Bright but uneven, inspiring but occasionally misguided, the book is a curious intellectual snapshot with a finger over the...



A bit of light academia on society's latest narcissistic trend, equal parts philosophical exploration and art criticism.

Stavans (Latin American and Latino Culture/Amherst Coll.; Borges, the Jew, 2016, etc.) glosses what could evolve into an entire semester class on the selfie, as quick mentions of Benjamin, Warhol, and Spinoza conjure a syllabus of supplementary material. The author offers pointed remarks on the nature of art, photography, and identity, but he is more comfortable exploring than he is solidifying any definitive ideas. His charming, wandering narrative proves that with the right sort of intellectual wheelhouse, something as innocuous as the selfie can be approached with academic rigor. Unfortunately, the text is marred by Stavans’ devotion to ADÁL, a Puerto Rican artist who specializes in surrealist autoportraiture. A large portfolio of ADÁL’s work is wedged into the center of the book, resulting in an abrupt tonal shift, and Stavans attempts to elevate ADÁL’s oeuvre with a bubbling but unconvincing passion. Without knowledge of its cultural subtext, the photography is silly at its best (a Magritte-style portrait where a banana hovers in front of ADÁL’s face) and flippant at its worst (ADÁL igniting a fart or wearing a condom on his nose). This divisive work will distract readers from Stavans’ thesis. In one chapter, a visit to ADÁL’s studio initiates an interview with the artist about his practice. Later in the book, a chapter on “felfies” (a word from the Urban Dictionary referring to classic photos that have been altered to look like selfies) lacks the focus of a previous section on Rembrandt and his recurring self-portraits. The author’s personal interests often get in the way of his conceptual discoveries.

Bright but uneven, inspiring but occasionally misguided, the book is a curious intellectual snapshot with a finger over the lens: a broad cultural landscape pulled unnecessarily into portraiture.

Pub Date: March 31, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-8223-6349-1

Page Count: 152

Publisher: Duke Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 25, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2017

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



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.


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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