The Best Articles I Read in 2013

Each December I post a list of the best articles I read of the year. It’s a way to reflect on the year past and the ideas that influenced me. This year’s list is pretty long, enjoy!


1. Dave Hickey’s Politics of Beauty

A great piece about one of my favorite art critics.

“His argument amounts to a not-so-stealthy attack on the whole profession of art professors, who, not able to make a living from their art, rely on college employment. It also upsets idealistic young art students who, understandably, find it hard to accept that their art possesses no intrinsic value. In fact, Hickey’s ideas about beauty question the validity of the entire American M.F.A. system, which protects thousands of artists from having to truck with capitalist markets in which the value of their art would be determined by the tug of war between the desires of the buyers and the needs of the sellers.”


The New Yorker

Chris Ware’s essay about Newtown perfectly distills the confusion and terror I feel as a parent when I think about how our country thinks about guns and schools.

“Education is the very foundation of civilization and cannot be undermined or undersold. That we now have to somehow consider an unchecked population of firearms as part of this equation seems absolutely ludicrous and terrifying.”


3. Creative Blocks: The very laws of physics imply that artificial intelligence must be possible. What’s holding us up?
by David Deutsch
Aeon Magazine

A dense meditation on artificial intelligence. We need to better understand what intelligence is before we have any hope of recreating it.


4. Manti Te’o’s Dead Girlfriend, The Most Heartbreaking And Inspirational Story Of The College Football Season, Is A Hoax

The unraveling of one of the weirdest stories of 2013. It’s about sports, inspirational narratives, and how the internet can do deeply weird things to how we understand truth.


5. UTOPIAN FOR BEGINNERS: An amateur linguist loses control of the language he invented.
The New Yorker

A middle-age man who works at the DMV creates an elaborate language in his spare time called Ithkuil. “Ithkuil has two seemingly incompatible ambitions: to be maximally precise but also maximally concise, capable of capturing nearly every thought that a human being could have while doing so in as few sounds as possible.”

Then, despite its creator’s intent, Ithkuil is enthusiastically adopted by a group of ultra-nationalist, anti-Semitic Russians.


6. On the Virtues of Preexisting Material

by Rick Prelinger

Contents Magazine

Pioneering archivist Rick Prelinger offers a 14 point manifesto on using old stuff in creative ways.


7. International Art English: On the rise—and the space—of the art-world press release.
by Alix Rule & David Levine
Triple Canopy

Why does so much art writing sound like hollow attempts at Continental philosophy sucked through a bad online translator? I’m glad you asked.


8. Saltz Revisits the 1913 Armory Show
By Jerry Saltz
New York Magazine

It’s always fun to see how people freaked out about new ideas in the past. Gives present day freak-outs some perspective.

“When the show reached Chicago, art students tried Matisse in absentia for “artistic murder, pictorial arson … criminal misuse of line,” and burned copies of his paintings. They tried to burn him in effigy, too, but were thwarted by local authorities. Critics opined that Matisse’s were “the most hideous monstrosities ever perpetrated” and “poisonous.” The former president Teddy Roosevelt barked that the art was “repellent from every standpoint.'”


9. For 40 Years, This Russian Family Was Cut Off From All Human Contact, Unaware of WWII
By Mike Dash

The title says it all. Really remarkable tale. My favorite part is when they loose nearly their entire wheat crop and they have to grow it back slowly from a single seed.


10. Dictionary + algorithm + PoD t-shirt printer + lucrative meme = rape t-shirts on Amazon
by Pete Ashton

Why would Amazon sell a t-shirt with a joke about rape? And who would make such a thing? They don’t know they’re selling it, and no person consciously made it. Welcome to the future, where theoretically infinite, zero-cost product supply is created by algorithm.


11. Let’s Save Great Ideas from the Ideas Industry
by Umair Haque
HBR Blog Network

2013 was a year when popular opinion seemed to turn against TED. Here’s a critique of “TED thinking.” “TED thinking assumes complex social problems are essentially engineering challenges, and that short nuggets of Technology, Edutainment, and Design can fix everything, fast and cheap.” Which is a problem because, “Great Ideas aren’t just ‘solutions’. Indeed, many of the Greatest Ideas are problems.”


12. The Accidental Audience

Troemel talks about The Jogging, a Tumblr-based art project that people don’t always realize is an art project, and that’s kind of the point.


13. Capitalism and Inequality: What the Right and the Left Get Wrong

By Jerry Z. Muller

Foreign Affairs

The root of so much political disagreement is the question of how much markets should, or shouldn’t, be regulated. This discussion is so often driven by such extreme actors on either side, we often forget the importance of what’s right under our nose: a blend of the free market and a welfare state. This piece does a great job of helping us consider what that blend should look like, rather than feeding ammo to the war between two extreme positions.


14. More Losers Than Winners in America’s New Economic Geography
Atlantic Cities

A really great piece by Richard Florida that his critics seem to ignore. He re-examines, and in many ways refutes, the ideas he’s known for from his book Rise of the Creative Class. As it turns out, making cities attractive to the creative class helps creative class workers, but not many others. A key quote: “On close inspection, talent clustering provides little in the way of trickle-down benefits.”


15. The Bitcoin Bubble and the Future of Currency
by Felix Salmon

An epic Bitcoin explainer, written right when the exchange rate starting really ramping up.


The New Yorker

On the occasion of both titles being added to the design collection of MoMA, a comparison of Sim City 2000 and Dwarf Fortress. (Yes there was a Dwarf Fortress article on last year’s list.)


17. Hunger Striking at Guantánamo Bay
New York Times

An op-ed by a prisoner hunger striking inside Guantánamo Bay prison. This piece, and the hunger strike in general, probably would have gained more attention if it hadn’t coincidentally overlapped with the Boston Marathon bombings.


18. A Senate in the Gun Lobby’s Grip
by Gabrielle Giffords
New York Times

A passionate and furious take down of a legislative body unwilling to protect its own people.


19. Why does America lose its head over ‘terror’ but ignore its daily gun deaths?
Michael Cohen
The Guardian

A sobering perspective from across the pond. The Boston lock-down and manhunt in the wake of the marathon bombings happened the same week the Senate failed to enact tougher gun laws. To Brits who survived IRA terrorism but whose risk of dying by a gun is orders of magnitude less than Americans, this just looks bat-shit insane.

“The same day of the marathon bombing in Boston, 11 Americans were murdered by guns.”


20. Just Following Orders: Bradley Manning and Us
By Molly Crabapple
Creative Time Reports

Chelsea (Bradley) Manning is a controversial figure to be sure, which is why her story is worthy of careful consideration.

“Like any whistleblower, Manning may have betrayed his institution, but he did so out of loyalty to humanity.”


21. Art Workers: Between Utopia and the Archive
by Boris Groys
e-flux journal

This one is difficult to summarize, so I’ll just drop in this quote: “Politics shapes the future by its own disappearance. Art shapes the future by its own prolonged presence. This creates a gap between art and politics—a gap that was demonstrated often throughout the tragic history of the relationship between left art and left politics in the twentieth century.”


22. Goodbye, Miami
Rolling Stone

As sea levels rise over the next century, what will happen to Miami? Well, it’s not good.


23. Kanye West And His “Thirty White Bitches”
Cord Jefferson
The Awl

Kanye raps a lot about white women on Yeezus, and not always in the kindest way (to put it mildly). In one sense, this is pretty offensive stuff, but there’s more going on. I learned a lot reading this.


24. Woman’s work: The twisted reality of an Italian freelancer in Syria
Columbia Journalism Review
By Francesca Borri

A firsthand account of being a freelance journalist in Syria. Gripping and unreal.


25. Some Thoughts On Mercy
Sun Magazine

A really thoughtful and moving account of being a black man in America today.


30. The Ecuadorian Library or, The Blast Shack After Three Years
by Bruce Sterling

Everyone’s favorite rambling sci-fi author/futurist on Julian Assange and Edward Snowden. “Americans don’t even know how to think about characters like Snowden — the American Great and the Good are blundering around on the public stage like blacked-out drunks, blithering self-contradictory rubbish. It’s all “gosh he’s such a liar” and “give us back our sinister felon,” all while trying to swat down the jets of South American presidents.”


31. Number Crunching Shows Old Movies Are More Creative Than New Ones

An interesting read. What really sold me was the description of something called the Wundt-Berlyne curve, which explains a lot more than just why people like movies. “The amount of pleasure someone derives from a creative piece goes up as its novelty increases. But at a certain point, there is a maximum of enjoyment. After that, something becomes too unfamiliar to stomach anymore.”


32. TED talks are lying to you

Why is the literature of creativity so banal and formulaic?


33. Grayson Perry’s Reith Lectures: Who decides what makes art good?
By Grayson Perry
Financial Times

A surprisingly frank and intelligent look at the question of what good art is, and who gets to say.


The New Yorker

Poetry without poets and “conceptualism in the wild.” It’s an exciting time. I love this, “Poetry as we know it—sonnets or free verse on a printed page—feels akin to throwing pottery or weaving quilts, activities that continue in spite of their cultural marginality. But the Internet, with its swift proliferation of memes, is producing more extreme forms of modernism than modernism ever dreamed of.”


35. Too Much World: Is the Internet Dead?
by Hito Steyerl
e-flux journal

A dense and oddly fun read. Hard to summarize. Here’s a good quote:

“But here is the ultimate consequence of the internet moving offline. If images can be shared and circulated, why can’t everything else be too? If data moves across screens, so can its material incarnations move across shop windows and other enclosures. If copyright can be dodged and called into question, why can’t private property? If one can share a restaurant dish JPEG on Facebook, why not the real meal? Why not apply fair use to space, parks, and swimming pools?”


36. Killing Conspiracy: Why the best conspiracy theories about JFK’s assassination don’t stand up to scrutiny.
By Fred Kaplan

Maybe we want to believe there is an elaborate conspiracy beyond JFK’s death because that would make the universe more knowable, and therefore less terrifying.


37. and the Gulf Between Planning and Reality
by Clay Shirky

What happens when bureaucrats who believe “failure is not an option” manage an incredibly complex web development project? They fail, of course. This is the most interesting read about a story that I usually find pretty excruciating.


38. STATE OF DECEPTION: Why won’t the President rein in the intelligence community?
The New Yorker

As maddening as it is informative. This line: “[Senator] Feinstein maintains that data collection is not surveillance.”



39. Chicago’s Opportunity Artist
by Ben Austen
New York Times

A great profile of Chicago artist and activist Theaster Gates. One of the most fascinating and inspiring people I’ve met.


40. Edward Snowden, after months of NSA revelations, says his mission’s accomplished
By Barton Gellman
Washington Post

“All I wanted was for the public to be able to have a say in how they are governed.”

Do those sound like the words of a traitor or a patriot? You decide.


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