Noted critic Jerry Saltz advises us to dance to the music of art in “How to Be an Artist.”
Senior art critic at New York Magazine and winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in Criticism, Saltz became a writer only after a decades-long 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.
’Attention, a Love Story’
Casey Schwartz’s “Attention” is a personal and professional study of the struggle with attention in an age of distraction.
After recounting her decadelong addiction to Adderall, journalist Schwartz goes in search of attention in all its rather elusive manifestations, investigating its power to define a human life. In the process, she began to realize that the way all of us pay attention in this technological era had changed. Splintered attention and perpetual interruption are the norm. A frequent contributor to The New York Times, Schwartz asks questions of singular significance: "Why are we so susceptible to all the escape routes our technologies offer us in the first place? What are we fleeing?" With a critical and open mind, the author assesses the works of such disparate writers as David Foster Wallace, Simone Weil, William James and Aldous Huxley, and she applies no less rigor to exploring attention with such avatars of expanded consciousness as Stanislav Grof and Gabor Maté. Schwartz writes that the chief ingredients of attention are curiosity and joy and that attention is not only about having a meaningful life, but being in the moment, deriving pleasure from the very act of being absorbed in one's observations rather than burying one's self in a device. The author is unfailingly honest about her own addiction to the iPhone and her vulnerabilities and self-doubt. By personalizing her account, and her journey, she enhances the book's potency without diluting its authority. While techno-distractedness is not the sole province of the young, those who have known no other reality in their brief lives would seem to be most susceptible to the allure of Silicon Valley's steady stream of creations, each designed to be irresistible. Even though the author has “yet to enroll in a digital detox,” she points the way toward “helpful digital minimalism strategies.”
Being attentive is an acquired skill. Schwartz helps us think deeply and clearly about what it offers us.