I’ve written a lot about clouds in my life.
Spending hours outside as kid looking up, it was the first indication that I’d spend the rest of my life looking to them for inspiration, insight and, ultimately, a career, first as a writer (always as a writer) and second as a social scientist who studies issues in the meteorological community (vague, I know, but I’m just beginning my Ph.D.).
Instead of writing about them today, I’d like to highlight a few interesting cloud things I love, including two books whose author has spent the last decade or more writing about clouds, too.
1) Gavin Pretor-Pinney, creator of The Cloud Appreciation Society, a group for cloud connoisseurs who share their love of what they see in the skies.
The Cloudspotter’s Guide was my first introduction to Pretor-Pinney’s world and it’s still my favorite book of his. In it, he profiles the different categories of clouds, offering readers tips and tricks for identifying everything from the common cumulus to more illusive lenticularis. Where most cloud guides offer dry directions, Pretor-Pinney peppers his book with fun anecdotes about clouds as they appear in paintings, literature, and culture in general. His humor makes it a delight to read.
The Cloud Collector’s Guide offers readers a similarly helpful set of tips about each category, but it has space for readers to note their own “cloud sightings” and earn points for each kind observed, from 10 points for the cumulus to 45 for a rare Morning Glory cloud particular to the coast of Australia. My one complaint about this book is that many of the color photographs are divided by the spine of the book, making it difficult to truly appreciate them.
2) Vik Muniz, Brazilian visual artist I recently discovered on a TEDx video about his work. One series of art in particular spoke to me: his “Equivalents” done in 1993.
Inspired by Alfred Steglitz’s photographic series “Equivalents”–one of the first examples of abstraction in photography–Muniz used airplanes to “draw” clouds in the skies over various cities, from New York City to Tampa, FL.
I’ll butcher this, but he says he did it because he liked the idea that the drawing of the cloud was made of clouds (the condensed ice crystals created by the plane), that the tool and the image were doing a kind of dance or performing a perfect play–something like that.
What I love about this image is its simplicity, the contrast between real and imagined, between natural and created. The focus on the clouds and its cartoonish shape make it feel like a childhood dream.
Recently, I wrote a guest post for a wonderful blog curated by Melissa Taylor called Imagination Soup. Here I talk about how to appreciate clouds and storms and offer tips for parents for helping their kids learn how to look up.
3) Cory Arcangel’s modification of a video game to create “Clouds.” I don’t really know why I enjoy this video so much. Archangel hacked a Super Mario Brothers game cassette and erased all of the game except the sky.
Okay, so maybe I love that this video represents how little attention we pay to the sky until we are forced to focus on it, by changes in the weather, extremes in temperature and seasons, or when we need it to be one way and it’s another. I like that it reminds me of how I used to see the sky when I’d lounge on a blanket as a kid and let the day pass by just watching the clouds.
I’m hoping you all are inspired to take a few minutes and watch the clouds go by this summer. Soon enough, we’ll long for these summer days when we have the time and inclination to just kick back and relax and take in the cloudscape. Enjoy!