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OpenLearn Live: 11th January 2016

Updated Monday, 11th January 2016

Reaction and context following the death of David Bowie - including his influence on the net and financial markets; plus who is entering the public domain in 2016? Free learning across the day.

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OpenLearn Live makes the links between the world of free learning and the world you live in.

On Friday, we rounded up the best of 2015, explored the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and celebrated Blade Runner

See the complete collection of OpenLearn Live

Today's posts

David Bowie IV

The OU's Frank Monaghan celebrates how Bowie turned his identity into an art form:

A Bowie quote that will likely feature in any obituary is this statement from 1997: ‘I don't know where I'm going from here, but I promise it won't be boring.’ It is as applicable to his art as it was to his life. It’s perhaps not surprising that today is a day full of clichés about his chameleon nature, his endless reinvention of himself and his lack of any fixed identity, but these seem to miss an essential point about the man and his creative output. The artifice was both form and content of the art.

Read the full article: David Bowie - identity is creativity


A photo posted by The New Yorker (@newyorkermag) on

That's it from us for today. Goodnight, spaceboy.

David Bowie III - taboo breaker, banker, ISP

Some more reaction and appreciation following the death of David Bowie.

First, the Open University's Elizabeth Tilley writes for OpenLearn on Bowie and the taboo of death:

Listening last night to Blackstar – David Bowie’s final album, released just three days before his death - I was struck by its beauty, but also its pace and freneticism. These tracks, like all those that preceded them, had something important to say, and time was of the essence. This is an artist who for decades has been at the forefront of debates about what it means to be human. Questions of identity; politics; love; gender; sexuality; family.

More recently his works touched upon questions of ageing, grief and loss.

Read the full article: David Bowie faces the last taboo

A further consideration of this comes from the OU's Jan Draper, who explores how Lazarus foreshadowed its creator's death:

It is of no doubt that 'Lazarus', Bowie's latest and last single, was prophetic.

Knowing that he was dying of cancer at the time he wrote the song and indeed made the video, Bowie poignantly foretells his death. In this regard it is a bio-obituary, as he tells the world of his 'scars that can't be seen', his 'drama that can't be stolen' and that he has ‘nothing left to lose’.

Read the full article: Lazarus: David Bowie's bio-obituary

Beyond these pages, the Guardian has an article which recalls how quickly Bowie understood the potential of the internet - and how he pushed the young medium to see what it could do:

More importantly though, Bowie conceived of this service as a visual, interactive community for music fans. Through his Ultrastar company he negotiated deals to give users access to music services like the Rolling Stone Network, which livestreamed concerts, and Music Boulevard, one of the first companies to offer paid-for downloadable music tracks. The ISP provided every user with 5MB of web space, encouraging them to create and share their own websites; there were also forums and live chat sections where Bowie himself conducted live web chats. This was in effect a music-centric social network, several years before the emergence of sector leaders like Friendster and Myspace. The site was also technologically ambitious. At a time when most homepages were simple constructs of text and still images on a default grey background, BowieNet used emerging plug ins like Flash and RealAudio to provide animating graphics and downloadable music clips. Newcomers were told they’d need at least a 28k, but preferably 56k modem connection – this was demanding at a time when the commercial WWW infrastructure was still in its infancy.

Read at The Guardian: BowieNet

It's not just ISPs who felt the Thin White Duke's breath on their shoulders at the turn of the century - banking also came under a Bowie-led challenge, as this 2000 article from MTV shows:

Rock icon David Bowie, who has moonlighted as an actor, painter, Internet entrepreneur, video game character and magazine art director, has quietly gone where no celebrity has gone before — he’s opened his own online bank.

“David has always prided himself on being first,” said Ron Roy, one of Bowie’s partners in the online company UltraStar, which runs the chameleonlike rocker’s official website ( and his
Internet service provider, Bowienet, as well as the new bank.

Depositors in, as the bank is known, get ATM cards, checks and other banking paraphernalia emblazoned with Bowie’s name and image — as well as a year of Bowienet service.

Read at MTV: David Bowie opens online bank

His bank might not have become an international powerhouse, but as the remembers, his creation of bonds to unlock the value of his intenllectual property was a huge success:

Rather than getting steady income from the revenues of his back catalogue — including records such as The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and Let’s Dance — the bonds allowed Bowie to borrow more money up front.

This was possible because, unlike many acts at the time, Bowie owned the rights to all of his songs.

Investors received interest of 7.9 per cent for the 10-year bond.

Read at the Financial Times: 'Bowie Bonds' blazed a trail

FutureLearn this week

A bunch of new courses on FutureLearn starting today. We're obviously biased, but we'd recommend The Science of Nutrition and Basic Science: Understanding Experiments, both from The Open University. Here's some of the other courses starting today:

David Bowie II

At the  immediate left of the photo there are two young women jogging. One has blonde hair and wears a grey and white jacket with black leggings and the other has dark hair, wears a black long-sleeve top and grey and white shorts. They are jogging past a wall of David Bowie posters that has the same poster repeated along it in two rows, with posters being one atop the other. The image of the poster is in black and white with a red diagonal mark across the face of David Bowie as he stares out to the viewer. Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Markwaters |

David Bowie's eyes, famously, didn't look like they were the same colour - Danny Baker used to claim that he'd been hit so hard his eyes had spun around like symbols in a fruit machine until they stopped at non-matching colours. That's not what happened - but the real story is a mix of biology and physics:

The unusual appearance of Bowie’s eyes were due to a condition called anisocoria. Anisocoria is a condition characterised by an unequal size in a person’s pupils. In Bowie’s case, his left pupil was permanently dilated.

This can create the illusion of having different coloured eyes because the fixed pupil does not respond to changes in light, while the right pupil does. So Bowie’s left eye often appeared to be quite dark, due to the blackness of his dilated pupil, when compared to the blue of his right iris.

Read the full article: Why were David Bowie's eyes different colours?

David Bowie

The world is waking up this morning to the news of the death of David Bowie.

Last year, we featured a piece that explored how he played with ideas and notions of gender:

The gesture of lipstick smearing has migrated across cultures and performance mediums, where it has been inflected withalternate meanings. It could be associated with mime  and kabuki theatre  – art forms that Bowie integrated into his performances  and costume design.

Although the origin and meaning of the lipstick smear may be difficult to pinpoint, its enactment by Bowie has played a crucial role in characterising this gesture as transgressive, and giving it a mimetic life of its own.

Read the full article Tumble and Twirl

Public Domain: David Young Cameron

This week, in our start-up segment we're looking at people whose work entered the public domain in Europe on January 1st, 2016. (Another way of looking at this is 'people who died in 1945', of course.)

Today, we're kicking off with David Young Cameron.

A vertical landscape painting of Ben Ledi by David Young Cameron. There is an overall deep yellow tone to the picture with the sky at the top being a stormy dark yellow as the mountain looms in the background. The landscape in the foreground is of a couple of softly rolling hills that are dark brown and then rolling fields that are yellows and browns. There is a lone stick tree at the front on the left-hand side. Creative commons image Icon Stephencdickson under Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0 license Ben Ledi

David Young Cameron was a landscape artist and etcher. Born in Glasgow in 1865, his clergyman father had shaped young Cameron for a career in business, but his early steps in the world of commerce were not happy and he found refuge at the Glasgow School of Art, and then Edinburgh's Royal Academy. He worked both in landscapes - painting wild Scottish mountains - and images of architecture, including a number of etchings of gothic buildings from across Europe. His art always reflected the deeply religious upbringing that he had experieced.

During the First World War he spent a period as Canada's official war artist.

He was also a collector; he left his collection of Rembrandts to the Scottish National Gallery upon his death in 1945.

See a collection of art by David Young Cameron at Your Paintings

Try our free course: Art and Visual Culture






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