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1001 Inventions: NY Hall of Science looks back at the explosion of discovery Golden Age of Islam, or what we call the “Dark Ages.”

EXHIBITION REVIEW

A Golden Age in Science, Full of Light and Shadow

Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Visitors, from age 4 up, at the exhibition “1001 Inventions.” More Photos »

 

“Take a look,” Ben Kingsley says, dropping an ancient tome before three British students as if he were teaching the Dark Arts at Hogwarts. “Take a look,” he tells them, “if you dare.”

The book magically opens, releasing a cyclone of glittering ghosts. And Mr. Kingsley — who here portrays a librarian trying to get bored students interested in what their teacher calls the “Dark Ages” — is transformed into the turbaned al-Jazari: 12th-century inventor, mechanical engineer, visionary. “Welcome to the Dark Ages!” he declares, “or as it should be known, the Golden Ages!”

After he takes the students “from darkness into light” in thisintroductory film, we are off and running through “1001 Inventions,” at the New York Hall of Science in Queens. The exhibition’s name invokes the Eastern exoticism of Scheherazade, but the show is in earnest about its claims.

There aren’t 1,001 inventions on display, but those that are, along with the ideas described, are meant to show that the Western Dark Ages really were a Golden Age of Islam: a thousand years, in the show’s reckoning, that lasted into the 17th century. During that era, the exhibition asserts, Muslim scientists and inventors, living in empires reaching from Spain to China, anticipated the innovations of the modern world.

There are serious problems with this exhibition, but this has had no effect on its international acclaim. Conceived by a mechanical engineer, Salim T. S. al-Hassani, it began on a smaller scale touring British cities. It expanded into its current form at the London Science Museum this year, attracting 400,000 visitors, according to the show’s Web site. And its lavish companion book, “Muslim Heritage in Our World,” has won plaudits.

Kiosks are arranged here in an 8,000-square-foot space, their explanations, interactive displays, and videos examining seven “zones”: Home, School, Market, Hospital, Town, World, Universe. The show is also family friendly. A 20-foot-high reproduction of al-Jazari’s mechanical water clock welcomes visitors, its base an elephant and its crown a phoenix; unfortunately it is not really a replica — it operates without the water mechanism — but its playful monumentalism intrigues. And while some interactive exhibits are stilted, an astronomy display lets you reach toward a screen of the night sky like a deity, your gestures gliding a constellation into its proper place.

Throughout, the exhibition pays tribute to an important scientific tradition not commonly familiar, stocked with extraordinary technological creativity and scholarly enterprise. From 10th-century Spain we read of al-Zahrawi, author of an encyclopedic treatise on surgery. From 10th-century Baghdad we find al-Haytham, whose explorations of optics helped lay the foundations for Newton’s discoveries. We learn of advances in medical care, mathematics, astronomy and architecture.

As it turns out, though, the account requires extensive qualification. Had we learned more about scientific principles, had we been given sober assessments of, say, how 10th-century science developed, had a scholarly perspective been more evident — had we, in other words, been ushered into this world in a way once expected from science museums — the show could have been far more powerful.

Instead, it is as manipulative as it is illuminating. “1001 Inventions,” we are told in the literature, “is a nonreligious and non-political project.” But it actually is a little bit religious and considerably political.

It is less a typical science exhibition than a typical “identity” exhibition. It was created by the Foundation for Science, Technology and Civilization in London, whose goal is “to popularize, spread and promote an accurate account of Muslim Heritage and its contribution.” The show also tries to “instill confidence” and provide positive “role models” for young Muslims, as Mr. Hassani puts it in the book. And it is part of a “global educational initiative” that includes extensive classroom materials.

The promotional goal is evident in every display. The repeated suggestion is that Muslim scientists made discoveries later attributed to Westerners and that many Western institutions were shaped by Muslim contributions.

The exhibition, though, wildly overdoes it. First, it creates a straw man, reviving the notion, now defunct, of the Dark Ages. Then it overstates the neglect of Muslim science, which has, to the contrary, long been cited in Western scholarship. It also expands the Golden Age of Islam to a millennium, though the bright years were once associated with just portions of the Abbasid Caliphate, which itself lasted for about 500 years, from the eighth century to 1258. The show’s inflated ambitions make it difficult to separate error from exaggeration, and implication from fact.

Consider one label: “Setting the Story Straight.” We read: “For many centuries, English medic William Harvey took the prize as the first person to work out how our blood circulates.” But “what nobody knew” was that the “heart and lungs’ role in blood flow” was figured out by Ibn al-Nafis, the 13th-century physician. And yes, al-Nafis’s impressive work on pulmonary circulation apparently fell into oblivion until 1924. But Harvey’s 17th-century work was more complete; it was a theory of the entire circulatory system. So while neglect is clear, differences should be as well.

But the exhibition even seems to expand its claim. Historians, the label continues, have recently found evidence that Ibn al-Nafis’s Arabic text “may have been translated into Latin, paving the way to suppose that it might have indirectly influenced” Harvey’s work. The “may have,” the “suppose,” the “might have” and the “indirectly” reflect an overwhelming impulse to affirm what cannot be proved.

Sometimes Muslim precedence is suggested with even vaguer assertions. We read that Ibn Sina, in the 11th century, speculated about geological formations, “ideas that were developed, perhaps independently, by geologist James Hutton in the 18th century.” Why “perhaps independently”? Is there any evidence of influence? Are the analyses comparable? How? Nothing is clear other than a vague sense of wrongful neglect.

Some assertions go well beyond the evidence. Hovering above the show is a glider grasped by a ninth-century inventor from Cordoba, Abbas ibn Firnas, “the first person to have actually tried” to fly. But that notion is based on a source that relied on ibn Firnas’s mention in a ninth-century poem. It also ignores the historian Joseph Needham’s description of Chinese attempts as early as the first century. The model of the flying machine is pure speculation.

And some claims are simply incorrect: catgut was used in surgical sutures by Galen in the second century, long before al-Zahrawi (named here as its pioneer).

 

Slide Show: 

http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2010/12/09/arts/design/20101210-museum.html?ref=design

 

The exhibition also dutifully praises the multicultural aspect of this Golden Age while actually undercutting it. Major cultures of the first millennium (China, India, Byzantium)are mentioned only to affirm the weightier significance of Muslim contributions. And though we read that people “of many faiths worked together” in the Golden Age, we don’t learn much about them.

Religious affiliation actually seems far more important here than is acknowledged, keeping some figures out and ushering others in. Christian Arab contributions go unheralded, but the 15th-century Chinese explorer Zheng He, a Muslim, is celebrated though he has no deep connection to Golden Age cultures.

And finally we never learn much about the role of Islam itself. Universities, we read, were affiliated with mosques. Did that affect scientific inquiry or the status of non-Muslim scientists? Did the religious regime have any impact on the ultimate failure of the transmission and expansion of scientific knowledge? And given the high cost of any golden age, isn’t it necessary to give some account of this civilization’s extensive slave trade?

Instead of expanding the perspective, the exhibition reduces it to caricature, showing Muslim culture rising out of a shadowy past to attain glories later misappropriated by Western epigones. Left unexplored too is how this tradition ended, leading to a long eclipse of science in Muslim lands. There is only a recurring hint of injustices done.

The paradox is that this narrative is not only questionable but also unnecessary. An exhibition about scientific achievements during the Abbasid Caliphate could be remarkable if approached with curatorial perspective. Why then, the indulgence here?

Perhaps because one tendency in the West, particularly after 9/11, has been to answer Muslim accusations of injustice (and even real attacks) with an exaggerated declaration of regard. It is guiltily offered as if in embarrassed compensation, inspired by a desire not to appear to tar Islam with the fervent claims made by its most violent adherents.

Science museums have shared that impulse. An Imax film at the Boston Museum of Science is almost a commercial travelogue about science’s future in Saudi Arabia; and the Liberty Science Center in New Jersey has presented a traveling exhibition about Muslim inventions, that, like this one, mixed fascinating information with promotional overstatement.

What is peculiar too is that the current Hall of Science show presumes a long neglect of Muslim innovations, but try finding anything comparable about Western discoveries for American students. Where is a systematic historical survey of the West’s great ideas and inventions in contemporary science museums, many of which now seem to have very different preoccupations?

In the meantime, in the interest of mutual understanding, some such show about Western science might perhaps be mounted in Riyadh or Tehran, just as this one was in London. Wouldn’t that be a tale worthy of Scheherazade? It might begin: “Take a look, if you dare.”

“1001 Inventions” is on view through April 24 at the New York Hall of Science, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens; nysci.org. It then travels to Los Angeles and Washington.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Road to ‘Ten Unknowns:’ The series on drawing concludes with an account of the creation of a theater poster.

The Road to ‘Ten Unknowns’

Opinionator - A Gathering of Opinion From Around the Web

By JAMES MCMULLAN

This is the final installment of this series.

In this last column of the series, I will show you the process of conceptual thinking, sketching, research photos, painting and lettering that led to a finished theater poster, in this case one for Jon Robin Baitz’s play “Ten Unknowns,” which was presented at Lincoln Center Theater in 2001.

Nearly all the steps in creating the poster involved drawing.

In “Ten Unknowns,” Malcolm Raphelson, the central character played by Donald Sutherland, is a figurative artist who had a period of New York success in the late 1940s, just before the rise of Abstract Expressionism as the dominant painting style.

As the play begins, it is now the 1990s, and Malcolm has retreated to a remote Mexican town, dispirited and contemptuous of the current art world. His art dealer, trying to encourage him to exhibit again, has sent him a young man to assist him in his work. Crassly oversimplifying a plot that has two other characters and many dramatic interweaving tensions, the central crux of the story is that Malcolm is in a state of deep creative anxiety, so incapacitating, questions arise regarding recent paintings in the studio. Did Malcolm actually paint the pictures? Or are they the work of the young assistant?

Although this mystery involving the paintings and the relationship between the assistant and Malcolm was intriguing, I felt it was too complicated to represent visually, so I chose to use the more fundamental dilemma of the artist facing painter’s block as the conceptual theme of my poster.

The idea of facing an imaginative void made me think about an actual void, the empty canvas, or an empty sheet of paper, and how that moment of beginning is loaded with possibility and fear. In these first sketches, I am playing with a straightforward depiction of the artist facing the blank canvas, an artist becoming a canvas, an artist painting in the wrong direction and an artist seen through a transparent canvas.

Any of these ideas might, with some inspired painting, have been turned into a poster, yet none felt right. There’s a theory about writing that applies — that, when you reach a serious sticking point, the key to moving on successfully is to throw out the element that you had been hanging on to because it is your favorite thing. My favorite thing here had been the canvas, and in a moment of clarity I realized that if I got rid of the canvas I’d be left with an empty easel, a much more powerful and poignant way of expressing the painter’s sense of creative emptiness.

Besides, an easel might become a kind of skeletal structure that the painter could hold onto in some emotionally charged way and through which we could see him — as though looking at a man through prison bars.

This small pencil sketch gave me the basic idea. Now, I had to create a real ambience for the elements in the image and had to make some decisions about the figure himself. Heat, light and a certain mood of exhaustion were in my head as I started my color sketch. I imagined the painter hanging onto the easel almost as though he needed it for support. He would be bare-chested to emphasize the tropical heat of the Mexican locale and also to suggest his state of vulnerability. I imagined the light flooding in from an open door behind this tableau of artist and easel.

As the little painting developed, I made the easel quite dark as a kind of anchor for the whole image and as a strong centered shape through which we see the artist posed slightly off-center and with his face partly obscured. I made the edges of the doorway soft and indeterminate to give more sense of the light pouring in and also to let the hard shape of the easel dominate. I added a canvas leaning on the floor and a table with art supplies. I decided on very straightforward lettering that slightly disappeared as the letters crossed into the darker areas, perhaps suggesting the idea of the “unknown.”

I was satisfied enough with this sketch to show it to Bernard Gersten, the executive producer of Lincoln Center Theater, and he and his creative team agreed that the concept worked and that I should proceed with the finished art.

Because I work on the poster many weeks before play rehearsals start, the actors are often not available for me to photograph as research. Pre-existing photographs of the actors or head shots are useless to me since my images depend entirely on the nuances of the gesture I am imagining, so I don’t do portraits of actors unless I can photograph them myself. Lincoln Center Theater is usually satisfied to have the character in the poster portrayed as a type rather than a specific actor, so I went ahead and persuaded a good friend, Mirko Ilic, to pose as the painter. He is considerably younger than both the character in the play and Donald Sutherland, but I was fairly sure that Mirko could give me the information I needed for my painting.

I did five fairly elaborate paintings, partly because the light effect in the background wash had to be done quickly and didn’t turn out quite right, or the figure became overworked. But I also kept painting because the image really intrigued me and I wanted to do it again and again to see what else would happen. Below are two of these preliminary paintings, one in which the figure looks too young and one in which I went overboard with the wrinkles.

Finally, I produced a version I liked. It had the sense of light I wanted and the figure looked haggard yet interesting in the right way. I did lettering that was not quite as simple as my original sketch but that suited the density of this particular painting. I sent it over to the theater.

By this time, however, I had used up four weeks and the play was in rehearsal, so the reaction to my art became colored by the fact that the star was on the premises. For the producers, it was now paramount that my poster show a likeness of Donald Sutherland. Whatever disappointment I felt about my art being rejected was balanced by the great opportunity of photographing Sutherland and then making a poster out of those shots.

I took the easel over to the theater and showed Sutherland my sketch. He said that he understood my idea and would give me a couple of variations. His variations were so full of a great actor’s physical imagination and sense of what his face and body could project that I knew, watching his changes through my camera’s viewfinder, that he was giving me the basis for a whole new kind of image. In place of the somewhat generalized melancholy of the figure in my sketch he was giving me a specific man, a heroic figure saddened by circumstance.

As I did the sketch on the left, I became convinced that it wasn’t the pose I should use — Sutherland seemed almost too concealed by the easel. In the right-hand sketch, parts of his figure emerge in an intriguing way from behind the easel and the angles of his arms contrast with the straightness of the easel frame. The composition needed an element in the foreground, so I added the corner of a table and a can of brushes. Also in this sketch, I conceived the beginnings of my idea for the type, which was to play the lettering against and around the easel.

In this study I am still hanging on to the background idea and the general color mood from my previous sketches, but allowing the easel to touch the top edge of the poster rectangle gave me the idea of a tighter, flatter composition that would be much more designed to its borders. Also, because the easel is lighter here, I saw how interesting the shape of the black pants became. Even though the effect of this watercolor is too gloomy and graphically too even-toned, it was a necessary step in moving me from the first idea of the poster into the possibilities that the Donald Sutherland photographs had opened up.

There was a big jump in my thinking at this point. I realized that the light atmosphere that I had hung onto through all the previous versions was wrong for the information in the new photos. This insight led me to make the basic drawing in a flatter way, forgoing a deeper sense of depth and playing all the shapes as a pattern within the border rectangle. I then painted a simple orange background fading at the bottom to a darker hue. Now there was no suggestion of a door or light coming from behind.

At this point I saw that leaving the shirt white was a dramatic graphic element. The white shirt and the orange background set up a brighter, higher color key and led me to make the easel much more subtle and to allow the contrasts of the shirt, the pants and the skin tones to dominate the image.

I wasn’t bound by the things I had learned from the earlier sketches — this felt like a piece of art that was making its own rules. It was one of those happy experiences where I made the painting in a state of complete focus and in the space of three or four hours. I designed the lettering to continue the game of playing elements against the border and against edges within the composition. When I was finished, I was fairly sure I had created the piece of art that would become the printed poster, and, fortunately, everyone at Lincoln Center Theater agreed.

The emotional center of the poster was now the face of the painter, because the photographs of Donald Sutherland had given me an intensity and a specificity to work with that was far beyond any way I could have imagined the figure or achieved from using a stand-in.

This column brings to a close this 12-part series. It has been absorbing for me and a great pleasure to write these columns, and to revisit aspects of drawing I haven’t thought about analytically for some time and to find new ways to articulate my deep interest in drawing the human figure. I am grateful to all of you who have followed the series. To those of you who have taken the time to have written comments in response to the columns, you have made it incredibly interesting and rewarding for me. Thank you, all.

The Physicist Did It! (or why I love Tuesday’s NYTimes Science section)

When Danish and Czech scientists exhumed the remains of the astronomer Tycho Brahe in Prague this month, they dug up much more than some bones and hairs. They found something that has eluded astronomers for thousands of years: a story with major box-office potential.

It’s “Amadeus” meets “Da Vinci Code” meets “Hamlet,” featuring a deadly struggle for the secret of the universe between Tycho, the swashbuckling Danish nobleman with a gold-and-silver prosthetic nose, and the not-yet-famous Johannes Kepler, his frail, jealous German assistant. The story also includes an international hit man, hired after a Danish prince becomes king and suspects Brahe of sleeping with his mother (and maybe being his father!).

For comic relief, there’s a beer-drinking pet elk wandering around Tycho’s castle, as well as a jester named Jepp, a dwarf who sits under Tycho’s table and is believed to be clairvoyant.

Naturally, the scientists analyzing Brahe’s remains are steering clear of all this gossip, including the claim that Brahe had an affair with the Danish queen that helped inspire “Hamlet.” The archaeologist leading the team cautions that even if they confirm suspicions that Brahe was poisoned by mercury, that wouldn’t necessarily prove he was murdered, much less identify the killer.

Typical scientists. Fortunately for Tycho and Kepler, Hollywood has never let a lack of data get in the way of a plot. There’s no evidence that Antonio Salieri poisoned Mozart, and look what the movie “Amadeus” did for their album sales. The only difficulty for a screenwriter would be choosing an assassin from the competing candidates (and deciding between scholars’ Latin pronunciation of “Tee-ko” or the “Tye-ko” popularly applied to the lunar crater named after him). The movie would open, of course, with the duel in 1566 that cost the 20-year-old Tycho a good chunk of his nose (a sword fight possibly precipitated by an argument over mathematics, or maybe a mistaken astrological prediction by Tycho). Before long Tycho has a metal nose as well as an island with a castle and an observatory, financed by the king of Denmark and equipped with the most precise instruments yet built for tracking the planets and stars.

Tycho wins renown by identifying new stars, including a supernova, but after his royal patron dies, Tycho finds himself out of favor with the son and successor, Christian IV. Tycho goes to Prague and a new patron, Rudolf II, the Holy Roman Emperor. As he prepares to publish his decades of celestial observations, Tycho hopes to prove that all the planets except Earth revolve around the Sun, which in turn revolves around the Earth.

To help with the calculations, he brings in Kepler, a 28-year-old with his own weird model of the universe. Kepler, a devout Lutheran as well as a Copernican, believes that God created cosmic “harmony” by arranging the planets’ orbits around the Sun so that they’re spaced at distances corresponding to certain geometrical figures (the five “Platonic solids”). Tycho introduces Kepler to the emperor and lobbies for his appointment as imperial mathematician. But before Kepler’s appointment is formalized, Tycho suddenly becomes terribly ill after a banquet and dies 11 days later, at the age of 54.

What killed him? At the time of Tycho’s death, in 1601, the blame fell on his failure to relieve himself while drinking profusely at the banquet, supposedly injuring his bladder and making him unable to urinate. (Danes still sometimes invoke Tycho when they explain their need to excuse themselves during a meal.) Later medical experts discounted that and said some kind of kidney problem was more likely.

But then, in the 1990s, some hairs from Tycho were separately analyzed. Researchers reported elevated levels of mercury, including one brief high dose that was absorbed within 10 minutes during the final 24 hours of his life.

Those findings inspired “Heavenly Intrigue: Johannes Kepler, Tycho Brahe, and the Murder Behind One of History’s Greatest Scientific Discoveries,” a 2004 book by a pair of married journalists, Joshua Gilder and Anne-Lee Gilder. They argue that the evidence from the hairs points to two incidents of mercury poisoning, one at the time of the banquet and the other just before death, and that Kepler is the prime suspect because he had the means, the motive and the opportunity.

As an assistant living at Tycho’s home, Kepler had access to toxic mercury compounds in Tycho’s alchemical lab and could have poisoned him at the time of the banquet, the Gilders write. When Tycho began to recover 10 days later, they reason, Kepler could have administered a second dose because he was one of the few people at the home who saw Tycho the evening before his death.

A devoutly religious scholar may not sound like a good candidate for murderer, but the Gilders argue that Kepler was an unhappy, temperamental zealot. In an astrological self-analysis, he described his “eagerness for trickery” and his plots against his “enemies,” and said he was under the influence of Mars’s “rage-provoking force.” In his furious arguments with Tycho, he called himself an “uncontrollable spirit” and once told a friend that he felt like attacking Tycho with a sword.

Kepler resented Tycho’s higher status and, above all, his refusal to allow access to the full log of observations, including the records of Mars’s movements that Kepler considered essential to demonstrate the validity of his own model of the universe. Kepler tried several schemes to see Tycho’s data — to sneakily “wrest his riches away,” as Kepler put it — but Tycho resisted and forced Kepler to keep working on calculations aimed at supporting the Tychonic cosmology.When Danish and Czech scientists exhumed the remains of the astronomer Tycho Brahe in Prague this month, they dug up much more than some bones and hairs. They found something that has eluded astronomers for thousands of years: a story with major box-office potential.

It’s “Amadeus” meets “Da Vinci Code” meets “Hamlet,” featuring a deadly struggle for the secret of the universe between Tycho, the swashbuckling Danish nobleman with a gold-and-silver prosthetic nose, and the not-yet-famous Johannes Kepler, his frail, jealous German assistant. The story also includes an international hit man, hired after a Danish prince becomes king and suspects Brahe of sleeping with his mother (and maybe being his father!).

For comic relief, there’s a beer-drinking pet elk wandering around Tycho’s castle, as well as a jester named Jepp, a dwarf who sits under Tycho’s table and is believed to be clairvoyant.

Naturally, the scientists analyzing Brahe’s remains are steering clear of all this gossip, including the claim that Brahe had an affair with the Danish queen that helped inspire “Hamlet.” The archaeologist leading the team cautions that even if they confirm suspicions that Brahe was poisoned by mercury, that wouldn’t necessarily prove he was murdered, much less identify the killer.

Typical scientists. Fortunately for Tycho and Kepler, Hollywood has never let a lack of data get in the way of a plot. There’s no evidence that Antonio Salieri poisoned Mozart, and look what the movie “Amadeus” did for their album sales. The only difficulty for a screenwriter would be choosing an assassin from the competing candidates (and deciding between scholars’ Latin pronunciation of “Tee-ko” or the “Tye-ko” popularly applied to the lunar crater named after him). The movie would open, of course, with the duel in 1566 that cost the 20-year-old Tycho a good chunk of his nose (a sword fight possibly precipitated by an argument over mathematics, or maybe a mistaken astrological prediction by Tycho). Before long Tycho has a metal nose as well as an island with a castle and an observatory, financed by the king of Denmark and equipped with the most precise instruments yet built for tracking the planets and stars.

Tycho wins renown by identifying new stars, including a supernova, but after his royal patron dies, Tycho finds himself out of favor with the son and successor, Christian IV. Tycho goes to Prague and a new patron, Rudolf II, the Holy Roman Emperor. As he prepares to publish his decades of celestial observations, Tycho hopes to prove that all the planets except Earth revolve around the Sun, which in turn revolves around the Earth.

To help with the calculations, he brings in Kepler, a 28-year-old with his own weird model of the universe. Kepler, a devout Lutheran as well as a Copernican, believes that God created cosmic “harmony” by arranging the planets’ orbits around the Sun so that they’re spaced at distances corresponding to certain geometrical figures (the five “Platonic solids”). Tycho introduces Kepler to the emperor and lobbies for his appointment as imperial mathematician. But before Kepler’s appointment is formalized, Tycho suddenly becomes terribly ill after a banquet and dies 11 days later, at the age of 54.

What killed him? At the time of Tycho’s death, in 1601, the blame fell on his failure to relieve himself while drinking profusely at the banquet, supposedly injuring his bladder and making him unable to urinate. (Danes still sometimes invoke Tycho when they explain their need to excuse themselves during a meal.) Later medical experts discounted that and said some kind of kidney problem was more likely.

But then, in the 1990s, some hairs from Tycho were separately analyzed. Researchers reported elevated levels of mercury, including one brief high dose that was absorbed within 10 minutes during the final 24 hours of his life.

Those findings inspired “Heavenly Intrigue: Johannes Kepler, Tycho Brahe, and the Murder Behind One of History’s Greatest Scientific Discoveries,” a 2004 book by a pair of married journalists, Joshua Gilder and Anne-Lee Gilder. They argue that the evidence from the hairs points to two incidents of mercury poisoning, one at the time of the banquet and the other just before death, and that Kepler is the prime suspect because he had the means, the motive and the opportunity.

As an assistant living at Tycho’s home, Kepler had access to toxic mercury compounds in Tycho’s alchemical lab and could have poisoned him at the time of the banquet, the Gilders write. When Tycho began to recover 10 days later, they reason, Kepler could have administered a second dose because he was one of the few people at the home who saw Tycho the evening before his death.

A devoutly religious scholar may not sound like a good candidate for murderer, but the Gilders argue that Kepler was an unhappy, temperamental zealot. In an astrological self-analysis, he described his “eagerness for trickery” and his plots against his “enemies,” and said he was under the influence of Mars’s “rage-provoking force.” In his furious arguments with Tycho, he called himself an “uncontrollable spirit” and once told a friend that he felt like attacking Tycho with a sword.

Kepler resented Tycho’s higher status and, above all, his refusal to allow access to the full log of observations, including the records of Mars’s movements that Kepler considered essential to demonstrate the validity of his own model of the universe. Kepler tried several schemes to see Tycho’s data — to sneakily “wrest his riches away,” as Kepler put it — but Tycho resisted and forced Kepler to keep working on calculations aimed at supporting the Tychonic cosmology.

“Kepler’s ambition was to prove his vision of the divine architecture of God’s universe,” Mr. Gilder says in an interview. “Every time he feels Tycho is getting in the way, he blows up at him. Is it plausible that Kepler would kill for a vision? I look around the world and see it happening all the time. Kepler had felt himself despised and outcast his whole life. This would make him famous.”

The Gilders’ theory doesn’t sound so plausible to Owen Gingerich, an expert on Kepler who is an emeritus professor of astronomy at Harvard. “The single biggest problem with the theory,” Dr. Gingerich says, “is that at this point Tycho was very actively lobbying with the Emperor Rudolf to appoint Kepler the imperial mathematician. The appointment was in the final stages of the negotiation. It would have been very dangerous for Kepler to bump off his chief sponsor for the job.”

Nonetheless, things ultimately worked out quite nicely for Kepler because after Brahe’s death he still got the job — and the data. Even though Tycho bequeathed the observatory’s logs to his family, Kepler grabbed them first and held on to the crucial Mars records until he and the heirs and the emperor worked out an arrangement allowing him to finish the project of publishing the observations.

Kepler never managed to prove his divine-architecture model, but he made his name anyway, thanks to the records and his own hunch that the Sun exerted some kind of pull on the planets. Using Tycho’s data, he formulated his famous three laws of planetary motion and discovered that the planets traveled around the Sun in elliptical, not circular, orbits. If he did commit a crime, it certainly paid.

The other murder suspect is Eric Brahe, a Swedish relative of Tycho’s who was staying at his home. Eric attended the fateful banquet, and his diary contains incriminating entries alluding to his role in the poisoning, says Peter Andersen, a professor of literature at the University of Strasbourg in France. He argues that Eric was hard up for money and was hired for the hit by the new Danish king, Christian IV.

Professor Andersen has several hypotheses explaining the king’s animus. One is that a royal science adviser was a Copernican feuding against Tycho. A more cinematic — and Oedipal — hypothesis is that Tycho may have been secretly consorting with Christian’s mother, Queen Sophie, and may have been Christian’s father. Professor Andersen argues that the rumors about Tycho’s royal affair contributed to Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”

Professor Andersen is requesting that the current Danish royal family allow Christian’s body to be exhumed so that his DNA can be compared with Tycho’s, but don’t expect any immediate results. It took Jens Vellev, the archaeologist at Aarhus University in Denmark who is leading the project, nearly a decade to get permission to exhume Tycho’s body.

Professor Vellev suspects that if Tycho was poisoned by mercury, it was from an accidental ingestion in his laboratory or from a medicine administered to treat his urinary problems. That suspicion is shared by Lawrence Principe, a historian of science at Johns Hopkins University who is an expert in alchemy. He says it’s rash to accuse anyone of murder without direct evidence — and maybe it is, to academics and prosecutors.

But not, of course, to Hollywood producers. They’d have no qualms about accusing bothmen (maybe Eric gives the first dose at the banquet, and then Kepler delivers the second one). The producers’ chief concern, when they pitched the project, would be dealing with the response from a typical studio executive:

“Look, you’ve got some interesting elements to work with here. I love the royal sex and the poison and the duel — could we call him Goldnose? The clairvoyant jester is a nice device. And I totally get the Tycho-Kepler conflict — high-living nobleman versus tormented commoner. But … do they have to be astronomers?”

Getting Back to Drawing from James Mc Mullan, Opinionator, NYT

Opinionator - A Gathering of Opinion From Around the Web
November 18, 2010, 9:00 PM

The Chain of Energy

In order to observe the nuances of movement in musculature, we will study the nude body. It will give you the foundation for better understanding the clothed figure.

(Note: Because the approach I am introducing you to entails a big change of thinking — a reach for the life force rather than just the surface shadows in drawing the figure — I will present the subject in two columns. In this, the first column, I will explain and demonstrate what one could call the goal of drawing the figure, and in the next I will give you strategies for approaching the goal from different directions. This may seem counter-intuitive, since I am giving you the “steps” last, but because the central idea of this approach is so necessary to all practice of it, the leading-up exercises would mean nothing if you didn’t know where you were headed.)

The body, as we know, is a miraculous system of bones, muscles, blood and nerves, and it is possible to study it in purely anatomical terms. We can follow Da Vinci’s example and learn as much about the body as any medical student, and it might serve us well as artists, but most of us don’t have the inclination for this scientific kind of study nor the stomach for dissection.
 
We should, of course, have a general grasp of the major bones in the skeleton and the big muscle groups as a basis for drawing the figure. But knowledge of anatomy can take us artists only so far, because studying anatomical illustrations gives us a static view of the body that is difficult to impose on the actual gesture of any model we see before us.

Fortunately, the body, moving as it does in life, tells us a story that we can learn to read. Because the body is a cooperative totality — every part is engaged, to one degree or another, with any movement that is initiated — we can read this rhythmic dialogue that courses through from the feet to the head and out to the fingertips. It is a chain of energy. We learn to read it by looking at the figure in a more total and empathic way.

Instead of concentrating on details and accumulating our drawing bit by bit, measuring each part as though it were an equal component to every other part, we see in each particular pose that the energy is being used and controlled in a way that is specific to that pose. We can find points of pressure or relationships that make the model’s movement come alive for us; each of those points or relationships can become a “big idea” that helps us find a place to start and a theme to pursue as we continue to draw.

Once you tune into this story that the body tells, it will seem like one of those Aha! moments where you say to yourself, “Why didn’t I see this before?” Yet getting to that moment is often difficult. Most people have to discard an approach to the figure where they make a “picture” of the model that depends mostly on setting up edges and shading in the interior forms.

The change in thinking that achieves liveliness in drawing involves recognizing that the forces that animate the body are widespread. We have to be prepared to see the pressure in a hip, for instance, being echoed and continued in the pressure on the opposite side of the rib cage and on to the pressure in the opposite side of the neck. It is a much more spatial way of seeing the body than the “containment” method that many artists use. Instead of locking down the forms of the body, the approach I am introducing celebrates how much the forms are moving back and forth in space, and implying, in the moment after our drawing is finished, that the model will move again.

In the video that follows, you will see me draw a model in two poses and analyze my thinking as I go along. I hope it will introduce you to these ideas about drawing the figure in a way that is clearer than a series of still drawings.

 

 

I include here some drawings I have done using color in a non-naturalistic way to intuitively register my response to the changes of pressure and direction of forms in the poses I am observing. I hope they will help you to see the possibilities of concentrating on the energy of the figure as the objective of drawing.

In the next column, I will give you exercises that will help you achieve more vitality in your drawings of the figure.

 

Permalink

 

Untitled

i LOVE this picture.

 

Cropped from the New York Times online at 12:34 a.m. on November 24, 2010:

Happy Birthday, 35!: A snapshot story of the burden of having very curly hair, which excerpts from Crystal Valsquez and Jen Rodriguez (with cartoons)!.

Happy Birthday, 35!: A snapshot story of the burden of having very curly hair,  which excerpts from Crystal Valsquez and Jen Rodriguez (with cartoons)!.  

Borrowed from yourlifebutbetter.blogspot.com ; a better place to be spending your time, frankly…

Happy Birthday to Me

So yesterday yours truly turned 35. What? you’re thinking. Impossible! You look so very, very young! (Even if you’re not thinking that, it’s what I choose to imagine you’re thinking.) But it’s true. I am now ten years past the age that, as a 10-year-old, I thought of as ancient. I think because I was going to turn 25 in the year 2000, which seemed highly futuristic and space age at the time, I equated that age with being super old.

Well, of course I no longer think that. I now know that 35 is when you turn super old.

Just kidding! Aside from the facts that I’ve started sprouting a stray gray hair here and there, my knees aren’t what they used to be, and I can no longer eat whatever I want without gaining (mumble mumble) pounds, I still pretty much feel like I did in high school. I’m still just as into music and books, I still get celebrity crushes, and I still find most of the same things funny as I did back then.

To that end, I thought I’d devote this blog to something that made me laugh recently–and it has to do with a subject I’ve been dealing with since I was a kid and likely always will: my hair. The battle against my poofy, frizzy, hard to tame curls, to be specific. I know those of you who have straight hair will say that I’m crazy to have ever wanted anything other than my big, wild ringlets. I’d kill for curly hair! I can practically hear some of you shouting. But that’s only because you never wet your hair in the morning and brushed it straight, sure it would stay that way, then went off to school, feeling divine, only to have it dry and become an enormous bush, making me look like I was walking around with a giant bird’s nest on my head. Not cute at all. Don’t get me wrong. I have love for my curls now that I have learned how to manage them. But back then, I didn’t have a clue.

Anyway, my coworker, Jen Rodriguez, feels my pain. She, too, had dealt with the horror of the crazy curls–pre-mousse and blow dryers. A former art major, she recently drew this cartoon, explaining the trauma to a friend of hers, and it made me laugh out loud. For all you curly-haired girls (and boys) out there, I hope it’ll make you laugh too. (If you can’t read the writing, I’ve written the words at the very bottom.)

My Hair Saga (by Jen Rodriguez)

I like to get my hair “blown out.” 

A good blowout makes me feel like…

MARY TYLER MOORE!

But blowouts are a lot of work if you attempt them yourself, on yourself, especially if you have as much hair as I do. 

After washing my hair, I am tempted to let it air dry. When it is mostly wet, it looks pretty cute. 

   Jen: Curly hair is not so bad. Why am I always trying to beat it into submission?

And I fool myself–yet again–into thinking it’s going to look just GREAT. 

   Jen: It’ll look CLASSIC! I will look like Hedy Lamarr! (Yes, Hedy Lamarr’s face is included in this fantasy scenario.)

But THEN–my hair FULLY DRIES. And I see it in the mirror. (Width of hair on each side = width of face)

It’s “classic” all right! Think “Baroque.” Think Diego Velasquez’s “Infantas.” (If you hear chirping that will be the family of birds living in my hair.) 

   Jen: I think I found my Halloween costume!
   Jen’s twin sister: Aren’t you a little long in the tooth to be called “infanta” anything?
   Jen: Shut up and get me a hair dryer and a round brush!

check it out.

Untitled

Happy Birthday to Me

So yesterday yours truly turned 35. What? you’re thinking. Impossible! You look so very, very young! (Even if you’re not thinking that, it’s what I choose to imagine you’re thinking.) But it’s true. I am now ten years past the age that, as a 10-year-old, I thought of as ancient. I think because I was going to turn 25 in the year 2000, which seemed highly futuristic and space age at the time, I equated that age with being super old.

Well, of course I no longer think that. I now know that 35 is when you turn super old.

Just kidding! Aside from the facts that I’ve started sprouting a stray gray hair here and there, my knees aren’t what they used to be, and I can no longer eat whatever I want without gaining (mumble mumble) pounds, I still pretty much feel like I did in high school. I’m still just as into music and books, I still get celebrity crushes, and I still find most of the same things funny as I did back then.

To that end, I thought I’d devote this blog to something that made me laugh recently–and it has to do with a subject I’ve been dealing with since I was a kid and likely always will: my hair. The battle against my poofy, frizzy, hard to tame curls, to be specific. I know those of you who have straight hair will say that I’m crazy to have ever wanted anything other than my big, wild ringlets. I’d kill for curly hair! I can practically hear some of you shouting. But that’s only because you never wet your hair in the morning and brushed it straight, sure it would stay that way, then went off to school, feeling divine, only to have it dry and become an enormous bush, making me look like I was walking around with a giant bird’s nest on my head. Not cute at all. Don’t get me wrong. I have love for my curls now that I have learned how to manage them. But back then, I didn’t have a clue.

Anyway, my coworker, Jen Rodriguez, feels my pain. She, too, had dealt with the horror of the crazy curls–pre-mousse and blow dryers. A former art major, she recently drew this cartoon, explaining the trauma to a friend of hers, and it made me laugh out loud. For all you curly-haired girls (and boys) out there, I hope it’ll make you laugh too. (If you can’t read the writing, I’ve written the words at the very bottom.)

My Hair Saga (by Jen Rodriguez)

I like to get my hair “blown out.” 

A good blowout makes me feel like…

MARY TYLER MOORE!

But blowouts are a lot of work if you attempt them yourself, on yourself, especially if you have as much hair as I do. 

After washing my hair, I am tempted to let it air dry. When it is mostly wet, it looks pretty cute. 

   Jen: Curly hair is not so bad. Why am I always trying to beat it into submission?

And I fool myself–yet again–into thinking it’s going to look just GREAT. 

   Jen: It’ll look CLASSIC! I will look like Hedy Lamarr! (Yes, Hedy Lamarr’s face is included in this fantasy scenario.)

But THEN–my hair FULLY DRIES. And I see it in the mirror. (Width of hair on each side = width of face)

It’s “classic” all right! Think “Baroque.” Think Diego Velasquez’s “Infantas.” (If you hear chirping that will be the family of birds living in my hair.) 

   Jen: I think I found my Halloween costume!
   Jen’s twin sister: Aren’t you a little long in the tooth to be called “infanta” anything?
   Jen: Shut up and get me a hair dryer and a round brush!

check it out.

Happy Eid ul Adha, Baghdad!

I’m with R. L. Stine: 50 Reasons to Be Pretty Damn Euphoric You Live in New York City (Village Voice, Wed., Nov. 3, 2010)

Incidentally, whenever I travel in the world and inevitably get asked about inane American foreign and domestic policies, I tell people “I don’t really know.  I love in New York City, not in the US.”

 

Sometimes life seems hard here — the crowds, the expense, the 24-hour-living-and-working lifestyle…But then there are days, like yesterday, when we’re ever so glad we live in New York City. Like when much of the rest of the nation goes a reddish color of Tea Party, and we stick to coffee and stay (largely) blue. Like when Andrew Cuomo wins against Carl Paladino. And like when the Aeropostale at Times Square institutes an “AERO Dance Cam” to keep the young folks away from the East Village on weekends and allow us to mock them via the Internet…

As R.L. Stine put it last night,

Screen shot 2010-11-03 at 12.29.13 PM.png

Amen. Here are 50 other reasons to be blissfully happy that you live in New York City today — and every day — that you live here. May it be a very long time. Unless you want to leave, in which case, get the fuck out, and can we have your apartment?

50. Sending your laundry out for someone else to wash and dry it is not only convenient, it’s just good business. Especially since you will probably never own a washer and dryer. Which means you never have to feel guilty about not doing your own laundry. Next.

49. Drinking coffee four times a day, every day, isn’t the exception, it’s the rule.

48. The secret Chick Fil-A at the NYU dining hall.

47. There is always someone crazier than you. ALWAYS.

46. The view from the Brooklyn Bridge.

45. The view of the Brooklyn Bridge.

44. The epic feeling you get running to catch a train and succeeding…just before the doors close.

43. Bored to Death30 RockSNL. And a million other things that film here and we love. RIP Law and Order.

42. Manhattan-Brooklyn/Brooklyn-Manhattan wars never cease to entertain. Nor do hipster-Hasid wars. Or hipsters in general.

41. We get the inside jokes. Because, actually, we made them up in the first place.

40. That horrified look on our parents’ friends’ faces when we tell them we live in “Hell’s Kitchen.”

39. Sure, we work out next to Alec Baldwin, Padma Lakshmi, and Bridget Moynahan, and walk the streets with Willem Dafoe, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Tina Fey, but, really, we’re kinda too busy with our own lives to notice.

38. Drinking is like breathing. Or slightly more acceptable.

37. Because it’s not enough to just love New York. New York needs to love you back, too. Hey, we have high standards.

36. Whatever you need, whenever you need it, there is someone who will bring it to you for a price, which may or may not be negotiable. (Or legal.)

35. By the time the rest of the nation has bedbugs, we’ll have figured out how to get rid of them. In the meantime, we’ll mock them by dressing our dogs up as bedbugs for Halloween. Laugh in the face of fear, New Yorker!

34. There are almost 200 bars in the East Village alone.

33. There’s no shortage of stupid rich people to make fun of.

32. The endless delights of the New York Post.

31. You don’t even need a passport, or a license, to partake in goat-eyeball tacos.

30. The fact that one-bedroom apartments cost an average minimum of a half-million dollars means we think nothing of spending $12 on lunch.

29. Restaurants are as common as single men and women. And equally diverse. And you never have to see either of them again after the initial awkward encounter.

28. The omnipresent opportunity to Gaga-ify yourself. And the chance that it will seem, just, normal.

27. Runnin’ Scared lives here! (And so does the Village Voice.)

26. Smart people are the norm, not the exception. (Which doesn’t mean they’re sane, but at least no one’s boring.)

25. Except in select ‘hoods like Park Slope and perhaps the Upper West Side, children are viewed as mysterious beings, rarely sighted and only occasionally understood, like pixies or magical small butlers. Until they scream, in which case, they are banished from the palace.

24. When you fly back into the city after a vacation or business trip, no matter how long you’ve lived here, you get that butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling.

23. Efficiency in a drugstore checkout line.

22. How easy it is to find doughnuts, pizza, Chinese food, or any other snack your drunken self desires at 4 a.m. Or to continue to drink. Responsibly!

21. Broadway. Museums. CULTCH-AH. Even if you never actually go to see anything (though you should, at least once).

20. Yelling “fuck” is just a mild obscenity.

19. There’s no shame in sticking your fingers in your ears like an anal weirdo when an ambulance goes by screeching.

18. Summer concerts at the Williamsburg Waterfront.

17. So many Missed Connections, so little time.

16. Other places have dog and cat people. We have ferret people.

15. The splendor of the Union Square Greenmarket.

14. A bagel with cream cheese and lox from Russ and Daughters.

13. There is an insane Korean day spa (Spa Castle) waiting for you in Flushing. AndRussian and Turkish baths in the East Village.

12. One of our bars has 100-year-old urinals.

11. Complain about the MTA, but you can get anywhere in the city for just $2.25. Or $2.50 single ride, come 2011. Still pretty damn cheap.

10. Subway rage. Bike-lane rage. Walking rage. Random rage. These are our therapy. Although we all go to therapy, too. No judgments! We bitch, therefore we are.

9. Jaywalking is an art form.

8. The free Ikea ferry to Red Hook on weekends! Plus, Red Hook in general. Can you say“Lobster pound”?

7. Subway “prewalking,” in which you walk to the exact right spot on the platform to board the train car that will save you the most time upon exit, exists and has a name. Gotta respect.

6. You can be alone, but never feel lonely. And vice versa. But if you die and aren’t found until a year later, you won’t be the first.

5. We are, as a group, anti-fanny-pack as much as we are pro-gay-marriage. Hetero marriage, on the other hand, we can pretty much take or leave.

4. 35 is the new 26. Or is it 45? Whatever, age ain’t nuthin’ but a number, and as long as you’re younger than your IQ score, no harm, no foul.

3. Finding your “local” is that much better here.

2. There is absolutely no reason to ever drink and drive. Added bonus: Spontaneous, fascinating conversations with cab drivers.

1. If you can make it here, you really can make it anywhere. But why would you bother to go anywhere else?

Let us know what we missed.

Boba’s Invoice




Boba’s Invoice

Originally uploaded by Laser Bread

I was wondering where the line item for Carbonite was, but then I realized the Empire would have footed the bill for that one.


truth

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

truth

Upon common theatres, indeed, the applause of the audience is of more importance to the actors than their own approbation. But upon the stage of life, while conscience claps, let the world hiss! On the contrary if conscience disapproves, the loudest applauses of the world are of little value - john adams
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from the man who taught me everything:

“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind.”

bygones