Paintings come alive in Tagliafierro’s ‘Beauty’

Italian animator Rino Stefano Tagliafierro breathes life into dozens of classical paintings in his captivating short, Beauty:

The film, Tagliafierro writes, is “a path of sighs through the emotions of life. A tribute to the art and her disarming beauty.”

Among the numerous paintings are works of Rubens and Rembrandt, whom we study in CC202, and Vermeer, who has featured on this blog before!

See the full list of paintings used in the short here.

Analysis paralysis and Children’s Literature

We’re sure, as a kid, you read Margaret Wise Brown’s adorable book Goodnight Moon. Doesn’t the above picture just take you back to when your parents would read to you every night before bed while you were tucked in cozy under the dinosaur or Superman or Disney princess or whatever (we don’t judge) sheets? Of course, snuggling under any kind of sheets, toy trucks or Barbies, sounds awesome. Nothing beats the snow like a good blanket and a good book.

And perhaps you should consider giving Goodnight Moon another read. Yes, you may think you’re too old, but we’re here to tell you you’d be wrong. As this article from McSweeney’s (a publishing company based out of San Francisco) website explains, Goodnight Moon is not just the story of a small bunny going through his bedtime rituals, but actually an acutely poignant and subtle commentary on the materialism of the Cold War era.

The book opens as a young bunny prepares for sleep in his bedroom….As symbolic items such as a “balloon” and a “telephone” are described, our protagonist bunny, oppressively tucked into bed, resists the confines of sleep. Brown gives particular attention to a large number of animals that populate the room: “two kittens with mittens” and a “little mouse.” The room also contains a picture of a “cow jumping over a moon” and “bears on chairs.” Here, Brown twists our preconceptions of settings—where the internal now is wild, but the external (“the moon” and “the stars”) serene. The room full of raging wildlife mirrors the little bunny’s desire to throw off his sheets and play.

As you can clearly see, you’ve been looking at the book all wrong.

The endless hilarity of this fake Sparknotes aside, there’s something incredibly familiar about the humor of this article. We at Core know the importance of a good old-fashioned close reading and are, frequently we admit, guilty of analysis paralysis (the beautiful, magical official phrase for over-analysis). Goodnight Moon is perhaps an extreme example. Brown obviously did not intend an adorable bunny’s bedtime to be any sort of allegory, but intention can be tricky. How can any reader actually know the writer’s full intentions for the interpretation of a book? How can the writer even be sure for that matter? A lot happens to any book between the first inkling of inspiration to the final ok; not all of that can be cognizant.

But that’s just our ruminations. Perhaps, again, we’ve subjected ourselves to sweet, sweet analysis paralysis. Let us know if you think there are some other kids’ books out there with hidden messages we didn’t pick up when we were younger, or if you have anything to say about the sticky wicket that is intention. At least there’s one thing we can all agree on though: there’s nothing quite like putting a little thought into your humor.

Odysseus to Telemachus

Brodsky (left). Source:

Brodsky (left). Source:

Welcome back after the break!

In relation to CC101′s study of The Odyssey is a poem by celebrated Russian poet laureate Joseph Brodsky, titled Odysseus to Telemachus:

My dear Telemachus,
The Trojan War
is over now; I don’t recall who won it.
The Greeks, no doubt, for only they would leave
so many dead so far from their own homeland.
But still, my homeward way has proved too long.
While we were wasting time there, old Poseidon,
it almost seems, stretched and extended space.

I don’t know where I am or what this place
can be. It would appear some filthy island,
with bushes, buildings, and great grunting pigs.
A garden choked with weeds; some queen or other.
Grass and huge stones . . . Telemachus, my son!
To a wanderer the faces of all islands
resemble one another. And the mind
trips, numbering waves; eyes, sore from sea horizons,
run; and the flesh of water stuffs the ears.
I can’t remember how the war came out;
even how old you are–I can’t remember.

Grow up, then, my Telemachus, grow strong.
Only the gods know if we’ll see each other
again. You’ve long since ceased to be that babe
before whom I reined in the plowing bullocks.
Had it not been for Palamedes’ trick
we two would still be living in one household.
But maybe he was right; away from me
you are quite safe from all Oedipal passions,
and your dreams, my Telemachus, are blameless.

Here is a valuable video of Brodsky himself reading the poem:

From Massachusetts to Georgia: Christmas Spirit

Massachusetts is a proud state. And why shouldn’t it be? We’ve told you before about it’s excellent public education; you all know about the wonderful colleges. Mass also has incredibly low obesity rates, depression rates, even unemployment rates when compared to the rest of the country. Did you know it also gave origin to perhaps the quintessential Christmas song?

That’s right, “Jingle Bells” was written in Medford, Massachusetts.

And Savannah, Georgia is trying to steal the credit.

Well, not exactly trying to steal credit. The matter is a bit more complicated than that. This article, which draws on the expertise of Core’s very own Kyna Hamill, explains the matter fully, but in summary, the song was first written in Medford but published in Savannah so both cities feel the need to take credit. We at Core are inclined to agree with Professor Hamill though:

But our claim is of course that the landscape is, that the authenticity is that it’s in the landscape of Medford

Makes sense. Georgia is usually pretty warm in the winter. Seems difficult to imagine the landscape of Savannah inspiring the lyrics “Dashing through the snow in a one-horse open sleigh”. No matter if Medford has claim to the song, the song immortalizes the snowy landscape we studying in Mass know all too well.

But of course, as the article explains, both cities seem to have equal claims, although none of the cities’ historians would see it like that. What do you think? Should the credit be shared or does it belong more to Savannah or Medford? Tell us below!

Listening to Poetry

Listening to a poem can change everything. As you’ve read before on the Core Blog, James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake seems much less incomprehensible when Joyce is reading it. But what about poetry, so focused on the language and word play, frequently taking at least three readings to understand fully? Yeah, listening to those read can be truly beautiful as well. Poetry has as much a relationship with sound as it does with language. Knowing this, the Poetry Foundation has created a podcast of Donald Hall’s list of Essential American Poets reading their own poems. This episode contains three poems by E.E. Cummings who reads them slowly in his melodic voice. I mean, who doesn’t want to hear the genius himself say “if freedom is a breakfast food”? We at Core just love that kind of stuff.

So start your break off right with something calming and educational, and let us know if you think the poem has greater meaning after hearing it read. We think so, but we always love hearing your opinion.

Frank Hurley: Color Photographs of the Antarctic in 1915


James Francis “Frank” Hurley (1885 – 1962)

Color photography has been around far longer than often assumed. Attempts had been made as early as the 1840s and in the mid 19th century several techniques were developed, although no affordable methods were readily available until the mid 20th century. One early technique was the Paget process, most memorably used by Australian photographer James Francis “Frank” Hurley. Hurley visited the Antarctic six times between 1911 and 1932 but most memorable was the disastrous Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-17 led by Sir Ernest Shackleton. Photography was hard enough in the 1910s, but in the Antarctic it was rendered even more difficult. Hurley wrote in his diary on August 30, 1915:

Dark room work rendered extremely difficult by the low temperatures, it being -13 (-25 degrees Celsius) outside. Washing plates is a most troublesome operation, as the tank must be kept warm or the plates become an enclosure in an ice block.

Although Hurley took over 400 photographs, but many of the plates had to be smashed when the ship, fittingly named Endurance, became trapped in the ice and the adventurers were forced to make their way north in lifeboats. Fortunately, a select 120 were chosen to survive the perilous adventure.


The “Endurance” under full sail, held up in the Weddell Sea.


The bosun of the “Endurance” mending a net.


“Endurance” in Antarctica – the pink glow of the rising sun shining on a pressure ridge


Glimpse of the Ship through Hummocks


New Fortuna Glacier


The chick of the Wanderer Albatross

Hurley was not only skilled with color. Most of the photographs from his career were the standard black and white.

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More photos from Frank Hurley’s Antarctic adventures can be viewed at New South Wales State Library’s site.

Core on the Metro

This photo (courtesy Prof. Hamill) shows the Core expedition to NYC in December 2013 to see a puppet-show performance of Plato’s Republic. Which is the kind of thing Core people do for fun. Core.

Core in NY

Earliest Human DNA Brings Forth New Mysteries


Recently, DNA has been extracted from a 400,000 year old femur discovered at an archaeological site in Spain. The DNA is the oldest yet published and its findings have surprised researchers because it was found to be more closely linked to the Denisovans, rather than Neanderthals as would be expected.

The fossil was excavated in the 1990s from a deep cave in a well-studied site in northern Spain called Sima de los Huesos (‘pit of bones’). This femur and the remains of more than two dozen other hominins found at the site have previously been attributed either to early forms of Neanderthals, who lived in Europe until about 30,000 years ago, or to Homo heidelbergensis, a loosely defined hominin population that gave rise to Neanderthals in Europe and possibly humans in Africa.

But a closer link to Neanderthals than to Denisovans was not what was discovered by the team led by Svante Pääbo, a molecular geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

The team sequenced most of the femur’s mitochondrial genome, which is made up of DNA from the cell’s energy-producing structures and passed down the maternal line. The resulting phylogenetic analysis ­— which shows branches in evolutionary history — placed the DNA closer to that of Denisovans than to Neanderthals or modern humans. “This really raises more questions than it answers,” Pääbo says.


However, it is important to remember that, unlike nuclear DNA which is contains material from both parents, mitochondrial DNA is only passed down maternally so these findings do not necessarily mean that these homonins were more closely related to the Denisovans, who are believed to have lived in southwestern Siberia thousands of years later. With this in mind, the unexpected link is still surprising and creates new questions. Pääbo speculates:

previously published full nuclear genomes of Neanderthals and Denisovans suggest that the two had a common ancestor that lived up to 700,000 years ago. He suggests that the Sima de los Huesos hominins could represent a founder population that once lived all over Eurasia and gave rise to the two groups. Both may have then carried the mitochondrial sequence seen in the caves. But these mitochondrial lineages go extinct whenever a female does not give birth to a daughter, so the Neanderthals could have simply lost that sequence while it lived on in Denisovan women.

A research uninvolved with this particular study, Chris Stringer, a palaeontologist at London’s Natural History Museum, has a different, but equally intriguing, interpretation:

He thinks that the newly decoded mitochondrial genome may have come from another distinct group of hominins. Not far from the caves, researchers have discovered hominin bones from about 800,000 years ago that have been attributed to an archaic hominin called Homo antecessor, thought to be a European descendant of Homo erectus. Stringer proposes that this species interbred with a population that was ancestral to both Denisovans and Sima de los Huesos hominins, introducing the newly decoded mitochondrial lineage to both populations.

This scenario, Stringer says, explains another oddity thrown up by the sequencing of ancient hominin DNA. As part of a widely discussed and soon-to-be-released analysis of high-quality Denisovan and Neanderthal nuclear genomes, Pääbo’s team suggests that Denisovans seem to have interbred with a mysterious hominin group.

If Pääb’s team can uncover nuclear DNA from the bone (a daunting task) then we may have answers to these new mysteries. Read the full article at Scientific American.

The Genius of Mozart


Over two hundred years since his death, Mozart is remembered as – among other things – the greatest child prodigy the world has ever seen. David Shenk writes:

Standing above all other giftedness legends, of course, [is] that of the mystifying boy genius Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, alleged to be an instant master performer at age three and a brilliant composer at age five. His breathtaking musical gifts were said to have sprouted from nowhere, and his own father promoted him as the ‘miracle which God let be born in Salzburg.

But was the genius of Mozart a gift bestowed upon him by the divine or pure chance? Or was it the product of the efforts of a hardworking musician father and a boy with an enthusiasm for music?

The reality about Mozart turns out to be far more interesting and far less mysterious. His early achievements — while very impressive, to be sure — actually make good sense considering his extraordinary upbringing. And his later undeniable genius turns out to be a wonderful advertisement for the power of process. Mozart was bathed in music from well before his birth, and his childhood was quite unlike any other. His father, Leopold Mozart, was an intensely ambitious Austrian musician, composer, and teacher who had gained wide acclaim with the publication of the instruction book … Treatise on the Fundamental Principles of Violin Playing. For a while, Leopold had dreamed of being a great composer himself. But on becoming a father, he began to shift his ambitions away from his own unsatisfying career and onto his children — perhaps, in part, because his career had already hit a ceiling: he was vice-kapellmeister (assistant music director); the top spot would be unavailable for the foreseeable future….

Then came Wolfgang. Four and a half years younger than his sister, the tiny boy got everything Nannerl got — only much earlier and even more intensively. Literally from his infancy, he was the classic younger sibling soaking up his big sister’s singular passion. As soon as he was able, he sat beside her at the harpsichord and mimicked notes that she played. Wolfgang’s first pings and plucks were just that. But with a fast-developing ear, deep curiosity and a tidal wave of family know-how, he was able to click into an accelerated process of development.

As Wolfgang became fascinated with playing music, his father became fascinated with his toddler son’s fascination — and was soon instructing him with an intensity that far eclipsed his efforts with Nannerl. Not only did Leopold openly give preferred attention to Wolfgang over his daughter; he also made a career-altering decision to more or less shrug off his official duties in order to build an even more promising career for his son. This was not a quixotic adventure. Leopold’s calculated decision made reasonable financial sense … Wolfgang’s youth made him a potentially lucrative attraction. … From the age of three, then, Wolfgang had an entire family driving him to excel with a powerful blend of instruction, encouragement, and constant practice. He was expected to be the pride and financial engine of the family, and he did not disappoint. In his performances from London to Mannheim between the ages of six and eight, he drew good receipts and high praise from noble patrons. …

Still, like his sister, the young Mozart was never a truly great adult-level instrumentalist. He was highly advanced for his age, but not compared with skillful adult performers. The tiny Mozart dazzled royalty and was at the time unusual for his early abilities. But today many young children exposed to Suzuki and other rigorous musical programs play as well as the young Mozart did — and some play even better. Inside the world of these intensive, child-centered programs, such achievements are now straightforwardly regarded by parents and teachers for what they are: the combined consequence of early exposure, exceptional instruction, constant practice, family nurturance, and a child’s intense will to learn. Like a brilliant soufflé, all of these ingredients must be present in just the right quantity and mixed with just the right timing and flair. Almost anything can go wrong. The process is far from predictable and never in anyone’s complete control.

Child musical prodigies certainly aren’t unheard of these days and people are quick to drool over a “new Mozart”. We should remember, however, that often times these children show extraordinary ability as performers that we will never be able to compare to those of Mozart. It’s quite likely that in playing abilities they are quite ahead of the Austrian legend but we will never know since he died long before the dawn of audio recording. What we do know, however, is that he was a prolific composer who poured out countless pieces before reaching maturity and, after, did not slow down but rather was able to propel the development of music. While many children may well be able to play like Mozart, few, if any, will show Mozart’s innate knack for composing.

Read the original article here.



Vermeer & his photo-realism

Related to CC201′s study of Rembrandt is the mysterious work of Johannes Vermeer, another painter of the Dutch Golden Age. His photo-realism has been a topic of debate – how did he achieve it? Vanity Fair offers some recent speculation. Here is a sample:

Despite occasional speculation over the years that an optical device somehow enabled Vermeer to paint his pictures, the art-history establishment has remained adamant in its romantic conviction: maybe he was inspired somehow by lens-projected images, but his only exceptional tool for making art was his astounding eye, his otherworldly genius.

Left, Tim Jenison, with part of the optical apparatus he created above him, at work in his San Antonio studio. Right, Vermeer’s The Music Lesson, the painting Jenison chose to re-create.

Left, Tim Jenison, with part of the optical apparatus he created above him, at work in his San Antonio studio. Right, Vermeer’s The Music Lesson, the painting Jenison chose to re-create.

At the beginning of this century, however, two experts of high standing begged to differ. Why, for instance, did Vermeer paint things in the foreground and shiny highlights on objects slightly out of focus? Because, they say, he was looking at them through a lens. By itself, Vermeer’s Camera: Uncovering the Truth Behind the Masterpieces, by a London architecture professor named Philip Steadman, might have stirred a minor academic fuss. But a mainstream controversy was provoked—conferences, headlines, outrage, name-calling—because a second, more sweeping and provocative argument was made by one of the most famous living painters, David Hockney. Hockney argued in Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of Old Masters that not only Vermeer but many great painters from the 15th century onward must have secretly used lens-and-mirror contraptions to achieve their photo-realistic effects.

The crux of the resistance to the idea that Vermeer invented and used an optical device, beyond technical and historiographic issues, is that it diminishes our sense of Vermeer’s genius. But great artists in every age use clever new tools and technologies. You could give all the digital contraptions Alfonso Cuarón used on Gravity to a hack director and he’d make a crappy movie. Pro Tools software doesn’t turn a mediocre musician into a great one, but great ones depend on it. Chuck Close bases paintings on photographs and uses a mechanical lift to move his enormous canvases around as he works on them. As Jenison says of the history of art, “perspective is an algorithm, a ‘device’” invented in the 15th century to paint more realistic illusions.

For the full article, visit Vanity Fair.