a natural history of art


The famous historian of type Robert Bringhurst has just published a book about the humble Palatino typeface. In an interview with Steven Heller, a discussion of how this particular typeface, and its creator Herman Zapf, rates its own volume leads to some provocative ideas on how art can be viewed as a part of natural history:

“I’m not a big fan of the colonial-industrial mindset: the view that human beings are masters of the universe, children of God and pretty much unrelated and unbeholden to anything else. Humans are animals, and we are, like all animals, good at some things, lousy at others. We can run, for instance, but not as well as deer, and we can swim, but not as well as trout. We can climb trees, but not as well as monkeys. Compared with most other creatures, however, we can talk and draw pretty good.

In fact, making art appears to be part of our nature. Humans do it wherever you find them. If art is a natural activity, then the history of art is really and truly a branch of natural history. Maybe this is easier for people to think about if we focus first on calligraphy and typography rather than representational art.”

Read the interview here.


art five-oh

What do you see when you look at a work of art? How closely do you look? Are there salient details? Is it important to look at every little thing?

If you are a police officer, and you are studying with Amy Herman, you’d better take a good look. Herman, an expert in visual perception, uses artwork to train law enforcement officers as well as medical students, business executives, and others how to be better observers. Noticing the details of a painting can easily translate to noticing something at a crime scene, or a medical examination.

“I’ve had people say, ‘I hate art,’ and I say, ‘That’s not relevant,’” she said. “This is not a class about Pollock versus Picasso. I’m not teaching you about art today; I’m using art as a new set of data, to help you clear the slate and use the skills you use on the job. My goal when you walk out the door is that you’re thinking differently about the job.”

Take a look: Off the Beat and Into a Museum: Art Helps Police Officers Learn to Look

art is good for you

“[ ] seeing art isn’t just a luxury, a social outing or fodder for your next Instagram upload. It’s medicine for the eyes, the mind, the heart and possibly even the body.”

The idea that experiencing art can promote physical – not just mental or emotional – health is intriguing. But for best results, look at art that inspires wonder and amazement.

Read about it here.

open your eyes

I like Julian Barnes. I like art. So a book on art by Barnes should be a good read. I’m looking forward to Keeping an Eye Open.


“Mr. Barnes writes with an easy understanding of the tension between life and art and the strange alchemy of imagination; he also conveys an appreciation of artists’ technique, as it has been learned from predecessors and developed through experimentation and serendipity. He effortlessly situates a masterwork in the context of its creator’s career, and that career within the larger arc of art history — all, with a light but authoritative hand.”

More here.

both behind and in front of the window

Earlier this year I came across the video blog of Nerdwriter, who expounds on… lots of stuff. And lots of that lots of stuff is art-related. Or even, sometimes, Art.

For example, see this insightful critique of Edward Hopper’s most famous work, “Nighthawks.” This is a piece of art that you probably know, but may not have thought about in this particular light, through this particular window:

drawing the best out of doctors

I came across an interesting story about Ted Meyer, guest artist at UCLA’s Medical School. Meyer is doing work as a sort of intermediary between artists and doctors – he uses the patients’ artworks as a means to open the physicians up to the human side of their patients, to bring them around to other ways of understanding what the patients are going through in dealing with their disease or trauma.

“There has been art therapy designed to help patients, but I thought maybe there is something to teach the doctors here. Perhaps they can look at patients’ artworks and see something beyond the clinical. It’s not just ‘oh, they have multiple sclerosis’ or ‘it’s a broken neck.’ In a way, it’s like art therapy for doctors.”

The healing power of art, indeed. Read the story here.

fight the ugly

“The life of a designer is a life of fight, to fight against the ugliness. Just like a doctor fights against disease. For us, visual disease is what we have all around, and what we try to do is to cure it somehow with design, by eliminating, as much as possible, the people who make it. Not physically, but at least limiting their possibility of polluting the world. It’s a mission. Is it arrogant? Perhaps. Is it pretension? Perhaps. But so is every other field. You find the same attitude in music; you find the same attitude in literature; you find it in any kind of art, and in architecture. There’s a continuous fight against ugliness, a continuous fight against noise instead of music.”

– Massimo Vignelli
from an interview with Gary Hustwit in Helvetica/Objectifed/Urbanized: The Complete Interviews, as posted on fastcodesign.com