A unique intelligence encounters the uniqueness of art and culture, and readers are the beneficiaries.

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THEATER OF CRUELTY

ART, FILM, AND THE SHADOWS OF WAR

Buruma (Human Rights and Journalism/Bard Coll.; Year Zero: A History of 1945, 2013, etc.) presents a series of essays on a variety of cultural subjects— simmering below all: war and destruction.

The essays all originally appeared in the New York Review of Books between 1987 and 2013, though the majority are from recent years. (A couple appear under different titles.) Although there is a sensible organization—clusters of essays about film, World War II, pop culture, art and Asian affairs—it is not patent from the table of contents, which simply lists titles. As Buruma’s regular readers know, his is a comprehensive and even polymathic intelligence. Able to write with apparent ease and grace about a wide variety of subjects—the work of R. Crumb (Buruma calls him “undoubtedly a great artist”), the diary and global image of Anne Frank, the horrors of Hiroshima, the WWII films of Clint Eastwood, the work of Satyajit Ray and Alan Bennett, the career of David Bowie, the art of George Grosz, the architecture of Tokyo—Buruma displays a generosity of spirit that is often absent in the work of other cultural critics. Although he does take a potshot at Maya Angelou and has some dark words for others (most, like Hitler, are deeply deserving), the author generally focuses on strengths of artistic works and maintains a hopeful view of history, though he seems to find it increasingly hard to do so. Some of the pieces are reflections on exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art; some end with sad details about the death of an artist (Grosz choked to death on his own drunken vomit); others end with brave and/or wistful declarations—e.g., “truth is not just a point of view,” he writes in his essay on victimhood.

A unique intelligence encounters the uniqueness of art and culture, and readers are the beneficiaries.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-59017-777-8

Page Count: 425

Publisher: New York Review Books

Review Posted Online: June 11, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2014

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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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A unique, inspiring story by a member of the Greatest Generation.

CODE TALKER

A firsthand account of how the Navajo language was used to help defeat the Japanese in World War II.

At the age of 17, Nez (an English name assigned to him in kindergarten) volunteered for the Marines just months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Growing up in a traditional Navajo community, he became fluent in English, his second language, in government-run boarding schools. The author writes that he wanted to serve his country and explore “the possibilities and opportunities offered out there in the larger world.” Because he was bilingual, he was one of the original 29 “code talkers” selected to develop a secret, unbreakable code based on the Navajo language, which was to be used for battlefield military communications on the Pacific front. Because the Navajo language is tonal and unwritten, it is extremely difficult for a non-native speaker to learn. The code created an alphabet based on English words such as ant for “A,” which were then translated into its Navajo equivalent. On the battlefield, Navajo code talkers would use voice transmissions over the radio, spoken in Navajo to convey secret information. Nez writes movingly about the hard-fought battles waged by the Marines to recapture Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima and others, in which he and his fellow code talkers played a crucial role. He situates his wartime experiences in the context of his life before the war, growing up on a sheep farm, and after when he worked for the VA and raised a family in New Mexico. Although he had hoped to make his family proud of his wartime role, until 1968 the code was classified and he was sworn to silence. He sums up his life “as better than he could ever have expected,” and looks back with pride on the part he played in “a new, triumphant oral and written [Navajo] tradition,” his culture's contribution to victory.

A unique, inspiring story by a member of the Greatest Generation.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-425-24423-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Dutton Caliber

Review Posted Online: July 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2011

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