Explore MoMA’s Collection of Modern & Contemporary Art Every Time You Open a New Browser Tab

There are browser extensions designed to increase your productivity every time you open a new tab.

Others use positive affirmations, inspiring quotes, and nature photography to put your day on the right track.

We hereby announce that we’re switching our settings and allegiance to New Tab with MoMA.

After installing this extension, you’ll be treated to a new work of modern and contemporary art from The Museum of Modern Art’s collection whenever you open a new tab in Chrome.

If you can steal a few minutes, click whatever image comes up to explore the work in greater depth with a curator’s description, links to other works in the collection by the same artist, and in some cases installation views, interviews and/or audio segments.

Expect a few gift shop heavy hitters like Vincent Van Gogh’s The Starry Night, but also lesser known works not currently on view, like Yayoi Kusama’s Violet Obsession, a rowboat slipcovered in electric purple “phallic protrusions.”

Violet Obsession’s New Tab with MoMA link not only shows you how it was displayed in the 2010 exhibition Mind and Matter: Alternative Abstractions, 1940s to Now, you can also toggle around the installation view to explore other works in the same gallery.

You can hear audio of Kusama describing how she “encrusted” the boat in soft sculpture protuberances in her favorite pinkish-purple hue “to conquer my fear of sex:”

Boats can come and go limitlessly and move ahead on the water. The boat, having overcome my obsession would move on forever, carrying me onboard

A link to a 1999 interview with Grady T. Turner in BOMB allows Kusama to give further context for the work, part of a sculpture series she conceives of as Compulsion Furniture:

My sofas, couches, dresses, and rowboats bristle with phalluses. … As an obsessional artist I fear everything I see. At one time, I dreaded everything I was making.

That’s a pretty robust art history lesson for the price of opening a new tab, though such deep dives can definitely come at the expense of productivity.

We weren’t expecting the 3-dimensional nature of some of the works our tabs yielded up.

Stop, Repair, Prepare: Variations on Ode to Joy for a Prepared Piano, No.12008 by Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla required a live musician to play Ode to Joy from Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony upside down and backwards, from a hole carved into the center of a grand piano.

Frances Benjamin Johnston’s platinum print, Stairway of the Treasurer’s Residence: Students at Work from the Hampton Album 1899–1900, is perhaps more easily grasped if you can’t go too far down the rabbit hole with the artwork appearing in your new tab.

An excerpt from the 2019 publication, MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York provides a brief bio of both Johnston, “a professional photographer, noted for her portraits of Washington politicians and her images of coal miners, ironworkers, and women laborers in New England textile mills” and the Hampton Institute, Booker T Washington’s alma mater.

Bookmark such bite-sized cultural history breaks, and circle back when you have more time.

Speaking of which, allow us to leave you with this thought from artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres, creator of 1991’s time-based installation Untitled (Perfect Lovers), a particularly conceptual offering from New Tab with MoMA:

Time is something that scares me. . . or used to. This piece I made with the two clocks was the scariest thing I have ever done. I wanted to face it. I wanted those two clocks right in front of me, ticking.

Set your Chrome Browser up to use New Tab with MoMA here

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

Free Coloring Books from The Public Domain Review: Download & Color Works by Hokusai, Albrecht Dürer, Harry Clarke, Aubrey Beardsley & More

Did you somehow miss that the Public Domain Review has gotten in on the adult coloring book craze?

If so, don’t feel bad. There were probably a lot of other news items vying for your attention back in March of 2020, when the first volume was released “for diversion, entertainment and relaxation in times of self-isolation.”

By the time the second volume made its debut less than two months later, the first had been downloaded some 30,000 times.

Tell your scarcity mentality to stand down. You may be late to the party, but all 40 images can still be downloaded for free, “to ease and aid pleasurable focus in these oddest of times.”

It’s our belief that odd times call for odd images so we’re reproducing some of our favorites below, though be advised there are also plenty of calming botanical prints and graceful maidens for those craving a less challenging coloring experience.

Behold Saint Anthony Tormented by Demons by Martin Schongauer (c. 1470-75), above!

And below, the 13-year-old Michelangelo’s reproduction in tempera on a wood panel. Biographers Giorgio Vasari and Ascanio Condivi both told how the young artist visited the fish market, seeking inspiration for the demons’ scales. Perhaps you will be inspired by the barely teenaged High Renaissance master’s palette, though it’s YOUR coloring page, so you do you.

In “Filling in the Blanks: A Prehistory of the Adult Coloring Craze“, historians Melissa N. Morris and Zach Carmichael recount how publisher Robert Sayer’s illustrated book, The Florist, “for the use & amusement of Gentlemen and Ladies” was published with the explicit understanding that readers were meant to color in its botanically semi-inaccurate images:

Comprised of pictures of various flowers, the author gives his (presumably) adult readers detailed instructions for paint mixing and color choice (including the delightful sounding “gall-stone brown”).

Perhaps you will bring some of Sayer’s suggested colors to bear on the above image from Parisian bookseller Richard Breton’s Les songes drolatiques de Pantagruel (1565), a collection of 120 grotesque woodcut figures intended as a tribute to the bawdy writer (and priest!) François Rabelais, or a possibly just a canny marketing ploy.

Next, let’s color this perky fellow from Giovanni Battista Nazari’s famous alchemical treatise on metallic transmutation, Della tramutatione metallica sogni tre from 1599. 

The “winged pig in the world” by Dutch engraver and mapmaker Cornelis Anthonisz doesn’t look very cheerful, does he? He’s on top of the imperial orb, but he’s also an allegory of the corrupt world. Hopefully, this will get sorted by the time pigs fly.

As to Ambroise Paré’s 1598 rendering of a “camphur” … well, let’s just say THIS is what a proper unicorn should look like.

According to an annotated checklist that accompanied the Metropolitan Museum’s Cloisters’ 75th Anniversary exhibition Search for the Unicorn, Paré, a pioneering French barber surgeon, claimed that it live(d) in the Arabian Desert, and that its horn can cure various maladies, especially poisoning.”

There’s a lot to unpack there. Think about it as you color.

Hokusai, Albrecht Dürer, and Aubrey Beardsley, are among the artists whose work you’ll encounter, “arranged in vague order of difficulty — from a simple 17th-century kimono pattern to an intricate thousand-flowered illustration.”

Download Volume 1 of the Public Domain Review Coloring book in US Letter or A4 format.

And here is Volume 2 in US Letter or A4 format.

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

How to Actually Cook Salvador Dali’s Surrealist Recipes: Crayfish, Prawns, and Spitted Eggs

The sensual intelligence housed in the tabernacle of my palate beckons me to pay the greatest attention to food. – Salvador Dali

Looking for an easy, low-cost recipe for a quick weeknight supper?

Salvador Dali’s Bush of Crayfish in Viking Herb is not that recipe.

It’s presentation may be Surreal, but it’s not an entirely unrealistic thing to prepare as The Art Assignment’s Sarah Urist Green discovers, above.

The recipe, published in Les Diners de Gala, Dali’s over-the-top cult cookery book from 1973, has pedigree.

Dali got it off a chef at Paris’ fabled Tour d’Argent, who later had second thoughts about giving away trade secrets, and balked at sharing exact measurements for the dish:

Bush of Crawfish in Viking Herbs

In order to realize this dish, it is necessary to have crawfish of 2 ounces each. Prepare the following ingredients for a broth: ‘fumet’ (scented reduced bullion) of fish, of consommé, of white wine, Vermouth, Cognac, salt, pepper, sugar and dill (aromatic herb). Poach the crawfish in this broth for 20 minutes. Let it cool for 24 hours and arrange the crawfish in a dome. Strain the broth and serve in cups.

Green, the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s former curator of contemporary art, soldiers ahead with  a Styrofoam topiary cone and a boxful of Fed-Ex’ed Louisiana crayfish, masking their demise with insets of Dali works such as 1929’s Sometimes I Spit with Pleasure on the Portrait of my Mother (The Sacred Heart).

Green, well aware that some viewers may have trouble with the “brutal realities” of cooking live crustaceans, namechecks Consider the Lobster, the heavily footnoted essay wherein author David Foster Wallace ruminates over ethics at the Maine Lobster Festival.

Green may seek repentance for the sin of poaching lobsters’ freshwater cousins, but Dali, who blamed his sex-related guilt on his Catholic upbringing, was unconflicted about enjoying the “delicious little martyrs”:

If I hate that detestable degrading vegetable called spinach, it is because it is shapeless, like Liberty. I attribute capital esthetic and moral values to food in general, and to spinach in particular. The opposite of shapeless spinach, is armor. I love eating suits of arms, in fact I love all shell fish… food that only a battle to peel makes it vulnerable to the conquest of our palate.

If your scruples, schedule or savings keep you from attempting Dali’s Surreal shellfish tower, you might try enlivening a less aspirational dish with Green’s wholesome, homemade fish stock:

Devin Lytle and Jared Nunn, test driving Dali’s Cassanova cocktail and Eggs on a Spit for History Bites on Buzzfeed‘s Tasty channel, seem less surefooted than Green in both the kitchen and the realm of art history, but they’re totally down to speculate as to whether or not Dali and his wife, Gala, had a “healthy relationship.”

If you can stomach their snarky, self-referential asides, you might get a bang out of hearing them dish on Dali’s revulsion at being touched, Gala’s alleged penchant for bedding younger artists, and their highly unconventional marriage.

Despite some squeamishness about the eggs’ viscousness and some reservations about the surreal amount of butter required, Lytle and Nunn’s reaction upon tasting their Dali recreation suggest that it was worth the effort:

Cassanova cocktail

• The juice of 1 orange
• 1 tablespoon bitters (Campari)
• 1 teaspoon ginger
• 4 tablespoons brandy
• 2 tablespoons old brandy (Vielle Cure)
• 1 pinch Cayenne pepper

This is quite appropriate when circumstances such as exhaustion, overwork or simply excess of sobriety are calling for a pick-me-up.

Here is a well-tested recipe to fit the bill.

Let us stress another advantage of this particular pep-up concoction is that one doesn’t have to make the sour face that usually accompanies the absorption of a remedy.

At the bottom of a glass, combine pepper and ginger. Pour the bitters on top, then brandy and “Vielle Cure.” Refrigerate or even put in the freezer.

Thirty minutes later, remove from the freezer and stir the juice of the orange into the chilled glass.

Drink… and wait for the effect. 

It is rather speedy.

Your best bet for preparing Eggs on a Spit, which Lytle compares to “an herby, scrambled frittata that looks like a brain”, are contained in artist Rosanna Shalloe’s modern adaption.

What would you do if you discovered an original, autographed copy of Les Diners de Gala in the attic of your new home?

A young man named Brandon takes it to Rick Harrison’s Gold & Silver Pawn Shop, hoping it will fetch $2500.

Harrison, star of the History Channel’s Pawn Stars, gives Brandon a quick primer on the Persistence of Memory, Dali’s famous “melting clocks” painting (failing to mention that the artist insisted the clocks should be interpreted as “the Camembert of time.”)

Brandon walks with something less than the hoped for sum, and Harrison takes the book home to attempt some of the dishes. (Not, however, Bush of Crayfish in Viking Herb, which he declares, “a little creepy, even for Dali.”)

Alas, his younger relatives are wary of Oasis Leek Pie’s star ingredient and refuse to entertain a single mouthful of whole fish, baked with guts and eyes.

They’re not alone. The below newsreel suggests that comedian Bob Hope had some reservations about Dalinian Gastro Esthetics, too.

We intend to ignore those charts and tables in which chemistry takes the place of gastronomy. If you are a disciple of one of those calorie-counters who turn the joys of eating into a form of punishment, close this book at once; it is too lively, too aggressive, and far too impertinent for you. – Salvador Dali

You can purchase a copy of Taschen’s recent reissue of Les Diners de Gala online

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

18 Male Leonard Cohen Fans Over the Age of 65 Star in an Oddly Moving A Cappella Version of “I’m Your Man”

It’s going to be a tearjerker, I think — artist Candice Breitz

Watch 18 diehard Leonard Cohen fans over the age of 65 ardently fumbling their way through the title track of his 1988 album, I’m Your Man, for a deep reminder of how we are transported by the artists we love best.

These men, selected from a pool of over 400 applicants, don’t appear overly bothered by the quality of their singing voices, though clearly they’re giving it their all.

Instead, their chief concern seems to be communing with Cohen, who had died the year before, at the age of 82.

Artist Candice Breitz zeroed in on the likeliest candidates for this project using a 10-page application, in which interested parties were asked to describe Cohen’s role in their lives.

Almost all were based in Cohen’s hometown of Montreal.

Many have been fans since they were teenagers.

Participant Fergus Keyes described meeting Cohen at a 1984 signing for his poetry collection, Book of Mercy:

He told me he liked my name. He asked if he could use it in some future song. I said yes and he wrote it down in his little notebook. I said to him, ‘Sometimes I don’t understand what you’re saying.’ And he said there was no wrong way of interpreting it, because he wrote for others and whatever we interpret is right. 

There’s definitely a variety of interpretations on display, above, in an excerpt of Breitz’ 40-minute work, I’m Your Man: A Portrait of Leonard Cohen.

In person, it’s displayed as an installation in-the-round, with viewers free to roam around in the middle, as each participant is projected on his own life-size video monitor for the duration.

They’re our men.

Some standing stiffly.

Others with eyes tightly shut.

Some cannot resist the temptation to act out certain choice lines.

One joyful uninhibited soul beams and dances.

They keep time with their hands, feet, heads… a seated man taps his cane.

One whistles, confidently filling the space most commonly occupied by an instrumental, while the majority of the others fidget.

There are suit jackets, a couple of Cohen-esque fedoras, a t-shirt from a 2015 Cohen event, and what appears to be a linen gown, topped with a chunky sweater vest.

Breitz’s only requirement of the participants was that they memorize the lyrics to the I’m Your Man album in its entirety, prior to entering the recording studio.

Each man laid his track down solo, singing along while listening to the album on earbuds, unaware of exactly how his contribution would be used. Several professed shock to discover, on opening night, that synchronous editing had transformed them into members of an a cappella choir. 

The project may strike some viewers as funny, especially when an individual or group flubs a lyric or veers off tempo, but the purpose is not mockery. Breitz worked to establish trust, and the participants’ willingness to extend it gives the piece its emotional foundation.

Victor Shiffman, co-curator of the 2017 Cohen exhibit A Crack in Everything at the commissioning Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, told the Montreal Gazette:

They are not precisely singers. They are just passionate, ardent fans; their goal was to communicate their devotion and love for Leonard by participating in this tribute. It is not about hitting the notes. The emotion comes through in the conviction these men portray and in the dedication they show in having put themselves out there. There is so much beauty in that work; it disarms us.

Having centered similar fan-based multichannel video experiments around such works as Bob Marley’s Legend and John Lennon’s Working Class Hero, Breitz explained the casting of the Cohen project to CBC Arts:

I was really interested in this moment in life when one starts to look back and contemplate what kind of a life one has lived and what kind of life one wishes to continue living as one approaches the end of that life. And I think that even when he was a young man, Cohen was somebody who thought about and wrote about mortality in very profound ways. So what I decided to do was to invite a group of Cohen fans who really would be up to the project of interpreting that complexity.

Prior to the work’s premiere, Breitz gathered the group for a toast, suggesting that the occasion was doubly special in that it was highly unlikely they would meet again.

Sometimes artists are unaware of the powerful force they unleash.

Rather than going their separate ways, the participants formed friendships, reunite for non-solo Cohen singalongs, and in the words of one man, became “a real brotherhood… once you establish that connection, everything else disappears.”

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

Archaeologists Discover 200,000-Year-Old Hand & Footprints That Could Be the World’s Earliest Cave Art

Wet cement triggers a primal impulse, particularly in children.

It’s so tempting to inscribe a pristine patch of sidewalk with a lasting impression of one’s existence.

Is the coast clear? Yes? Quick, grab a stick and write your name!

No stick?

Sink a hand or foot in, like a movie star…

…or, even more thrillingly, a child hominin on the High Tibetan Plateau, 169,000 to 226,000 years ago!

Perhaps one day your surface-marring gesture will be conceived of as a great gift to science, and possibly art. (Try this line of reasoning with the angry homeowner or shopkeeper who’s intent on measuring your hand against the one now permanently set into their new cement walkway.)

Tell them how in 2018, professional ichnologists doing fieldwork in Quesang Hot Spring, some 80 km northwest of Lhasa, were over the moon to find five handprints and five footprints dating to the Middle Pleistocene near the base of a rocky promontory.

Researchers led by David Zhang of Guangzhou University attribute the handprints to a 12-year-old, and the footprints to a 7-year-old.

In a recent article in Science Bulletin, Zhang and his team conclude that the children’s handiwork is not only deliberate (as opposed to “imprinted during normal locomotion or by the use of hands to stabilize motion”) but also “an early act of parietal art.”

The Uranium dating of the travertine which received the kids’ hands and feet while still soft is grounds for excitement, moving the dial on the earliest known occupation (or visitation) of the Tibetan Plateau much further back than previously believed — from 90,000-120,000 years ago to 169,000-226,000 years ago.

That’s a lot of food for thought, evolutionarily speaking. As Zhang told TIME magazine, “you’re simultaneously dealing with a harsh environment, less oxygen, and at the same time, creating this.”

Zhang is steadfast that “this” is the world’s oldest parietal art — outpacing a Neanderthal artist’s red-pigmented hand stencil in Spain’s Cave of Maltravieso by more than 100,000 years.

Other scientists are not so sure.

Anthropologist Paul Taçon, director of Griffith University’s Place, Evolution and Rock Art Heritage Unit, thinks it’s too big of “a stretch” to describe the impressions as art, suggesting that they could be chalked up to a range of activities.

Nick Barton, Professor of Paleolithic Archeology at Oxford wonders if the traces, intentionally placed though they may be, are less art than child’s play. (Team Wet Cement!)

Zhang counters that such arguments are predicated on modern notions of what constitutes art, driving his point home with an appropriately stone-aged metaphor:

When you use stone tools to dig something in the present day, we cannot say that that is technology. But if ancient people use that, that’s technology.

Cornell University’s Thomas Urban, who co-authored the Science Bulletin article with Zhang and a host of other researchers shares his colleagues aversion’ to definitions shaped by a modern lens:

Different camps have specific definitions of art that prioritize various criteria, but I would like to transcend that and say there can be limitations imposed by these strict categories that might inhibit us from thinking more broadly about creative behavior. I think we can make a solid case that this is not utilitarian behavior. There’s something playful, creative, possibly symbolic about this. This gets at a very fundamental question of what it actually means to be human.

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

The 10 Paradoxical Traits of Creative People, According to Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (RIP)

Despite decades of research, scientists still know little about the source of creativity. Nonetheless, humans continue to create things. Or, at least, we continue to be fascinated by creativity; now more than ever, it seems. There may be as many best-selling books on creativity as there are on dieting or relationships. The current focus on creativity isn’t always a net positive. Anyone who does creative work may be labeled a “Creative” (used as a noun) at some point in their career. The term lumps all working artists together, as though their work were interchangeable deliverables measured in billable hours. The word suggests that those who don’t work as “Creatives” have no business in the area of creativity. As psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi put it:

Not so long ago, it was acceptable to be an amateur poet…. Nowadays if one does not make some money (however pitifully little) out of writing, it’s considered to be a waste of time. It is taken as downright shameful for a man past twenty to indulge in versification unless he receives a check to show for it.

Csikszentmihalyi, who passed away this month, deplored the instrumentalization of creativity. He wrote, Austin Kleon notes, “about the joys of being an amateur” — which, in its literal sense, means being a devoted lover. Like Carl Jung, Csikszentmihalyi believed that creation proceeds, in a sense, from falling in love with an activity and losing ourselves in a state beyond our preoccupations with self, others, or the past and future. He called this state “flow” and wrote a national bestseller about it while founding the discipline of positive psychology and co-directing the Quality of Life Research Center at Claremont Graduate University .

You can see an animated summary of Csikszentmihalyi’s book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience above (including a pronunciation of Csikszentmihalyi’s name). Creativity should not only refer to skills we sell to our employers. It is the practice of doing things that make us happy, not the things that make us money, whether or not those two things are the same. This is a subject close to Austin Kleon’s heart. The writer and designer has been offering tips for training and honing creativity for years, in books like Show Your Work, a guide “not just for ‘creatives’!” but for anyone who wants to create. Like Csikszentmihalyi, he refutes the idea that there’s such a thing as a “creative type.”

Instead, in his book Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, Csikszentmihalyi notes that people who spend their time creating exhibit a list of 10 “paradoxical traits.”

  1. Creative people have a great deal of physical energy, but they’re also often quiet and at rest.
  2. Creative people tend to be smart yet naive at the same time.
  3. Creative people combine playfulness and discipline, or responsibility and irresponsibility.
  4. Creative people alternate between imagination and fantasy, and a rooted sense of reality.
  5. Creative people tend to be both extroverted and introverted.
  6. Creative people are humble and proud at the same time.
  7. Creative people, to an extent, escape rigid gender role stereotyping.
  8. Creative people are both rebellious and conservative.
  9. Most creative people are very passionate about their work, yet they can be extremely objective about it as well.
  10. Creative people’s openness and sensitivity often exposes them to suffering and pain, yet also to a great deal of enjoyment.

We may well be reminded of Walt Whitman’s “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself,” and perhaps it is to Whitman we should turn to resolve the paradox. Creativity involves the willingness and courage to become “large,” the poet wrote, to get weird and messy and “contain multitudes.” Maybe the best way to become a more creative person, to lose oneself fully in the act of making, is to heed Bertrand Russell’s guidance for facing death:

[M]ake your interests gradually wider and more impersonal, until bit by bit the walls of the ego recede, and your life becomes increasingly merged in the universal life. An individual human existence should be like a river: small at first, narrowly contained within its banks, and rushing passionately past rocks and over waterfalls. Gradually the river grows wider, the banks recede, the waters flow more quietly, and in the end, without any visible break, they become merged in the sea… 

This eloquent passage — Csikszentmihalyi might have agreed — expresses the very essence of creative “flow.”

via Austin Kleon

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

Nick Cave’s Online Store: Pencils Adorned with Lyrics, Mugs, Polaroids & More

I’m sitting on the balcony
Reading Flannery O’Connor
With a pencil and a plan

– Nick Cave, Carnage

Access to technology has transformed the creative process, and many artists who’ve come to depend on it have long ceased to marvel at the labor and time saved, seething with resentment when devices and digital access fails.

Musician Nick Cave, founder and frontman of The Bad Seeds, is one who hasn’t abandoned his analog ways, whether he’s in the act of generating new songs, or seeking respite from the same.

“There has always been a strong, even obsessive, visual component to the (songwriting) process,” he writes, “a compulsive rendering of the lyric as a thing to be seen, to be touched, to be examined:”

I have always done this—basically drawn my songs—for as long as I’ve been writing them…when the pressure of song writing gets too much, well, I draw a cute animal or a naked woman or a religious icon or a mythological creature or something. Or I take a Polaroid or make something out of clay. I do a collage, or write a child’s poem and date stamp and sticker it, or do some granny-art with a set of watercolour paints. 

Last year, these extra creative labors became fruits in their own right, with the opening of Cave Things, an online shop well stocked with quirky objects “conceived, sourced, shaped, and designed” by the musician.

These include such longtime fascinations as prayer cards, picture discs, and Polaroids, and a series of enameled charms and ceramic figures that evoke Victorian Staffordshire “flatbacks.”

T-shirts, guitar picks and egg cups may come graced with doodles of frequent collaborator Warren Ellis‘ bearded mug, or the aforementioned naked women, which Cage describes to Interview’s Ben Barna as “a compulsive habit I have had since my school days”:

They have no artistic merit. Rather, they are evidence of a kind of ritualistic and habitual thinking, not dissimilar to the act of writing itself, actually.

Of all of Cave’s Cave Things, the ones with the broadest appeal may be the pencil sets personalized with thematic snippets of his lyrics.

White god pencils quote from “Into My Arms,” “Idiot Prayer,” “Mermaids,”  and “Hand of God.”

A red devil pencil bearing lines from “Brompton Oratory” slips a bit of god into the mix, as well as a reference to the sea, a frequent Cave motif.

Madness and war pencils are counterbalanced by pencils celebrating love and flowers.

The pencils are Vikings, a classic Danish brand well known to pencil nerds, hard and black on the graphite scale.

Put them all in a cup and draw one out at random, or let your mood or feelings about what said pencil will be writing or drawing determine your pick.

Meanwhile Cave’s implements of choice may surprise you. As he told NME’s Will Richards last December:

My process of lyric writing is as follows: For months, I write down ideas in a notebook with a Bic medium ballpoint pen in black. At some point, the songs begin to reveal themselves, to take some kind of form, which is when I type the new lyrics into my laptop. Here, I begin the long process of working on the words, adding verses, taking them away, and refining the language, until the song arrives at its destination. At this stage, I take one of the yellowing back pages I have cut from old second-hand books, and, on my Olympia typewriter, type out the lyrics. I then glue it into my bespoke notebook, number it, date-stamp it, and sticker it. The song is then ‘officially’ completed.

Hmm. No pencils, though there’s a reference to a blind pencil seller in Cave’s contribution to the soundtrack of Wim Wenders’ science fiction epic Until the End of the World.

Two more lyrics about pencils and he’ll have enough to put a Pencil Pencils set up on Cave Things!

Follow Cave Things on Instagram to keep tabs on new pencil drops.

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)

Animated Stories Written by Tom Waits, Nick Cave & Other Artists, Read by Danny Devito, Zach Galifianakis & More

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

A Guitarist Rocks Out on Guitars Made from Shovels, Cigar Boxes, Oil Cans & Whisky Barrels

When Keith Richards felt he’d gone as far as he could go with the six-string guitar, he took one string off and played five, a trick he learned from Ry Cooder. These days, the trend is to go in the opposite direction, up to seven or eight strings for highly technical progressive metal compositions and downtuned “djent.” Traditionalists may balk at this. A five-string, after all, is a modification easily accomplished with a pair of wire-cutters. But oddly shaped eight-string guitars seem like weirdly rococo extravagances next to your average Stratocaster, Tele, or Les Paul.

Ideas we have about what a guitar should be, however, come mostly from the marketing and public relations machinery around big brand guitars and big name guitarists. The truth is, there is no Platonic ideal of the guitar, since no one is quite sure where the guitar came from.

It’s most easily recognized ancestors are the oud and the lute, which themselves have ancient heritages that stretch into prehistory. The six-string arrived rather late on the scene. In the renaissance, guitars had eight strings, tuned in four “courses,” or pairs, like the modern 12-string, and baroque guitars had 10 strings in five courses.

Closer in time to us, “the jazz guitarist George Van Eps had a seven-string guitar built for him by Epiphone Guitars in the late 1930s,” notes one brief history, “and a signature Gretsch seven-string in the late 60s and early 70s…. Several others began using seven-string guitars after Van Eps.” Russian folk guitars had seven strings before the arrival of six-string Spanish classical instruments (two hundred years before the arrival of Korn).

Meanwhile, in the hills, hollars, and deltas of the U.S. south, folk and blues musicians built guitars out of whatever was at hand, and fit as many, or as few, strings as needed. From these instruments came the powerfully simple, timeless licks Keef spent his career emulating. Guitarist Justin Johnson has cultivated an online presence not only with his slick electric slide playing, but also with his tributes to odd, old-time, homemade guitars. At the top, he plays a three-string shovel guitar, doing Keith two better.

Further up, some “Porch Swing Slidin’” with a six-string cigar box-style guitar engraved with a portrait of Robert Johnson. Above, hear a stirring rendition of George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” on an oil can and a slide solo on a whiskey barrel guitar. Finally, Johnson rocks out Ray Charles on a three string cigar box guitar, made mostly out of ordinary items you might find around the shed.

You might not be able to pluck out Renaissance airs or complicated, sweep-picked arpeggios on some of these instruments, but where would even the most complex progressive rock and metal be without the raw power of the blues driving the evolution of the guitar? Finally, below, see Johnson play a handmade one-string Diddley Bow (and see the making of the instrument as well). Originally a West African instrument, it may have been the very first guitar.

Related Content: 

Keith Richards Demonstrates His Famous 5-String Technique (Used on Classic Stones Songs Like “Start Me Up,” “Honky Tonk Women” & More)

Meet Brushy One String, the One String Guitar Player Who Will Blow Your Mind

The History of the Guitar: See the Evolution of the Guitar in 7 Instruments

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

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