Austin Kleon is a Venn diagram of creativity as his practice shifts perceptively between pictures, words and the web. Newspaper Blackout is a project in which Austin (surprisingly) blacks-out whole columns of text, save for a few floating words that form short, witty and quite brilliant poems revealed from the daily news. He’s also responsible for the wildly popular Steal Like An Artist, a list of ten things he (and everyone else as it turned out) wished he’d been taught at college. This week he fills our Bookshelf post with a collection of artists’ memoirs, after recently hearing someone say that "biographies are the best self-help books.”
It surprised the hell out of me, but Decoded is some of the best writing about art and music I’ve read. Totally fascinating, and beautifully designed — you have to get the paper version. The bits where Jay-Z “decodes” his lyrics get a little tedious, but the straightforward prose bits — his readings of hip-hop culture, Basquiat’s work, and his own rise to fame — are fantastic.
Just Kids Patti Smith
Kurt Vonnegut wrote: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” This book is about two friends, Patti Smith and the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, pretending to be artists, and therefore, slowly becoming artists. I don’t know anyone who read this book who didn’t like it.
American Elf Volume 1: The Collected Sketchbook Diaries Of James Kochalka James Kochalka
Kochalka has drawn a daily comic strip diary in his sketchbook for over 10 years. The original strips have a black and white simplicity to them that I love. I think the heart of the strip is really Kochalka’s marriage. At the beginning, Kochalka and his wife are going out in the rain, drinking and smoking and partying, and towards the end, they’re having a baby and becoming grownups. Amazing work — still in progress! — and one of my favorite comic strips of all time.
I Remember Joe Brainard
This is a book to put on your nightstand and dip into a little bit every night before bed. A true memoir in the sense that it’s simply a a collage of hundreds of sentences that start with the words “I remember.” Brainard recalls both his post-war Oklahoma childhood and his days as an artist in New York City. A magical thing happens in this book: while recalling specific details of his life, what Brainard really does is help us remember our own lives. “I remember Saturday night baths and Sunday morning comics.” I do, too.
Memories, Dreams, Reflections Carl Jung
Jung’s not technically an artist, but I’m throwing him in here anyways. The famous psychologist started his memoir at the end of his life at the age of 81 and worked on it with his assistant until his death. He covers everything from his childhood to his dreams to his relationship with Freud to his struggle to somehow combine religion and science. There’s a particularly brilliant passage where he recalls a childhood memory of imagining God dropping a gigantic turd on the roof of his church. (No, really, it’s great.)