What brings on an idea? How does an artist make art, a designer a sketch, a writer a sentence? You won’t find out in these brief profiles from Studio 360, though the book is not entirely without merit.
Host Burstein’s book bears an unfortunate subtitle that promises what it does not deliver, for which see, most recently, Steven Johnson’s excellent Where Good Ideas Come From (2010). Instead, the book gathers what might be thought of as show notes, bits and pieces of what can sometimes seem a free-form exercise—for, as Burstein allows, the show ranges from talking with “Nora Ephron about cooking, and with Susan Sontag about war; with Rosanne Cash about creative children of famous parents and with Simon Schama about the way maps help us understand the world.” The roster of talent is huge, and some of the pieces are appropriately memorable, as when the artist Chuck Close, now confined to a wheelchair, recounts his adventures experimenting with the perspectival grid in order to upend the brain’s expectations, and when sound designer Ben Burtt discusses doing much the same with “tones and beeps and whistles and static,” the stuff that populates the soundscapes of Star Wars and WALL-E. Alexander Payne, the director of such offbeat fare as About Schmidt and Election, discusses the freedom brought about by shooting a Hollywood movie on familiar turf—in his case, Omaha. Photographer David Plowden recalls an early encounter with the Great Plains, where, he discovered, “[t]here was nothing to hold on to.” Unfortunately, too many of the pieces are merely anecdotal snippets a couple of pages long, without development, connection. or follow-up. We learn nothing from actor Kevin Bacon’s revelation that as a child he was encouraged to make model houses out of Elmer’s glue and matchsticks, or from the aforementioned Ms. Cash’s recollections of her father’s (Johnny, that is) encouragement, for the elaboration of which see the liner notes to her recent album The List or her outstanding memoir Composed (2010).
Of some interest to budding artists, filmmakers and the like, but not particularly useful at that.