Category Archives: Book Recommendations

The function of artists (according to William V. Dunning)

“Artists have traditionally examined the relationship between reality, illusion, and how the mind experiences these phenomena–the influence of human visual perception. In tune with recent philosophers, recent artists have focused on how language, or a mind that is constructed to invent and understand the world through language, influences our perception of reality.”

From Advice to Young Artists in a Postmodern Era by William V. Dunning

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Thursday Thoughts: A Community of Order

The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard

The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard. I highly recommend this book, not only to artists and writers, but anyone who is interested in living life with a greater sense of awareness.

“But how can housework be made into a creative activity? The minute we apply a glimmer of consciousness to a mechanical gesture, or practice phenomenology while polishing a piece of old furniture, we sense new impressions come into being beneath this familiar domestic duty. For consciousness rejuvenates everything, giving a quality of beginning to the most everyday actions. It even dominates memory. How wonderful it is to really become once more the inventor of a mechanical action! And so, when a poet rubs a piece of furniture-even vicariously-when he puts a little fragrant wax on his table with the woolen cloth that lends warmth to everything it touches, he creates a new object; he increases the object’s human dignity; he registers this object officially as a member of the human household… Objects that are cherished in this way really are born of an intimate light, and they attain to a higher degree of reality than indifferent objects, or those that are defined by geometric reality. For they produce a new reality of being, and they take their place not only in an order but in a community of order.

As anyone familiar with my work can attest, I have a deep and abiding interest in geometry and order However, that geometry can feel cold and empty. I am drawn to an ascetic and severe aesthetic of sharp edges and rigid rules. I can feel a lack of warmth in my work and all but my most successful pieces feel defined only by their geometric reality. This summer one of the professors in my graduate program pointed out that all of my work depicts from a distance. Everything is on a distant horizon, shown from an aerial perspective, or abstracted to a degree that it is seen only in diagrammatic terms. I’m not sure what to do with that information yet, but I’m becoming increasingly aware that distance in my natural posture towards both art and everyday tasks. Perhaps if I begin to approach the mechanical gestures of the everyday with that glimmer of consciousness I will find a more intimate reality. Instead of the cold distant order of the theoretical I can find warmth in a community of order. 

Detail of a recent experiment with Dura-lar and layers. Jacob Rowan. 2016

Detail of a work in progress experimenting with Dura-lar (a translucent surface) over paper. Jacob Rowan. 2016

 

 

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Thursday Thoughts: Art according to Hans Hofmann

The Search for the Real by Hans Hofmann

The Search for the Real by Hans Hofmann. I definitely recommend getting your hands on a copy of this book. 

“Creation is dominated by three absolutely different factors: first, nature, which affects us by its laws; second, the artist, who creates a spiritual contact with nature and with his materials; and third, the medium of expression through which the artist translates his inner world…The impulse of nature, fused through the personality of the artist by laws arising from the particular nature of the medium, produces the rhythm and personal expression of a work.”

It should be noted that what Hofmann means by “spiritual” should not be confused with the religious use of word. For him the spiritual is an emotional and intellectual synthesis of relationships perceived in nature, rationally, or intuitively.

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Thursday Thoughts: On Originality

“One prerequisite for originality is clearly that a person shall not be inclined to impose his preconceptions on the fact as he sees it. Rather, he must be able to learn something new, even if this means that the ideas and notions that are comfortable or dear to him may be overturned…It is impossible to overemphasize the significance of this kind of learning in every phase of life, and the importance of giving the action of learning itself top priority, ahead of the specific content of what is to be learned. For the action of learning is the essence of real perception, in the sense that without it a person is unable to see, in any new situation, what is fact and what is not…

…One thing that prevents us from thus giving primary emphasis to the perception of what is new and different is that we are afraid to make mistakes. From early childhood, one is taught to maintain the image of “self” or “ego” as essentially perfect. Each mistake seems to reveal that one is an inferior sort of being, who will therefore, in some way, not be fully accepted by others…Such a fear of making a mistake is added to one’s habit of mechanical perception in terms of preconceived ideas and learning only for specific utilitarians purposes. All of these combine to make a person who cannon perceive what is new and who is therefore mediocre rather than original.”

~David Bohm, On Creativity

Go buy this book and read it if you’re at all interested in the creative process. His observations apply to the entire spectrum of creative activity, from scientists to artists.

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Great Illuminated Classics

Tales of Mystery and Imagination illustrated by Harry Clarke

Tales of Mystery and Imagination illustrated by Harry Clarke

Moby Dick illustrated by Matt Kish

Moby-Dick illustrated by Matt Kish

Fahrenheit 451 illuminated by Tim Hamilton

Fahrenheit 451 illuminated by Tim Hamilton

The Four Holy Gospels illuminated by Makoto Fujimura

The Four Holy Gospels illuminated by Makoto Fujimura

The Lord of the Rings illustrated by Alan Lee

The Lord of the Rings illustrated by Alan Lee

Inferno illustrated by Gustave Dore

Inferno illustrated by Gustave Dore

Frankenstein illuminated by Gris Grimly

Frankenstein illuminated by Gris Grimly

Heart of Darkness illustrated by Matt Kish

Heart of Darkness illustrated by Matt Kish

Song of Myself illuminated by Allen Crawford

Song of Myself illuminated by Allen Crawford

The Hobbit illustrated by Tolkien himself

The Hobbit illustrated by Tolkien himself

Beowulf illuminated by Gareth Hinds

Beowulf illuminated by Gareth Hinds

At the Mountains of Madness illuminated by I.N.J. Culbard

At the Mountains of Madness illuminated by I.N.J. Culbard

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“Whitman Illuminated: Song of Myself” Illustrated by Allen Crawford

Whitman Illuminated: Song of Myself. Illustrated by Allen Crawford

Whitman Illuminated: Song of Myself. Illustrated by Allen Crawford

In the tradition of Matt Kish, another great illuminated classic has been created by Allen Crawford. Whitman’s collection Leaves of Grass, with Song of Myself as a centerpiece, is a keystone of American poetry, and Crawford uses drawings and hand-lettering to deepen the reader’s experience of the poem.

First page

Looking at the first page gives you a sense of the whimsical humor that pervades the book.

Each page is a hand-drawn spread created mostly through a process of improvisation rather than of careful planning, a method of which Whitman no doubt would have approved. Some pages are nothing but elaborate compositions of text, while others are images floating in empty space with a few lines of verse. Most are a pleasing combination of both.

page

Trying to read a page like this slows you down enough for the individual lines to really sink in.

Several reviews I’ve read say that this copy is not the best introduction to Whitman since some of the pages are difficult to read. I have only skimmed the original, but I would have to disagree. Whitman wanted to break free of the traditional bonds of form in poetry. He wrote sprawling verses that are hard to follow even in traditionally printed books, since artificial line breaks must be added to make Whitman’s free verse fit into the standard paperback format. Crawford makes Whitman’s dream of breaking free from poetry’s form a reality. While it is almost impossible to read the page above in the exact order Whitman wrote it, it is just as impossible to miss the experience of the verse when seen in this way. The drawing, the floating text that forces you to turn the book around in your hands as you read, surely get at the heart of Whitman’s cosmic scale and intimate verse. I believe Whitman was seeking after the experience created by the reading of his poetry rather than the dogmatic adherence to his choices in form, line length, and word order.

Some pages are harder to decipher than others, though I wonder how much that has to do with some obscurity in Whitman’s poetic language and how much it is a failing on Crawford’s part to create a flow through the text. No doubt repeated readings would make such pages more clear (and re-reading is a necessary reality of reading any kind of poetry). Crawford does have a lyrical sense of how to arrange words so that at first glance the page seems illegible, but once the reader dives in he is carried through with a sense of excitement and engagement rather than confusion or frustration.

page

“I am the poet of the body, and I am the poet of the soul.”

This illuminated manuscript does what all beautifully bound and illustrated books should, it forces the reader to understand that he is not superior to the book. This is a book to be experienced, not marked up and analyzed. To read this copy of Song of Myself is to more fully enter Whitman’s world, to more holistically experience the scope and intimacy of his poem.

You can find Whitman Illuminated: Song of Myself illustrated by Allen Crawford on Amazon or at your local bookstore.

 

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Book Recommendation: Brick by Brick by Stephen McCranie

Brick by Brick

Brick by Brick

I just purchased the $5 PDF of this book from McCraine’s website Doodle Alley. You can read most of the visual essays on his site, but I was so impressed with what I saw that I bought the book. It’s 208 pages of insightful observations on being an artist and making creativity a sustainable practice told in comic book form. Definitely a must read for anyone in a creative field dealing with the joys and frustrations of the artistic process. Screen Shot 2014-11-05 at 10.51.36 AMScreen Shot 2014-11-05 at 10.50.36 AMScreen Shot 2014-11-05 at 11.15.45 AM

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