Arts Newsletter Photography

Photographers as Neuroscientists, art as religion, the ‘informational morass,’ and why emotions and journalism are misleading

Image via Alex Wong

Arts & Culture

When Photographers Are Neuroscientists

The camera sees what we can’t find and fills in the rest: “Perception is a product of evolution rather than engineering.” Yet painters act like neuroscientists, filling in their palette with “their own eyes and brains.” Both photographers and painters make their art more ambiguous through distortion. Instead of creating a representation of reality, they try to stitch together a picture that makes people think.

Those distortions and uncertainties make their pictures less true to life but more true to us: They reflect how we see. On that basis, Cavanagh claimed that “artists act as research neuroscientists,” informing us about how the brain works.

Utopian Culture

If religion is therapy, so is culture and art. The same benefits that one gets from the church can also be obtained through galleries and universities.

“Ultimately, and to put it with deliberate bluntness, the great works of culture amount to a giant ‘how to’ manual that a society writes for itself.”

Philosophy & Productivity

What Emotions Are (and Aren’t)

People pre-judge your behavior through your emotions and bodily movements. But an angry or happy face doesn’t necessarily reveal the truth. The degree and type of emotion depends on the context of each situation. For instance, “you might smile as you plot your revenge” against someone that upsets you.

“The ease with which we experience emotions, and the effortlessness with which we see emotions in others, doesn’t mean that each emotion has a distinct pattern in the face, body or brain.”

Social Media & Technology

Stars in My Pocket Like Bits of Data

We’re drowning in data, or “the informational morass.” Social media, TV, newspapers, the entire “Sunday edition of the New York Times has more information than the amount of information an average person alive 400 years ago might have come across in his lifetime.” Here’s a rule of thumb: Produce as much as you consume. Summarize, make sense of what you read, whether through poetry or Tweets.

When there is so much to be known, when there are so many fields of knowledge in which the same words are used with different meanings, when every one knows a little about a great many things, it becomes increasingly difficult for anyone to know whether he knows what he is talking about or not. And when we do not know, or when we do not know enough, we tend always to substitute emotions for thoughts.

Why you can’t trust journalism

Journalism should be more like science, corroborated by more than one person. But it’s hard for anyone, let alone a journalist, to question and revalidate the work of a major publication like the New York Times. Scientists share their process with the public. Journalists omit their research so they can craft the story they want to tell.

“Journalists are, at heart, storytellers more than they are empiricists.”

New Music

Skipping the playlist this week to share this remarkable video of Joy Orbison as part of the Soul Selectors series.

Sole Selectors: Joy Orbison

Thought of the Week

“A poem is a small (or large) machine made of words.” — William Carlos Williams

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Distraction-free writing, travelling to unknown places, new tunes, and more!

Links Worth Reading

Getting out of my Skinner Box | Limn This

Distraction is inevitable in the mobile-first, social media era. The dopamine addiction is especially hard for writers who need focus to develop flow. Pen and paper is the obvious route of distraction-free writing but the words ultimately have to get digitized. That’s why some writers are using the $400 Hemingwrite “with a continuous wi-fi connection to your Evernote account.” Bonus: it’s made in Detroit.

“I love the idea that someone is building hardware that does less so that we might be focused enough to do more. It’s a wonderful kind of simplification.”

+ Can no longer read books? Here are some tips and tricks for re-galvanizing your book reading focus and getting your mind back.

How Design Research Taught Me Not To Be a Tourist | DesignMind

If you’re going to travel abroad, don’t forget to get out of your hotel and go local. Befriend some natives. Eat the local food. Hit the underground record store. But most importantly, don’t forget to bring your camera:

…my favorite photos are often photos of the mundane details that reveal cultural differences and tell a specific story about your trip. Those things that you pass each day — street signs, taxis, tea pots, toilets, mailboxes, snacks, magazine racks – usually are rich with the texture of your experience even if they aren’t postcard-worthy.

+ Anthony Bourdain returns tonight, exploring South Korea in 24 intoxicated hours. Here’s Bourdain on exploring the everyday:

“Life ain’t that simple . It IS complicated. And filled with nuance worth exploring.”

More Bourdain quotes

Press me! The buttons that lie to you

Design impacts behavior. The “wait” light at the cross walk and the camera’s clicking sound all have the same “placebo button” effect: they intend to give people the illusion of control.

“Feeling you have control over your world is a desirable state.”

In other words, the buttons are functional but they also may save your life. Think about this the next time you’re crossing the street.

The Martyr of Islington

“There’s only one Arsène Wenger,” the Arsenal fans shout. They have a point. There’s no other coach like “The Professor,” whose artful tactics and player development created The Invincibles but then led to years of trophyless seasons while Chelsea and Man City bough talent for immediate results. Arsène’s patience is both admirable and frustrating, and bigger than the game.

“It’s his faith—his belief that there’s a code of rightness other than success; his Catholic claim that virtue, magic, and beauty might be more important than the trophy case”

What fiction has to say about the libraries of the future

The digitization of books poses a threat to the modern day library. But will libraries dissipate like the record stores?

“The future library is bigger than all the world’s historical libraries combined, and smaller than a book on one of those libraries’ shelves.”

I personally think the library is a durable place. People still need a quiet place to sit down, read, and get stuff done when Starbucks is too damn loud.

New Music

Episode 50 | Tunes of the Week

  1. Falty DL – Watch a Man Die
  2. Knxwledge – Jstowee
  3. Roots Manuva – Like a Drum
  4. Braille Sounds – Everyone’s Crazy (Machinedrum Remix)
  5. LTJ Bukem – Horizons

> Listen

Thought of the Week

“You can’t just jot it down on a napkin. You have to do it.” – Charles Eames

Instagram of the Week




Leonardo da Vinci’s resume, distraction as an ‘obesity for the mind,’ Einstein’s celebrity, new tunes, and more!


Links Worth Reading

Leonardo da Vinci’s resume

“I can carry out sculpture in marble, bronze, or clay, and also I can do in painting whatever may be done, as well as any other, be he who he may.”

So wrote Leonardo da Vinci in his resume to the Duke of Milan. Your future employer cares less about what you’ve done and more about you’re going to do for them. Da Vinci mastered the art of selling himself through his resume. Might we learn from him 500+ years later?

Matthew Crawford: ‘distraction is a kind of obesity of the mind’

The philosopher William James once said “What holds attention, determines action.” He lived mostly in a world of silence, before the instant distraction of buzzing cell phones and pop-up messages. You can throw your phone into the ocean, or you can search for silent areas such as the business-class lounge in the airport. In short, “Silence has become a luxury good.” Or as Chad Wellman recently wrote in his 79 Theses on Technology. For Disputation,

“We should evaluate our investments of attention at least as carefully and critically as our investments of money.”

If time is money, distraction is the accumulation of pennies.

Albert Einstein was a genius, but he wasn’t the only one – why has his name come to mean something superhuman?

Einstein was a genius, no doubt. He also happened to have crazy hair and a “way with words.” But how much of his celebrity was due to his timing with the proliferation of mass media: newspapaper, radio, and TV? Marie Curie won two Nobel prizes and was equally genius but she was a woman.

“Had he lived in another era, Einstein might have been a decent physicist, but he wouldn’t have been the Einstein we know.”

That’s Hollywood.

How a bee sting saved my life: poison as medicine

Venom saves lives. Ellie Lobel curbed her Lyme’s Disease by accidentally getting stung by a swarm of bees. Now she uses them to sting her on purpose.

“Rare cases like Ellie’s are a reminder of the potent potential of venoms. But turning folk knowledge into pharmaceuticals can be a long and arduous process.”

Meanwhile, “an airbag saved my life.”

The colors of paintings: Blue is the new orange

According to data blogger Martin Bellander who downloaded and studied about 130k thumbnails, the color blue became a popular painting color in the 20th century. He notes one possible reason for the rise in blue.

“Blue has historically been a very expensive color, and the decreasing price and increased supply might explain the increased use.”

Blue was my favorite growing up. As the Observatory podcast explains, the color blue is soothing like a Tiffany’s box, or hospital scrubs.

New Music

Episode 49 | Tunes of the Week

  1. Throwing Snow — Lumen
  2. Mikos Da Gawd — Shaku
  3. Electric Wire Hustle — Golden Ladder
  4. Ruff Draft — Broken Tooth
  5. Braille — The Cat’s Gone Nuts

> Listen

Thought of the Week

Buysness is…

“a boast disguised as a complaint.” – Tim Kreider


The paradox of wearing neckties, faking happiness on the Internet, new tunes, and more!

I like to share a list of links every Sunday that inspire me to think differently about the world of art, culture, philosophy, and tech.  As always, there’s 5 new tunes after the jump.

Links Worth Reading

How to pretend to be happy on the Internet

Everyone’s a happy camper online. After all, why would you tweet or Instagram sad thoughts and get your Internet friends all worried about you? Yet even when your online behavior changes slightly, people notice.

“Pretending to be happy on the Internet is exhausting.”

Dickheads: The paradox of the necktie resolved

I never minded church so much as wearing that uncomfortable suit and tie. Even then, the color of the tie was still the only way to express any individuality.

“Couldn’t we say that a tie is really a symbolic displacement of the penis, only an intellectualized penis, dangling not from one’s crotch but from one’s head?”

At least now we can get away with hiding behind our hoodies. Thanks Zuck!

What Part of “No, Totally” Don’t You Understand?

Good news for the Yes Man: you can finally get away with saying “No” and still come off acquiescent. “Yes” is too serious and one character too long.

“These curious uses turn “no” into a kind of contranym: a word that can function as its own opposite.”

Yes, way.

The Rise of ‘Studyblrs’

Staying on social media would seem to have the opposite effect but these students are the new knowledge workers. They’re using Tumblr to motivate each other and trade study tips. I had AIM and a fax machine growing up.

“For example, Generation Z will be great at synthesizing information because they will have been doing that — rather than memorizing — the whole time they were in school.”

A ‘Darker Narrative’ of Print’s Future From Clay Shirky

It’s no longer breaking news that print circulation is down. It’s inevitable, just as it is for the death of CDs. But good writing is worth reading. The medium is less important.

“Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism.” – Clay Shirky

New Music

Tunes of the Week | Episode 48

  1. Ahkatari – Rude Bwoy
  2. Bakradze – Quiet Loop
  3. Redeyes – Psychonaut
  4. Robert Glasper – Of Dreams To Come (Philippe Edison Rework)
  5. Skepta – Shutdown

> Listen

Thought of the Week

“If you want to make money in a gold rush, sell shovels.” – The California Gold Rush


Walking the World, Architectural Renderings, Smiling Fascism, Massimo Vignelli, and Music Globalization

Below are some of my favorite reads and beats from this week.

Slow Journalism

The Proclaimers got it wrong. American journalist Paul Salopek walks way more than 500 miles. In this interview, Salppek talks about his 7-year trek around the world. Police have stopped him a total of 42 times in his first 3 years, an average of once every 100 miles. But 500 years ago, such an ambitious walk would leave him dead.

“As bad as things seem, relatively speaking, we still live in a golden age of freedom of movement.”

Check the Blueprints

You’re featured in some architecture’s renderings and you don’t even know it. Architecture firms are crowdsourcing your images and pitching them to clients. Note: Hipster images are in high demand.

Smiling Fascism

Depression may be genetic but it’s also tied to your environment. Gloomy weather makes you lethargic. Societies that get more sun and socialize are livelier and less depressed. People who set the bar too high on happiness also tend to be more depressed. Depression is complex and personal.

“the reality is that depression is the result of several factors intermixing in ways that are nearly impossible to untangle.”

Massimo Vignelli

A rare interview with graphic designer Massimo Vignelli. He designed the New York subway system in the 70s, giving each line a color and each station a dot. Today’s NYC subway map is too cluttered.

“The life of a designer is a life of fight, to fight against the ugliness. Just like a doctor fights against disease.”

Diplo and Friends

Before the Internet, we had specific categories of music: Rock, hip-hop, country. But the Internet globalized music and morphed into a hodgepodge of undefinable sounds. “Cosmopolitan maximalists” taint what it means to be unique.

+ Radiohead and Lauryn Hill albums to be preserved in Library of Congress

▶ Tunes of the Week

  1. O’Flynn – Desmond’s Empire
  2. Doldrums – HOTFOOT
  3. Maribou State -Raincoats
  4. Earl Swearshirt + Action Bronson – Warlord Weather
  5. Jam City – Today

Listen here

+ Recommended: BBC Radio 1’s Essential Mix, Four Tet X Jamie xx

Thought of the Week

“Genius is no more than childhood recaptured at will.” – Charles Baudelaire


The Internet Gets Physical

Below are some of my favorite culture and technology reads of the week. Don’t forget to peep the tunes.

Name That Band

Chances are your desired band name or website URL is already taken. Google it. So you’ll have to think more creatively to be original, like playing off celebrity names (e.g. Com Truise), shortening words and adding emojis (e.g. Knx.ノレッジ).

Channelling TV

Publishers have to forget about going direct through site and via owned apps and instead post content within apps like Snapchat and Facebook. That’s where people are. Snapchat’s new Discover feature is TV for teens. Between channeling monetization and the masses, the “next Internet” looks complicated and ugly like TV.

+ Speaking of apps, Chinese workers rig App Store rankings.

The Internet Gets Physical

The Internet is a physical thing. It’s a cable underneath the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a Google farm in Oklahoma. We eat the Internet and it eats us says Irish digital artist John Gerrard.

+ Pete Rock & CL Smooth: “I Get Physical

Watercooler Meetings

There’s a reason startups are more fun than established businesses: they build better office environments where people like to hang out and be productive. Startup offices thrive off ping pong tables and free snacks. Collide naturally, not in meetings.

Van Goes It

Even Van Gogh struggled to find the right career path. But he chose a subject matter, painting the working class at the coal mine, which became the foundation of his career as an artist. You can only connect the dots by looking backward.

+ Are coders really “makers?” We’re all making something, even if we’re teaching. Just listen to how Bjork defines creativity.

99 Memory Problems

Our memory is murky. We make up stories that hyperbolize the truth (re: Brian Williams). But while we can never remember the details, we do recall the main lessons. There’s a reason we don’t pet the pit bull or cross the street in traffic. We know better.

“The goal of memory isn’t to keep the details. It’s to be able to generalize from what you know so that you are more confident in acting on it.”

One Hit Wonder

What’s fashionable is short-term, argues Neil Geiman. People won’t be talking about Fifty Shades of Grey a century from now. Uniqueness is a timeless quality. Find a tribe and good works last forever.

♫ Tracks of the Week

  1. Ruff Draft – Messages
  2. Axel F – Sofa Coins
  3. Sau Poler & Pedro Vian – Paral.lel
  4. Portico – 101
  5. Space Gang – When You Love Someone

Thought of the Week

“Between what is said and not meant. And what is meant and not said. Most of love is lost.” – Khalil Gibran


Swipe Right

Below are the most interesting reads and tunes I discovered this week.

Digital Stress

Constant connectivity isn’t causing more stress. People said the same thing when the telephone emerged. What’s stressing us out is life because shit happens. Pro tip: If you can’t get rid of it, it matters.

Analog is Heavy

Echo similar sentiment here. I question the necessity of any new social network. I even doubt the existing ones. What’ll last are the books, articles, and blog posts, not the ephemeral thoughts and “pretty pictures.”


Rana el Kaliouby had one goal: “to create an algorithm that could read faces.” What she’s developing is an advertiser’s dream. Create emotions, sell product.

Swipe Right

I lost my place. That’s the feeling I get when I log into check Twitter or Instagram. I see old content and then scroll all the way up to realize there’s no more. The feed’s over. There’s got to be a better viewing experience.


“We’re not good enough to not practice.” – Kiese Laymon

There’s no way around it. The ritual of practice makes you better. Come to think of it, everything is practice, even if it means going back to your roots.

Digital Nomad

It’s cheaper to travel the world and work than it is to live and work in San Francisco. Such is the life for this digital nomad. New environment, fresh ideas.

Street Etiquette

From your hair to your clothes, your style tells a story without having to say a word. Check your head with the Street Etiquette duo at TED x New York.

Tunes of the Week

  1. Anthony Naples – Abrazo
  2. Petite Noir – Shadows
  3. Project Mooncircle – Paint Me Like the Sky
  4. Robot Koch – Let Me
  5. Jon Hopkins – Late Night Tales (preview)

Stick this in your ear.

Thought of the Week

“Attack life, it’s going to kill you anyway.” – Stephen Colbert


The CIA Mixtape

Below are the most interesting articles I read this week, mixing topics of creativity, philosophy, and technology. I also posted my Best of 2014 so you’ll see a link to that after the jump.

The CIA Mixtape

The CIA used loud music and more specifically a mixtape consisting of Barney the Dinosaur’s “I love You” and David Gray’s “Babylon” to torture Guantanamo prisoners. But Guantanamo “detainees exhibit a marked aversion to country.“ Sounds like the worst concert ever.

“Excuse me while I kiss this guy”

Jimi Hendrix owns one of the most popular mondegreens (misheard lyrics) of all time. What we hear or mishear not only depends on our inner ear lobes but also our biases, perception, and even where we live.

Talk like an Egyptian

It’s a canard to think that everything that gets recorded today will be easily retrievable in the future just because it’s digital. Digital formats change too quickly. Maybe emojis are modernity’s Rosetta Stone? Best to talk like the Egyptians.

Autobiography x Fiction

“In fiction, we step out of our skin, but we still remain in our skin as we read it.”

Simon Critchley takes us in a journey of self-discovery through fiction in his newest book Memory Theater. Maybe life’s best told through someone else.

Get My E-Peon

A “peon” is a person in India hired to do temporary, everyday tasks. Now it’s gone digital. While the job of a peon is a bit servile, it’s putting dependable money on the table for its workers.

(The Mighty) Mos Def

“Americans are not unique. They like to think that, but they’re just citizens of the world.”

Besides being my favorite rapper, Mos Def is also a supreme artist and American. Whether or not you believe in American exceptionalism, read this. Think global.

Dark Social

“Dark social” is a term introduced by Alexis Madgril’s to describe the untraceable referrals of the web. He recently updated his theory with some new discoveries, mainly that Facebook is the main driver of dark social sharing.

+ My Blog Post: Here’s a little piece I wrote about this week explaining why Instagram is kicking Twitter’s ass.

Tracks of the year

Lacing beats, electronica, and hip-hop HERE are my favorite tracks of 2014. The usual 5-track delivery will restart next week.

Thought of the week

“I like hearing things incorrectly. I think that’s how I get a lot of ideas is by mishearing something.” — Tom Waits


Obama’s First Album

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gif via giphy

Covering everything from art, music, and technology. Here are the articles and jams inspiring me this week.

Rock the House

I usually ignore the articles that get talked about a million times over but .html”>this one is too good. Chris Rock talks the latest on comedy, race, and politics. Here’s an excerpt of the interview on Bush/Obama:

“People thinking you’re dumb is an advantage. Obama started as a genius…So it’s not that Obama’s disappointing. It’s just his best album might have been his first album.”

Analog Xmas Cards

Christmas cards take time to write. They show more care than a mere email, text, and Facebook message. It also turns out that the average number of people reached via Christmas Cards is 150, which is also the Dunbar Number.

Normalizing the iPhone 6 Plus

The iPhone 6 Plus is “like holding a waffle iron to your face,” writes Steve Chaney. Yet people love it for than any other of the previous devices. The iPhone 6 Plus is by true definition the world’s first phablet. People can get used to anything.

When Art Meets Curation

What is like to organize all the world’s art? The New Yorker talks to curator Hans Ulrich Obrist about organizing all the world’s art. Here’s what he said when he discovered Instagram: “Maybe the iPhone is the new nanomuseum.” To which he adds: “Do you know any poets who use Snapchat?”

Bringing Back Sweet Memories

Instagram inspires you to see the world around you but it also distorts memories. Om Malik sits down with Cole Rise of Pi.Co to talk the impact of mobile photography.

“I think we confuse photos on our smartphone as memories…” – Om Malik

Album Covers

NPR sits down to interview Storm Thorgerson, the designer behind Pink Floyd album covers including Dark Side of the Moon. A lot of thought and meaning when into those album covers, but some of it was remixed: “Nothing’s new, everything is plagiarized but it’s how you plagiarize and how you use it.”

Make a Ruckus

“This might not work.” Seth Godin provokes people into making a ruckus, again and again, despite success. Watch it.

Tunes of the week | Episode 34

  1. Andy Stott – Faith in Strangers
  2. Leon Vynehall – Inside The Deku Tree
  3. DJ Bad Boy – Moh Cota
  4. Sia – Big Girls Cry (Odesza Remix)
  5. Atjazz – Does This Qualify?

♫ Peep the playlist

My Best of 2014 will be posted next week. I’ve got 300+ songs to go through.

Thought of the week

“There’s no room for hatred in music.” – John Peel


Turn Down for What

Below are my top recommended links for the week.

WWIC (Why Wasn’t I Consulted)

Content creators expect the web to duplicate the TV or print experience. But the web is its own unique medium just like TV and print are their own. Paul Ford advises to use the web as a customer service tool around “what you publish and sell.”

Life’s Not Unfair

The only competition is within yourself, they say, to achieve greater personal growth. But that mentality is probably why people are jumping ahead of you. It doesn’t matter how hard you work or if you produced a hit song. What matters is how many people your work impacted.

Turn Down for What

Your best ideas may come in the shower, when you’re cooking or brushing your teeth. Basically, the mind needs unconscious time to play with what it’s seen. This down time is called imaginability.

“It might have been”

Those are apparently the saddest words in the English language. If you’ve got a brain you can still learn new stuff. Leave no brain cell behind.

Steal Like an Artist

You get graded based on a regurgitation of information in school. But there’s a bit of room for new ideas. They just have to be your’s.

Keep the Patience

Or cultivate gratitude. This study shows a positive correlation between gratitude and long-term investment. Build for the future.


Clark is an electronic musician, best known for his song “Ted”. In this interview, he offers some of the most sage advice for any worker/creator:

“If you take the internet off your laptop, it’s the most powerful machine in the world. I use it for music, and you can’t fuck with it.”

Tunes of the Week

  1. Young Fathers – Soon Come Soon
  2. The Cyclist – Breathless
  3. Lost Midas – Love Undone
  4. Romare – Pusherman
  5. Bonobo – Return to Air

♫ Listen

Thought of the Week

“We spend our youth attaining wealth, and our wealth attaining youth” – Douglas Coupland