EssentialstheDiagonal is a personal blog by Mike Gerra, skeptic, technologist, psychologist, artist, humanist, collector of grand, eclectic ideas.theDiagonal blog connects the dots across multiple disciplines for inquisitive, objective and critical thinkers, exploring the vertices of big science, disruptive innovation, global sustainability, illuminating literature and leftfield art. It is on this diagonal that creativity thrives, big ideas take flight and reason triumphs.
Category Archives: Arts and Letters
Thursday, May 2, 2013
That a small group of Young British Artists (YBA) made an impact on the art scene in the UK and across the globe over the last 25 years is without question. Though, whether the public at large will, 10, 25 or 50 years from now (and beyond), recognize a Damien Hirst spin painting or Tracy Emin’s “My Bed” or a Sarah Lucas self-portrait — “The Artist Eating a Banana” springs to mind — remains an open question.
The group first came to prominence in the late 1980s, mostly through works and events designed to shock the sensibilities of the then dreadfully boring and insular British art scene. With that aim in mind they certainly succeeded, and some, notably Hirst, have since become art superstars. So, while the majority of artists never experience fame within their own lifetimes, many YBAs have managed to buck convention. Though, whether their art will live long and prosper is debatable....read more
Saturday, April 6, 2013
Last week Amazon purchased Goodreads the online book review site. Since 2007 Goodreads has grown to become home to over 16 million members who share a passion for discovering and sharing great literature. Now, with Amazon’s acquisition many are concerned that this represents another step towards a monolithic and monopolistic enterprise that controls vast swathes of the market. While Amazon’s innovation has upended the bricks-and-mortar worlds of publishing and retailing, its increasingly dominant market power raises serious concerns over access, distribution and choice. This is another worrying example of the so-called filter bubble — where increasingly edited selections and personalized recommendations act to limit and dumb-down content.
From the Guardian:...read more
Friday, April 5, 2013
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
A recent proposal to ban all pornography across Europe has raised some interesting questions. Not least of which is the issue of how to classify the numerous canvases featuring nudes — mostly women, of course — and sexual fantasies hanging prominently in most of Europe’s museums and galleries. Are Europe’s old masters, such as Titian, Botticelli, Rubens, Rousseau and Manet, pornographers?
From the Guardian:
A proposal to ban all pornography in Europe, recently unearthed by freedom of information campaigners in an EU report, raises an intriguing question. Would this only apply to photography and video, or do reformers also plan to rid Europe of all those lewd paintings by Titian and his contemporaries that joyously celebrate sex in the continent’s most civilised art galleries?...read more
Sunday, March 24, 2013
Art can make you think; art can make you smile. Falling more towards the latter category is “Jim’ll Paint It“. Microsoft’s arcane Paint progra seems positively antiquated compared with more recent and powerful drawing apps. However, in the hands of an accomplished artist Paint still shines. In the hands of Jim it radiates. At his Jim’ll Paint It tumblr account Jim takes requests — however crazy — and renders them beautifully and with humor. In his own words:
I am here to make your wildest dreams a reality using nothing but Microsoft Paint (no tablets, no touch ups). Ask me to paint anything you wish and I will try no matter how specific or surreal your demands. While there aren’t enough hours in the day to physically paint every suggestion I will consider them all. Bonus points for originality and humour. Use your imagination!
From the Guardian:...read more
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
You could be forgiven for mistakenly assuming this story to be a work of pop fiction from the colorful and restless minds of Quentin Tarrantino or the Coen brothers. But in another example of life mirroring art, it’s all true.
From the New York Times:...read more
Sunday, March 17, 2013
No, we don’t mean war on apostasy, for which many have been hung, drawn, quartered, burned and beheaded. And no, “apostrophes” are not a new sect of fundamentalist terrorists.
Apostrophes are punctuation, and a local city council in Britain has deemed to outlaw them. Why?
From the Guardian:
The sometimes vexing question of where and when to add an apostrophe appears to have been solved in one corner of Devon: the local authority is planning to do away with them altogether.
Later this month members of Mid Devon district council’s cabinet will discuss formally banning the pesky little punctuation marks from its (no apostrophe needed) street signs, apparently to avoid “confusion”.
The news of the Tory-controlled council’s (apostrophe required) decision provoked howls of condemnation on Friday from champions of plain English, fans of grammar, and politicians. Even the government felt the need to join the campaign to save the apostrophe....read more
Friday, March 15, 2013
With smartphones and tweets taking over our planet, the art of letter writing is fast becoming a subject of history lessons. Our written communications are now modulated by the keypad, emoticons, acronyms and the backspace; our attentions ever-fractured by the noise of the digital world and the dumbed-down 24/7 media monster.
So, as Matthew Malady over at Slate argues, it’s time for the few remaining Luddites, pen still in hand, to join the trend towards curtness and to ditch the signoffs. You know, the words that anyone over the age of 50 once used to put at the end of a hand-written letter, and can still be found at the close of an email and, less frequently, a text: “Best regards“, “Warmest wishes“, “Most Sincerely“, “Cheers“, “Faithfully yours“....read more
Thursday, March 14, 2013
Over the decades Hollywood has remade movie monsters and aliens into evermore terrifying and nightmarish, and often slimier, versions of ourselves. In Britain of the 1960s kids grew up with the thoroughly scary and evil Daleks, from the SciFi series Dr.Who. Their raspy electronic voices proclaiming “Exterminate! Exterminate!” and death-rays would often consign children to a restless sleep in the comfort of their parents’ beds. Nowadays the Daleks would be dismissed as laughable and amateurish constructions — after all, how could malevolent, otherworldly beings be made from what looked too much like discarded egg cartons and toilet plungers. But, they do remain iconic — a fixture of our pop culture.
From the Guardian:
Sunday, March 10, 2013
To honor the brilliant new album by the Thin White Duke, we came across the article excerpted below, which at first glance seems to come directly from the songbook of Ziggy Stardust him- or herself. But closer inspection reveals that NASA may have designs on deploying giant manufacturing robots to construct a base on the moon. Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Once you’ve had your fill of Bowie, read on about NASA’s spiders.
From ars technica:
The first lunar base on the Moon may not be built by human hands, but rather by a giant spider-like robot built by NASA that can bind the dusty soil into giant bubble structures where astronauts can live, conduct experiments, relax or perhaps even cultivate crops....read more
Saturday, March 9, 2013
“England and America are two countries separated by the same language”. This oft used quote is usually attributed to Oscar Wilde or GBS (George Bernard Shaw). Regardless of who originated the phrase both authors would not be surprised to see that book covers are divided by the Atlantic Ocean as well. The Millions continues its fascinating annual comparative analysis.
American book covers on the left, British book covers on the right.
From The Millions:
Thursday, March 7, 2013
Only yesterday we posted a linguist’s claim that text-speak is an emerging language. You know, text-speak is that cryptic communication process that most teenagers engage in with their smartphones. Leaving aside the merits of including text-speak in the catalog of around 6,600 formal human languages, one thing is clear — text-speak is not Shakespearean English. So, don’t expect to see a novel written in it win the Nobel Prize for Literature, yet....read more
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Edward Tufte built the first little blue box in 1962. The blue box contained home-made circuitry and a tone generator that could place free calls over the phone network to anywhere in the world.
This electronic revelation spawned groups of “phone phreaks” (hackers) who would build their own blue boxes to fight MaBell (AT&T), illegally of course. The phreaks assumed suitably disguised names, such as Captain Crunch and Cheshire Cat, to hide from the long-arm of the FBI.
This later caught the attention of a pair of new recruits to the subversive cause, Berkeley Blue and Oaf Tobar, who would go on to found Apple under their more common pseudonyms, Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.
Put it down to curiosity, an anti-authoritarian streak and a quest to ever-improve.
Monday, February 18, 2013
Emily Dickinson has been much written about, but still remains enigmatic. Many of her peers thought her to be eccentric and withdrawn. Only after her death did the full extent of her prolific writing become apparent. To this day, her unique poetry is regarded as having ushered in a new era of personal observation and expression.
By Emily Dickinson
- Wild Nights – Wild Nights!
Wild nights – Wild nights!
Were I with thee
Wild nights should be
Futile – the winds -
To a Heart in port -
Done with the Compass -
Done with the Chart!
Rowing in Eden -
Ah – the Sea!
Might I but moor – tonight -
Image: Daguerreotype of the poet Emily Dickinson, taken circa 1848. Courtesy of the Todd-Bingham Picture Collection and Family Papers, Yale University.
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Wednesday, February 6, 2013
Residents and visitors to London are fortunate — they are bombarded by the rich sights, sounds and smells of one of the world’s great cities. One such sight is Tate Modern, ex-power station, now iconic home to some really good art. In fact, they’re hosting what promises to be a great exhibit soon — a retrospective of Roy Lichtenstein from February 21 to May 27.
From the Telegraph:
Black paintwork, white brickwork, in tree-lined Greenwich Village. We’re spitting distance from Bleecker, whose elongated vowels once made music for Simon and Garfunkel and Steely Dan. When the floodwaters of the nearby Hudson inched upward and east during Hurricane Sandy, they ceased their creep yards from the steps outside.
Friday, February 1, 2013
Yes, it’s official. There really is a subset of the Queen’s English for the contemporary art scene — dubbed International Art English (IAE). If you’ve visited a gallery over the last couple of decades you may be familiar with this type language on press releases and wall tags. It uses multisyllabic words in breathless, flowery, billowy sentences; high-brow phraseology replete with pretentious insider nods and winks; it’s often enthusiastically festooned with adverbs and esoteric adjectives, in apparently random but clear juxtaposition. So, it’s rather like the preceding sentence. Will IAE become as pervasive as International Sport English – you know, that subset of language increasingly spoken, in the same accent, by international sports celebrities? Time will tell.
From the Guardian:
Friday, January 25, 2013
George Orwell passed away on January 21, 1950 — an untimely death. He was only 46 years old. The anniversary of his death leads some to wonder what the great author would be doing if he were still alive. Some believe that he would be a food / restaurant critic. Or perhaps he would still, at the age of 109, be writing about injustice, falsehood and hypocrisy. One suspects that he might still be speaking truth to power as he did back in the 1940s, the difference being that this time power is in private hands versus the public sector. Corporate Big Brother is now watching you.
From the Guardian:
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Lego as we know it — think brightly colored, interlinking, metamorphic bricks – has been around for over 60 years. Even in this high-tech, electronic age it is still likely that most kids around the world have made a little house or a robot with Lego bricks. It satisfies our need to create and to build (and of course, to destroy). But is it art? Jonathan Jones has some ideas.
From the Guardian:
Lego is the clay of the modern world, the stuff of creativity. You can shape it, unshape it, make worlds and smash them up to be replaced by new ideas. It’s a perpetual-motion machine of kids’ imaginations....read more
Monday, January 21, 2013
One great writer reflects on the influences of another.
From the Guardian:
I grew up with George Orwell. I was born in 1939, and Animal Farm was published in 1945. I read it at age nine. It was lying around the house, and I mistook it for a book about talking animals. I knew nothing about the kind of politics in the book – the child’s version of politics then, just after the war, consisted of the simple notion that Hitler was bad but dead. To say that I was horrified by this book would be an understatement. The fate of the farm animals was so grim, the pigs were so mean and mendacious and treacherous, the sheep were so stupid. Children have a keen sense of injustice, and this was the thing that upset me the most: the pigs were so unjust....read more
Saturday, January 12, 2013
More atmospheric pictures of nighttime London in the early 1930 after the jump. These are from a collection of beautifully, dark images by John Morrison and Harold Burkedin.
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Friday, January 11, 2013
Over at the Guardian’s art and culture blog Jonathan Jones argues that photography has now become our de facto medium for contemporary artistic expression. Some may argue that the creative process underlying photography comes up short when compared with the skills and techniques required to produce some art in more traditional media. However, Jones seems right in one respect: today’s photography captures the drama of the human condition in a way that no other medium can today, it’s not even close. We are in awe of the skills demonstrated by the Old Masters. However, that it took months for Rembrandt to paint a single canvas misses the point. It still takes an eye and empathy and a desire to tell a unique story as the photographer clicks the digital shutter in a five-hundredth of a second.
From the Guardian:
It has taken me a long time to see this, and you can laugh at me if you like. But here goes....read more
Monday, December 10, 2012
Simon Coonan over a Slate posits a simple question:
“How did the art world become such a vapid hell-hole of investment-crazed pretentiousness?”
In his scathing attack on the contemporary art scene replete with Twitter feeds, pool parties, and gallery-curated designer cheese, Coonan quite rightly asks why window dressing and marketing have replaced artistry and craftsmanship. And, more importantly, has big money replaced great, new art?
As an example, the biggest news from Art Basel, the biggest art show in the United States, is not art at all. Celebrity contemporary artist Jeff Koons’ has defected to a rival gallery from his previous home with Larry Gagosian. Gagosian to the art cognoscenti is the “world’s most powerful art dealer”.
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Many cities around the globe are home to underground art movements — those whose participants eschew the strictures of modern day gallery wine and cheese, curated exhibits, and formal public art shows. Paris has gone a step further — though deeper, would be more correct — in providing a subterranean home for some truly underground art and the groups of dedicated, clandestine artists, hackers and art restorers.
Wired spent some quality time with a leading group of Parisian underground artists, known as UX, for Underground eXperiment. Follow Wired’s fascinating and lengthy article here.
From the BBC:
The obsessively secretive members of an underground art collective have spent the last 30 years surreptitiously staging events in tunnels beneath Paris. They say they never ask permission – and never ask for subsidies.
We’re standing nervously on the pavement, trying not to feel self-conscious as we furtively scrutinise each passer-by....read more
Sunday, November 18, 2012
Most of us now carry around inside our smartphones more computing power than NASA once had in the Apollo command module. So, it’s interesting to look back at old movies to see how celluloid fiction portrayed computers. Most from the 1950s and 60s were replete with spinning tape drives and enough lights to resemble the Manhattan skyline. Our favorite here at theDiagonal is the first “Bat Computer” from the original 1960′s TV series, which could be found churning away in Batman’s crime-fighting nerve center beneath Wayne Mansion.
The United States government powered up its SAGE defense system in July 1958, at an Air Force base near Trenton, New Jersey. Short for Semi-Automatic Ground Environment, SAGE would eventually span 24 command and control stations across the US and Canada, warning against potential air attacks via radar and an early IBM computer called the AN/FSQ-7....read more
Saturday, November 10, 2012
Please forget Instagram, Photoshop filters, redeye elimination, automatic camera shake reduction systems and high dynamic range apps. If you’re a true photographer or simply a lover of great photography the choice is much simpler: black and white or color.
A new photography exhibit in London pits these contrasting media alongside each other for you to decide. The great Henri Cartier-Bresson would have you believe that black and white images live in a class of their own, far and above the lowly form of color snaps. He was vociferous in his opinion — that for technical and aeasthetic reasons only black and white photography could be considered art....read more
Monday, October 29, 2012
A month in to fall and it really does now seem like Autumn — leaves are turning and falling, jackets have reappeared, brisk morning walks are now shrouded in darkness.
So, we turn to the first Poet Laureate of the United States of the new millenium — Stanley Kunitz, to remind us of Summer’s end. Kunitz was anointed Laureate at the age of ninety-five, and died six years later. His published works span almost eight decades of thoughtful creativity.
By Stanley Kunitz
- End of Summer
An agitation of the air,
A perturbation of the light
Admonished me the unloved year
Would turn on its hinge that night.
I stood in the disenchanted field
Amid the stubble and the stones,
Amazed, while a small worm lisped to me
The song of my marrow-bones.
Blue poured into summer blue,
A hawk broke from his cloudless tower,
The roof of the silo blazed, and I knew
That part of my life was over.
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Author Joe Queenan explains why reading over 6,000 books may be because, as he puts it, he “find[s] ‘reality’ a bit of a disappointment”.
From the Wall Street Journal:
I started borrowing books from a roving Quaker City bookmobile when I was 7 years old. Things quickly got out of hand. Before I knew it I was borrowing every book about the Romans, every book about the Apaches, every book about the spindly third-string quarterback who comes off the bench in the fourth quarter to bail out his team. I had no way of knowing it at the time, but what started out as a harmless juvenile pastime soon turned into a lifelong personality disorder.
Fifty-five years later, with at least 6,128 books under my belt, I still organize my daily life—such as it is—around reading. As a result, decades go by without my windows getting washed....read more
Thursday, October 11, 2012
QTWTAIN is a Twitterspeak acronym for a Question To Which The Answer Is No.
QTWTAINs are a relatively recent journalistic phenomenon. They are often used as headlines to great effect by media organizations to grab a reader’s attention. But importantly, QTWTAINs imply that something ridiculous is true — by posing a headline as a question no evidence seems to be required. Here’s an example of a recent headline:
“Europe: Are there Nazis living on the moon?”
Author and journalist John Rentoul has done all connoisseurs of QTWTAINs a great service by collecting an outstanding selection from hundreds of his favorites into a new book, Questions to Which the Answer is No. Rentoul tells us his story, excerpted, below.
From the Independent:
Wednesday, October 3, 2012
A contemporary showman puts the inventions from another to the test with electrifying results.
From the New York Times:
David Blaine, the magician and endurance artist, is ready for more pain. With the help of the Liberty Science Center, a chain-mail suit and an enormous array of Tesla electrical coils, he plans to stand atop a 20-foot-high pillar for 72 straight hours, without sleep or food, while being subjected to a million volts of electricity.
When Mr. Blaine performs “Electrified” on a pier in Hudson River Park, the audience there as well as viewers in London, Beijing, Tokyo and Sydney, Australia, will take turns controlling which of the seven coils are turned on, and at what intensity. They will also be able to play music by producing different notes from the coils. The whole performance, on Pier 54 near West 13th Street, will be shown live at www.youtube.com/electrified.
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Monday, September 24, 2012
Hint. The answer is not shameless self-promotion or exploitative voyeurism; images used in this way may scratch a personal itch, but rarely influence fundamental societal or political behavior. Importantly, photography has given us a rich, nuanced and lasting medium for artistic expression since cameras and film were first invented. However, the principal answer is lies in photography’s ability to tell truth about and to power.
Michael Glover reminds us of this critical role through the works of a dozen of the most influential photographers from the 1960s and 1970s. Their collective works are on display at a new exhibit at the Barbican Art Gallery, London, which runs until mid-January 2013.
From the Independent: