A famous artist once painted an angel with six toes.

‘Who ever saw an angel with six toes?’ people inquired.

‘Who ever saw one with less?’ was the counter-question.

Life, June 12, 1890

Marine Warfare

Humans tend to abuse sea creatures, so digital artist Neil Mendoza gave them a way to fight back. As Smashie the fish swims around his aquatic habitat, he takes aim at the human habitat outside; the hammer drops periodically when a rotating cam releases it.

Mendoza created the project through Autodesk’s artist-in-residence program. You can build your own “fish hammer actuation device” with the instructions here.

He Who Falls

French acrobat and dancer Yoann Bourgeois created Celui qui tombe for the 2014 International Dance Biennial of Lyon. He calls the six dancers “a mankind in miniature.”

“It’s clear that if you do it ‘your way’ rather than the group’s way, you imperil and unbalance the joint venture,” wrote Luke Jennings in a Guardian review. “But you also get freedom. Or do you?”



French artist Georges Rousse photographs anamorphic images in abandoned and derelict buildings.

When the scene above is viewed from the right vantage point, it looks like this:


This video shows him at work on a project in Miyagi Prefecture, Japan, in 2013:

Another Perspective


All [J. Smith] ever paints are pastoral landscapes. But years after Smith’s Lake Placid is bought and exhibited by a very conservative museum, an art critic discovers that by tilting the painting 90 degrees, it can be seen as a painting of a devil embracing two nudes. The critic calls this aspect Ménage. The enraged artist protests that he had never intended to paint the lewd picture, that his painting is a realistic representation of Lake Placid and nothing more, and that the critic’s interpretation is illegitimate.

Is Ménage a work of art? If so, is it a work by Smith? Can Ménage be a better painting than Lake Placid (or vice versa)? Or is this painting neither Lake Placid nor Ménage? Would you, as the conservative curator, remove the painting?

— Eddy Zemach of Hebrew University, Jerusalem, posed in Margaret P. Battin et al., Puzzles About Art, 1989



“Once I saw a chimpanzee gaze at a particularly beautiful sunset for a full 15 minutes, watching the changing colors until it became so dark that he had to retire to the forest without stopping to pick a pawpaw for supper.” — Adriaan Kortlandt

The Alphabet Building


Dutch architects MVRDV created a unique design for Amsterdam’s Alfabetgebouw, an office building for small and mid-size creative companies. On the building’s east side a series of dotted windows spell out the building’s street number, 52, and on the north side the shape of each window reflects the unit number of its tenant.

To make the alphabet fit on a 6 × 4 facade they had to omit two letters — but “the IQ is inside the building.”

Field Reports

Explorers of foreign countries can produce strikingly different maps — here’s Joseph Husson’s Map of a Woman’s Heart (1840):


And here’s D.W. Kellogg’s Map of the Open Country of a Woman’s Heart (circa 1833-1842):


Who’s right? Looks like the safest plan is to drop into the center by parachute.

“The Attack of Love”


How a woman assails a man’s heart, by German map publisher Matthäus Seutter, 1730. Princeton map curator John Delaney explains:

[F]orces are attacking and defending the fortress of Manhood that sits in a frozen, passionless sea. The side of Love, representing the fairer sex, employs four sets of artillery batteries (on the left) to bombard the walls with appeals to vanity, offering delightful surprises, charms, and joys, and plying with tenderness, wishful thinking, and ‘un certain je ne sais quoi.’ Over the walls, naval ships lob such feminine wiles and virtues as beauty, pleasant conversation, gentleness, and ‘regards languissant’ (languishing looks). Love’s forces are camped for the duration (at the lower left), commanded by their general, Cupid.

As the key states, there are also methods for defending and conserving one’s heart against this unrelenting onslaught: memory, prudence, industry, experience (see the lettered outposts along the fortress walls). Ultimately, however, it is a war of attrition. As the trail winding through the fortress and along the coastline proves, the love-struck victim surrenders, retreating, first, to his friends for advice, deliberation, and information, before moving onward to the garden of pleasure and his first encounter with his beloved. … From there, via a subterranean passage, he arrives at the Palace of Love — note the change from fortress to palace — which resides in a sea of peace. Entering is easy, according to the note, but leaving is impossible without losing one’s liberty. Another definition of a prison?

There’s a high-resolution image in Cornell’s rare manuscript collection.

Sitting In


In 1915, American artist John Singer Sargent donated a blank canvas for auction at a Red Cross benefit, promising to paint a portrait of the donor who purchased it. Sir Hugh Lane bought it for £10,000 but died in the sinking of the Lusitania. He left his art collection to the National Gallery of Ireland, which didn’t know what to do with the blank canvas, so the executors finally held a referendum to ask whose portrait Sargent should paint. The popular choice, to Sargent’s surprise, was Woodrow Wilson.

At the White House Sargent confided his nerves to first lady Edith Wilson, who tried to amuse him at the easel. Still, she didn’t care for the result. “I think it lacks virility and makes Mr. Wilson look older than he did at the time,” she said later. Advisor Edward M. House said he thought it too austere, but then “I think I never knew a man whose general appearance changed so much from hour to hour.” Wilson’s opinion is not recorded.

Bonus blank canvas story: In 1951 Robert Rauschenberg painted a series of “white paintings” with the explicit intention that they appear untouched by human hands. Some patrons considered this an outright swindle when the paintings were first exhibited in 1953, but Rauschenberg wasn’t kidding: In 1962, when curator Pontus Hulten wanted to show them at Stockholm’s Moderna Museet, the paintings had been lost, so Rauschenberg simply sent him the measurements and samples of the paint and the canvas, and Hulten remade them from scratch.