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Arts and Letters

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Arkham Aquarium.

“Criminals are a superstitious cowardly lot. I must be a creature. I must be a creature of the night…I shall become a shark.” Iconic Batman villains reconceived as cartoon sharks, by artist Jeff Victor. Mr. Freeze’s goldfish is a nice touch.

Mr. Toad’s Cantankerous Contraption.

“For her Steam in the Willows illustrations, Brennan takes as her inspiration the industrial era in which Grahame was writing, but chooses to celebrate artisanal technology in lieu of mass production.”

Lauren Davis of io9 offers some glimpses of artist Krista Brennan’s forthcoming steampunk rendering of The Wind in the Willows. Makes sense. Mr. Toad is as steampunk as it gets this side of Jules Verne.

Not in Houston Anymore.

“The artist Scott Listfield has a fixation for astronauts, painting them over 130 times since the early 90s. You’ll typically find them gazing in blank-eyed wonder at pop icons like Optimus Prime, Mario’s coins twinkling behind a cloud, and the Queen in Aliens…Perhaps there’s a statement in this, something about the decline of the Space Age and the cult of culture. Maybe he just likes painting astronauts.”

I feel like I may have blogged this at some point in the past, but couldn’t readily find it. At any rate, and Killscreen points the way to Scott Listfield’s AstronautDinosaur, where NASA’s finest find themselves on all manner of adventures.

My God It’s Full of Stars.

“I’ve seen the Big Dipper thousands of times, perused it by eye, with binoculars, and through a telescope. And yet, even in a wide-field picture like this, there are still treasures to be found there. Just because something is familiar doesn’t necessarily mean you truly know it.”

Bad Astronomer Phil Plait offers up a very high-resolution image of the Big Dipper by astrophotographer Rogelio Bernal Andreo. (Best to see it enlarged.) “Andreo’s photo shows remarkable detail. Of course there are thousands of stars, but I was able to see dozens of galaxies as well. A few of them are quite famous, like the huge and beautiful M101, the Pinwheel Galaxy.”

Hues of History.

/r/ColorizedHistory is dedicated to high quality colorizations of historical black and white images, and discussions of a historical nature.” Reddit’s endlessly browsable History in Color, with some choice selections collected here.

“In those years, photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (1863-1944) undertook a photographic survey of the Russian Empire with the support of Tsar Nicholas II. He used a specialized camera to capture three black and white images in fairly quick succession, using red, green and blue filters, allowing them to later be recombined and projected with filtered lanterns to show near true color images.” Along related lines, and making the rounds again because of the Ukraine situation, “real” color photos of Russia from 1909 to 1912.

Rdng is Fndmtl.



“[W]hat Spritz does differently (and brilliantly) is manipulate the format of the words to more appropriately line them up with the eye’s natural motion of reading. The ‘Optimal Recognition Point’ (ORP) is slightly left of the center of each word, and is the precise point at which our brain deciphers each jumble of letters. The unique aspect of Spritz is that it identifies the ORP of each word, makes that letter red and presents all of the ORPs at the same space on the screen. In this way, our eyes don’t move at all as we see the words, and we can therefore process information instantaneously rather than spend time decoding each word.”

Whoa…I’ve read about kung-fu. An intriguing new app aims to turn everyone into speed readers. “Spritz is about to go public with Samsung’s new line of wearable technology.”

The Bayou of Madness, Pt. II.

“Much has been made of the connections between True Detective and the cosmic-horror tradition…and rightly so. But what’s largely been missed is that the cosmic-horror genre — rooted, as it is, in humankind’s subprime position in the pecking order of the universe — is deeply entwined with the character of Louisiana’s physical and cultural landscape.”

In Slate, Adrian Van Young delineates True Detective — and Lovecraft’s — debt to Louisiana, one of the cultural crossroads and borderlands where shadows linger and tricksters thrive. “Lost cities, liminal realms, and cosmic fear come more or less naturally to Louisiana…The chief-most horrors of the show are not voodoo curses or tentacled monsters or consciousness-destroying plays, but environmental slippage, religious perversion, badly mangled family trees. True Detective wears the cosmic-horror genre and its lineage, in other words, not unlike the Mardi Gras masks being worn today all over its native state. The mask is scary, sure enough, but what’s underneath can be even more frightening: one place in the U.S. where anything, it seems, can happen.’”

Also, for a more prosaic take on HBO’s current hit, see the credits for Law & Order: True Detective, below.

Constructing the Shot.

“‘I love to document everyday things and build them into mini-series,’ Whyte says…As soon as my kids discovered the camera accessory at the Lego store, which fits in the hand of a mini-figure, I worked out a way to start placing the character in my day-to-day shots and he became a cohesive element.’”

Fast Company‘s Joe Berkowitz and photographer Andrew Whyte chronicle the adventures of an intrepid Lego photojournalist. “Despite his diminutive size, this little guy seems to have had some big adventures. He scales buildings, he’s chased by a hermit crab, and slips on a giant (to him) banana peel.”

Across the Face of Arda.

“After taking 150,000 photos over the course of three months, photographer Shawn Reeder ultimately whittled the number down to 8,640 in order to complete this incredible visual expedition.” Via The Atlantic and “timelapse cinematographer” Shawn Reeder, a lusciously-shot time-lapse journey through New Zealand.

Brevity Ate the Soul of Wit.

“My daughter won’t stop crying and screaming in the middle of the night. I visit her grave and ask her to stop, but it doesn’t help.”

By way of sententiae et clamores, some terrifying tales for the time-deprived: twenty two-sentence horror stories. “I can’t move, breathe, speak or hear and it’s so dark all the time. If I knew it would be this lonely, I would have been cremated instead.”

Kiev is Burning.

“Anti-government protests in Ukraine reached their most violent point on Tuesday as at least 25 people were killed and hundreds injured amid violent clashes between police and citizens. The protests have evolved into a full-blown crisis on the ground. What happens now is critical to the geopolitical struggle between Russia and the West.”

As the situation in Ukraine degenerateshere’s a decent primer — Paul Szoldra and Michael Kelly offer up stunning photos from the heart of the protests. “From riot police using ancient military tactics to defend against attacks to streets engulfed in flames, the photos coming for the heart of the standoff are incredible.”

But It’s Better Than the Alternative.

“I’ve endured a few knocks but missed worse…The pains and insults are bearable. My conversation may be full of holes and pauses, but I’ve learned to dispatch a private Apache scout ahead into the next sentence, the one coming up, to see if there are any vacant names or verbs in the landscape up there. If he sends back a warning, I’ll pause meaningfully, duh, until something else comes to mind.”

Well, my friends are gone and my hair is gray. I ache in the places where I used to play, and I’m crazy for love, but I’m not coming on: Also in The New Yorker, Roger Angell files a dispatch from the far side of ninety. “Here in my tenth decade, I can testify that the downside of great age is the room it provides for rotten news. Living long means enough already.”

At the Bayou of Madness.

“For many fans of weird fiction, the surprising appearance of this madness-inducing play into what ostensibly appeared to be just another police procedural was a bolt of lightning. Suddenly, the tone of the show changed completely, signaling the descent into a particular brand of horror rarely (if ever) seen on television.”

In io9, Michael Hughes explores True Detective‘s many references to The King in Yellow, an 1895 collection of short stories by Robert Chambers, and a “fictional play…that brings despair, depravity, and insanity to anyone who reads it or sees it performed.”

As Molly Lambert of Grantland pointed out of HBO’s dark and addictive mini-series, “True Detective’s closest relative is Twin Peaks, which mined similarly nocturnal depths. Both shows espouse mythologies that feel extremely personal to the creators but also eerily universal, tapping into the same brain waves as paradoxical sleep.”

For his part, show creator Nic Pizzolatto recently talked about his debt to another Weird Fiction author, Thomas Ligotti. “I first heard of Ligotti maybe six years ago, when Laird Barron’s first collection alerted me to this whole world of new weird fiction that I hadn’t known existed. I started looking around for the best contemporary stuff to read, and in any discussion of that kind, the name ‘Ligotti’ comes up first…[H]is nightmare lyricism was enthralling and visionary.

On top of everything else, True Detective also has one of the more captivating credit sequences in recent years, as per below. (It apparently owes a heavy debt to the work of artist/photographer Dan Mountford.)

Room in DC.

“Emblematic examples of his work, the two paintings…capture the strong sense of atmosphere and light as well as the empty stillness that characterize much of Hopper’s imagery. They also demonstrate Hopper’s fascination with the various forms of this country’s vernacular architecture — a subject he would return to again and again, resulting in some of the most enduring images of American art.”

By way of a friend, the Oval Office gets some Hoppers on loan (apparently to replace a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, which needs to get out of the light for awhile.) “Cobb’s Barns, South Truro, and Burly Cobb’s House, South Truro — oil on canvas works painted in 1930-33 on Cape Cod — have been lent by the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the world’s largest repository of Hopper’s works.”

The Shadow from Ekkaia.

“Outerra…is a ’3D planetary engine’ that purports to be able to render a world in full detail, from space all the way down to pebbles on the surface. Meanwhile, Steve Edwards and Carl Lingard created the ME-DEM (Middle-earth Digital Elevation Model) Project in 2006, with the ultimate goal of rendering the entirety of Middle-earth in open-source data. Last year, they exported their data into the Outerra engine.”

Also in world-building news from Wired, Middle Earth as seen from space. As another Wired writer aptly noted on Twitter, Mordor looks like it was probably an impact crater.

Craft of Cthulhu.

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.” Via Liam at sententiae et clamores, Douglas Wynne ranks H.P. Lovecraft’s top ten opening lines. “He may have meandered a bit after getting your attention (and I’d argue that’s part of his charm), but in his pulp fiction heart Lovecraft understood the importance of grabbing you right away to earn your patience, and his stories consistently showcase his mastery of the intriguing opening.”

The painting above, by the way, was Jon Foster‘s contribution to a 2010 exhibit of Lovecraftian-themed art. His gallery is definitely worth a look-thru.

Ten Forward Couture.

“And then the Enterprise also travels to the planet where everybody dresses like David Byrne in Stop Making Sense.” From successful sci-fi costuming to something of the more hit-and-miss variety, io9 takes a gander at the costumes of the first three Star Trek: The Next Generation seasons. Points for creativity, I suppose.

The Good Doctor Prescribes.

“There are a lot of ways to practice the art of journalism, and one of them is to use your art like a hammer to destroy the right people — who are almost always your enemies, for one reason or another, and who usually deserve to be crippled, because they are wrong. This is a dangerous notion, and very few professional journalists will endorse it — calling it ‘vengeful’ and ‘primitive’ and ‘perverse’ regardless of how often they might do the same thing themselves. ‘That kind of stuff is opinion,’ they say, ‘and the reader is cheated if it’s not labeled as opinion.’

“Well, maybe so. Maybe Tom Paine cheated his readers and Mark Twain was a devious fraud with no morals at all who used journalism for his own foul ends. And maybe H. L. Mencken should have been locked up for trying to pass off his opinions on gullible readers and normal ‘objective journalism.’ Mencken understood that politics – as used in journalism – was the art of controlling his environment, and he made no apologies for it.”

Via Brain Pickings, the late and missed Hunter S. Thompson (RIP) makes the case for advocacy journalism. “With the possible exception of things like box scores, race results, and stock market tabulations, there is no such thing as Objective Journalism. The phrase itself is a pompous contradiction in terms.” (HST pic via here.)

Let’s Put On a Show!


Cause your friends don’t dance, and if they don’t dance, well they’re no friends of mine. Mental health break: An intricate supercut of famous dance scenes from the movies. But no Center Stage? C’mon now.

This is Your Film on Drugs.

“What do those substances, when they’re not altering minds, actually look like? To find out…Schoenfeld turned to a logical source: photographs. She converted her photo studio into a lab, then set to work exposing drugs (legal and illegal) to film negatives. She took the images that emerged from the reactions and magnified them—to gorgeous, and sometimes fairly creepy, results.” The Atlantic‘s Megan Garber points the way to All You Can Feel, an often-beautiful gallery of drugs on film on drugs.

[YOU] have joined the call.

“The dialogue is randomized so that you never listen to exactly the same meeting twice; this effect also adds to the feeling of disconnection between the participants but somehow still feels entirely believable. Sometimes — particularly if you’re listening at work — it can feel eerily realistic. As Scott tells me via email, ‘It always makes me laugh when the first randomly selected audio clip that plays is “Did someone just join the call?” because it makes the website visitor feel like they’re being addressed directly.’”

Venture, if you dare, into the terrifying existential corporate-bureaucratic hellscape that is ConferenceCall.biz, written up last week by Slate‘s Joshua Keating. “[I]t’s accompanied by an eerie electronic soundtrack and washed-out office imagery that another blog has described as ‘what would happen if David Lynch directed a re-make of Office Space.’”

It’s funny because it’s true — What a gloriously awful and useless form of communication. They invariably end up being one person reading an agenda to everyone else that could have just been distributed and absorbed by all in one-tenth the time — but, of course, you already knew that.

The Last Days of Orwell.

[B]eset by poor health in various manifestations, he had to finish off the novel’s manuscript, which he had then tentatively titled The Last Man in Europe, before his conditions finished him off. ‘I am not pleased with the book but I am not absolutely dissatisfied,’ he wrote his agent of the rough draft. ‘I think it is a good idea but the execution would have been better if I had not written it under the influence of TB.’”

In The Guardian, Robert McCrum tells of a desperately sick George Orwell’s race against time to finish 1984. “In late October 1947, oppressed with ‘wretched health’, Orwell recognised that his novel was still ‘a most dreadful mess and about two-thirds of it will have to be retyped entirely’.” Orwell died in January 1950. (As seen as OpenCulture, who also point the way to these jpgs of Orwell’s original manuscript.)

Still the Blue and Orange.

“The idea was to mix two sports and redesign their logos. Being a fan of both football (or soccer) and basketball, I decided to redesign NBA logos and make them look like football logos. Every logo you see is color correct and matches the idea of the original logo.” Making the rounds of late: NBA logos, football-style.

Into the Dreaming.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m incredibly honored to be working with David Goyer, Warner Bros, and @neilhimself on SANDMAN. #Prelude” Joseph Gordon-Levitt tweets out that he’s working on a film adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, or at the very least the first book, Preludes & Nocturnes.

Thus far, Levitt’s only signed on as a producer, though he’s not a terrible choice for the title role. Benedict Cumberbatch is getting close to over-exposed these days, but his aloof otherworldliness is a pretty perfect match for Morpheus.

Mona Lisa Smiles.

Someday everything’s gonna be different, when I paint my masterpiece. As making the rounds of late, celebrities photoshopped into famous paintings. Worth a browse-through.

Smarm is the New Buncombe.

“Stand against snark, and you are standing with everything decent. And who doesn’t want to be decent? The snarkers don’t, it seems. Or at least they (let’s be honest: we) don’t want to be decent on those terms. Over time, it has become clear that anti-negativity is a worldview of its own, a particular mode of thinking and argument, no matter how evasively or vapidly it chooses to express itself…Smarm is a kind of performance—an assumption of the forms of seriousness, of virtue, of constructiveness, without the substance. Smarm is concerned with appropriateness and with tone. Smarm disapproves.”

Ably channeling the spirit of Mencken, Gawker’s Tom Scocca writes in defense of Snark, and skewers the evil that produced it, Smarm. “We have popular names now for the rhetorical tools these flacks are deploying: the straw-man attack, the fake umbrage, the concern-trolling. Why are those tools so familiar? It is because they are essential parts of the smarmer’s tool kit, the grease gun and the rag and the spatula.” If you judge a man by his enemies, Scocca picks a lot of the right ones here.

Cthulhu Fhtagn!

“The National Reconnaissance Office, tasked with watching the earth through largely classified satellite programs, recently launched a new rocket into space. That rocket’s classified contents were marked with an incredibly subtle image: an octopus spreading its tentacles across the globe, over the words “nothing is beyond our reach.” Charming!”

Er, yeah, not sure what they were thinking there. In any event, in honor of this dubious messaging, Popular Science offers eight historical examples of octopi taking over the world. Above is Standard Oil, smothering both ends of Congress with its undulating, oleaginous reach.

Rooms in a New York Shoebox.

“Tuschman began by building the dioramas. Apart from an occasional prop taken from a dollhouse or toy train set, Tuschman builds everything to a scale about big enough for his cat, Smithers, to fit inside. He then photographed his models (he used two women and cast himself for the male character) on gray, using Photoshop to create the final image.”

Also by way of The Late Adopter: With Edward Hopper as his (original) inspiration, photographer Richard Tuschman conjures up evocative Hopper-style photos using dioramas and Photoshop. “I have always loved the way Hopper’s paintings, with an economy of means, are able to address the mysteries and complexities of the human condition,’ Tuschman wrote in his statement about the work.”

Counsel of the Council.

“If You Like It, Don’t Put a Ring on It.” By way of Hal at Blivet, a decently funny collection of Middle Earth PSA and propaganda posters.

Waldo, A Creature of Habit.

“I knew that Handford had placed Waldo in each of these illustrations, and in my experience, all people—even people who make a living hiding cartoon men in cartoon landscapes — have tendencies, be they conscious and unconscious. True randomness is very difficult to achieve, even if you want to, and according to Handford he does not necessarily aim for unpredictability…Knowing this, is it possible, I wondered, to master Where’s Waldo by mapping Handford’s patterns?”

In Slate, Ben Blatt uses pattern mapping to pre-determine Waldo’s whereabouts. But don’t think all the conundrums are solved just yet. “[This] leaves a more intriguing question left unanswered: Why is Waldo there? Why, Waldo? Why are you so likely to hide in these two narrow bands? Why are you rarely at the edges of the page? Why are you rarely in the middle of the page? Why, Waldo?”

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