Nina Simone on racism, art and violence

“It's a lot of hell, a lot of violence, but I feel more alive now than I ever have in my life.” – Nina Simone

Blank on Blank is a Youtube channel full of animated versions of real life interviews. This time the chosen one was a little known interview with Nina Simone conducted by Lilian Terry in the 60s. This interview was aired on Italy and now we have access to Nina Simone talking of all things related to her life as an artist, mother and black woman.

Nina Simone

When Anne-Marie Willis says that "we design our world, while our world acts back on us and designs us” the most obvious examples are those we already consider related to design, among these the fashion world is a good example, specially when Nina Simone talks about it:

“I love clothes. Yes, I do. I mean, if you come out and you look the way you want to look, you will create a mood before you open your mouth. And sometimes that can be enough to get your audience exactly in the groove, where you want them.
Like last year, I wore the same gown for a year, everywhere I went. I wanted people to remember me looking a certain way. I made it easier for me.
So when came on stage, the illusion was that I was actually naked. I loved that. It always kind of shocked people enough that they became mine immediately.”

Nina Simone

The interviewer asks about the last song she interpreted in her show. “The King of love is dead” was composed by the bassist of her band, Gene Taylor, one day after Martin Luther King was assassinated. In this music, as Nina Simone says, the climax is also it’s end. After questioning what would happen after his death the music ends. This musical interruption represents the fight for equality at the USA, a question mark after a bigger movement.

Even amid segregation and seeing people die due to the color of their skins, Nina Simone still found reasons to be optimistic. Not because she see the world as good, but because she knew her fight to be right and worth the efforts.

“It's a good time for black people to be alive. It's a lot of hell, a lot of violence, but I feel more alive now than I ever have in my life. I have a chance to live as I've dreamed.
INTERVIEWER: Do you think that your child will be living through the revolutionary years?
I don't know, love. Whatever it is she's going to have pride in her own blackness. She's going to have a chance to be more than just somebody who's on the outside looking in. Like it's been for most of us, and my parents before me, but she may see more bloodshed than I've ever even dreamed of. I have no way of knowing that evolution. The cycle goes round and round. It's time for us."

We who are alive to see the future she couldn’t predict know that the blood still flows and racism is still a problem. However, if we try to be a little more like Nina Simone, strong and somewhat optimistic, then maybe something will console us and things can keep getting better.

See the animation here:

Voyeurism and the blurred reality in the paintings of Edward Hopper

"but in boredom is exactly when we feel time and being the most acutely. It can inspire a profound mood, maybe that’s what these people are feeling."

The darkness of the night, a bar still open, lonely meeting place in a desert street. You already saw a painting like this. It has a way of seeing the world that unwittingly penetrates our lives. As in other paintings made by Edward Hopper, in Nighthawks we face a bar highlighted by it’s own lights with distracted and absorbed people in the interior.

"Nighthawks". Edward Hopper, 1942. Oil on canvas. 

Evan Puschak from the Nerdwriter channel posted an analysis of this most famous painting from Hopper. He begins by remarking the sense of realism in the paintings, however without being enforced by the technique since there isn’t an interesting in photorealistic representation. The sense of truth comes exactly from the blurred details that allows everything to become more universal:

“But pulled back by one degree to depictions slightly more generalized, slightly more detached from place, history and person. In this way there’s just enough room to put your own life into Hopper’s work, but once inside it’s impossible not to be closed in and see that life along his themes.”

Selfportrait. Edward Hopper, 1930. Oil on canvas.

With Hopper these people become possible representations of ourselves, a space of our lives unfolding in the canvas as we observe from outside. Nevertheless, it is not only about observing, there is a certain interaction connected with the voyeur, of seeing something very personal without the permission from the other person. An invasion that is possible only because it is anonymous, but also because it grants a way of seeing someone acting freely exactly due to the unconsciousness of being watched.

“His subjects were both behind and in front of windows. Of course windows are the place where the separation between outside and inside becomes complicated and not because we can physically move through them but because our sight does, because our gaze invades these private worlds. Indeed, in Hopper’s works the windows appears as if they’re not even there.”

Evan Pushak reminds us of the long effort that Hopper used to dedicate to each one of his paintings. From the studies and sketches to the final version of work he could takes months and this must be remembered to evaluate his paintings:  

“Hopper wanted his devotion to each work to be mirrored by our appreciation. As slowly and deliberately as he painted he wanted us to look, really look, to be made vulnerable as a viewer always is whether he or she is crouching in the dark in the building opposite or simply crossing the street.”

At the time when the Nighthawks was painted there was in the USA the routine of turning off the lights during the nights. The reason was the recent attack to Pearl Harbor and the fear of new attacks got people trying to “hide” the city lights at night to make the possible targets harder to notice. However, Hopper never turned off nor concealed the lights of his studio where he spent the nights painting. Nights that allowed the creation of the Nighthawks, the image of the last light of the street, seen by someone crossing it.

“The light in the Nighthawks dinner seems to be the last light still shining in the city. And for this reason I think you can find a slightly more optimistic reading about this painting. What else is there to do in the face of great disquiet and doubt but work and live on? All of Hopper’s people seem to be huddled up against the present moment. Lonely? Yes. Waiting? Maybe a little bored? People of the Nighthawks are no different, but in boredom is exactly when we feel time and being the most acutely. It can inspire a profound mood, maybe that’s what these people are feeling. Alone together in their lighted ship sailing against the darkness of all the darkness that was yet to come. The yellowish, greenish, fluorescent light in this scene like the light in the Hopper’s studio is a meager substitute for the brilliance of the sun, but it can though giant windows still illuminate the world.”

In a profound evaluation of the image, Susan Sontag shows us the relation between the real and the images we create, relations that are as powerful as they are subtle. An extension between the painter’s life and the art implies that even due to an unconscious impulse there is a lot of its historical time in each work. Nevertheless, maybe the reason why they last so much time and are important to so many different people is what they have of less obvious and more universal, the suggestion that Edgar Allan Poe used to talk about.

This video is part of the series “Understanding art” from the Nerdwriter channel. Watch the full video below:

Professionals from the Humanities matter, we just don’t know that

The humanities have some of the biggest clues out there about how to fix stuff. We’re very bad at a range of things that these art graduates could help us with.” – Alain de Botton

It's common to see graduations from the humanities, specially those related to arts like music, painting, literature and cinema, being taxed as useless or as graduations that “don’t pay well”. But if it’s true that they may not “pay well” it’s only because we can’t see the “utility” that these professional can have in our lives.

Zygmunt Bauman simplifies the contingencies of our world, through people’s instability and submission to an order that looks inevitable in our modern society. An order that demands flexibility from everyone, a readiness to fit in. However, this flexibility seems to demand too much from the humanities graduates because what we see is that in order to survive they need to abdicate their knowledge and interests.

 Click to see the Youtube channel

Click to see the Youtube channel

The School of Life has what I consider one of the best Youtube channels. In their most recent video named “Why Arts Graduates Are Under-Employed”, Alain de Botton argues that the essence of the problem is in the lack of appropriate positions and employers, a problem of education and knowledge:

 “But in truth the extraordinary rate of unemployment or misemployment of graduates in the humanities is a sign of something grievously wrong with modern societies. It’s evidence that we have no clue of what culture and art are really for and what problems it can solve.”

It’s not a problem if you’re not so sure about the benefits that culture and art can have to people in general, he tries to give some reasons as to why we are wasting these professionals when the best job we have for them is serving coffee:

“Good news is that the humanities actually do have a point to them. They’re a storehouse of vitally important knowledge about how to lead our lives. Novels teaches us about relationships. Works of art reframe our perspectives. Drama provides us with cathartic experiences. Philosophy teaches us to think, political science to plan and History is a catalogue of case-studies into any number of personal and political scenarios.
The humanities have some of the biggest clues out there about how to fix stuff. We’re very bad at a range of things that these art graduates could help us with.”

Ok, maybe not so many people think that the knowledfe from the humanities is useless. But our incapacity of harness these people to solve our common problems is, in it’s essence, proof of how much we need them:

“That there are so many arts graduates waiting tables isn’t a sign that they have been lazy and self-indulgent. It’s that we haven’t collectively woken up to what culture could really do for us and how useful and totally practical it could be.”

Full video below:

The typeface trying to make reading easier for dyslexics

"When they're reading, people with dyslexia often unconsciously switch, rotate and mirror letters in their minds" – Christian Boer

Some time ago, after a system update in my e-reader I discovered that a new typeface have been added. The typeface is called Dyslexie and I deemed it ugly, irregular and with an awful name. After all, to name a typeface after a mental disorder is at least bad taste. However, after searching more about it in google I began to think of it as the most important typeface of my e-reader.

Dyslexie typeface.

Here enters the Dutch designer Christian Boer. Being dyslexic, he knows very well the hardships that come with reading and having this in mind he tried to create a typeface able to minimize the problems that dyslexics have while reading. As Dyslexia seems to be related to problems in the process of transforming the symbols we read in sounds and these sounds in words, the designer perceived that himself and many other person who suffer from dyslexia can mistake letters in more or less predictable manners:

"When they're reading, people with dyslexia often unconsciously switch, rotate and mirror letters in their minds"

This confusion happens more often with other typefaces because they have many lines and strokes in common. These similarities make the “n” and the “u” be the same symbol, only inverted. Other examples are the letters “p”, “b” and “d” that usually are the same symbol mirrored of inverted.

To tackle this problem, Boer used irregular strokes and tried to create unique letterforms, even with letters that resemble each other. The idea is that the singular aspect of each letter can make it harder for the brain to mistake one for the other.

"By changing the shape of the characters so that each is distinctly unique, the letters will no longer match one another when rotated, flipped or mirrored," Boer said. "Bolder capitals and punctuation will ensure that users don't accidentally read into the beginning of the next sentence."

Dyslexie: variation and bigger sizes.

The Dyslexie has letters with broader bottoms to avoid being turned upside down. The use of the semi-italics and variable gaps in the letters are attempts to make them unique. Still, the punctuation signs and the uppercase letters are bigger to make highlight the beginning and the end of sentences. In other words, what at first seemed to me a badly executed and ugly typeface is, in fact, an inventive effort with a bigger objective than being just beautiful.

Dyslexie: Spacing and bigger uppercase.

Of course, this typeface doesn’t replace adequate medical advise, but any help is welcome. In this case, the efforts of a designer created the most important typeface in my e-reader, after all, it has even more opportunities to be helpful in interactive media. Beyond all the care in making it functional here’s also other controllable aspects like color, space and size. I talk so much about reading here that I had to post about this possibility of bringing even more people to this essential habit.

Read also about the Ontological Design. In this post I talk about how she tries to point a way for the Design studies and talks about the unsuspected importance it has in our lives.