The Smithsonian Puts 4.5 Million High-Res Images Online and Into the Public Domain, Making Them Free to Use

That vast repos­i­to­ry of Amer­i­can his­to­ry that is the Smith­son­ian Insti­tu­tion evolved from an orga­ni­za­tion found­ed in 1816 called the Columbian Insti­tute for the Pro­mo­tion of Arts and Sci­ences. Its man­date, the col­lec­tion and dis­sem­i­na­tion of use­ful knowl­edge, now sounds very much of the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry — but then, so does its name. Colum­bia, the god­dess-like sym­bol­ic per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca, is sel­dom direct­ly ref­er­enced today, hav­ing been super­seded by Lady Lib­er­ty. Traits of both fig­ures appear in the depic­tion on the nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry fire­man’s hat above, about which you can learn more at Smith­son­ian Open Access, a dig­i­tal archive that now con­tains some 4.5 mil­lion images.

“Any­one can down­load, reuse, and remix these images at any time — for free under the Cre­ative Com­mons Zero (CC0) license,” write My Mod­ern Met’s Jes­si­ca Stew­art and Madeleine Muz­dakis. “A dive into the 3D records shows every­thing from CAD mod­els of the Apol­lo 11 com­mand mod­ule to Hor­a­tio Gree­nough’s 1840 sculp­ture of George Wash­ing­ton.”

The 2D arti­facts of inter­est include “a por­trait of Poc­a­hon­tas in the Nation­al Por­trait Gallery, an image of the 1903 Wright Fly­er from the Nation­al Air and Space Muse­um, and box­ing head­gear worn by Muham­mad Ali from the Nation­al Muse­um of African Amer­i­can His­to­ry and Cul­ture.”

The NMAAHC in par­tic­u­lar has pro­vid­ed a great many items rel­e­vant to twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry Amer­i­can cul­ture, like James Bald­win’s inkwell, Chuck Berry’s gui­tar May­bel­lene, Pub­lic Ene­my’s boom­box, and the poster for a 1968 Nina Simone con­cert. The more obscure object just above, a Native Amer­i­can kachi­na fig­ure with the head of Mick­ey Mouse, comes from the Smith­son­ian Amer­i­can Art Muse­um. “When Dis­ney Stu­dios put a mouse hero on the sil­ver screen in the 1930s,” explain the accom­pa­ny­ing notes, “Hopi artists saw in Mick­ey Mouse a cel­e­bra­tion of Tusan Homichi, the leg­endary mouse war­rior who defeat­ed a chick­en-steal­ing hawk” — and were thus them­selves inspired, it seems, to sum up a wide swath of Amer­i­can his­to­ry in a sin­gle object.

More items are being added to Smith­son­ian Open Access all the time, each with its own sto­ry to tell — and all acces­si­ble not just to Amer­i­cans, but inter­net users the world over. In that sense it feels a bit like the Chica­go World’s Fair of 1893, bet­ter known as the World’s Columbian Expo­si­tion, with its mis­sion of reveal­ing Amer­i­ca’s sci­en­tif­ic, tech­no­log­i­cal, and artis­tic genius to the whole of human civ­i­liza­tion. You can see a great many pho­tos and oth­er arti­facts of this land­mark event at Smith­son­ian Open Access, or, if you pre­fer, you can click the “just brows­ing” link and behold all the his­tor­i­cal, cul­tur­al, and for­mal vari­ety avail­able in the Smith­so­ni­an’s dig­i­tal col­lec­tions, where the spir­it of Colum­bia lives on.

via Kot­tke/My Mod­ern Met

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Library of Con­gress Launch­es the Nation­al Screen­ing Room, Putting Online Hun­dreds of His­toric Films

The Smith­son­ian Design Muse­um Dig­i­tizes 200,000 Objects, Giv­ing You Access to 3,000 Years of Design Inno­va­tion & His­to­ry

The Smith­son­ian Presents a Gallery of 6,000+ Rare Rock ‘n Roll Pho­tos on a Crowd­sourced Web Site, and Now a New Book

Why 99% Of Smithsonian’s Spec­i­mens Are Hid­den In High Secu­ri­ty

John Green’s Crash Course in U.S. His­to­ry: From Colo­nial­ism to Oba­ma in 47 Videos

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.

16-Year-Old Dave Grohl Demonstrates His Emerging Drumming Talent, Playing in His Punk Band “Mission Impossible” (1985)

Before Foo Fight­ers, before Nir­vana, before even Dain Bra­m­age, Scream and oth­er bands, Dave Grohl played in the Spring­field, Vir­ginia punk band Mis­sion Impos­si­ble. Above, we have footage of Grohl, only 16 years old, giv­ing us a pre­view of per­for­mances to come. The cam­era puts Grohl cen­ter stage around the 1:30 mark.

This July 1985 footage was cap­tured by Sohrab Habibion, who doc­u­ment­ed shows from the 1980s DC punk scene. His record­ings now reside at the Punk Archive at the DC Pub­lic Library. Like­wise, you can stream them on his YouTube chan­nel. Among oth­er things, you can watch vin­tage per­for­mances by Fugazi, GWAR, the Lemon­heads, Dain Bra­m­age (anoth­er Grohl band) & more. Stream them online.

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 Laugh­ing Squid

Relat­ed Con­tent 

75 Post-Punk and Hard­core Con­certs from the 1980s Have Been Dig­i­tized & Put Online: Fugazi, GWAR, Lemon­heads, Dain Bra­m­age (with Dave Grohl) & More

Dis­cov­er an Archive of Taped New York City-Area Punk & Indie Con­certs from the 80s and 90s: The Pix­ies, Son­ic Youth, The Replace­ments & Many More

When John Belushi Booked the Punk Band Fear on SNL, And They Got Banned from the Show: A Short Doc­u­men­tary

Down­load 50+ Issues of Leg­endary West Coast Punk Music Zines from the 1970–80s: Dam­age, Slash & No Mag

Al Jaffee, the Longest Working Cartoonist in History, Dies at 102: Discover How He Invented the Iconic “Folds-Ins” for Mad Magazine

Note: Yes­ter­day, Mad Mag­a­zine leg­end Al Jaf­fee died at the age of 102. Below, we present our 2016 post fea­tur­ing Jaf­fee talk­ing about how he invent­ed the icon­ic Fold-ins for the satir­i­cal mag­a­zine.

Keep copy­ing those Sun­day fun­nies, kids, and one day you may beat Al Jaf­fee’s record to become the Longest Work­ing Car­toon­ist in His­to­ry.

You’ll need to take extra good care of your health, giv­en that the Guin­ness Book of World Records noti­fied Jaf­fee, above, of his hon­orif­ic on his 95th birth­day.

Much of his leg­endary career has been spent at Mad Mag­a­zine, where he is best-known as the father of Fold-ins.

Con­ceived of as the satir­i­cal inverse of the expen­sive-to-pro­duce, 4‑color cen­ter­folds that were a sta­ple of glossier mags, the first Fold-In spoofed pub­lic per­cep­tion of actress Eliz­a­beth Tay­lor as a man-eater. Jaffe had fig­ured it as a one-issue gag, but edi­tor Al Feld­stein had oth­er ideas, demand­ing an imme­di­ate fol­low up for the June 1964 issue.

Jaffe oblig­ed with the Richard Nixon Fold-in, which set the tone for the oth­er 450 he has hand-ren­dered in sub­se­quent issues.

Al Jaffee Mad

For those who made it to adult­hood with­out the sin­gu­lar plea­sure of creas­ing Mad’s back cov­er, you can dig­i­tal­ly fold-in a few sam­ples using this nifty inter­ac­tive fea­ture, cour­tesy of The New York Times.

With all due respect, it’s not the same, just enough to give a feel for the thrill of draw­ing the out­er­most pan­el in to reveal the visu­al punch­line lurk­ing with­in the larg­er pic­ture. The print edi­tion demands pre­ci­sion fold­ing on the reader’s part, if one is to get a sat­is­fac­to­ry answer to the rhetor­i­cal text posed at the out­set.

Jaffe must be even more pre­cise in his cal­cu­la­tions. In an inter­view with Sean Edgar of Paste Mag­a­zine, he described how he turned a Repub­li­can pri­ma­ry stage shared by Nel­son Rock­e­feller and Bar­ry Gold­wa­ter into a sur­prise por­trait of the man who would become pres­i­dent five years hence:

The first thing I did was draw Richard Nixon’s face, not in great detail, just a very rough estab­lish­ment of where the eyes, nose and mouth would be, and the gen­er­al shape. I did an exag­ger­at­ed car­i­ca­ture of Nixon and then I cut it in half, and moved it apart. Once the face was cut in half, it didn’t have the integri­ty of a face any­more — it was sort of a half of face. Then I looked at what the eyes were like, and I said, ‘what can I make out of the eyes?’ He had these heavy eye­brows. I played around with many things, but I had to keep in mind all the time what the big pic­ture was. So there they (Gold­wa­ter and Rock­e­feller) were up on a stage some­where, doing a debate, and I thought, ‘What kind of stage prop can I put along­side these guys that would seem nat­ur­al there?’ I decid­ed that I could make eyes out of the lamps, and as far as the nose was con­cerned, that could come out of the fig­ures — their cloth­ing. Then I fig­ured the mouth; I could use some sort of table that could give me those two sides. That’s how it all came about. You have to have some kind of visu­al imag­i­na­tion to see the pos­si­bil­i­ties. I had to con­cen­trate on stuff that looked nat­ur­al on a stage.

Each Fold-In is a reflec­tion of the zeit­geist. Past pre­oc­cu­pa­tions have includ­ed Viet­nam, fem­i­nism, ille­gal drug use and, more recent­ly, the Jer­sey Shore.

via Gothamist

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A Gallery of Mad Magazine’s Rol­lick­ing Fake Adver­tise­ments from the 1960s

Watch Mad Magazine’s Edgy, Nev­er-Aired TV Spe­cial (1974)

A Look Inside Char­lie Heb­do, Their Cre­ative Process & the Mak­ing of a Fate­ful Car­toon

Chuck Jones’ 9 Rules For Draw­ing Road Run­ner Car­toons, or How to Cre­ate a Min­i­mal­ist Mas­ter­piece

Car­toon­ists Draw Their Famous Car­toon Char­ac­ters While Blind­fold­ed (1947)

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

Historical Italian Cooking: How to Make Ancient Roman & Medieval Italian Dishes

Italy is wide­ly cel­e­brat­ed for hav­ing vig­i­lant­ly pre­served its food cul­ture, with the result that many dish­es there are still pre­pared in more or less the same way they have been for cen­turies. When you taste Ital­ian food at its best, you taste his­to­ry — to bor­row the name of a Youtube chan­nel whose suc­cess has revealed a sur­pris­ing­ly wide­spread enthu­si­asm for the cui­sine of bygone eras. But some of Italy’s most glob­al­ly beloved comestibles aren’t quite as deeply root­ed in the past as peo­ple tend to assume: there are no records of tiramisu, for instance, before the nine­teen-six­ties; cia­bat­ta, the Ital­ian answer to the baguette, was invent­ed in the ear­ly nine­teen-eight­ies.

Nei­ther of them appear any­where in His­tor­i­cal Ital­ian Cook­ing, a bilin­gual blog in Eng­lish and Ital­ian that teach­es how to par­take in far more ven­er­a­ble culi­nary tra­di­tions. A vari­ety of peri­ods are rep­re­sent­ed: the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry (Neapoli­tan cala­mari, tagli­atelle and beef stew), the Renais­sance (cros­ti­ni with guan­ciale and sage, elder­flow­ers frit­ters), the Mid­dle Ages (monk’s stuffed-egg soup, quails with sumac), and even the time of ancient Rome (cut­tle­fish cakes, Horace’s lagana and chick­peas).

You can also see these and oth­er dish­es pre­pared on His­tor­i­cal Ital­ian Cook­ing’s Youtube chan­nel, which offers playlists orga­nized by era, region, and chief ingre­di­ent: Medieval Tus­can recipes, ancient fish recipes, ear­ly medieval recipes at the court of the Franks.

His­tor­i­cal Ital­ian Cook­ing’s most pop­u­lar video shows every step involved in mak­ing “the most famous ancient Mediter­ranean sauce, garum.” The recipe comes straight from De Re Coquinar­ia, the old­est known cook­book in exis­tence, which we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture. If you’d like to try your hand at mak­ing this bold condi­ment, make sure you’ve got the time: you’ll have to let the fish it’s made of it sit for at least a few days, stir­ring it three or four times per day, though some recipes sug­gest con­tin­u­ing this process for three or four months before the garum is ready to eat. If, on fur­ther con­sid­er­a­tion, you’d pre­fer to make a piz­za, His­tor­i­cal Ital­ian Cook­ing can help with that as well: just make sure you’ve got enough lard and quails.

Relat­ed con­tent:

A Free Course from MIT Teach­es You How to Speak Ital­ian & Cook Ital­ian Food All at Once

The Futur­ist Cook­book (1930) Tried to Turn Ital­ian Cui­sine into Mod­ern Art

Tast­ing His­to­ry: A Hit YouTube Series Shows How to Cook the Foods of Ancient Greece & Rome, Medieval Europe, and Oth­er Places & Peri­ods

When Ital­ian Futur­ists Declared War on Pas­ta (1930)

Explore the Roman Cook­book, De Re Coquinar­ia, the Old­est Known Cook­book in Exis­tence

Ital­ian Advice on How to Live the Good Life: Cig­a­rettes, Toma­toes, and Oth­er Pic­turesque Small Plea­sures

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 the World’s First Modern Art Amusement Park, Featuring Attractions by Salvador Dalí, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Roy Lichtenstein & More (1987)

Think of the names David Hock­ney, Jean Michel-Basquiat, Roy Licht­en­stein, and Kei­th Har­ing, and one time peri­od comes vivid­ly to mind: the nine­teen-eight­ies, the blast radius of whose explo­sion of shape, col­or, and motion encom­passed every­thing from main­stream pop cul­ture to the avant-garde. One could expe­ri­ence this through movies, clothes, paint­ings, graph­ic design, archi­tec­ture, and even fur­ni­ture. But did any­one real­ly know the aes­thet­ic of the eight­ies, in its full high-low span, who did not vis­it Luna Luna, the first and only mod­ern-art amuse­ment park?

Staged in the sum­mer of 1987 in Ham­burg, the largest city in then West Ger­many, Luna Luna was con­ceived by the Aus­tri­an artist André Heller. Inspired by the cul­tur­al mem­o­ry of fair­grounds like Coney Island’s Luna Park and its many imi­ta­tors around the world, Heller made use of all his con­nec­tions to solic­it designs for attrac­tions from the super­star artists of the day.

“Vis­i­tors could get a lit­tle lost inside Sal­vador Dalí’s mir­rored fun house and spin around on a Kei­th Har­ing carousel,” writes Atlas Obscu­ra’s Sarah Durn. “They could take in the view from atop a daz­zling Jean-Michel Basquiat Fer­ris wheel while lis­ten­ing to Miles Davis.”

Else­where on the grounds, writes Jes­si­ca Stew­art at My Mod­ern Met, “Roy Licht­en­stein took the oppor­tu­ni­ty to design a col­or­ful glass struc­ture called the Pavil­ion of the Glass Labyrinth. Fit­ting­ly, it was accom­pa­nied by music by Philip Glass.” One won­ders what John Cage would have con­tributed to Luna Luna’s sound­track, but the com­pos­er of “4’33”’ was the only artist to turn Heller down. So reports the New York Times’ Joe Coscarel­li, in a piece on the cur­rent project to restore the near­ly for­got­ten Luna Luna (whose com­po­nents have spent the inter­ven­ing decades lan­guish­ing in ware­hous­es) and take it on tour. With a bud­get near­ing $100-mil­lion, it’s becom­ing a real­i­ty thanks to the involve­ment of a sur­pris­ing par­ty: the rap super­star Drake, who knows full well the val­ue of embody­ing the zeit­geist.

To com­ple­ment the restora­tion of his project, André Heller pub­lished this year Luna Luna: The Art Amuse­ment Park, a new book that doc­u­ments in pho­tographs this one-of-a-kind amuse­ment park. You can pur­chase copies of the 300+ page book online.

via Colos­sal

Relat­ed con­tent:

Who Designed the 1980s Aes­thet­ic?: Meet the Mem­phis Group, the Design­ers Who Cre­at­ed the 80s Icon­ic Look

When Sal­vador Dalí Dressed — and Angri­ly Demol­ished — a Depart­ment Store Win­dow in New York City (1939)

A Short Biog­ra­phy of Kei­th Har­ing Told with Com­ic Book Illus­tra­tions & Music

The Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Paint­ings of Jean-Michel Basquiat: A Video Essay

Watch David Hock­ney Paint with Light, Using the Quan­tel Paint­box Graph­ics Sys­tem (1986)

Inside the Creepy, “Aban­doned” Wiz­ard of Oz Theme Park: Scenes of Beau­ti­ful Decay

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.

Discover Leonora Carrington, Britain’s Lost Surrealist Painter

I didn’t have time to be anyone’s muse…I was too busy rebelling against my fam­i­ly and learn­ing to be an artist. — Leono­ra Car­ring­ton

In some ways, Sur­re­al­ist Leono­ra Car­ring­ton’s sto­ry is a famil­iar one, giv­en her gen­der and gen­er­a­tion.

A cre­ative young woman, sti­fled by her con­ven­tion­al upbring­ing, escapes to Paris, falls in love with an old­er male artist, gains a degree of recog­ni­tion des­tined always to be small­er than that of her cel­e­brat­ed lover’s, suf­fers hard­ships, con­tin­ues work­ing, lives a very long time and is the sub­ject of near­ly as many exhi­bi­tions in the decade and a half fol­low­ing her death as in the 70 years pre­ced­ing it.

Cer­tain­ly, Car­ring­ton, who died in 2011, would be deeply ran­kled by this, or any attempt to con­dense her nar­ra­tive into an eas­i­ly-grasped pack­age. Wit­ness the brusque way she rejects her younger cousin  Joan­na Moor­head’s invi­ta­tions, above, to describe the inspi­ra­tion behind var­i­ous can­vas­es:

You’re try­ing to intel­lec­tu­al­ize some­thing, des­per­ate­ly, and you’re wast­ing your time! That’s not a way of under­stand­ing to make …a sort of mini log­ic. You’ll nev­er under­stand by that road.

The sto­ry of how Moor­head con­nect­ed with her noto­ri­ous cousin is a fas­ci­nat­ing one.

Grow­ing up in Eng­land, Moor­head knew next to noth­ing about the fam­i­ly’s absent black sheep — who had tak­en up with the 46-year-old Max Ernst at the age of 20, hob­nobbed with Picas­so, Mar­cel Duchamp and Andre Bre­ton in Paris, and wound up in Mex­i­co City after WWII.

All she was told was that Car­ring­ton, known to the fam­i­ly as Prim, had “run off with an artist to become his mod­el.”

As Moor­head writes in The Sur­re­al Life of Leono­ra Car­ring­ton

…there were occa­sion­al snatch­es: a hushed phone call where the word ‘Mex­i­co’ was just audi­ble; a whis­pered con­ver­sa­tion on the sofa after Sun­day lunch between (great aunt) Mau­rie and (grand­moth­er) Miri­am. There were guf­fawas occa­sion­al­ly from (uncle) Ger­ard and my father: “And then she paint­ed a crea­ture with three breasts!”

In 2006, Moor­head was at a par­ty, mak­ing polite con­ver­sa­tion with anoth­er guest, an art his­to­ri­an who lived in Mex­i­co, “scrap(ing) togeth­er a few ques­tions about the only Mex­i­can artist I knew any­thing about — Fri­da Kahlo”, when she sud­den­ly remem­bered her bohemi­an and sel­dom spo­ken of rel­a­tive, who might even be dead by now for all she knew…

Her fel­low guest was amazed by both the blood con­nec­tion and Moor­head­’s igno­rance, describ­ing Car­ring­ton as Mexico’s most famous liv­ing artist, and a “nation­al trea­sure” who Mex­i­co hap­pi­ly claimed as one of its own.

Gob­s­macked, Moor­head Googled “Leono­ra Car­ring­ton”, dis­cov­er­ing a wealth of pho­tos from var­i­ous phas­es of life, as well as the prodi­gious out­put from her brush:

A strange, Hierony­mus Bosch-style world filed with horse-like crea­tures who float­ed, danced and curled their way across alien landscapes…Some of her pic­tures depict­ed unfa­mil­iar and sin­is­ter-look­ing worlds: one showed a coun­try with. Red sky and amber hills across which trapised a pro­ces­sion of peo­ple wear­ing white robes. More fig­ures, wear­ing black, hud­dled around a huge eunuch like crea­ture, while an out­size turquoise snake unfurled itself dra­mat­i­cal­ly in mid-air. There seemed to be var­i­ous ele­ments com­pet­ing to be the cen­tre of the action in that paint­ing: a globe, a God-like effi­gy and a cathe­dral all nes­tled below a rain­bow. And the sto­ry, what­ev­er it was, didn’t end there because (Car­ring­ton) had paint­ed an under­world in which more peo­ple (dead, pre­sum­ably) seemed to have been trans­formed into ani­mals with pointy, black heads. They were crawl­ing, or try­ing to crawl, and their efforts were being watched, omi­nous­ly, by a sharp-toothed, one-eyed tiger. 

Dri­ven to find out more, Moor­head trav­eled to Mex­i­co City, where Car­ring­ton had lived off and on since 1942. Her cousin was now in her late 80s, iso­lat­ed with an infirm sec­ond hus­band, but still paint­ing and cham­pi­oning Sur­re­al­ism as a visu­al expres­sion that couldn’t be cap­tured with words:

There was no soft­ness around the edges with Leono­ra; she had tak­en a hard path, suf­fered a great deal as a result, and she wore her tough­ness like a badge of hon­our she had earned from her­self. It is far more of an hon­our than the cer­tifi­cate Blu-Tacked to her cup­board door, the hon­our the Mex­i­can gov­ern­ment had giv­en her; it was cer­tain­ly more of an hon­our than the OBE she had belat­ed­ly been award­ed by the British, receiv­ing it on a vis­it from Prince Charles on a vis­it he made to Mex­i­co in 2000. She was bemused by these late acco­lades, but nev­er impressed by them. Ear­ly on in her life, she had decid­ed there was only one thing she could ever rely on, and that was the stee­li­ness in her heart. Exter­nal events, the trap­pings of wealth and suc­cess, the opin­ions of oth­ers, all these were swept away, dis­missed, ignored. She was as uncon­cerned by the approval of oth­ers as by their dis­ap­proval.

See more of Leono­ra Carrington’s work here.

Lis­ten to Joan­na Moor­head inter­viewed about Leono­ra Car­ring­ton on the Great Women Artists Pod­cast (with the under­stand­ing that the sub­ject would have resist­ed that gen­der-based cat­e­go­riza­tion…). And read more about her at The New York­er.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

The For­got­ten Women of Sur­re­al­ism: A Mag­i­cal, Short Ani­mat­ed Film

When The Sur­re­al­ists Expelled Sal­vador Dalí for “the Glo­ri­fi­ca­tion of Hit­ler­ian Fas­cism” (1934)

Three Female Artists Who Helped Cre­ate Abstract Expres­sion­ism: Lee Kras­ner, Elaine de Koon­ing & Helen Franken­thaler

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.

Watch Joni Mitchell Perform George Gershwin’s “Summertime”

“I’ve been a painter all my life. I’ve been a musi­cian most of my life. If you can paint with a brush, you can paint with words.” — Joni Mitchell

There’s been a lot of love for Joni Mitchell cir­cu­lat­ing of late, the sort of heart­felt out­pour­ing that typ­i­cal­ly accom­pa­nies news of an artist’s death.

For­tu­nate­ly, the beloved singer-song­writer has shown her­self to be very much alive, despite a 2015 brain aneurysm that ini­tial­ly left her unable to speak, walk, or play music.

As she quipped in a recent inter­view with Librar­i­an of Con­gress Car­la Hay­den, “I’m hard to dis­cour­age and hard to kill.”

How won­der­ful, then to be so ful­ly alive as a wind­fall of tes­ti­mo­ni­als roll in, describ­ing the per­son­al sig­nif­i­cance of her work, from the famous friends fet­ing her last month with a con­cert of her own com­po­si­tions as she was award­ed the Library of Con­gress Gersh­win Prize for Pop­u­lar Song to ordi­nary cit­i­zens with fond mem­o­ries of singing “The Cir­cle Game” at camp.

Mitchell says that song, which you can hear her singing above, along with last month’s all-star line up, “kind of became like Old Mac­Don­ald Had a Farm” owing to its camp­fire pop­u­lar­i­ty, though she resist­ed Hayden’s invi­ta­tion to explain its time­less appeal:

I don’t know. Why was Old Mac­Don­ald Had a Farm so time­less?

This 79-year-old legend’s grow­ing ten­den­cy to goof her way through inter­views is endear­ing, but the Gersh­win Prize is seri­ous busi­ness, intend­ed to “cel­e­brate the work of an artist whose career reflects the influ­ence, impact and achieve­ment in pro­mot­ing song as a vehi­cle of musi­cal expres­sion and cul­tur­al under­stand­ing.”

Per­former Cyn­di Lau­per reflect­ed that Mitchell’s influ­ence is not con­fined to the realm of music:

When I was grow­ing up the land­scape of music was most­ly men. There were a few women — far and few from me — and Joni Mitchell was the first artist who real­ly spoke about what it was like to be a woman nav­i­gat­ing in a male world … You taught me that I could be a mul­ti­me­dia artist if I want­ed, because you paint­ed and you wrote and you played and that’s what I want­ed and I thought, “Well, if you could do it, maybe I can do it too.”

Mitchell trained as a com­mer­cial artist. Her paint­ings and self-por­traits are fea­tured on the cov­ers of sev­en­teen albums. When Hay­den asked whether she pri­mar­i­ly con­ceives of her­self as a musi­cian or  artist, Mitchell went with artist, “because it’s more gen­er­al.”

I think that, you know, my songs are kind of, they’re not folk music, they’re not chat. They’re kind of art songs and they embody clas­si­cal things and jazzy things and folky things, you know, long line poet­ry. So yeah, I forged my iden­ti­ty very ear­ly as an artist. I’ve always thought of myself as an artist, but not specif­i­cal­ly as a musi­cian. You know, in some ways I’m just not a nor­mal musi­cian because I play in open tun­ings. I nev­er learned the neck of my gui­tar well enough to jam with oth­er peo­ple. I can jam if I lead, but I can’t real­ly fol­low.

She believes her paint­ing prac­tice enrich­es her song­writ­ing, much as crop rota­tion helps a field to remain fer­tile.

Not every artist switch­es lanes so effort­less­ly.

When Geor­gia O’Keeffe — who once told ART­news she’d choose to be rein­car­nat­ed as a “blond sopra­no who could sing high, clear notes with­out fear” — con­fid­ed that she would have liked to be a musi­cian as well as an artist, “but you can’t do both”, Mitchell claims to have respond­ed, “Yeah, you can. You just have to give up TV.”

Song­writ­ers George and Ira Gersh­win, name­sakes of the Prize for Pop­u­lar Song, were clos­er to Mitchell in terms of cre­ative omniv­o­rous­ness. Their self-por­traits hang in the Nation­al Por­trait Gallery and the Library of Con­gress’ Gersh­win room.

Mitchell was thrilled when Library staff pre­sent­ed her with a copy of the hand­writ­ten orig­i­nal score for her favorite George Gersh­win tune, “Sum­mer­time,” which she record­ed for Her­bie Hancock’s 1998 album, Gershwin’s World, sev­en years after an Inter­view mag­a­zine piece in which she referred to her voice as “mid­dle-aged now…like an old cel­lo.”

Twen­ty-five years lat­er, singing “Sum­mer­time” at the end of the con­cert in her hon­or, that cel­lo’s tones are seasoned…and even more mel­low.

I love the melody of (Sum­mer­time) and I like the sim­plic­i­ty of it. And I don’t know, I just I real­ly get a kick out of singing it.

Stream Joni Mitchell: The Library of Con­gress Gersh­win Prize, an all-star con­cert fea­tur­ing Bran­di Carlile, Annie Lennox, James Tay­lor, Her­bie Han­cock, Cyn­di Lau­per, and oth­er lumi­nar­ies, includ­ing the Lady of the Canyon her­self, for free on PBS through April 28.

– 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.

How John Singer Sargent Became the Greatest Portraitist Who Ever Lived — by Painting “Outside the Lines”

Evan Puschak, bet­ter known as Youtube’s Nerd­writer, has cre­at­ed video essays on a host of visu­al artists from Goya to Picas­so, de Chiri­co to Hop­per, Leonar­do to Van Gogh. And though he nar­rates all his analy­ses of their work with evi­dent enthu­si­asm, one soon­er or lat­er comes to sus­pect that he isn’t with­out per­son­al pref­er­ences in this are­na. In the open­ing of his new video above does he name his per­son­al favorite painter: John Singer Sar­gent, for whom he makes the case by telling us why — and how — the artist “paint­ed out­side the lines.”

“Sar­gent came of age as the Impres­sion­ist move­ment, led by Claude Mon­et, flow­ered,” says Puschak. But despite his close asso­ci­a­tion with Mon­et him­self, “Sar­gent was not usu­al­ly count­ed among the Impres­sion­ists,” but he was an impres­sion­ist in that “the impres­sions of light and col­or were his sub­jects.”

By his ear­ly twen­ties, he had already become a mas­ter of con­jur­ing (and even enhanc­ing) real­i­ty on a can­vas with an absolute min­i­mum of brush­strokes or fine detail work. “High soci­ety came knock­ing en masse,” all want­i­ng to com­mis­sion a Sar­gent por­trait; in ful­fill­ing their orders, Sar­gent became “the great­est por­traitist who ever lived.”

It was also por­trai­ture that got him into trou­ble. After his “stun­ning paint­ing of a wealthy socialite” — Madame X, as pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture — “caused a scan­dal in Paris for being too racy,” he move to Eng­land. There he would paint Car­na­tion, Lily, Lily, Rose in 1885 and 1886, work­ing only dur­ing the “gold­en hour” just before sun­set in order to cap­ture its dis­tinc­tive light. Puschak explains that, apart from the pow­er of the artist’s long-refined small‑i impres­sion­ist tech­nique, “what Sar­gent gets here, by the accu­mu­la­tion of lit­tle effects, is an atmos­phere, a mauve-ish col­or­ing that gets in the air itself, which is what it real­ly feels like to be out­side on a sum­mer evening.” We all enjoy that feel­ing, of course, but in this paint­ing — Puschak’s favorite — Sar­gent estab­lished him­self as the most mas­ter­ful sum­mer-evening appre­ci­a­tor of them all.

Below you can watch from the Tate “How John Singer Sar­gent Paint­ed Car­na­tion, Lily, Lily, Rose”

Relat­ed con­tent:

When John Singer Sargent’s Madame X Scan­dal­ized the Art World in 1884

Edward Hopper’s Icon­ic Paint­ing Nighthawks Explained in a 7‑Minute Video Intro­duc­tion

Why Mon­et Paint­ed The Same Haystacks 25 Times

How Andrew Wyeth Made a Paint­ing: A Jour­ney Into His Best-Known Work Christina’s World

Why Leonar­do da Vinci’s Great­est Paint­ing is Not the Mona Lisa

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.

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