A richly detailed investigation of burgeoning creativity in a decade marked by both hope and dread.

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FACING THE ABYSS

AMERICAN LITERATURE AND CULTURE IN THE 1940S

In post–World War II America, literature revealed the nation’s attitudes about patriotism, race, gender, and ecology.

“In the 1940s,” Hutchinson (American Culture/Cornell Univ.; In Search of Nella Larsen: A Biography of the Color Line, 2006, etc.) writes, “literature mattered.” His capacious, informative cultural history amply supports that declaration: writers, he adds, “were celebrities” whose works were widely read and whose ideas were discussed on the radio and in newspapers and magazines. Book publishing thrived, fueled by demand, not least among returning soldiers, who had hungrily devoured free books published under the auspices of the Armed Services Editions. Public libraries and the proliferation of inexpensive paperbacks made books available to a huge reading public. Colleges began creative writing programs, and New Criticism came to dominate English department offerings. Hutchinson attentively examines works by a pantheon of writers, some of whom have become canonical (Carson McCullers, Randall Jarrell, Richard Wright), some enjoying popular contemporary acclaim (Irwin Shaw, Jo Sinclair, Howard Fast); he also draws on influential literary critics, such as Lionel Trilling; memoirists, such as Alfred Kazin; and historians. Hutchinson appears to have read everything written during the prolific decade. Among the themes that recurred in 1940s literature was the war itself, where a “sense of separation, of loneliness and unreality, surfaces over and over again, in accounts of both the battlefront and the home front.” Writers expressed disillusionment about what they were fighting for, hatred toward their officers, and fear of being ground up “in the maw of history.” Hutchinson devotes chapters to Jewish and African-American writers who negotiated the relationship among ethnic, religious, and racial identity “and the ideal of universality or a planetary humanism” that arose after the horror of the war. Einstein notably suggested that “the only solution for civilization and the human race lies in the creation of a world government.” Planetary humanism, however, was undermined by pervasive racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, and misogyny.

A richly detailed investigation of burgeoning creativity in a decade marked by both hope and dread.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-231-16338-5

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2017

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A wondrous mix of races, ages, genders, and social classes, and on virtually every page is a surprise.

HUMANS OF NEW YORK

STORIES

Photographer and author Stanton returns with a companion volume to Humans of New York (2013), this one with similarly affecting photographs of New Yorkers but also with some tales from his subjects’ mouths.

Readers of the first volume—and followers of the related site on Facebook and elsewhere—will feel immediately at home. The author has continued to photograph the human zoo: folks out in the streets and in the parks, in moods ranging from parade-happy to deep despair. He includes one running feature—“Today in Microfashion,” which shows images of little children dressed up in various arresting ways. He also provides some juxtapositions, images and/or stories that are related somehow. These range from surprising to forced to barely tolerable. One shows a man with a cat on his head and a woman with a large flowered headpiece, another a construction worker proud of his body and, on the facing page, a man in a wheelchair. The emotions course along the entire continuum of human passion: love, broken love, elation, depression, playfulness, argumentativeness, madness, arrogance, humility, pride, frustration, and confusion. We see varieties of the human costume, as well, from formalwear to homeless-wear. A few celebrities appear, President Barack Obama among them. The “stories” range from single-sentence comments and quips and complaints to more lengthy tales (none longer than a couple of pages). People talk about abusive parents, exes, struggles to succeed, addiction and recovery, dramatic failures, and lifelong happiness. Some deliver minirants (a neuroscientist is especially curmudgeonly), and the children often provide the most (often unintended) humor. One little boy with a fishing pole talks about a monster fish. Toward the end, the images seem to lead us toward hope. But then…a final photograph turns the light out once again.

A wondrous mix of races, ages, genders, and social classes, and on virtually every page is a surprise.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-250-05890-4

Page Count: 432

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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A succinct, passionate guide to fostering creativity.

HOW TO BE AN ARTIST

A noted critic advises us to dance to the music of art.

Senior art critic at New York Magazine and winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in Criticism, Saltz (Seeing Out Louder, 2009, etc.) became a writer only after a decadeslong battle with “demons who preached defeat.” Hoping to spare others the struggle that he experienced, he offers ebullient, practical, and wise counsel to those who wonder, “How can I be an artist?” and who “take that leap of faith to rise above the cacophony of external messages and internal fears.” In a slim volume profusely illustrated with works by a wide range of artists, Saltz encourages readers to think, work, and see like an artist. He urges would-be artists to hone their power of perception: “Looking hard isn’t just about looking long; it’s about allowing yourself to be rapt.” Looking hard yields rich sources of visual interest and also illuminates “the mysteries of your taste and eye.” The author urges artists to work consistently and early, “within the first two hours of the day,” before “the pesky demons of daily life” exert their negative influence. Thoughtful exercises underscore his assertions. To get readers thinking about genre and convention, for example, Saltz presents illustrations of nudes by artists including Goya, Matisse, Florine Stettheimer, and Manet. “Forget the subject matter,” he writes, “what is each of these paintings actually saying?” One exercise instructs readers to make a simple drawing and then remake it in an entirely different style: Egyptian, Chinese ink-drawing, cave painting, and the styles of other artists, like Keith Haring and Georgia O’Keeffe. Freely experiment with “different sizes, tools, materials, subjects, anything,” he writes. “Don’t resist something if you’re afraid it’s taking you far afield of your usual direction. That’s the wild animal in you, feeding.” Although much of his advice is pertinent to amateur artists, Saltz also rings in on how to navigate the art world, compose an artist’s statement, deal with rejection, find a community of artists, and beat back demons. Above all, he advises, “Work, Work, Work.”

A succinct, passionate guide to fostering creativity.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-08646-9

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Nov. 5, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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