Some of his points invite argument, but Elkins’ knowing commentary helps the reader interpret the art. A fine addition to...

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WHAT HEAVEN LOOKS LIKE

COMMENTS ON A STRANGE WORDLESS BOOK

A mystery manuscript comes out for airing; wordless save for the title page, what does it mean?

It might be a delicious intrigue cooked up by Borges: a manuscript of fuzzy provenance, consisting of 52 paintings, rests unvisited on the shelves of a library for generations. Rediscovered, it proves fascinating—not least because it has no words but tells a story all the same of a world emerging out of primordial chaos. Elkins (Chair, Art History, Theory, and Criticism/Art Institute of Chicago; What Photography Is, 2011, etc.) hazards that the work is alchemical; in his smart commentary, he builds a case that it might have originated in Holland at the end of the 17th century or the beginning of the next one at the hands of a female artist. As he writes, though, “usually some telltale sign helps identify an anonymous artist: some stylistic quirk, or some figure or composition borrowed from another painting. At least so far, no such clues have broken the manuscript’s silence.” The figures depicted resemble the work of William Blake, with seemingly allegorical elements, as with one image featuring Greek gods and demigods gazing with interest at three nymphs, the viewer seeing this all as if from the opening of a cave. Elkins writes of the red and gold flecks and rather psychedelic palette, “colors have never had any meaning, much as people have tried to foist meaning on them. They say nothing in themselves, and they steal meaning from everything they cover.” Well, then. The storyline that emerges from the sequence, vignettes painted on what seem to be sections of cut log, may be anyone’s guess, but Elkins, reading visual clues, posits that the artist may have gotten tired of it all by the time the work was done. That won’t be true of readers of this book, who will likely remain fascinated from start to finish.

Some of his points invite argument, but Elkins’ knowing commentary helps the reader interpret the art. A fine addition to the odd-book shelf.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-946053-02-2

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Laboratory Books

Review Posted Online: June 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 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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