Brain Pickings Redux: Best of 2009
A year’s worth of ideas, inspiration and innovation from culture’s collective brain.
By Maria Popova
It’s been a colorful and fascinating year here at Brain Pickings. (And if we’ve managed to put some color and fascination into yours, consider supporting us with a small sum of green.) Here’s a look back at some of the things that tickled our — and your — brains the most.
Getting objectified turned out to be a very good thing. The story of stuff burst some serious bubbles in our consumerist fairy tale. Fans saved an iconic photography magazine from a sad demise. Seven of the world’s best 3D animators had fun with one big bunny.
We saw some inspired innovation in orchestras, bike culture, libraries, sustainable agriculture, and bookshelf design. The Smithsonian gave us a century of illustrated letters.
We live-blogged TED and TEDGlobal, with lots of photos, then launched a TED tribute project of our own.
We found some phenomenally creative reinterpretations of vinyl, cardboard, and paper, and the toilet paper roll.
We uncovered the art of the cover and learned some priceless design lessons from the past. We saw three creative meditations on the art of identity. The New York Times fueled our data visualization fetish with the Times Open effort. We saw what the world eats and how it would look if it were a village of 100 people. We went on a hunt for the origins of happiness.
The Little Red Riding Hood met Röyksopp, David Lynch met Moby, and jazz history met 3D shadow art in some of the year’s most brilliant animation.
We found some great, great, great, great, great illustrators and wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful photographers.
We proved you aren’t nearly as unique as you think and found an infinite photograph. Five environmental films challenged our relationship with Earth. We took a ride on a photographic time machine. Chris Jordan exposed the chilling reality of overfishing and pollution in yet another remarkable series of photographic visualizations.
We read some fascinating books about the power of attention, iconic illustrator Charley Harper, the granddaddy of the graphic novel, design as a tool for social change, some wonderfully strange maps, mixtapes from exes, a magical jazz loft, and the art from the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Jack Kerouac’s iconic status was reaffirmed in some brilliant literary visualizations and a cinematic journey starring some of his biggest contemporaries.
Darwin turned 200 and some fine indie musicians got together in his farmhouse to put together a (r)evolutionary record. A vintage praxinoscope from 1877 produced a brilliant lo-fi animation and an interactive music video redefined the relationship between the auditory and the visual.
Revolutionary platforms empowered creators by matching them with grants and offering crowdsourced microfunding for projects. Copyright law took one in the tenders from remix culture. The Internet got mapped.
A grassroots philanthropy project set out to send more girls in India, South East Asia and Nepal to school. A Taiwanese soap commercial proved advertising doesn’t have to be that much different from art. Director duo Terri Timely made some serious waves with Synesthesia. We undertook an original, first-hand investigation of the typography of the San Francisco MoMA. A documentary about street art dissected the cultural anthropology of urban creativity. Designers took on disability and we got up, close and personal with the human face.
We looked at the cross-pollination of disciplines with some fantastic biology-inspired art. Isabella Rosellinni delivered an equally quirky third helping of green porno.
Brain Pickings darling Jonathan Harris co-founded an observatory for the study of contemporary culture, shared some keen modern philosophy about digital culture, and published a visual almanac of human emotion.
Choreography and digital motion intersected in synchronous objects and CG studio Zeitgeist stunned us with some peripetics. Cardon Webb created a new visual language for neighborhood flyers. The BBC had an unusual opener for their poetry season. We interviewed Dutch designer Twan Verdonck. The GRAIL Lab at UWash built Rome in a day by crowdsourcing 3D renderings of some of the world’s oldest cities and a Swedish geek duo served up fresh music from some of the world’s most interesting ones.
MIT students one-upped QR codes. A Canadian documentary refused to water down the water crisis, while Brazilians offered an unorthodox solution to it. The famous Myers-Briggs personality test got visualized as a subway map. We geeked out with some notes and neurons, examining why music resonates with us so powerfully. 51 teams of designers, directors and animators got together to create 17 wonderful short films. Beck took the legendary Velvet Underground & Nico album and reinvented it with some friends.
We discovered fascinating visualizations of poetry, Madrid’s air, foot traffic in a 1950’s house, the hundred monkey effect, and the hypertextual narrative of Choose Your Own Adventure books.
Four Pixar animators released a racy side project. Advertising creatives made lemonade out of the industry’s recession-era layoffs. A new biomimicry portal set out to save the planet by encouraging designers and engineers to emulate nature.
Indie rock got itself a coloring book, dabbled in children’s science education, redefined the recording package as a design vehicle, and made the first-ever album/film hybrid.
We looked at how Helvetica man was born and traced the evolution of symbol signs. Goolery offered a comprehensive database of cool projects using the Google API. We looked at the 6 most compelling efforts in humanoid robotics. A brilliant documentary painted a portrait of our greatest living composer.
Our friends at Green Thing made some sweet glove love, Johnny Carrera resurrected Victorian engravings in a brilliant visual dictionary of curiosities. Minivegas made a visualizer that renders digital sculptures in real-time in response to sound and gestures. A boy harnessed the wind. Winnie the Pooh returned after 81 years. Beau Lotto made us dizzy with some neat optical illusions. Hitotoki unleashed urban storytelling.
The map became art. The UK got itself a museum of everything. We drooled over vintage jazz album covers. An infographic portrait of the East vs. West culture clash became a big hit. Thirty conversations on design gave us some food for creative thought. Public pianos reclaimed urban space.
The Visual Miscellaneum became a bible of information design. A remix of Carl Sagan + Sigur Rós hit the spot for hipster-geeks everywhere. A grassroots movement used music, fashion, photography, design, dance, art and journalism as tools for social justice. Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon was the greatest movie never made.
We went on a shopping spree for nothing. Digital platforms revamped the art of learning. We looked at some superbly creative innovations on the alphabet book classic. We counted down the top 10 conferences that spark interdisciplinary creative cross-pollination. The story of cap & trade shed some light on the latest energy hoax. Gender identity and color had a surprising historical relationship.
A brilliant browser plugin promised to nix annoying online ads while generating revenues for social causes, all at no cost to you. The Mobile Mobile reinvented the Christmas tree. A Broken Social Scene musician explored the implicit melodic qualities of human speech while collecting common wisdom on happiness, a New York Magazine writer set out to test all the theories about what makes us happy, and several hundred people put their happiest moments in jars.
We sent you a beautiful wish for 2010 via Tom Waits and Charles Bukowski.
Published December 30, 2009