Posts Tagged ‘Maria Popova’

NeilGaiman-by-AdrienDegganI tend to think that all forms of art– music, literature, dance and the visual arts– somehow transmit information or knowledge of some sort that enhances our lives as humans.  It is something beyond the sheer pleasure it offers, something deeper and necessary.

In the most recent post from Maria Popova‘s wonderful site, Brain Pickings,  there is an outline ( and an available full Soundcloud recording) of a recent lecture from author Neil Gaiman ( of Sandman fame among many other things) where he speaks on the purpose and lives of stories, how stories grow and spread through time and cultures.

One of my favorite bits from this post came as Gaiman illustrates the purpose of story telling in telling an anecdote about his cousin Helen, a 97-year-old Holocaust survivor:

A few years ago, she started telling me this story of how, in the ghetto, they were not allowed books. If you had a book … the Nazis could put a gun to your head and pull the trigger — books were forbidden. And she used to teach under the pretense of having a sewing class… a class of about twenty little girls, and they would come in for about an hour a day, and she would teach them maths, she’d teach them Polish, she’d teach them grammar…

One day, somebody slipped her a Polish translation of Margaret Mitchell’s novel Gone with the Wind. And Helen stayed up — she blacked out her window so she could stay up an extra hour, she read a chapter of Gone with the Wind. And when the girls came in the next day, instead of teaching them, she told them what happened in the book.

And each night, she’d stay up; and each day, she’d tell them the story.

And I said, “Why? Why would you risk death — for a story?”

And she said, “Because for an hour every day, those girls weren’t in the ghetto — they were in the American South; they were having adventures; they got away.

I think four out of those twenty girls survived the war. And she told me how, when she was an old woman, she found one of them, who was also an old woman. And they got together and called each other by names from Gone with the Wind…

We [writers] decry too easily what we do, as being kind of trivial — the creation of stories as being a trivial thing. But the magic of escapist fiction … is that it can actually offer you a genuine escape from a bad place and, in the process of escaping, it can furnish you with armor, with knowledge, with weapons, with tools you can take back into your life to help make it better… It’s a real escape — and when you come back, you come back better-armed than when you left.

Helen’s story is a true story, and this is what we learn from it — that stories are worth risking your life for; they’re worth dying for. Written stories and oral stories both offer escape — escape from somewhere, escape to somewhere.

I think that is a wonderful example of how art serves as a template or pattern that we can follow in order to survive life in general.  And as I said, that is one of the great purposes of art.

Please check out the full article on Brain Pickings.


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GC Myers- Trio:Three SquaresI came across this poem from author Wendell Berry on Maria Popova‘s wonderful site, Brain Pickings.  It’s a lovely rumination that could apply to any creative endeavor or to simply being a human being.  I particularly identified with the final verse that begins with the line: Accept what comes from silence.  I’ve always thought there was great wisdom and power in silence, a source of self-revelation.  Perhaps that is why so many of us shun the silence, fearing that it might reveal our true self to be something other than what we see in the mirror. Berry’s words very much sum up how I attempt to tap into silence with my work.

At the bottom is a recording of Wendell Berry reading the poem which gives it even a little more depth, hearing his words in that rural Kentucky voice.  It’s fairly short so take a moment and give a listen.

(to remind myself)

Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill — more of each
than you have — inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your poems,
doubt their judgment.

Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.

Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.

Wendell Berry

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Jerome Bruner On Knowing CoverToday, October 1, is the 99th birthday of groundbreaking psychologist Jerome Bruner, who, by the way, still teaches at NYU.  To be honest, I don’t know a lot about Bruner or his work.  But on the BrainPickings site today, Maria Popova wrote a wonderful essay about one of Bruner’s articles, Art As a Mode of Knowing, from his 1962 book, On Knowing: Essays For the Left Hand.  In it she describes how : Bruner considers the unique language of art and how it complements that of science. He outlines the four psychological aspects of the art experience — connectedness, which deals with the reward of grasping the essential ideas a work of art communicates; effort, which we exert to draw meaning from the ambiguity of art; conversion of impulse, which makes an object of beauty move us; and generality, which deals with the universal aspects of what we find beautiful and moving.

It’s a great article, one that I highly recommend for anyone who has wondered about what defines the difference between art and decoration and why we are moved by some works and left emotionally unsatisfied before others.  I know that I am often perplexed by work that I see that is incredibly crafted and beautiful to look at yet doesn’t raise any response from within me.  What is it that makes this beautiful thing so cool and vacant?  Is it art or is it just a wonderful decorative piece?  Popova’s article sheds some light on Bruner’s insights into this matter and it rings true for me.

Happy birthday, Professor Bruner, and thank you for these wonderful observations.

Click here to see the article.

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JRR Tolkien Drawing for "THe Hobbit"

JRR Tolkien Drawing for “The Hobbit”

Today, on the website, BrainPickings.org, a wonderfully informative site written by Maria Popova, there is a great post on the art of  The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien‘s classic fantasy that has thrilled young and old alike for more than 75 years now.  It includes Tolkien’s own  drawings, which are quite impressive (one of my favorites is at the top of this post),  as well as a number of other artists’ conceptualizations,  taken from a number of editions from around the world.  There are drawings from Swedish, Czech,  Japanese and   Russian  editions, each very unique in their take on the Tolkien tale.  It’s great to see these other translations of this story that has become part of our universal culture.

Below is a group from Swedish-Finn artist Tove Jansson‘s 1962 Swedish edition of the book.  They are among my favorites although it’s hard to single out any one, so beautifully done are they all. Please click on the Tolkien drawing at the top to go to BrainPickings and see the entire group.

tovejansson_hobbit tovejansson_hobbit1 tovejansson_hobbit2 tovejansson_hobbit3 tovejansson_hobbit4 tovejansson_hobbit5 tovejansson_hobbit6 tovejansson_hobbit7 tovejansson_hobbit8

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