, you’re telling your­self the sto­ry. When you rewrite, your main job is tak­ing out all the things that are not the sto­ry.”

2. Don’t use pas­sive voice. “Timid writ­ers like pas­sive verbs for the same rea­son that timid lovers like pas­sive part­ners. The pas­sive voice is safe.”

3. Avoid adverbs. “The adverb is not your friend.”

4. Avoid adverbs, espe­cial­ly after “he said” and “she said.”

5. But don’t obsess over per­fect gram­mar. “The object of fic­tion isn’t gram­mat­i­cal cor­rect­ness but to make the read­er wel­come and then tell a sto­ry.”

6. The mag­ic is in you. “I’m con­vinced that fear is at the root of most bad writ­ing.”

7. Read, read, read. ”If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”

8. Don’t wor­ry about mak­ing oth­er peo­ple hap­py. “If you intend to write as truth­ful­ly as you can, your days as a mem­ber of polite soci­ety are num­bered, any­way.”

9. Turn off the TV. “TV—while work­ing out or any­where else—really is about the last thing an aspir­ing writer needs.”

10. You have three months. “The first draft of a book—even a long one—should take no more than three months, the length of a sea­son.”

11. There are two secrets to suc­cess. “I stayed phys­i­cal­ly healthy, and I stayed mar­ried.”

12. Write one word at a time. “Whether it’s a vignette of a sin­gle page or an epic tril­o­gy like ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ the work is always accom­plished one word at a time.”

13. Elim­i­nate dis­trac­tion. “There should be no tele­phone in your writ­ing room, cer­tain­ly no TV or videogames for you to fool around with.”

14. Stick to your own style. “One can­not imi­tate a writer’s approach to a par­tic­u­lar genre, no mat­ter how sim­ple what that writer is doing may seem.”

15. Dig. “Sto­ries are relics, part of an undis­cov­ered pre-exist­ing world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her tool­box to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as pos­si­ble.”

16. Take a break. “You’ll find read­ing your book over after a six-week lay­off to be a strange, often exhil­a­rat­ing expe­ri­ence.”

17. Leave out the bor­ing parts and kill your dar­lings. “(kill your dar­lings, kill your dar­lings, even when it breaks your ego­cen­tric lit­tle scribbler’s heart, kill your dar­lings.)”

18. The research shouldn’t over­shad­ow the sto­ry. “Remem­ber that word back. That’s where the research belongs: as far in the back­ground and the back sto­ry as you can get it.”

19. You become a writer sim­ply by read­ing and writ­ing. “You learn best by read­ing a lot and writ­ing a lot, and the most valu­able lessons of all are the ones you teach your­self.”

20. Writ­ing is about get­ting hap­py. “Writ­ing isn’t about mak­ing mon­ey, get­ting famous, get­ting dates, get­ting laid or mak­ing friends. Writ­ing is mag­ic, as much as the water of life as any oth­er cre­ative art. The water is free. So drink.”

See a fuller expo­si­tion of King’s writ­ing wis­dom at Barnes & Noble’s blog.

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

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The 69 Pages of Writ­ing Advice Denis John­son Col­lect­ed from Flan­nery O’Connor, Jack Ker­ouac, Stephen King, Hunter Thomp­son, Wern­er Her­zog & Many Oth­ers

7 Tips From Ernest Hem­ing­way on How to Write Fic­tion

Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Tips on How to Write a Good Short Sto­ry

Stephen King’s Top 10 All-Time Favorite Books

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

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ChatGPT Writes a Song in the Style of Nick Cave–and Nick Cave Calls it “a Grotesque Mockery of What It Is to Be Human”

Pho­to by Bled­dyn Butch­er via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

Last year, not long before Christ­mas, every­one on the inter­net received a shiny new toy in the form of Chat­G­PT, which by the pow­er of arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence can near-instan­ta­neous­ly gen­er­ate most any text one asks it to. And after a bit of exper­i­men­ta­tion, one is inclined, nat­u­ral­ly, to turn such an impres­sive tech­no­log­i­cal achieve­ment to the most ridicu­lous pos­si­ble uses. Over the past few months, pas­tiche has proven an espe­cial­ly pop­u­lar use of Chat­G­PT: my own inter­est was first piqued, as I recall, by its gen­er­a­tion of instruc­tions for “how to remove a peanut-but­ter sand­wich from a VCR” in the style of the King James Bible.

It’s unknow­able what the author or authors of the Bible (depend­ing on how you hap­pen to con­ceive of its author­ship) would think of the results. But we do know just what Nick Cave thinks of Chat­G­P­T’s attempt to write a song in his style. You can read its lyrics at The Red Hand Files, the site of Cave’s ques­tion-and-answer newslet­ter (in which he has opined on these mat­ters before). Con­sist­ing of two vers­es, a cho­rus, and an out­ro filled with lines about “a siren’s song,” “the blood of angels,” and “the fire of hell,” the song was sent in by a fan named Mark in New Zealand, to whom Cave writes a char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly thought­ful reply — or at least he does after deliv­er­ing his ver­dict: “This song sucks.”

“What Chat­G­PT is, in this instance, is repli­ca­tion as trav­es­ty,” Cave writes. “It could per­haps in time cre­ate a song that is, on the sur­face, indis­tin­guish­able from an orig­i­nal, but it will always be a repli­ca­tion, a kind of bur­lesque.” Gen­uine songs, he explains, “arise out of suf­fer­ing, by which I mean they are pred­i­cat­ed upon the com­plex, inter­nal human strug­gle of cre­ation.” But “Chat­G­PT has no inner being, it has been nowhere, it has endured noth­ing, it has not had the audac­i­ty to reach beyond its lim­i­ta­tions, and hence it doesn’t have the capac­i­ty for a shared tran­scen­dent expe­ri­ence, as it has no lim­i­ta­tions from which to tran­scend.”

“What makes a great song great is not its close resem­blance to a rec­og­niz­able work,” he con­tin­ues. “Writ­ing a good song is not mim­ic­ry, or repli­ca­tion, or pas­tiche, it is the oppo­site. It is an act of self-mur­der that destroys all one has strived to pro­duce in the past.” This is the act that Cave him­self has com­mit­ted to over and over again through­out his half-cen­tu­ry-long musi­cal career. But even if that act will lie for­ev­er beyond the grasp of an arti­fi­cial-intel­li­gence sys­tem, no mat­ter how robust, it also lies beyond the grasp of the many human musi­cians con­tent to crank out the same old songs for decades on end. Per­haps it is they, not the Nick Caves of the world, who should wor­ry about the likes of Chat­G­PT putting them out of work.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Nick Cave Answers the Hot­ly Debat­ed Ques­tion: Will Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence Ever Be Able to Write a Great Song?

Lis­ten to Nick Cave’s Lec­ture on the Art of Writ­ing Sub­lime Love Songs (1999)

Demys­ti­fy­ing Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ “Red Right Hand,” and How It Was Inspired by Milton’s Par­adise Lost

Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch Reads Nick Cave’s Beau­ti­ful Let­ter About Grief

Nick Cave Nar­rates an Ani­mat­ed Film about the Cat Piano, the Twist­ed 18th Cen­tu­ry Musi­cal Instru­ment Designed to Treat Men­tal Ill­ness

Hayao Miyaza­ki Tells Video Game Mak­ers What He Thinks of Their Char­ac­ters Made with Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence: “I’m Utter­ly Dis­gust­ed. This Is an Insult to Life Itself”

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.

Behold Colorful Geologic Maps of Mars Released by The United States Geological Survey

The USGS Astro­ge­ol­o­gy Sci­ence Cen­ter has recent­ly released a series of col­or­ful and intri­cate­ly-detailed maps of Mars. These col­or­ful maps, notes USGS, “pro­vide high­ly detailed views of the [plantet’s] sur­face and allow sci­en­tists to inves­ti­gate com­plex geo­log­ic rela­tion­ships both on and beneath the sur­face. These types of maps are use­ful for both plan­ning for and then con­duct­ing land­ed mis­sions.”

The map above lets you see Olym­pus Mons, the tallest vol­cano in the solar sys­tem, which stands more than twice the height of Mount Ever­est. The USGS goes on to add: “Map read­ers can visu­al­ize the caldera com­plex more eas­i­ly due to the detail that is avail­able at the 1:200,000 scale and the addi­tion of con­tour lines to the map. The map cov­ers a region that is rough­ly the size of the Dal­las-Ft. Worth met­ro­pol­i­tan area and is a detailed look at the volcano’s sum­mit that we have not seen before. This new view of the Olym­pus Mons caldera com­plex allows sci­en­tists to more eas­i­ly com­pare it to sim­i­lar fea­tures on Earth (known as ter­res­tri­al analogs) such as Hawaii’s Mau­na Loa.”

You can find more Mar­t­ian maps here.

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!

via Kot­tke

Relat­ed Con­tent 

The Sur­face of Mars Shown in Stun­ning 4K Res­o­lu­tion

View and Down­load Near­ly 60,000 Maps from the U.S. Geo­log­i­cal Sur­vey (USGS)

Vin­tage Geo­log­i­cal Maps Get Turned Into 3D Topo­graph­i­cal Won­ders

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The Charles Dickens Illustrated Gallery: A New Online Collection Presents All of the Original Illustrations from Charles Dickens’ Novels

At the height of his fame, Charles Dick­ens could have com­mand­ed any illus­tra­tor he liked for his nov­els. But at the begin­ning of his lit­er­ary career, it was he who was charged with accom­pa­ny­ing the artist, not the oth­er way around. His first seri­al­ized nov­el The Posthu­mous Papers of the Pick­wick Club, bet­ter known as The Pick­wick Papers, began as a series of com­i­cal “cock­ney sport­ing plates” by  Robert Sey­mour. Hon­est enough to admit his igno­rance of the cock­ney sport­ing life but shrewd enough to know an oppor­tu­ni­ty when he saw one, the young Dick­ens accept­ed the pub­lish­er’s request for sto­ries meant to elab­o­rate on the images.

Even then, Dick­ens pos­sessed irre­press­ible tal­ent as a pop­u­lar sto­ry­teller, and it was his writ­ing — which evi­denced scant inter­est in adher­ence to the exist­ing art — that made The Pick­wick Papers into a great suc­cess, a mass-cul­tur­al phe­nom­e­non com­pa­ra­ble to a hit sit­com avant la let­tre.

187 years lat­er there remains a whiff of scan­dal around this chap­ter of lit­er­ary his­to­ry, Sey­mour hav­ing com­mit­ted sui­cide ear­ly in the seri­al­iza­tion process the day after an argu­ment with Dick­ens. Even­tu­al­ly the author found a per­ma­nent replace­ment for Sey­mour in Hablot Knight Browne, or Phiz, who would go on to pro­vide the art­work for most of his nov­els.

You can see all of Phiz’s work for Dick­ens at the Charles Dick­ens Illus­trat­ed Gallery, a project of Michael John Good­man, whom we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture for his Vic­to­ri­an Illus­trat­ed Shake­speare Archive (and his col­lec­tion of AI-gen­er­at­ed Shake­speare art). “The world of Dick­ens illus­tra­tion is beset with poor repro­duc­tions of the source mate­r­i­al, so for this project I have searched out what I con­sid­er to be some of the best edi­tions that fea­ture the orig­i­nal illus­tra­tions print­ed to a decent qual­i­ty,” Good­man writes on his pro­jec­t’s About page. These tend to date from the ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry and come with “col­ored fron­tispieces (which the orig­i­nal nov­els did not have).”

One such fron­tispiece appears at the top of this post, depict­ing the first appear­ance of The Pick­wick Papers’ most beloved char­ac­ter, the cock­ney valet Samuel Weller (who over­took the title char­ac­ter in pop­u­lar­i­ty in much the same man­ner as Dick­ens’ writ­ing over­took the illus­tra­tions). The Charles Dick­ens Illus­trat­ed Gallery con­tains numer­ous plates from that book, as well as from all the rest: Oliv­er Twist (a col­lab­o­ra­tion with not Phiz but George Cruik­shank), A Christ­mas Car­ol (with John Leech), Bleak House (its grim atmos­phere height­ened by Phiz’s “dark plates”), even the nev­er-fin­ished The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood. Today’s read­ers are like­ly to dis­miss these illus­tra­tions, how­ev­er well-ren­dered, as extra­ne­ous to the text. But we must bear in mind that most were seen and approved by Dick­ens him­self, who knew what he want­ed — and even more so, what his read­ers want­ed.

Enter the The Charles Dick­ens Illus­trat­ed Gallery here.

Relat­ed con­tent:

An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to Charles Dick­ens’ Life & Lit­er­ary Works

An Oscar-Win­ning Ani­ma­tion of Charles Dick­ens’ Clas­sic Tale, A Christ­mas Car­ol (1971)

The Code of Charles Dick­ens’ Short­hand Has Been Cracked by Com­put­er Pro­gram­mers, Solv­ing a 160-Year-Old Mys­tery

Behold Illus­tra­tions of Every Shake­speare Play Cre­at­ed by Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence

3,000 Illus­tra­tions of Shakespeare’s Com­plete Works from Vic­to­ri­an Eng­land, Neat­ly Pre­sent­ed in a New Dig­i­tal Archive

A Free Shake­speare Col­or­ing Book: While Away the Hours Col­or­ing in Illus­tra­tions of 35 Clas­sic Plays

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.

The Haunting Paintings of Francisco Goya: A Deep Dive into His Dark, Late Works

Back in Octo­ber, we fea­tured the first of a planned series of videos on the “Black Paint­ings” cre­at­ed at the end of Fran­cis­co Goy­a’s life. Last week, the YouTube chan­nel Great Art Explained com­plet­ed the series and rolled them up into a 51-minute doc­u­men­tary, which you can watch above. It comes with this pref­ace from cura­tor James Payne:

In this full-length film, I look at Fran­cis­co Goy­a’s lat­er works. At the age of 46, Goya suf­fered from a severe ill­ness that caused loss of vision and hear­ing, tin­ni­tus, dizzi­ness, right-sides paral­y­sis, weak­ness and gen­er­al malaise. Although he recov­ered from a cere­bral stroke which accom­pa­nied it, he went com­plete­ly deaf. From this point on his work took a dark­er tone.

To under­stand Fran­cis­co Goy­a’s Black Paint­ings, we need to under­stand how he went from a pop­u­lar well-loved roy­al por­trait artist to paint­ing deeply dis­turb­ing imagery on the bare walls of his house in total iso­la­tion.

His dark­er work was nev­er real­ly seen in his life­time. His series of etch­ings known as Los Capri­chos was with­drawn from pub­lic sale for fear of attack by the Inqui­si­tion, and his deeply pes­simistic ‘Dis­as­ters of War’ was so grue­some and rad­i­cal it had to wait until his death to be pub­lished. Even his mas­ter­piece, The Third of May 1808, was cen­sored by the king and hid­den away.

His wife and most of his friends were dead and he had become iso­lat­ed. He was 73-years old, sick, and com­plete­ly deaf. His long life was com­ing to a close… BUT he wasn’t fin­ished yet. The man who had once paint­ed cru­ci­fix­ions, mir­a­cles, saints, and priests, now paint­ed ter­ri­fy­ing, demon­ic, raw and bru­tal works – works with­out even a hint of God.

His last years were spent in iso­la­tion secret­ly cre­at­ing some of the most hor­rif­ic images in West­ern art, The Black Paint­ings.

Using footage from my ear­li­er short films, Goya Part 1 and Goya Part 2, I have added about 25 min­utes of new footage to make this full-length film.

For more videos from Great Art Explained, vis­it their chan­nel here.

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Relat­ed Con­tent

The Most Dis­turb­ing Paint­ing: A Close Look at Fran­cis­co Goya’s Sat­urn Devour­ing His Son

Euro­pean Paint­ings: From Leonar­do to Rem­brandt to Goya — A Free Online Course from the Uni­ver­si­dad Car­los III de Madrid (UC3M)

Art Lovers Rejoice! New Goya and Rem­brandt Data­bas­es Now Online

Benedict Cumberbatch & Ian McKellen Read Epic Letters Written by Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Von­negut is one of those writ­ers whose wit, human­ism and lack of sen­ti­men­tal­i­ty leave you han­ker­ing for more.

For­tu­nate­ly, the pro­lif­ic nov­el­ist was an equal­ly pro­lif­ic let­ter writer.

His pub­lished cor­re­spon­dence includes a descrip­tion of the fire­bomb­ing of Dres­den penned upon his release from the Slaugh­ter­house Five POW camp, an admis­sion to daugh­ter Nanette that most parental mis­sives “con­tain a par­en­t’s own lost dreams dis­guised as good advice,” and some unvar­nished exchanges with many of famil­iar lit­er­ary names. (“I am cuter than you are,” he taunt­ed Cape Cod neigh­bor Nor­man Mail­er.)

No won­der these let­ters are cat­nip to per­form­ers with the pedi­gree to rec­og­nize good writ­ing when they see it.

Hav­ing inter­pret­ed Shake­speare, Ibsen, and Ionesco, book lover Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch obvi­ous­ly rel­ish­es the straight­for­ward ire of Vonnegut’s 1973 response to a North Dako­ta school board chair­man who ordered a school jan­i­tor to burn all copies of Slaugh­ter­house-Five assigned by Bruce Sev­ery, a recent­ly hired, young Eng­lish teacher.

In addi­tion to Slaugh­ter­house-Five, the board also con­signed two oth­er vol­umes on the syl­labus — James Dick­ey’s Deliv­er­ance and an anthol­o­gy con­tain­ing short sto­ries by Faulkn­er, Hem­ing­way and Stein­beck — to the fire.

Revis­it­ing the event, the Bis­mar­ck Tri­bune reports that “the objec­tion to (Slaugh­ter­house-Five) had to do with pro­fan­i­ty, (Deliv­er­ance) with some homo­sex­u­al mate­r­i­al and the (anthol­o­gy) because the first two ren­dered all of Severy’s choic­es sus­pect.”

A decade lat­er, Von­negut also revis­it­ed the school board’s “insult­ing” objec­tions in the pages of  the New York Times:

Even by the stan­dards of Queen Vic­to­ria, the only offen­sive line in the entire nov­el is this: ”Get out of the road, you dumb m(———–).” This is spo­ken by an Amer­i­can anti­tank gun­ner to an unarmed Amer­i­can chap­lain’s assis­tant dur­ing the Bat­tle of the Bulge in Europe in Decem­ber 1944, the largest sin­gle defeat of Amer­i­can arms (the Con­fed­er­a­cy exclud­ed) in his­to­ry. The chap­lain’s assis­tant had attract­ed ene­my fire.

Word is Von­negut’s let­ter nev­er received the cour­tesy of a reply.

One won­ders if the recip­i­ent burned it, too.

If that 50 year old let­ter feels ger­mane, check out Vonnegut’s 1988 let­ter to peo­ple liv­ing 100 years in the future, a lit­tle more than 50 years from where we are now.

In many ways, its com­mon­sense advice sur­pass­es the ever­green words of those it namechecks — Shakespeare’s Polo­nius, St. John the Divine, and the Big Book of Alco­holics Anony­mous. The threat of envi­ron­men­tal col­lapse it seeks to stave off has become even more dire in the ensu­ing years.

Vonnegut’s advice (list­ed below) clear­ly res­onates with Cum­ber­batch, a veg­an who lever­aged his celebri­ty to bring atten­tion to the cli­mate cri­sis when he par­tic­i­pat­ed in the Extinc­tion Rebel­lion Protests in Lon­don.

1. Reduce and sta­bi­lize your pop­u­la­tion.

2. Stop poi­son­ing the air, the water, and the top­soil.

3. Stop prepar­ing for war and start deal­ing with your real prob­lems.

4. Teach your kids, and your­selves, too, while you’re at it, how to inhab­it a small plan­et with­out help­ing to kill it.

5. Stop think­ing sci­ence can fix any­thing if you give it a tril­lion dol­lars.

6. Stop think­ing your grand­chil­dren will be OK no mat­ter how waste­ful or destruc­tive you may be, since they can go to a nice new plan­et on a space­ship. That is real­ly mean, and stu­pid.

7. And so on. Or else.

Von­negut, who died in 2007 at the age of 84, nev­er lost his touch with young read­ers. Who bet­ter to recite his 2006 let­ter to his fans in New York City’s Xavier High School’s stu­dent body than the ever youth­ful, ever curi­ous actor and activist, Sir Ian McK­ellen?

Cum­ber­batch is a won­der­ful read­er, but he’d require a bit more sea­son­ing to pull these lines off with­out the aid of major pros­thet­ics:

You sure know how to cheer up a real­ly old geezer (84) in his sun­set years. I don’t make pub­lic appear­ances any more because I now resem­ble noth­ing so much as an igua­na. 

Now if only these gents would attempt a Hoosier accent…

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Ian McK­ellen Recites Shakespeare’s Son­net 20, Backed by Garage Rock Band, the Flesh­tones, on Andy Warhol’s MTV Vari­ety Show (1987)

Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch Reads Nick Cave’s Beau­ti­ful Let­ter About Grief

Watch Sir Ian McKellen’s 1979 Mas­ter Class on Macbeth’s Final Mono­logue

Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch Reads “the Best Cov­er Let­ter Ever Writ­ten”

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. Its cur­rent issue cel­e­brates Kurt Vonnegut’s cen­ten­ni­al. Her most recent books are Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.