Hey you! If you missed last week's edition – introducing The Curator's Code, 10 things no one tells you about creativity, how to create a "fourth culture" of art and science, and more – you can catch up right here. And if you're enjoying this, please consider supporting with a modest donation.
On the value of unconscious association, or why the best advice is no advice.
If this is indeed the year of reading more and writing better, we've been right on course with David Ogilvy's 10 no-bullshit tips, Henry Miller's 11 commandments, and various invaluable advice from other great writers. Now comes John Steinbeck – Pulitzer Prize winner, Nobel laureate, love guru – with six tips on writing, culled from his altogether excellent interview it the Fall 1975 issue of The Paris Review.
1. Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.
2. Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.
3. Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn't exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.
4. If a scene or a section gets the better of you and you still think you want it—bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find that the reason it gave trouble is because it didn't belong there.
5. Beware of a scene that becomes too dear to you, dearer than the rest. It will usually be found that it is out of drawing.
6. If you are using dialogue—say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.
But perhaps most paradoxically yet poetically, twelve years prior – in 1963, immediately after receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature "for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception" – Steinbeck issued a thoughtful disclaimer to all such advice:
If there is a magic in story writing, and I am convinced there is, no one has ever been able to reduce it to a recipe that can be passed from one person to another. The formula seems to lie solely in the aching urge of the writer to convey something he feels important to the reader. If the writer has that urge, he may sometimes, but by no means always, find the way to do it. You must perceive the excellence that makes a good story good or the errors that makes a bad story. For a bad story is only an ineffective story."
If you feel bold enough to discount Steinbeck's anti-advice advice, you can do so with these 9 essential books on more and writing. Find more such gems in this collection of priceless interviews with literary icons from half a century of The Paris Review archives.
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On the value of cultivating the capacity to seek the significant.
In this talk based on his presentation at the Learning Without Frontiers conference in January, philosopher, linguist, and cognitive scientist Noam Chomsky – easily one of our time's sharpest thinkers – discusses the purpose of education.
Despite the slow pace and the cheesy AfterEffects animated typography, the video is a treasure trove of insight on everything from the role of technology to the pitfalls of policy.
On the industrialization of education, echoing Sir Ken Robinson's admonition about its effects on creativity:
There have been many measures taken to try to turn the educational system towards more control, more indoctrination, more vocational training, imposing a debt, which traps students and young people into a life of conformity… That's the exact opposite of [what] traditionally comes out of The Enlightenment. And there's a constant struggle between those. In the colleges, in the schools, do you train for passing tests, or do you train for creative inquiry?"
Technology is basically neutral. It's kind of like a hammer. The hammer doesn't care whether you use it to build a house, or whether a torturer uses it to crush somebody's skull."
On the importance of having a framework for what matters when engaging with the the information economy – or, one might say, the essence of what great curation should be:
You can't pursue any kind of inquiry without a relatively clear framework that's directing your search and helping you choose what's significant and what isn't… If you don't have some sort of a framework for what matters – always, of course, with the provisor that you're willing to question it if it seems to be going in the wrong direction – if you don't have that, exploring the Internet is just picking out the random factoids that don't mean anything… You have to know how to evaluate, interpret, and understand… The person who wins the Nobel Prize is not the person who read the most journal articles and took the most notes on them. It's the person who knew what to look for. And cultivating that capacity to seek what's significant, always willing to question whether you're on the right track – that's what education is going to be about, whether it's using computers and the Internet, or pencil and paper, or books."
On influence and creating the right micro-culture to foster creativity:
It's the way cultural progress takes place generally. Classical artists, for example, came out of a tradition of craftsmanship that was developed over long periods, with master artisans and others, and sometimes, you can rise on their shoulders and create new marvelous things. But it doesn't come from nowhere. If there isn't a lively cultural and educational system, which is geared towards encouraging creative exploration, independence of thought, willingness to cross frontiers, to challenge accepted beliefs… if you don't have that, you're not going to get the technology that could lead to economic gains."
On the whimsy of inquiry:
Passing tests doesn't begin to compare with searching and inquiring and pursuing topics that engage us and excite us. That's far more significant than passing tests and, in fact, if that's the kind of educational career you're given the opportunity to pursue, you will remember what you discovered."
Many of these insights, and more, are explored in depth in these 7 essential books on education.
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From James Joyce to Jonah, or what the Brontë Sisters' objectification of men has to do with Holden Caulfield.
Art inspires art, often crossing boundary lines in magnificent cross-disciplinary manifestations. As a lover of remix culture and a hopeless bookworm, I revel in the cross-pollination of visual art and literature. Here are five wonderful art and design projects, inspired by literary classics.
WAKE IN PROGRESS
In February of 2010, Paris-based designer and illustrator Stephen Crowe set out on an ambitious project – to not only read James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, considered one of the most difficult works of fiction in the English language, but to also illustrate it. The result is Wake in Progress – a creative feat that's part Saul Bass, part Edward Gorey, part Lynd Ward, and yet entirely its own and entirely terrific.
Nothing that appears in Finnegans Wake is ever just one thing. How exactly do you draw a talking fox which is also a mouse, one of two arguing brothers, a pope, and modernist author Wyndham Lewis?" ~ Stephen Crowe
A number of the illustrations are available as prints.
EVERY PAGE OF MOBY DICK
Since 2009, former high school English teacher and self-taught artist Matt Kish has been drawing every page of the 552-page Signet Classics paperback edition of Herman Melville's iconic Moby-Dick, methodically producing one gorgeous, obsessive drawing per day for 552 days using pages from discarded books and a variety of drawing tools, from ballpoint pen to crayon to ink and watercolor. Last year, the project became Moby-Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Every Page – one of the 11 best art and design books of 2011, gathering Kish's magnificent lo-fi drawings in a 600-page visual masterpiece of bold, breathtaking full-page illustrations that captivate eye, heart, and mind, inviting you to rediscover the Melville classic in entirely new ways.
I've read the book eight or nine times […] Each and every reading has revealed more and more to me and hinted tantalizingly at even greater truths and revelations that I have yet to reach. Friends often question my obsession with the novel, especially since I am not a scholar or even an educator any longer, and the best explanation I have been able to come up with is that, to me, Moby-Dick is a book about everything. God. Love. Hate. Identity. Race. Sex. Humor. Obsession. History. Work. Capitalism […] I see every aspect of life reflected in the bizarre mosaic of this book." ~ Matt Kish
'Hearing the tremendous rush of the sea-crashing boat, the whale wheeled round to present his blank forehead at bay; but in that evolution, catching sight of the nearing black hull of the ship; seemingly seeing in it the source of all his persecutions; bethinking it - it may be - a larger and nobler foe; of a sudden, he bore down upon its advancing prow, smiting his jaws amid fiery showers of foam'
'Moby Dick bodily burst into view! For not by any calm and indolent spoutings; not by the peaceable gush of that mystic fountain in his head, did the White Whale now reveal his vicinity; but by the far more wondrous phenomenon of breaching. Rising with his utmost velocity from the furthest depths, the Sperm Whale thus booms his entire bulk into the pure element of air, and piling up a mountain of dazzling foam, shows his place to the distance of seven miles and more. In those moments, the torn, enraged waves he shakes off, seem his mane; in some cases, this breaching is his act of defiance.'
'Thou Bildad!' roared Peleg, starting up and clattering about the cabin. 'Blast ye, Captain Bildad, if I had followed thy advice in these matters, I would afore now had a conscience to lug about that would be heavy enough to founder the largest ship that ever sailed round Cape Horn.''
WORD BIBLE DESIGNS
In his Word project, designer Jim LePage set out to create original designs for every book of the Bible, in an exercise in self-discipline that allowed him to mary his love of design with his desire to read the Bible more. Though the impetus for the project sets off my own religious alarms, the Bible, too, is literature, and it's hard to dismiss the refreshing approach of this literary art project. Besides, perhaps this is the kind of secular silver lining Alain de Botton promised in Religion for Atheists.
Word: 3 John
Word: 2 John
Word: 2 Timothy
HARK! A VAGRANT
From New Yorker cartoonist Kate Beaton comes Hark! A Vagrant – a witty and wonderful collection of comics about historical and literary figures and events, based on her popular web comic of the same name.
Beaton, whose background is in history and anthropology, has a remarkable penchant for conveying the momentous through the inane, aided by a truly special gift for simple, subtle, incredibly expressive caricature. From dude spotting with the Brontë Sisters to Jane Austen dodging groupies, the six-panel vignettes will make you laugh out loud and slip you a dose of education while you aren't paying attention.
I think comics about topics like history or literature can be amazing educational tools, even at their silliest. So if you learn or look up a thing or two after reading these comics, and you've enjoyed them, then I will be more than pleased! If you're just in it for the silly stuff, then there is plenty of that to go around, too." ~ Kate Beaton
Beaton is also a masterful writer, her dialogue and captions adding depth to what's already an absolute delight.
Originally featured here in October.
From writer Mike Norris and artist David Richardson comes Beholding Holden, an enchanted visual exploration of J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, a follow-up to their earlier collaboration on depicting the fictional Glass family.
Stradlater, Holden's roommate at Pencey
Norris and Richardson also collaborated on a fantastic series of illustrations based on Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time, considered the third greatest book of the 20th century.
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On creative restlessness, the art of context, and the contagion of intellectual curiosity.
First things first – "curation" is a terrible term. It has been used so frivolously and applied so indiscriminately that it's become vacant of meaning. But I firmly believe that the ethos at its core – a drive to find the interesting, meaningful, and relevant amidst the vast maze of overabundant information, creating a framework for what matters in the world and why – is an increasingly valuable form of creative and intellectual labor, a form of authorship that warrants thought.
My friends at Percolate and m ss ng p eces (♥ ♥ ♥ ♥), who share that belief, produced this fantastic short film on what "curation" really means, in which I was humbled and honored to join far worthier minds like my wonderful studiomate Tina Roth Eisenberg of Swiss Miss, the inimitable Edith Zimmerman of The Hairpin, Peter Hopkins of Big Think, Anthony de Rosa of Soup Soup, and more.
A good curator is thinking not just about acquisition and selection, but also contextualizing." ~ Joanne McNeil
People really respond to other people's enthusiasm about things." ~ Edith Zimmerman
Ideas are the most valuable thing. Good ones make all the difference; bad ones can hold us back, maybe even destroy us. If we can focus on finding the right ones, helping distill them, and transfer them as quickly as possible, we can get more of that. Curation is that means to the end." ~ Peter Hopkins
The film is the first installment in a series exploring the shifts in content creation and the information economy. Keep an eye out for the remaining parts.
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