Monographs: Robert Ball

We are proud to finally reveal our new video series Monographs where each episode we meet and interview influential professional illustrators.

Monographs goes into the studios of top illustrators to show the creative process up close. Each illustrator gives an insight into the trends shaping the industry today.

In Monographs Episode 1, we meet London-based illustrator Robert Ball who is best known for Beautiful Death, an ongoing project commissioned by HBO, illustrating every episode of Game of Thrones. He discusses how his portrait style garnered attention and how artistic imitation has impacted him.

To accompany the release of every interview, we have produced an exclusive art print created by each episode’s illustrator, called Editions.

The first Edition print, “Lanzarote” by Robert Ball is a playful image of holidaymakers basking in the sun.

Each giclée print is 18 inches by 24 inches, printed on 310gsm, 100% cotton rag, OBA free paper using archival pigment inks. Prints are hand-numbered and embossed with “Illustrator’s Lounge Editions”. The first nine prints are signed by Robert Ball.

“Lanzarote” is an edition of 50 and available at http://ift.tt/2zuHv1s


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Descartes on Wonderment

“Wonderment is the first passion of all… Those without any natural inclination to this passion are ordinarily very ignorant.”


Descartes on Wonderment

Looking back on his life, the elderly Albert Einstein located his most significant existential turning point in a single moment of wonderment when he was a small boy. But what is wonderment, exactly, and what gives it the power to possess us so completely as to recalibrate our very being?

That is what René Descartes (March 31, 1596–February 11, 1650) examines in several passages from The Passions of the Soul (public library) — his final published work, which gave us the influential French philosopher and mathematician’s ideas about the cure for indecision, the relationship between fear and hope, and how we acquire nobility of soul.

Portrait of Descartes after Frans Hals, 1648
Portrait of Descartes after Frans Hals, 1648

Descartes writes:

When our first encounter with some object takes us by surprise, and we judge it to be new, or very different from what we have previously experienced or from what we expected it to be, this causes us to wonder at it and be astonished. And because this can happen before we have any knowledge of whether the thing is beneficial to us or not, it seems to me that wonderment is the first passion of all. And it has no contrary, because, if the object that presents itself has nothing in itself to surprise us, we are not moved by it in any way and we consider it without any passion.

Illustration from Kenny’s Window, Maurice Sendak’s first book — a philosophical reflection on living with wonderment

He offers a definition of wonderment kindred to Diane Ackerman’s notion of “deep play” and examines how it works its magic on the mind:

In wonderment, the soul is suddenly taken by surprise, which causes it to consider attentively the objects that it finds rare and extraordinary. Thus, it is caused first and foremost by the impression formed in the brain which represents the object as rare, and consequently worthy of close consideration; and then by the movement of the spirits, which are disposed by this impression, first, to rush towards the part of the brain where it is located in order to reinforce it and preserve it there, and, secondly, to flow from there into the muscles that serve to keep the sense-organs in the same state as they are now, so as to keep the original impression going (supposing it was formed by them in the first place).

Four centuries before the pioneering Harvard psychologist Jerome Bruner defined creativity as the art of “effective surprise,” Descartes writes:

The impact of wonderment can be very powerful, because of the surprise involved: that is, the sudden and unexpected occurrence of the impression that alters the movement of the spirits. This surprise is so characteristic of wonderment that, when it is encountered in other passions, in almost all of which it is commonly found, its effect being to reinforce them, this is because they contain an admixture of wonderment. And its impact results from two things: first, the novelty of the experience; and, secondly, the fact that the movement it causes is at its most powerful at the beginning. For this kind of movement certainly has more effect than those that are weak at the beginning and intensify only gradually, so that they can be easily diverted. It is also certain that sense-objects new in our experience affect the brain in parts in which it is unaccustomed to be affected; and since these parts are softer or less firm than those hardened by frequent stimulation, the movements produced there have all the more impact. This will not be so difficult to believe if we reflect that the same reason applies to the soles of our feet, which feel a significant impact when we walk, on account of the weight of the body they are supporting, and yet, since they are accustomed to it, we hardly notice this; whereas if they are tickled, the far milder and more gentle touching is almost unbearable, simply because we are not used to it.

But wonderment, Descartes cautions, belongs to a continuum of experience which, like all continua, can grow perilous in its extreme end. He describes the paralytic effects of excessive wonderment:

The whole body remains motionless as a statue, and we can perceive nothing of the object but the aspect of it first presented to us, so that we can gain no more detailed knowledge of it. This is what is commonly called being astonished; and astonishment is an excess of wonderment that can only ever be bad.

Art by Oliver Tallec from This Is a Poem That Heals Fish by Jean-Pierre Simeón

Descartes suggests that where astonishment is dumbfounding and bereft of utility, wonderment causes the tentacles of our curiosity to reach toward its object and thus expands the mind into previously unconquered territories:

We can say of wonderment that its particular utility is to enable us to learn and retain in our memory things of which we were formerly unaware. For we wonder at only what appears to us rare and extraordinary; and nothing can so appear to us except when we were previously unaware of it, or it differs from what we knew; for it is on account of this difference that we call something extraordinary. Now, even when something previously unknown presents itself for the first time to our understanding or our senses, we do not necessarily retain it in our memory for all that, unless our idea of it is fortified in our brain by some passion, or else by the application of our intellect, when determined by the will to concentrate on and think hard about the object. And the other passions can serve to enable us to notice what appears good or evil, but for those that just appear rare we have only wonderment. And so we see that those without any natural inclination to this passion are ordinarily very ignorant.

Half a millennium before the exploitive and mind-hollowing astonishment mongering of the Buzzfeed era, Descartes issues a darkly cautionary caveat:

But excessive wonderment, and astonishment at the sight of things that deserve little or no consideration, occurs far more frequently than its contrary. And this excess can entirely suppress or distort the use of reason…. For it is easy to make up for the lack of it by careful reflection and attention, to which our will can always compel our understanding when we judge that the thing we have encountered is worth the trouble; but to eliminate the tendency to excessive wonderment, there is no other remedy than to acquire a knowledge of many things, and to habituate oneself to thinking about whatever may seem most rare and strange…. blind curiosity can become a lifelong disease: the curiosity, that is, of people who seek out what is rare only to marvel at it, not to understand it; for they gradually become so prone to wonderment that the most trivial things are no less capable of engaging their attention than those that are most worth investigating.

Complement this particular portion of The Passions of the Soul with Diane Ackerman’s poetic invitation to wonderment and Rachel Carson on science and wonder, then revisit Descartes on the key to a wakeful mind and his twelve timeless tenets of critical thinking.


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Amanda Palmer Reads “Happiness” by Jane Kenyon

“There’s just no accounting for happiness, or the way it turns up like a prodigal who comes back to the dust at your feet having squandered a fortune far away.”


Amanda Palmer Reads “Happiness” by Jane Kenyon

There are few things in life more inconstant and more elusive, both in the fist of language and in the open palm of experience, than happiness. Philosophers have tried to locate and loosen the greatest barriers to it. Artists have come into this world “born to serve happiness.” Scientists have set out to discover its elemental components. And yet for all our directions of concerted pursuit, happiness remains mostly a visitation — a strange miracle that seems to come and go with a will of its own. “Those who prefer their principles over their happiness,” Albert Camus wrote in contemplating our self-imposed prisons, “they refuse to be happy outside the conditions they seem to have attached to their happiness.”

How to welcome the visitation of happiness on its own miraculous terms, liberated from our conditioned and conditional expectations, is what poet Jane Kenyon (May 23, 1947–April 22, 1995) — a woman of immense wisdom on what it takes to nourish a creative life — explores in an astounding poem posthumously published in The Breath of Parted Lips: Voices from the Robert Frost Place (public library).

I asked the wonderful Amanda Palmer to lend her voice to Kenyon’s masterpiece in a complement to her earlier reading of Kenyon’s stunning poem about life with and after depression. Please enjoy.

HAPPINESS

There’s just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.

No, happiness is the uncle you never
knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep midafternoon
as you so often are during the unmerciful
hours of your despair.

It comes to the monk in his cell.
It comes to the woman sweeping the street
with a birch broom, to the child
whose mother has passed out from drink.
It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing
a sock, to the pusher, to the basketmaker,
and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots
in the night.
        It even comes to the boulder
in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,
to rain falling on the open sea,
to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.

Complement with Willa Cather’s soulful definition of happiness and Mary Oliver’s ode to the art of finding magic in life’s unremarkable moments, then revisit Amanda’s stirring readings of “The Mushroom Hunters” by Neil Gaiman, “Protest” by Ella Wheeler Wilcox, “Humanity i love you” by E.E. Cummings, and “Possibilities” and “Life While-You-Wait” by Polish Nobel laureate Wisława Szymborska.

Amanda’s work, like my own, is made possible by patronage — join me in supporting her work so that she may go on bringing beautiful things into this world.


donating = loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes me hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner.


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Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s most unmissable reads. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

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New Posters by Jeffrey Alan Love and Jessica Seamans

Mondo and Black Dragon Press have two new joint print releases available. Wings of Desire by Jeffrey Alan Love is an 18″ x 24″ screenprint, the US Variant (metallic stars) has an edition of 60, and costs $55, the UK Variant (gold stars) has an edition of 60, and costs £40. Viy by Jessica Seamans is an 18″ x 24 screenprint, has an edition of 90, and costs $50 / £35. An art print of Viy is available from Black Dragon Press and costs £35. Visit Mondotees.com for the US versions and BlackDragonPress.co.uk for the UK versions.

Jeffrey Alan Love

Jeffrey Alan Love

Jessica Seamans

Jessica Seamans

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New Posters from JC Richard and Tom Whalen from Cyclops Print Works (Onsale Info)

Cyclops Print Works will be adding the remaining copies of their MondoCon exclusives to their site later this week. Duel at Dawn (Toy Story 3) Evil Dr. Porkchop Variant by Tom Whalen is a 12″ x 24″ screenprint and has an edition of 150. Beauty and the Beast by JC Richard is a 12″ x 36″ screenprint and has an edition of 70. These will be available Wednesday, November 22nd at a random time. Visit CyclopsPrintWorks.com.

Tom Whalen

JC Richard

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Black Friday Mystery Tube Sale from Ryan Duggan (Onsale Info)

Ryan Duggan is hosting another pretty astounding mystery tube sale. He’s offering 10 tubes, each contains 1 artist proof from the sold-out Poster of the Week series, 1 artist proof from the sold-out Treasury of Shitting Dogs series, 1 test print (16″ x 20″ or 18″ x 24″), and 1 Random art print. Each tube is $100. These will be available the morning of Friday, November 24th. Visit DrugFactoryPress.com.

Ryan Duggan

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