Category Archives: art

Dear Gretchen

In the book project Dear Gretchen, artist and designer Gretchen Nash found a wonderful way to explain part of her childhood. Here’s the concept in Nash’s words:

An extensive book that investigates letters that I have kept inside a luggage case since my childhood. The process of the book included finding the word and phrase frequency of the letters, categorizing them by sender, by date, and finally writing personal reflections about each of the senders. Graphs were constructed to reveal the word frequency and each of the 187 letters were thoroughly documented inside of the book.

Most of the charts are sculptural, which creates a wonderful contrast of warm craftiness and hard data.

[via ffffound]

Cutaways Gone Wild

Illustrator Scott Campbell’s cutaways aren’t exactly real explanations, but they appeal to the same part of the brain. This is also the brain section responsible for drawing elaborate space bases, I believe.

Scott Campbell's Lincoln House

Campbell’s “Home Slice” show is on display through March 23rd at the Nucleus Gallery in Alhambra, California. Several great ones are still for sale on the Nucleus site. Plenty more awesomeness on his blog.

Another taste:

Scott Campbell's Wild West House

Great Explainy Music Video

And now, a musical interlude. This video from Norwegian band Röyksopp doesn’t exactly explain anything, but it uses the tools of good explanation to thrilling effect. And it illustrates nicely how much data, complexity and remarkable thinking flows through daily life.

The artistry is clearly awesome, but the delicious topping for me is that they bothered to make so much of this stuff accurate (or at least accuratish). For example, the escalator cutaway is highly detailed and right on the money, and it’s only onscreen for four seconds. There’s a good bit of playful exaggeration too — the parts of the ear are drawn correctly, but sound waves trigger a bouncier cartoon chain reaction than you would actually see.I’ve had a hand in building animated cutaway diagrams before — the type of thing that makes up only a few frames in this video — and fitting the details together is no small chore. Kudos to those responsible, the French production company H5, according to Wikipedia and others. (My kudos are way late, apparently. The video already won best video at the MTV Europe Music Awards, way back in 2002).

I found a bit of interesting chatter in the YouTube comments on the video. Several posters took it for granted that this was a depressing view of mundane modern life. I really don’t see it that way. Normally, I do get discouraged by musical montages of workers filing into offices or even families chaotically taking off in the morning (a staple of supposedly cheery breakfast treat ads). The notion that life is hectically repetitive for no discernible reason makes me queasy. But this video was actually uplifting to me.

For one thing, I love to be reminded that there is so much to learn about even incredibly ordinary stuff. After all, there aren’t really many boring things, just boring people. It’s good to turn on the awestruck wonder whenever you can. Also, I’m comforted by the idea that even though there’s a lot of complexity under the surface of everything, I could actually figure out what was going on if I took the time to sort through the detailed, readily available information. It’s the same comfort I get walking through the library or bookstore. I may not want to learn all about building construction at a particular moment, but it’s good to know I could pick up several books on the subject (and understand them) if I were so inclined. Nice to have signs that the roads are open.

PS: I intended this post to be pure praise, since 100% of our posts to date have had a bit of finger wagging in them, but I can’t ignore the bad splainin’ on both Röyksopp and H5’s Web sites.

Röyksopp greeted me only with this and an album promotion pop-up:

Which details did you need? Shoe size? Favorite Pop Tart flavor?

H5 gave me little more:

Very strange to have such dead-end home pages in this day and age.