An Actor’s Notes

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Ellen Terry played Juliet at London’s Lyceum Theatre in 1882. The following was later found on the flyleaf of her copy of the text:

Get the words into your remembrance first of all. Then, (as you have to convey the meaning of the words to some who have ears, but don’t hear, and eyes, but don’t see) put the words into the simplest vernacular. Then exercise your judgment about their sound.

So many different ways of speaking words! Beware of sound and fury signifying nothing. Voice unaccompanied by imagination, dreadful. Pomposity, rotundity.

Imagination and intelligence absolutely necessary to realize and portray high and low imaginings. Voice, yes, but not mere voice production. You must have a sensitive ear, and a sensitive judgment of the effect on your audience. But all the time you must be trying to please yourself.

Get yourself into tune. Then you can let fly your imagination, and the words will seem to be supplied by yourself. Shakespeare supplied by oneself! Oh!

Realism? Yes, if we mean by that real feeling, real sympathy. But people seem to mean by it only the realism of low-down things.

To act, you must make the thing written your own. You must steal the words, steal the thought, and convey the stolen treasure to others with great art.

(From Donald Sinden, ed., The Everyman Book of Theatrical Anecdotes, 1987.)

Focus

Cape Town artist Philip Barlow depicts “out-of-focus” cityscapes and beach scenes in oil paints. In photography this effect is known as bokeh, the blurring of elements that lie outside the depth of field. Others have said that Barlow renders the world as it might appear to a near-sighted person.

In this sense the subjects of his paintings are not the objects they depict but rather light itself. “The figures in the landscape serve as carriers and reflectors of the light that falls upon them. Bathed in the luminosity, it is my hope that they would become more beautiful. To me, light is the ultimate subject because it embodies the pinnacle of all reality.”

More at his site.

Surface Matters

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Created by Giuliano da Maiano in the 15th century, the walls of the studiolo from the ducal palace in Gubbio, Italy, feature elaborate trompe-l’œil illusions. The wall shown above is flat — the images of the bench, the open cabinets, their contents, and even the shadows are all meticulously fashioned from inlaid walnut (see below).

The perspective is carefully arranged, with a consistent horizon line and vanishing points. The illusion works best for a viewer 1.68 meters tall standing at a prescribed point along the entrance of the window niche. “When the studiolo’s doors were closed and the main window was covered by a pair of now-lost shutters, the viewer would have been surrounded by an illusionary but convincing space based on four converging perspectives.”

(From Olga Raggio, Federic da Montefeltro’s Palace at Gubbio and Its Studiolo, 1999.)

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The Hypercubical Dance

Inspired by Edwin Abbott’s Flatland, in which a three-dimensional sphere tries to explain its world to a two-dimensional square, Worcester Polytechnic Institute physicist P.K. Aravind has devised a ballet that describes a tesseract, or four-dimensional hypercube, to a three-dimensional audience.

“The spirit of my demonstration is very similar to Abbott’s, only it is pitched at Spacelanders who are encouraged to make the leap from three dimensions to four, just as Abbott’s demonstration was pitched at a Flatlander who was encouraged to make the leap from two dimensions to three.”

He describes the project here.

(P.K. Aravind, “The Hypercubical Dance — A Solution to Abbott’s Problem in Flatland?,” Mathematical Gazette 91:521 [July 2007]: 193-197.)

Anatomy Lesson

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 1808, English artist Benjamin Haydon was midway through painting the assassination of Dentatus when a friend convinced him to visit the Elgin Marbles, sculptures from the Parthenon recently brought to Britain:

The first thing I fixed my eyes on was the wrist of a figure in one of the female groups, in which were visible, though in a feminine form, the radius and ulna. I was astonished, for I had never seen them hinted at in any female wrist in the antique. I darted my eye to the elbow, and saw the outer condyle visibly affecting the shape as in nature. I saw that the arm was in repose and the soft parts in relaxation. That combination of nature and idea which I had felt was so much wanting for high art was here displayed to mid-day conviction. My heart beat! If I had seen nothing else I had beheld sufficient to keep me to nature for the rest of my life. But when I turned to the Theseus and saw that every form was altered by action or repose, — when I saw that the two sides of his back varied, one side stretched from the shoulder-blade being pulled forward, and the other side compressed from the shoulder-blade being pushed close to the spine as he rested on his elbow, with the belly flat because the bowels fell into the pelvis as he sat, — and when, turning to the Ilissus, I saw the belly protruded, from the figure lying on its side, — and again, when in the figure of the fighting metope I saw the muscle shown under the one arm-pit in that instantaneous action of darting out, and left out in the other arm-pits because not wanted — when I saw, in fact, the most heroic style of art combined with all the essential detail of actual life, the thing was done at once and for ever.

He “dashed out the abominable mass” of his own painting and devoted himself thereafter to drawing the marbles for as many as 15 hours a day. When he took the Swiss painter Henry Fuseli to see them, “Never shall I forget his uncompromising enthusiasm. He strode about saying, ‘De Greeks were godes! de Greeks were godes!'”

The Last Ditch

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A few months ago I read in The Guinness Book of Music Facts and Feats that Henry Bishop’s “Home! Sweet Home!” is the only song known to have been sung in a court of law — specifically, sung to a jury by a defense attorney. I had my doubts about this, but I’ve just gone scrounging around and lo it is true. From the New York Times, Sept. 28, 1935:

An attorney sang ‘Home, Sweet Home’ to a jury today in a vain attempt to save his client from prison. After listening to the rendition by John Brett, the lawyer, the jury convicted Lloyd Grable, Oklahoma city motor-car mechanic, of attempted bank robbery and specified life imprisonment.

The story is headlined “Lawyer Sings, Client Gets Life.” The defendant’s thoughts are not recorded.

Drawing Sounds

In a 1946 essay, Warner Brothers animator Chuck Jones presented two shapes:

jones drawing 1

These represent two nonsense words, tackety and goloomb. Which is which? Most people decide immediately that the shape on the left is tackety — even though that word has no meaning.

Similarly, one of these shapes is a bassoon, and one is a harp:

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Here again, the correspondence seems obvious. “These are static examples of what are mostly static sounds,” Jones wrote. “The art of animation brings them to life, brings them fluidity and power; endows them, in short, with the qualities of music. The field of graphic symbols is a great but highly unexplored field. It will, I believe, prove an important one to the musician, and to any audience that is interested in satisfying the visual appetite, side by side with the auditory appetite.”

German-American psychologist Wolfgang Köhler had considered the same question in 1929. It’s been documented as “the bouba/kiki effect.”

(Chuck Jones, “Music and the Animated Cartoon,” Hollywood Quarterly 1:4 [1946], 364-370.)

Misc

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  • By age 14, Harry Truman had read every book in the Independence, Missouri, library.
  • In honor of Ray Bradbury, a web page censored by a government returns HTTP error status code 451.
  • Wyoming, Wisconsin, is in Iowa County.
  • Vincent van Gogh and Salvador Dalí were both named after dead brothers who had preceded them.
  • “Virtue is insufficient temptation.” — George Bernard Shaw

Interference

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Image: arch2o

This is not a distorted photo — Italian designer Ferruccio Laviani devised this cabinet deliberately to create that effect.

The “Good Vibrations” storage unit, created for furniture brand Fratelli Boffi, was carved from oak by a CNC machine.

Below: In 2012, designers Estudio Guto Requena modeled three iconic Brazilian chair designs in 3D software and then fused those files with audio recorded in three São Paulo neighborhoods. The deformed designs were then sent to Belgium to be 3D-printed. They’re called “Nóize Chairs.”

(Via arch2o and Dezeen.)

Nondelivery

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James McNeill Whistler to a publican:

“My man, would you like to sell a great deal more beer than you do?”

“Aye, sir, that I would.”

“Then don’t sell so much froth.”