Saturday, December 29, 2018

"What it Means to Write about Art" by Jarrett Earnest (David Zwirner Books)

ISBN: 9781941701898
As a writer, I try to do these little exercises by writing a description of my office or other rooms in the house. It's difficult, but once you start thinking about a room or space, that has stuff in it, it becomes a self-portrait or a statement in itself. I can be abstract in my method, but I want the reader to know what it is like to be in my office. Also, I try to focus on every object that is placed in the room, and what it represents or how space is used around its surroundings. I can imagine writing about film or music, but the idea of writing criticism or observation on 'art,' is a mystery to me. For instance, how does one put in words about a Jackson Pollack painting? I can write about the process of making such a painting, but what it means to me as a viewer of that work? How does one put words or vocabulary together describing artworks? It is with great interest that I read Jarrett Earnest's collection of interviews with art critics on their craft and talent in describing, writing, and commenting on the visual art world. "What It Means to Write about Art" is a stunning collection, that makes me think of art criticism as a form in itself. 
For me, I find art criticism or writing tedious. I can never figure out why I find something so exciting as seeing an exhibition can be a chore to read, done by an art critic. I now realize that it's not the critics' fault, but more of me going into a foreign world, writing about something that is unexplainable and mysterious. On the other hand, when I look at an article written by a professor or sometimes a curator, I tend to think it's not as well written or enjoyable if a poet wrote it. Then some poets write art criticism, and that, I find fascinating. Eight out of thirty art critics are well-known poets in this collection. All thirty, are interesting people, with strong opinions, and the vocabulary and writing skills to back up their stance about an artist and their artwork. The poets especially are good, because I suspect that they look at writing as another form of sculpture, and therefore one medium or style works with the other quite well. 
Jarrett Earnest is a fantastic interviewer, and I can't imagine a better set of questions to these specific writers, regarding their origins as a critic as well as how they see their profession in the bigger landscape of the arts. All of them I believe are into the big discussion of art aesthetics and politics, and it's a very individual path that some of these writers take in their work. For instance, for some, politics is a big part of their writing, some it's the issue of queer studies and how it mixes in the culture that they write about. Or how race and the power structure plays in the world of the arts. Others are looking at art as a stand-alone object or piece that expresses an inner-world or expression of how to see things. Earnest doesn't seem to leave anyone out, and this is a fantastic volume of interviews, that not only focuses on the writing of the arts but also what makes a writer tick. 
Not everyone in this book I find utterly fascinating due to their writing or stance. But reading all the interviews, I find myself entertained, informed, and also admire that each one in their method can describe or make commentary on the visual arts, in such a manner that is a dialog as well as a pointed expression of opinion and passion. Earnest knows how to communicate with the subject matters here, and he comes off charming, and never dwells into 'art-speak' or art-talk' language. Some of the writers here write for specific art journals (like "October") while others write for massive publications like The New Yorker, The New York Times, WSJ, and so forth. As a writer, I find their advice and thoughts profound and having them comment on the nature of art criticism; it's an exciting relationship between observer and art object. 
I recommend "What it Means to Write About Art" to anyone who is interested in writing art criticism, but even more important for anyone who cares about writing as a medium to express themselves or thoughts on another medium such as art. A great book published by David Zwirner Books, who do excellent titles on and by art writers who write criticism. - Tosh Berman

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

TamTam Books at Alias Books East in Atwater Village

Alias Books East in Atwater Village has a selection of books published by TamTam Books.  

- Boris Vian's "Autumn in Peking"
- Boris Vian's "Red Grass" 
-Boris Vian's "To Hell With The Ugly"

& a book by Ron Mael and Russell Mael of the band Sparks.  "In The Words of Sparks: Selected Lyrics"  Edited by Ron and Russell, with a great introduction by Morrissey.  

And, also for sale is "Memory Before Action" text by Tosh Berman and art by Senon Williams.  Very limited and of course, very special.  All exclusively on sale at Alias Books East.  Located 3163 Glendale Blvd, Los Angeles, CA, 90039.  For more information, here's their website: