An inviting and informative primer.




A critic offers encouraging words for viewers baffled by contemporary art.

An artist, teacher, and art critic for the Wall Street Journal, Esplund (Thornton Willis, 2011, etc.) is sympathetic to the challenges faced by visitors to museums and galleries who may encounter a man’s hairy leg protruding from a white wall at floor level or an inflated white balloon attached at the juncture of a gallery’s wall and bluestone floor. “Many people,” he writes, “tell me that they don’t know how to look at art, that they are afraid they are not sophisticated enough and will see or focus on the wrong things, that they will miss what’s important, and that they feel intimidated by art.” In a friendly and conversational tone, Esplund shares his insights honed during a long career. He aims to provide a basic grounding so that viewers begin to trust their own responses and also “begin to think like an artist.” Five chapters provide an overview about the effects of color, form, line, space, weight, rhythm, and structure; an artwork he asserts, “is a living organism” that exudes energy. He cites works by artists as diverse as Leonardo da Vinci, Paul Klee, Barnett Newman, Matisse, Pollock, Giacometti, and Brancusi to make the case that “all artists are poets and that they employ metaphors.” Looking at art is like dancing, where the artist leads the viewer’s eye to “hop and glide from form to form” and to pick up the work’s rhythms and melodies. Esplund urges viewers to draw upon their feelings when approaching an artwork; artists, he writes, “expect that their work will ignite your imagination and emotions as much as your rationality.” In separate chapters, the author focuses on 11 artists whose works may seem impenetrable to the novice viewer—e.g., Balthus’ nude adolescent girls, James Turrell’s disorienting light sculptures, Klee’s metaphor-rich abstractions, Maria Abramovic’s interactive performance pieces, and Robert Gober’s Untitled (Man Coming Out of a Woman), which is a “Frankensteinian sculpture, made of beeswax, human hair, a sock, and a leather shoe.”

An inviting and informative primer.

Pub Date: Nov. 27, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-465-09466-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2018

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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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A dazzling visual homage to a music icon gone too soon.


A Los Angeles–based photographer pays tribute to a legendary musician with anecdotes and previously unseen images collected from their 25-year collaboration.

St. Nicholas (co-author: Whitney: Tribute to an Icon, 2012, etc.) first met Prince in 1991 at a prearranged photo shoot. “The dance between photographer and subject carried us away into hours of inspired photographs…and the beginning of a friendship that would last a lifetime.” In this book, the author fondly remembers their many professional encounters in the 25 years that followed. Many would be portrait sessions but done on impulse, like those in a burned-out Los Angeles building in 1994 and on the Charles Bridge in Prague in 2007. Both times, the author and Prince came together through serendipity to create playfully expressive images that came to represent the singer’s “unorthodox ability to truly live life in the moment.” Other encounters took place while Prince was performing at Paisley Park, his Minneapolis studio, or at venues in LA, New York, Tokyo, and London. One in particular came about after the 1991 release of Prince’s Diamonds and Pearls album and led to the start of St. Nicholas’ career as a video director. Prince, who nurtured young artists throughout his career, pushed the author to “trust my instincts…expand myself creatively.” What is most striking about even the most intimate of these photographs—even those shot with Mayte Garcia, the fan-turned–backup dancer who became Prince’s wife in 1996—is the brilliantly theatrical quality of the images. As the author observes, the singer was never not the self-conscious artist: “Prince was Prince 24/7.” Nostalgic and reverential, this book—the second St. Nicholas produced with/for Prince—is a celebration of friendship and artistry. Prince fans are sure to appreciate the book, and those interested in art photography will also find the collection highly appealing.

A dazzling visual homage to a music icon gone too soon.

Pub Date: Nov. 19, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-293923-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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