New Theories on the Shigir Idol Paint A Surprising Picture of its Life

New Theories on the Shigir Idol Paint A Surprising Picture of its Life

By Anna Liesowska, The Siberian Times

With its evocative main face and O-shaped mouth, its mysterious zigzag etched lines, the Shigir Idol is now accepted as one of the world’s oldest examples of monumental art. The wooden statue 5.3m high with eight faces gazed over the water for only two decades, but leaves us with a conundrum 11,600 years later.

All the more remarkably, it is made of larch not stone yet still survives, thanks to it falling into a peat bog, once a paleo-lake, in which it was superbly preserved.

Now experts who know it best are suggesting some intriguing new theories about this ancient relic found late in the 19th century by tsarist gold prospectors.

One is that it is believed to have stood tall over the long-gone Shigir paleo-lake.

Another is that it held this position for a mere 20 or so years.

While some scientists have suggested it resembles a totem pole , experts insist the lower part of the Shigir Idol was not - as might be expected - dug into the ground to support it. Rather, it was propped up against a tree or perhaps more likely against a rock face on the shore of the water.

The stunning idol is three times as old as the Egyptian pyramids. Drawings: Nina Belanova, Sasha Skulova. Picture: Olga Gertcyk, The Siberian Times

The idol has already shattered our understanding of early ritual art by the hunter-gatherers at the end of the Ice Age, all the more so when tests revealed last year proved it to be older than previously understood, created some 11,500 or 11,600 years ago.

It reveals a depth of artistic talent unexpected before the onset of famers .

Now Dr Mikhail Zhilin, leading researcher of the Age Archeology Department in Institute of Archaeology, Russian Academy of Sciences, has told The Siberian Times:

“Based on the facts I can clearly say that it was not dug into the ground, like Totem poles. It was standing on a relatively hard, presumably stone, pedestal, because the lower part got flattened by strong pressure, and this sculpture was quite heavy.”

‘According to the dendrologist Karl-Uwe Heussner, the Shigir Idol stood like this on shore of a large Shigir paleo lake for about 20 years; then a large crack appeared in the middle, followed by a series of smaller cracks. The idol fell into the water, floated for about a year, then sank to the lake's bottom and formation of peat around it began.'

The Idol was made from a larch tree 11,600 years ago. Drawing: Sasha Skullova

The idol may have been tied by strapping to harness it in place but was not held by another structure.

‘We did not find any trace of a counterforce,’ said Dr Zhilin. ‘If supporting beams or forks were used, it would leave clear traces, but we do not see them.

‘There was an idea previously that the idol could be put on a raft and was floating on the lake. We have no data to confirm this. It was definitely standing on some stone base in the open air and there were no supports.’

He surmised: ‘There are two options - it could be leaned against some rock or a tree. You just need to remove several branches from, say, pine or fir tree, to get the suitable space for the idol; a leather strap might have fastened it into place or something akin to rawhide straps that would not leave any significant traces. I tend to think that it was standing near the water, in quite a secluded place.'

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The Idol is now kept at the Sverdlovsk Regional History museum in Yekateriburg. Picture: Olga Gertcyk, The Siberian Times

Dr Zhilin has also clarified claims based on earlier an scientific research publication that this Mesolithic Age idol depicts demons.

‘I presume that some journalists caught the word 'demon' in our publications, and took it out of the context,’ he said. 'It actually has a very wide range of meanings even in English, from devil to good genius. Given the Idol was created 11,500 years ago, we can't yet, or possibly ever, say just what it depicted. We don't have enough context.'

'These could have been some kind of spirits - not deities, because we think that deities appeared later.’

'While we can't be sure on what the Idol depicted, we mustn't underestimate people who created it.

'They had all the necessary tools and skills, plus a rather complex view of the world which to them was populated with spirits. Not only animals or trees, even stones were animated.

‘We think it was something close to animism', Dr Zhilin said.

'I see in these images unity and diversity of the world that surrounded the creators of the idol, which clearly wasn't divided into the kind and evil spirits.'

'We are a long way from unravelling the ancient code left by the creators of the Shigir Idol. There is nothing in the world similar to the Idol, no written data left.

'There are interpretations that it could be something like a Totem pole, but it is only a suggestion. It could have also been a hidden sacred place, yet there are not enough facts to support any of these suggestions.’

The Shigir Idol is on display at the Sverdlovsk Regional History Museum in Yekaterinburg.


When Brain Damage Unlocks The Genius Within

Brain damage has unleashed extraordinary talents in a small group of otherwise ordinary individuals. Will science find a way for everyone to tap their inner virtuoso?

Derek Amato stood above the shallow end of the swimming pool and called for his buddy in the Jacuzzi to toss him the football. Then he launched himself through the air, head first, arms outstretched. He figured he could roll onto one shoulder as he snagged the ball, then slide across the water. It was a grave miscalculation. The tips of Amato’s fingers brushed the pigskin—then his head slammed into the pool’s concrete floor with such bone-jarring force that it felt like an explosion. He pushed to the surface, clapping his hands to his head, convinced that the water streaming down his cheeks was blood gushing from his ears.

At the edge of the pool, Amato collapsed into the arms of his friends, Bill Peterson and Rick Sturm. It was 2006, and the 39-year-old sales trainer was visiting his hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, from Colorado, where he lived. As his two high-school buddies drove Amato to his mother’s home, he drifted in and out of consciousness, insisting that he was a professional baseball player late for spring training in Phoenix. Amato’s mother rushed him to the emergency room, where doctors diagnosed Amato with a severe concussion. They sent him home with instructions to be woken every few hours.

It would be weeks before the full impact of Amato’s head trauma became apparent: 35 percent hearing loss in one ear, headaches, memory loss. But the most dramatic consequence appeared just four days after his accident. Amato awoke hazy after near-continuous sleep and headed over to Sturm’s house. As the two pals sat chatting in Sturm’s makeshift music studio, Amato spotted a cheap electric keyboard.

Without thinking, he rose from his chair and sat in front of it. He had never played the piano—never had the slightest inclination to. Now his fingers seemed to find the keys by instinct and, to his astonishment, ripple across them. His right hand started low, climbing in lyrical chains of triads, skipping across melodic intervals and arpeggios, landing on the high notes, then starting low again and building back up. His left hand followed close behind, laying down bass, picking out harmony. Amato sped up, slowed down, let pensive tones hang in the air, then resolved them into rich chords as if he had been playing for years. When Amato finally looked up, Sturm’s eyes were filled with tears.

Music Man

Amato played for six hours, leaving Sturm’s house early the next morning with an unshakable feeling of wonder. He searched the Internet for an explanation, typing in words like gifted and head trauma. The results astonished him.

Amato searched the internet for an explanation, typing in words like gifted and head trauma. the results astonished him.

He read about Tony Cicoria, an orthopedic surgeon in upstate New York who was struck by lightning while talking to his mother from a telephone booth. Cicoria then became obsessed with classical piano and taught himself how to play and compose music. After being hit in the head with a baseball at age 10, Orlando Serrell could name the day of the week for any given date. A bad fall at age three left Alonzo Clemons with permanent cognitive impairment, Amato learned, and a talent for sculpting intricate replicas of animals.

Finally Amato found the name Darold Treffert, a world-recognized expert on savant syndrome—a condition in which individuals who are typically mentally impaired demonstrate remarkable skills. Amato fired off an e-mail soon he had answers. Treffert, now retired from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine, diagnosed Amato with “acquired savant syndrome.” In the 30 or so known cases, ordinary people who suffer brain trauma suddenly develop almost-superhuman new abilities: artistic brilliance, mathematical mastery, photographic memory. One acquired savant, a high-school dropout brutally beaten by muggers, is the only known person in the world able to draw complex geometric patterns called fractals he also claims to have discovered a mistake in pi. A stroke transformed another from a mild-mannered chiropractor into a celebrated visual artist whose work has appeared in publications like The New Yorker and in gallery shows, and sells for thousands of dollars.

The neurological causes of acquired savant syndrome are poorly understood. But the Internet has made it easier for people like Amato to connect with researchers who study savants, and improved brain-imaging techniques have enabled those scientists to begin to probe the unique neural mechanisms at work. Some have even begun to design experiments that investigate an intriguing possibility: genius lies in all of us, just waiting to be unleashed.

Pure Genius

Bruce Miller directs the UCSF Memory and Aging Center in San Francisco, where as a behavioral neurologist he treats elderly people stricken with Alzheimer’s disease and late-life psychosis. One day in the mid-1990s, the son of a patient pointed out his father’s new obsession with painting. As his father’s symptoms worsened, the man said, his paintings improved. Soon, Miller began to identify other patients who displayed unexpected new talents as their neurological degeneration continued. As dementia laid waste to brain regions associated with language, higher-order processing, and social norms, their artistic abilities exploded.

Though these symptoms defied conventional wisdom on brain disease in the elderly—artists afflicted with Alzheimer’s typically lose artistic ability—Miller realized they were consistent with another population described in the literature: savants. That wasn’t the only similarity. Savants often display an obsessive compulsion to perform their special skill, and they exhibit deficits in social and language behaviors, defects present in dementia patients. Miller wondered if there might be neurological similarities too. Although the exact mechanisms at work in the brains of savants have never been identified and can vary from case to case, several studies dating back to at least the 1970s have found left-hemispheric damage in autistic savants with prodigious artistic, mathematical, and memory skills.

Sudden Sculptor

Miller decided to find out precisely where in the left hemisphere of regular savants—whose skills usually become apparent at a very young age—these defects existed. He read the brain scan of a five-year-old autistic savant able to reproduce intricate scenes from memory on an Etch-a-Sketch. Single-photon-emission computed tomography (SPECT) showed abnormal inactivity in the anterior temporal lobes of the left hemisphere—exactly the results he found in his dementia patients.

In most cases, scientists attribute enhanced brain activity to neuroplasticity, the organ’s ability to devote more cortical real estate to developing skills as they improve with practice. But Miller offered a wholly different hypothesis for the mechanisms at work in congenital and acquired savants. Savant skills, Miller argues, emerge because the areas ravaged by disease—those associated with logic, verbal communication, and comprehension—have actually been inhibiting latent artistic abilities present in those people all along. As the left brain goes dark, the circuits keeping the right brain in check disappear. The skills do not emerge as a result of newly acquired brain power they emerge because for the first time, the areas of the right brain associated with creativity can operate unchecked.

Full Spectrum

The theory fits with the work of other neurologists, who are increasingly finding cases in which brain damage has spontaneously, and seemingly counterintuitively, led to positive changes—eliminating stuttering, enhancing memory in monkeys and rats, even restoring lost eyesight in animals. In a healthy brain, the ability of different neural circuits to both excite and inhibit one another plays a critical role in efficient function. But in the brains of dementia patients and some autistic savants, the lack of inhibition in areas associated with creativity led to keen artistic expression and an almost compulsive urge to create.

In the weeks after his accident, Amato’s mind raced. And his fingers wanted to move. He found himself tapping out patterns, waking up from naps with his fingers drumming against his legs. He bought a keyboard. Without one, he felt anxious, overstimulated once he was able to sit down and play, relief washed over him, followed by a deep sense of calm. He’d shut himself in, sometimes for as long as two to three days, just him and the piano, exploring his new talent, trying to understand it, letting the music pour out of him.

Amato experienced other symptoms, many of them not good. Black and white squares appeared in his vision, as if a transparent filter had synthesized before his eyes, and moved in a circular pattern. He was also plagued with headaches. The first one hit three weeks after his accident, but soon Amato was having as many as five a day. They made his head pound, and light and noise were excruciating. One day, he collapsed in his brother’s bathroom. On another, he almost passed out in Wal-Mart.

Still, Amato’s feelings were unambiguous. He felt certain he had been given a gift, and it wasn’t just the personal gratification of music: Amato’s new condition, he quickly realized, had vast commercial potential.

Tortured Artist

Cultural fascination with savants appears to date as far back as the condition itself. In the 19th century, “Blind Tom” Bethune became an international celebrity. A former slave who could reproduce any song on the piano, he played the White House at age 11, toured the world at 16, and over the course of his life earned well over $750,000—a fortune at the time. Dustin Hoffman introduced the savant to millions of theatergoers with his character in the 1988 movie Rain Man. Since then, prodigious savants have become staples of shows like 60 Minutes and Oprah. But acquired savants, especially, are perfect fodder for a society obsessed with self-improvement, reality television, and pop psychology.

Acquired savants are perfect fodder for a society obsessed with self-improvement, reality television, and pop psychology.

Jon Sarkin, the chiropractor turned artist, became the subject of profiles in GQ and Vanity Fair, a biography, and TV documentaries. Tom Cruise purchased the rights to his life story. “To be honest, I don’t even mention it to my wife anymore when the media calls,” Sarkin says. “It’s part of life.” Jason Padgett, the savant who can draw fractals, inked a book deal after he was featured on Nightline and in magazine and newspaper articles. Reached by phone, he complained that his agent no longer allowed him to give interviews. “It’s very frustrating,” he said. “I want to speak to you, but they won’t let me.”

To Amato, acquired savantism looked like the opportunity he’d been waiting for his entire life. Amato’s mother had always told him he was extraordinary, that he was put on the planet to do great things. Yet a series of uninspiring jobs had followed high school—selling cars, delivering mail, doing public relations. He’d reached for the brass ring, to be sure, but it had always eluded him. He’d auditioned for the television show American Gladiators and failed the pull-up test. He’d opened a sports-management company, handling marketing and endorsements for mixed-martial-arts fighters it went bust in 2001. Now he had a new path.

From Chiropractor To Painter

Amato began planning a marketing campaign. He wanted to be more than an artist, musician, and performer. He wanted to tell his story and inspire people. Amato also had another ambition, a goal lingering from his life before virtuosity, back when he had only his competitive drive. He wanted, more than anything, to be on Survivor. So when that first interviewer called from a local radio station, Amato was ready to talk.

Few people have followed the emergence of acquired savants with more interest than Allan Snyder, a neuroscientist at the University of Sydney in Australia. Since 1999, Snyder has focused his research on studying how their brains function. He’s also pressed further into speculative territory than most neuroscientists feel comfortable: He is attempting to produce the same outstanding abilities in people with undamaged brains.

Last spring, Snyder published what many consider to be his most substantive work. He and his colleagues gave 28 volunteers a geometric puzzle that has stumped laboratory subjects for more than 50 years. The challenge: Connect nine dots, arrayed in three rows of three, using four straight lines without retracing a line or lifting the pen. None of the subjects could solve the problem. Then Snyder and his colleagues used a technique called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to temporarily immobilize the same area of the brain destroyed by dementia in Miller’s acquired savants. The noninvasive technique, which is commonly used to evaluate brain damage in stroke patients, delivers a weak electrical current to the scalp through electrodes, depolarizing or hyperpolarizing neural circuits until they have slowed to a crawl. After tDCS, more than 40 percent of the participants in Snyder’s experiment solved the problem. (None of those in a control group given placebo tDCS identified the solution.)

Sarkin’s Art

The experiment, Snyder argues, supports the hypothesis that the abilities observed in acquired savants emerge once brain areas normally held in check have become unfettered. The crucial role of the left temporal lobe, he believes, is to filter what would otherwise be a dizzying flood of sensory stimuli, sorting them into previously learned concepts. These concepts, or what Snyder calls mind-sets, allow humans to see a tree instead of all its individual leaves and to recognize words instead of just the letters. “How could we possibly deal with the world if we had to analyze, to completely fathom, every new snapshot?” he says.

Savants can access raw sensory information, normally off-limits to the conscious mind, because the brain’s perceptual region isn’t functioning. To solve the nine-dot puzzle, one must extend the lines beyond the square formed by the dots, which requires casting aside preconceived notions of the parameters. “Our whole brain is geared to making predictions so we can function rapidly in this world,” Snyder says. “If something naturally helps you get around the filters of these mind-sets, that is pretty powerful.”

Sudden Savant

Treffert, for one, finds the results of the experiment compelling. “I was a little dubious of Snyder’s earlier work, which often involved asking his subjects to draw pictures,” he says. “It just seemed pretty subjective: How do you evaluate the change in them? But his recent study is useful.”

Snyder thinks Amato’s musical prodigy adds to mounting evidence that untapped human potential lies in everyone, accessible with the right tools. When the non-musician hears music, he perceives the big picture, melodies. Amato, Snyder says, has a “literal” experience of music—he hears individual notes. Miller’s dementia patients have technical artistic skill because they are drawing what they see: details.

Berit Brogaard believes the left-brain, right-brain idea is an oversimplification. Brogaard is a neuroscientist and philosophy professor at the Center for Neurodynamics at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. She has another theory: When brain cells die, they release a barrage of neurotransmitters, and this deluge of potent chemicals may actually rewire parts of the brain, opening up new neural pathways into areas previously unavailable.

“Our hypothesis is that we have abilities that we cannot access,” Brogaard says. “Because they are not conscious to us, we cannot manipulate them. Some reorganization takes place that makes it possible to consciously access information that was there, lying dormant.”

In August, Brogaard published a paper exploring the implications of a battery of tests her lab ran on Jason Padgett. It revealed damage in the visual-cortex areas involved in detecting motion and boundaries. Areas of the parietal cortex associated with novel visual images, mathematics, and action planning were abnormally active. In Padgett’s case, she says, the areas that have become supercharged are next to those that sustained the damage—placing them in the path of the neurotransmitters likely unleashed by the death of so many brain cells.

In Amato’s case, she says, he learned bar chords on a guitar in high school and even played in a garage band. “Obviously he had some interest in music before, and his brain probably recoded some music unconsciously,” she says. “He stored memories of music in his brain, but he didn’t access them.” Somehow the accident provoked a reorganization of neurons that brought them into his conscious mind, Brogaard speculates. It’s a theory she hopes to explore with him in the lab.

On a beautiful Los Angeles day last October, I accompanied Amato and his agent, Melody Pinkerton, up to the penthouse roof deck of Santa Monica’s Shangri-La Hotel. Far below us, a pier jutted into the ocean and the Pacific Coast Highway hugged the coastline. Pinkerton settled next to Amato on a couch, nodding warmly and blinking at him with a doe-eyed smile as three men with handheld cameras circled. They were gathering footage for the pilot of a reality-TV series about women trying to make it in Hollywood. Pinkerton is a former contestant on the VH1 reality show Frank the Entertainer and has posed for Playboy if the series is green-lit, Amato will make regular appearances as one of her clients.

“My whole life has changed,” Amato told her. “I’ve slowed down, even though I’m racing and producing at a pace that not many people understand, you know? If Beethoven scored 500 songs a year back in the day and was considered a pretty brilliant mind, and the doctors tell me I’m scoring 2,500 pieces a year, you can see that I’m a little busy.”

Amato seemed comfortable with the cameras, despite the pressure. A spot on a reality show would represent a step forward in his career, but not a huge leap. Over the past six years, Amato has been featured in newspapers and television shows around the world. He was one of eight savants featured on a Discovery Channel special in 2010 called Ingenious Minds, and he was on PBS’s NOVA this fall. He recently appeared on a talk show hosted by his idol, Jeff Probst, also the host of Survivor. In June, Amato appeared on the Today show.

Many savants exhibit exquisite computational or artistic capacities, but almost always at the expense of other things the brain does.

Musical renown (and a payday) has yet to follow. He released his first album in 2007. In 2008, he played in front of several thousand people in New Orleans with the famed jazz-fusion guitarist Stanley Jordan. He was asked to write the score for an independent Japanese documentary. But while Amato’s musical prowess never fails to elicit amazement in the media, reviews of his music are mixed. “Some of the reaction is good, some of it’s fair, some of it’s not so good,” he says. “I wouldn’t say any of it’s great. What I think’s going to be great is working with other musicians now.”

Still, as we strolled down Santa Monica Boulevard to a sushi restaurant after the filming, he hardly could have seemed happier. At the table, Amato smiled broadly, gestured manically with meaty forearms tattooed with musical notes, and poked the air with his chopsticks for emphasis.

“There’s book stuff, there are appearances, performances, charity organizations,” he said. “There are TV people, film people, commercial people, background stuff. Shoot, I know I missed about another half dozen. It’s like I’m on a plane doing about 972 miles an hour! I’m enjoying every second of the ride!”

Amato hasn’t exactly been coy about his desire for fame, mailing packets of material to reporters, sending Facebook requests to fellow acquired savants, and continuously updating his fan page—behavior that has raised some doubts among experts.

Rex Jung, a neuroscientist at the University of New Mexico, grew suspicious of Amato after reading about his history as an ultimate-fight promoter. “I couldn’t be more skeptical,” he says. Jung studies creativity and traumatic brain injuries, and he has spent time with Alonzo Clemons, the savant who sculpts animals. He believes acquired savantism is a legitimate condition. But he notes Amato does not display other symptoms one would expect.

Many savants, Jung says, exhibit “exquisite” computational or artistic capacities, but “almost always at the expense of other things the brain does.” Clemons, for example, has severe developmental disabilities. “I am highly skeptical of savants that are able to tie their shoes and update their Facebook pages and do strong marketing campaigns to highlight their savant abilities all at the same time.”

Overnight Artist

There is no way to definitively prove or disprove Amato’s claims, but a number of credible scientists are willing to vouch for his authenticity. Andrew Reeves, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic, conducted MRI scans of Amato’s brain for Ingenious Minds. The tests revealed several white spots, which Reeves acknowledges could have been caused by previous concussions.

“We knew going in that it was unlikely to show any sort of signature change,” Reeves says. But Amato’s description of what he experiences “fits too well with how the brain is wired, in terms of what parts are adjacent to what parts, for him to have concocted it, in my opinion.” Reeves believes the black and white squares in Amato’s field of vision somehow connect to his motor system, indicating an atypical link between the visual and auditory regions of his brain.

As I drove through the streets of L.A. with Amato last fall, it seemed to me that there was something undeniably American about his efforts to seize on his accident—which struck when he was close to 40, staring into the abyss of middle-age mediocrity—and transform himself from an anonymous sales trainer into a commercial product, an inspirational symbol of human possibility for the legions of potential fans dreaming of grander things. Treffert, Snyder, and Brogaard all spoke enthusiastically about unraveling the phenomenon of acquired savantism, in order to one day enable everyone to explore their hidden talents. The Derek Amatos of the world provide a glimpse of that goal.

After parking on Sunset Boulevard, a few blocks from the storied rock-and-roll shrines of the Roxy and the Viper Room, Amato and I headed into the Standard Hotel and followed a bedraggled hipster with an Australian accent through the lobby to a dimly lit bar. In the center of the room sat a grand piano, its ivory keys gleaming. The chairs had been flipped upside down on the tables, and dishes clinked in a nearby kitchen. The club, closed to customers, was all ours. As Amato sat down, the tension seemed to drain from his shoulders.

He closed his eyes, placed his foot on one of the pedals, and began to play. The music that gushed forth was loungy, full of flowery trills, swelling and sweeping up and down the keys in waves of cascading notes—a sticky, emotional kind of music more appropriate for the romantic climax of a movie like From Here to Eternity than a gloomy nightclub down the street from the heart of the Sunset Strip. It seemed strangely out of character for a man whose sartorial choices bring to mind 󈨔s hair-band icon Bret Michaels. Amato didn’t strike me as prodigious, the kind of rare savant, like Blind Tom Bethune, whose skills would be impressive even in someone with years of training.

But it didn’t seem to matter. There was expression, melody, and skill. And if they could emerge spontaneously in Amato, who’s to say what spectacular abilities might lie dormant in the rest of us?

This article originally appeared in the March 2013 issue of the magazine.


She Was a Headstrong Kid

Jackie was a confident child who was bright beyond her years when compared to many other children her age. While her brilliance sometimes caused her to have issues with her teachers — their classes often bored her — her self-assurance did not go unnoticed.

In Bill Adler's biography, The Eloquent Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis: A Portrait in Her Own Words, he says, "When Jackie was just 4 years old, she, her newborn sister, Lee, and their nanny went out. Jackie wandered off. Just as a police officer spotted her walking alone, she. said firmly, 'My nurse and baby sister seem to be lost.'"


Surprising New Data from the World’s Most Popular Porn Site

Since 1997 when pornography began migrating to the Internet, it’s been difficult to get a clear picture of who’s viewing how much of what when. Journalists, academics, government agencies, anti-porn groups, and the porn industry have all released traffic estimates that often disagree.

Who should we believe? Hard to say. All we can do is keep open minds and use our best judgment.

Recently, some intriguing new information came to light. The world’s most popular porn site, PornHub, published a trove of site statistics for 2017. This information can’t be independently fact-checked, so we shouldn’t take it as gospel. But to my knowledge, PornHub is the only major player in the online porn industry to release such data.

Of course, people who detest porn are certain to denounce everything having to do with PornHub as the work of the Devil. We’re all entitled to our opinions. In mine, the PornHub data are worth digesting—and discussing.

The World’s #36 Most Popular Site —or #4

PornHub was launched in 2007 in Montreal, Quebec. It publishes both professional and amateur explicit photography and video in dozens of categories including Arab, Babysitter, Cartoon, Fisting, Gangbang, Public Sex, Vintage (prior to around 1980), and Popular with Women. But those categories merely scratch the surface. Using the site’s search function, I entered “Mature,” women in their forties, and got oodles of subcategories, among them: Mature Mom, Mature Lesbian, Mature Swingers, and mature women of every race from a dozen countries.

Alexa, the leading Web-traffic tracker, says that among the world’s tens of millions of sites, PornHub ranks number 36. But if we eliminate search engines (Google U.S. and its many country-specific affiliates), Web portals (Yahoo!), shopping sites (Amazon), and sites based on user-generated content (Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Reddit), if we focus only on sites that publish other content, then PornHub ranks number four behind only Wikipedia, Microsoft, and Netflix.

Meanwhile, among the planet’s top 100 sites, Alexa says that four others are also devoted to porn: XVideos (#39, based in France), BongaCams (#48, Russia), xHamster (#76, U.S.), and xnxx (#91, France). Together PornHub and these four account for more than 6 billion visits per month, nearly one a month for every person on Earth. Clearly, pornography is one of the leading content categories on the Internet, and its audience is overwhelmingly male. Some pundits speculate that porn may be men’s #1 Internet destination. If it isn’t, it’s certainly in the top few.

For 2017, PornHub claims 28.5 billion total visits. That’s 81 million a day, almost 4 million an hour, 56,000 a minute. In the time it takes to read this post, the site will have recorded more than 100,000 visits.

Many visitors use the search function. PornHub tallied 25 billion searches last year. That’s 800 per second.

As for 2017 uploads to the site, PornHub estimates 7,000 gigabytes per minute, enough to fill the memories of every smartphone in the world.

Demographics

PornHub says its audience is 75 percent men and 25 percent women. This comes as a surprise. Most estimates of the Internet porn audience skew more toward men, on the order of 90 percent male, 10 percent female.

I emailed PornHub asking how they came up with their gender breakdown. A spokesperson replied that the site relies on Google Analytics, a service of the giant search company that parses web traffic a zillion different ways. I use Google Analytics myself for the site I publish, GreatSexGuidance. The depth and breadth of information are astonishing—and I use only the services available for free. Sites that pay get much, much more. So I’m (almost) ready to believe that women comprise around 25 percent of PornHub’s audience.

I’m guessing that a significant proportion of PornHub’s women audience is bisexual or lesbian. Among women, “lesbian” is the #1 search category (below).

The average age of PornHub viewers is 36. The site claims to discourage visits by minors, but many teens visit anyway, claiming to be 18 or older. Visitors by stated age:

The Internet porn audience skews younger, but still, 24 percent are 45 or older.

Time Spent on PornHub

Therapists who deal with porn compulsion paint a dark picture of hapless men stroking to porn for hours on end. That may be the case for a small minority of men, but according to PornHub, the average site visit lasts just 10 minutes (up 23 seconds from 2016). Of course, people can visit more than once a day, so heavy users can rack up hours.

Traffic spikes twice a day: 4-5 p.m. and 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. Visitors watch right after school or as the workday ends, and at night when the kids—and maybe the girlfriend or wife—are asleep.

Residents of different states average varying amounts of time on PornHub. All the states whose residents stay the longest—more than 11 minutes per visit—are located in the politically conservative deep South:

The states whose residents spend the least time per visit—nine to 10 minutes—are moderate to conservative and largely in the Mountain West:

However, there isn’t much difference between visits of 11 minutes and nine or 10. People, mostly men, in every state in the Union visit PornHub and stay for similar durations.

Categories viewed the longest in the U.S.—13 to 14 minutes:

• Amateur (that is, not produced by commercial entities)

• Old/young (partners of significantly different ages)

Categories viewed most briefly—7 to 8 minutes:

• POV (from the videographer’s point of view)

Categories that gained the most views from 2016 to 2017:

• Cuckold (men watching other men with their gals), up 72 percent

• Indian (from India), up 57 percent

• Cosplay (sex while dressed up as fictional characters), up 44 percent

Gender Preferences

Men and women have different porn category preferences. Men’s favorites:

• Ebony (African and African-American)

For years, the Internet has been migrating away from desktop computers to smartphones. PornHub has also gone mobile:

• Phones: 67 percent of views, up 5 percent from 2016

• Desktop computers: 24 percent, down 4 percent

• Tablets: 9 percent, down 1 percent

Declines in Traffic

Even devoted PornHub visitors take time off from the site. Days when visits show the greatest decreases:

• Christmas Eve and Day: -21 percent

• Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day: -3 percent

Of course, even on down days, site visits number in the tens of millions.

Many commentators who discuss porn treat it as monolithic, as though everyone is watching the same things. In fact, the world of porn is totally atomized with people of different genders, ages, and geography watching very different content.

Want to see my source for this post? PornHub’s 2017 statistics.

Finally, I must admit I’m not sure what to make of all this. What do you think?


4. The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci (1495—1498)

For more than 500 years of its existence, the famous fresco The Last Supper has been restored at least five times, and the last restoration took 21 years. This fresco by the great Leonardo depicts Jesus' last supper before his betrayal, arrest and death. In addition to composition, shapes and colors, discussions of this fresco are replete with theories about hidden symbols and the presence of Mary Magdalene next to Jesus. This important art asset is located in the Santa Maria delle Grazie monastery in Milan.


30 Amazing Facts You Never Knew About the White House

These tidbits might surprise even the biggest history buffs.

As the longtime home of the U.S. president and the location of countless momentous decisions and historic moments, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is immediately identifiable and familiar to any American—and plenty of non-Americans, too. But as well as you know it, how well do you really know the White House?

It turns out, the White House is not only home to the president, but home to a number of surprising facts. For example, did you know the residence has a chocolate shop, a florist, and a seriously famous ghost? Probably not. So the next time you're eager to regale your friends with your political knowledge, put these amazing White House facts to good use. You'll probably also want to share a few of the 25 All-Time Greatest One-Liners by Politicians.

First and foremost, the White House is a mansion. Consider this: The White House Residence spans six floors and includes 132 rooms and 35 bathrooms. That makes for 412 doors, 28 fireplaces, eight staircases, three elevators, and the setup for an epic game of hide-and-seek. Wondering how much a place like that would cost? A recent appraisal valued the property at just under $400 million. For more fun Americana, check out the 50 Facts About America That Most Americans Don't Know.

The White House was designed by James Hoban, an Irish architect who began his stateside career in Philadelphia in 1785. Think you know all there is to know about the United States? Find out with the 28 Most Enduring Myths in American History.

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The name wasn't officially adopted until 1901, when Teddy Roosevelt decided to change it from the "Executive Residence." He noted that state governors had executive residences, and he wanted to make sure that the POTUS's residence had a more distinguished title.

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Though George Washington was responsible for commissioning the construction of the White House, choosing the site, and approving its design, he never actually lived there. That honor went to president number two, John Adams.

Washington's term ended in 1797, three years before the White House was completed in 1800. He died in 1799, meaning he never set even set foot in the completed building. He is the only U.S. President to have not lived in the White House. And for more great history lessons, check out the 20 Crazy Facts You Never Knew About One Dollar Bills.

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Nobody likes moving day, but you can bet yours is nowhere near as stressful as moving day at the White House. It all takes place as soon as the sitting president leaves the White House for the president-elect's inauguration ceremony. From then, staffers and movers have five hours to move out all of the sitting president's belongings and move in the belongings of the president-elect. Not only is furniture changed and artwork swapped, but the walls are even repainted too, as per the requests of the incoming first family. All in five hours!

James Hoban/Wikimedia Commons

Since Michelle Obama struck a nerve by expressing her feelings about waking up every day in a house built by slaves, this White House fact has become common knowledge. And it shouldn't be surprising considering the state of the U.S. at the time the White House was built. White House records show that African American slaves were trained on the spot to fill certain capacities, such as quarryman, brick-maker, and carpenter.

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Sure, one of the perks of being president is living rent-free, but that hardly makes up for the hefty expenses that come with moving into the White House. Despite making a six-figure salary, the President is still responsible for paying for all meals, at the White House and elsewhere, all events (and the wages for those working the events), and even transportation. Many presidents have left the White House in serious debt, such as Bill Clinton, whose debt totaled between $2.28 million and $10.6 million by the time he left office.

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Presidents William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor both died in the White House. Three First Ladies—Letitia Tyler, Caroline Harrison, and Ellen Wilson—passed away there, too. To date, a total of 10 people have died within the White House walls. If that made your ears perk up, check out The Weirdest Urban Legend in Every State.

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If there's anything to be learned from horror movies, it's that old buildings are often haunted. Obviously, this doesn't bode well for the White House. Staffers, guests, presidents, and first ladies have all claimed to have experienced paranormal activity during their time there. Rumor has it that Abraham Lincoln's ghost still haunts the home. In fact, there have been reported sightings of our sixteenth President's specter in the White House since 1903. And for more truth bombs, here are the 20 Crazy Facts That Will Blow Your Mind.

White House/Wikimedia Commons

What purpose could 132 different rooms possibly serve? Well, it turns out some of the past residents have come up with quite creative ways to fill these spaces. Harry Truman, for example, commissioned the White House's first bowling alley. FDR oversaw the transformation of a cloakroom into a 42-seat movie theater. Hillary Clinton even converted one sitting room into the Music Room so that her husband could play the saxophone.

While the White House still has an exterior pool, its interior pool is now hidden beneath the floors. The indoor pool, which opened in 1933 for use by then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt, is underneath the current James S. Brady Press Briefing Room.

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If anyone in the White House deserves caffeine, it's the press (not including the President, of course). So you can imagine Tom Hanks' shock when, on his first tour of the White House in 2004, he found the press room to be missing a coffee machine. And as the kind man he is, he bought them one. Six years later, he sent them a new one after noticing it was getting run down. Finally, in 2017, he sent the White House press corps a third gift. This time, it was a $1,700 espresso machine, along with a note reading "Keep up the good fight for truth, justice, and the American way. Especially for the truth part."

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The White House was entirely lit by gas lights until 1891, when electricity was first installed. And as electric lighting was still a fairly new concept, the leader at that time, President Benjamin Harrison, was skeptical of the dangers and worried he would be shocked if he touched a light switch. His solution? He never once touched one himself.

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While George Washington never lived in the White House and was long dead before the Oval Office was first used in 1909, Washington was an inspiration for the room's unusual shape. Washington reportedly insisted upon having rounded walls in his Philadelphia home so that it would be suitable for hosting formal gatherings, or levees. This design was followed when the Oval Office was constructed, although such formal receptions are no longer hosted in the space.

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While John Adams moved into the White House in 1800, it wasn't until 1833 that indoor plumbing was installed. However, it wasn't until 1853 that all of its bathrooms had hot and cold water run to them.

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The executive residence has hosted its fair share of parties, including many banquets. The State Dining Room is the larger of two dining rooms in the White House and can seat up to 140 guests. Otherwise, the kitchen can serve hors-d'oeuvres to as many as 1,000 people. The White House kitchen is staffed by some of America's greatest chefs, who adjust their menus to the President's taste. Some requests include pork rinds covered in Tabasco for George H.W. Bush and Coca Cola-flavored jelly for Bill Clinton.

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If you think back long and hard to your middle school history lessons, you'll remember that during an invasion in 1814, the British burned the White House down. Only 14 years after the original construction was finished, the same architect, James Hoban, was tasked with rebuilding. The White House 2.0 finally finished in 1817, though Hoban would return on occasion in the following years to add porticos on the north and south sides.

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While it's unlikely that you can host your own nuptials there, there have been a number of weddings at the White House since it was first built. In fact, eighteen couples have gotten married at the White House, the most recent of whom tied the knot in 2013.

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When Michelle Obama's biography was recently published, readers were shocked to learn about the lonely, confining rules of living in the White House. In one detail, she revealed how she was never allowed to open a window in her own home. Residents are constantly monitored and not allowed to go anywhere alone, which can feel quite straining. President Truman called it a "great white jail" and a "glamorous prison." Julie Nixon complained of a lack of privacy due to the press and the guards.

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If the president loses a crown, he won't have to go far to get it replaced. Seriously: There's a dentist's office in the basement of the building. In fact, the basement is essentially a mini-mall! With a chocolate shop, a florist, a carpenter, and more, there's little need for the residents to ever leave. The basement level is also where you'll find Nixon's bowling alley and Dwight Eisenhower's broadcast room.

After plans with French architect Pierre L'Enfant fell through, George Washington opened a contest to find a replacement design for the White House. The winner was an Irish immigrant named James Hoban, who, it turns out, was greatly influenced by a building in his native Ireland. The Leinster House, in Kildare, Dublin, strikingly resembles the American monument in several ways, including a triangular pediment supported by four columns, dentil moldings, and opposite-facing chimneys.

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Just outside of Bordeaux in the Perigord Noir region of France is the Chateau de Rastignac, a building that also bears an impressive resemblance to the White House. The building's records were mostly destroyed after the chateau was torched during World War II, but some claim that it was the inspiration for Thomas Jefferson's remodel of the White House during his two terms in office. Jefferson spent significant time in France as the U.S. Minister Plenipotentiary.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt is the man responsible for making the White House entirely wheelchair accessible. Today, it's common knowledge that FDR was paralyzed below the waist due to polio, but at the time, he kept his condition hush-hush. His additions of elevators and ramps made the White House one of the first wheelchair-friendly buildings in Washington.

Because of the Great Depression, Roosevelt had very little budget for annual repairs to the White House, and as a result, the building was literally collapsing. Nobody had realized how structurally unsound the old building was until engineers working on President Truman's balcony in 1948 found that, not only were the floorboards cracking and swaying beneath people's feet, the building's weakened wooden beams were at risk of giving way at any moment.

Most of what we associate with the White House takes place in the West Wing there's the Situation Room, the Cabinet Room, and of course, the Oval Office. However, none of that existed before Teddy Roosevelt called to have an executive office building built alongside the Residence in 1902. He moved his cabinet into the West Wing immediately, but not himself. It wasn't until 1909, when President Taft doubled the Wing's size, that the Oval Office was included. Taft was the first president ever to use it.

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Part of the routine upkeep at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is making sure the White House stays true to its name. That means repainting every now and then to maintain its bright, white exterior. And that's a task that requires a whole lot of paint. At 55,000 square feet, it takes 570 gallons of paint to cover the entire surface. Naturally, painting isn't the only maintenance required at the White House. In fact, between $750,000 and $1.6 million is spent on maintenance each year.

Image via The White House Historical Association

When the first family moves into the Executive Residence, they take their pets with them. The White House has seen its fair share of cats and dogs, but it's also housed a number of more unusual pets. When the Coolidges were sent a raccoon to cook for Thanksgiving dinner, they opted instead to keep it as a pet, naming her Rebecca. President Harrison kept two opossums named Mr. Protection and Mr. Reciprocity. The craziest pets, though, were a pair of tiger cubs gifted to President Van Buren.

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Like all high-profile buildings, the White House has a secret entrance for the president and secret visitors. It opens onto H street in Washington D.C. and passes through two tunnels and an alleyway before arriving at the White House basement. This secret entrance was designed in part as a response to World War II, as was an underground bomb-shelter the was built beneath the White House.

The book "The Residence" by Kate Anderson Brower, which was published in 2015, takes a look at the lives of the White House service staff and reveals the hidden world of what they call, simply, "the house." One of the particularities revealed in this book is that open staff positions are never advertised. All employees are found via word-of-mouth or recommendations. As a result, many employees belong to families that have been working in the White House for generations.

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While you might assume that being the Commander-in-Chief means that everything at the White House is free, you'd be wrong. In fact, presidents and their families pay for meals, dry cleaning, hair and makeup, and staffer for parties.

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Tacitus On The Christians

Emperor Nero was one of the most diabolical of Rome’s Twelve Caesars. He practiced Machiavellian rules 1,400 years before Machiavelli wrote them. He used the absolute power he possessed to preserve himself at all costs. To Nero, the end always justified the means. When he burned Rome to the ground in July 64 AD and his heinous act became known, he cast about for a scapegoat to preserve the State—himself. “Not my fault. It’s their fault.” “Change the subject from me to them.” Politics: from Aristotle’s ta Politika, the science of government.

Tacitus on the Christians

“But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor (Nero) and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration (burning of Rome in 64 AD) was the result of an order (given by Nero). Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called “Chrestians” by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all (Christians) who pleaded guilty then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.” Tacitus, Annals, 15.44

Commentary

Rome was destroyed by fire in July 64 Tacitus’ story suggests that the Christians were killed in the same summer. An early Christian tradition adds some details, such as the decapitation of Paul and the crucifixion of Peter.

Why did Nero blame the Christians? The answer may be that they were living near the place where the fire started: the eastern part of the Circus Maximus. It should be noted that the first Roman Christians were Jews and probably lived with the other Jews. (The ways of Judaism and Christianity parted later.) One of the Jewish quarters in Rome was just east of the Circus, near the Capena Gate. It is described by the Roman author Juvenal as a slum area: “Now, the grove with its sacred spring and the shrine [of a water goddess] are rented to Jews, whose worldly goods are no more than a basket and some hay. The woods has become the haunt of beggars.”

That there were Christians living among the Jewish proletariat, is also suggested by the presence of a very ancient church, the SS. Nereo ed Achilleo, which is, in a venerably old legend, connected with Peter’s last days. Both the Capena Gate and this church are situated on the Appian Road, which was also connected with the last days of Peter.

So, there were Jews living near the place where the fire started, and there was another reason to suspect the people near the Capena Gate: their part of the city was not destroyed by the fire. But Nero could never punish the Jews of Rome: there were thousands of them. The Christians, on the other hand, were an easy target.

Moreover, there may have been some element of distorted truth in the accusation, because the Christians believed that Rome would be destroyed during Christ’s return. They must have responded enthusiastically when they saw “Babylon” burning, and in fact, Tacitus tells us that at least some of them pleaded guilty, i.e. admitted something that their interlocutors interpreted as a confession.

Their execution (in a circus on the Vatican hill, where Nero’s family possessed a villa and a park) was a kind of comic relief to the badly hit Romans. Tacitus’ remark that “they were covered with the skins of beasts and torn by dogs” suggests that several Christians were the unwilling actors in a mythological tableau vivant: the death of Actaeon, a legendary hunter who was devoured by his own dogs. In the First letter of Clement, we also read about women being tortured as if they were the mythological Danaids or the legendary criminal Dirce (6.2). The climax of these cruel shows was the mockery of the crucifixion of Christ: according to a second-century tradition, the Christian leader Peter was crucified upside down.


Tiny star or giant planet?

Just as the study of unusual planets like hot Jupiters can help us understand fundamental processes, so too can the study of unusual stars. Stars exist across a wide range of masses, the heaviest of which is 150 times the mass of our sun. The lightest stars, known as brown dwarfs, are less than one-tenth the mass of the sun and therefore can be cool and faint enough to look like a gas giant planet.

Kevin Luhman, professor astronomy and astrophysics, has spent much of his career studying how brown dwarfs are like stars and how they are like planets. To determine if they are born more like stars or planets, he is trying to identify the smallest mass at which brown dwarfs exist.

“There are different theories about the formation of stars that make different predictions for the minimum mass at which brown dwarfs exist,” he said. “If you can measure that minimum mass, you can test theories of how stars are born.”

Because they are cool and faint, brown dwarfs can also be challenging to find the first wasn’t discovered until 1995. However, when they are very young, brown dwarfs are relatively bright — almost as bright as other stars — making them easier to detect.

“We look for newborn brown dwarfs in nebulas of gas and dust that are already known to be giving birth to stars, like the nearby Orion Nebula,” said Luhman. “Much of my work has involved searching these nebulas, using very sensitive telescopes that are able to see them.”

This illustration shows the relative sizes of a hypothetical brown dwarf planetary system compared to our own solar system. Penn State astronmer Kevin Luhman studies how small, cool brown dwarfs are similar to planets and how they are similar to stars, which will provide insight into the process of star and planet formation. IMAGE: NASA/JPL-CALTECH/T. PYLE (SSC)

Luhman has helped identify brown dwarfs as small as five times the mass of Jupiter, which overlaps with the masses of some planets. He hopes that the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope in 2021 will allow astronomers to determine the minimum mass of these unusual stars.

“Brown dwarfs tend to be brightest in the infrared, and James Webb will be the most powerful infrared telescope to date,” he said. “We also hope to answer whether and how often planets can form around brown dwarfs. There’s already good evidence of protoplanetary disks existing around brown dwarfs, meaning they have the building blocks for making planets around them.”

These questions will help inform the bigger picture about planet formation, including whether planets form around any kind of star or only stars like the sun — and, of course, whether it is possible for planets around brown dwarfs, if they exist, to harbor life.


Can The Bauhaus Teach Us About Car Design? New Publications Examine Its Legacy

“The motor car has completely overturned our old ideas of town planning,” said Le Corbusier. “If houses were built industrially, mass-produced like chassis, an aesthetic would be formed with surprising precision,” wrote the Swiss father of modern architecture in 1924. He was directly linking vehicle production and building construction. Much like his contemporaries, Le Corbusier saw the motor car as a symbol of modernity.

“Bauhaus Journals 1926 – 1931”, edited and published Lars Müller with Bauhaus-Archiv/Museum für . [+] Gestaltung

Le Corbusier's wish was to perfect car design through utility and form, going as far as to conceive what he called a “minimalist vehicle for maximum functionality”. The 1936 Voiture Minimum was a three-seater anti-design vehicle that didn’t quite enthrall the French public when it was unveiled at the 1949 Paris Motor Show. It did, however, do well in post-Civil War Spain, manufactured there under Biscuter-Voisin for almost ten years. In 1987, Giorgio Giugiaro of Italdesign honored it with a full-scale model at the Pompidou Centre in Paris for “L’Aventure Le Corbusier” exhibition, while two years later a similar prototype was constructed to mark the opening of Design Museum in London. Incidentally Le Corbusier claimed his car to have inspired the original Volkswagen Beetle.

“Bauhaus Journals 1926 – 1931”, edited and published Lars Müller with Bauhaus-Archiv/Museum für . [+] Gestaltung

I tell this story as we celebrate the centenary of the Bauhaus, the school of art and design which remains the very epitome of modernism. Born in 1919 in the sleepy town of Weimar as a response to the crisis and devastation following the world war, the Bauhaus represented a collective voice desperate to forge a new world order. It was a school of thought. Le Corbusier was not strictly a Bauhausler, but some of his ideas were an extension of the dialogue happening first in this quiet corner of Germany, then in Dessau and later in Berlin before the school was forced to close, pressured by the Nazis who saw its progressive ways a threat, labelling some of the members “degenerate”, after assuming power in 1933.

"International Architecture" by Walter Gropius from the original Bauhausbücher series

Walter Gropius, the architect who founded the Bauhaus, was also excited by the automobile. Through his friendship with brothers Erwin and Otto Kleyer who owned the car maker Adler, Gropius even sketched some of the coachwork for their new Adler 6 sedan and designed his own cabriolet version in 1929. His Bauhaus school came about at a time of heavy industrialization when it became ever more important to differentiate products through good design rather than just function. Gropius and his fellow Bauhauslers set out to educate designers and create a total work of art so that all forms of design, including architecture, would be brought together under one roof. They explored utopian ideas, celebrated the avant-garde and encouraged free love and creative madness – sometimes a little too wildly. And long after Bauhauslers left Germany for London and Paris and New York, their dissident voices continued to be heard.

Extracts from "International Architecture" by Walter Gropius from the original Bauhausbücher series

A selection of republished Bauhaus journals and new books reveal just how enduring its legacy continues to be. The first of the series takes us back in time for insight into the teachings, ideas and philosophies of the Bauhaus when it was alive with discussion in Germany. Lars Müller has collaborated with the Bauhaus-Archiv/Museum für Gestaltung for “ Bauhaus Journals 1926-1931 ” . This fascinating volume includes edited voices from the key figures of the modern movement: Josef Albers, Walter Gropius, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, László Moholy-Nagy, Oskar Schlemmer, Herbert Bayer, Marcel Breuer, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Gerrit Rietveld.

"Pedagogical Sketchbook" by Paul Klee from the original Bauhausbücher series

Accompanying this are four original journals from the ‘Bauhausbücher’ series, beautifully republished by Lars Müller. “International Architecture” start the series with Gropius offering an illustrative lesson on the theories of the modern architecture movement of the mid-1920s. In “Pedagogical Sketchbook” artist Klee writes of his desire to reunite artistic design and craft. “New Design” by Dutch painter Piet Mondrian questions the prevailing hierarchy between painting and architecture. Lastly in “Painting, Photography, Film” Moholy-Nagy argues for photography and filmmaking to be recognized as a means of artistic design on the same level as painting. Together they paint an interesting picture of the discussions happening at the time surrounding arts and ideas.

"New Design" by Piet Mondrian from the original Bauhausbücher series

All this was before 1933. With the closure of the Bauhaus school, most of its prominent members left Germany in search for new homes and new schools to teach. They took with them their ideologies, which in turn evolved and changed with their new destinations. Two books explore this post-Bauhaus period. “Isokon and the Bauhaus in Britain” narrates the brilliant story of Gropius, Moholy-Nagy, Breuer and their brief émigré life in Hampstead, London before they moved to America. The story centers around the Isokon where they lived and where they collectively pioneered concepts of minimal and shared living. The book paints a colorful portrait of the notorious dinners set here, as the Bauhauslers discuss arts and ideas with locals Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Peter and Alison Smithson and Agatha Christie.

"Painting, Photography, Film" by László Moholy-Nagy from the original Bauhausbücher series

“Bauhaus Goes West” also explores the cultural exchange between the émigrés Bauhauslers and their new adopted homelands. In England, the book suggests a provocative dialogue happening with local young leaders of opinion, Nicholas Pevsner and Herbert Read. We then set sail across the Atlantic to follow their on-going journey to, at the time, a more liberal America where the Bauhaus titans really flourish. Breuer designs great monumental buildings, Gropius prospers at the Harvard architecture school, Moholy-Nagy sets up a new Bauhaus in Chicago and husband and wife team Anni and Josef Albers shine at the liberal Black Mountain arts college in North Carolina.

"Painting, Photography, Film" by László Moholy-Nagy from the original Bauhausbücher series

It is hard to know if the Bauhaus would have had such an enduring legacy had the school not been forced to close in 1933. There were already fractions forming amongst and group. What is clear though is that the discussions initiated in this modest school of art and design in Weimar in 1919 evolved and were enriched through a broader, international dialogue with artists and designers, thinkers, writers, philosophers from around the world from London to Paris, New York, Chicago, Tel Aviv and beyond. As we navigate a new age of crisis - climate change, migration, mass urbanization, rise of populism - it is worth revisiting the Bauhaus journals to explore new ways of design, to rethink transport, reimagine cities and tap into the spirit of this progressive movement - the school of thought.

I explore the links between design, innovation and consumer culture. For some twenty years my writing has featured in international media including Forbes Lifestyle and W

I explore the links between design, innovation and consumer culture. For some twenty years my writing has featured in international media including Forbes Lifestyle and Wallpaper*. I author lifestyle books, run Design Talks and act as a forecaster and brand consultant at Spinach Branding.


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