A thoughtful meditation on the transcendence of art.



What is art for?

In a wide-ranging study of the nature and meaning of artistic creation, art critic Perl draws on the work of writers, composers, choreographers, painters, sculptors, architects, and actors to examine the tension between the “ordering impulse” of authority and the freedom to experiment and play, which, he argues, all artists confront as they reshape experiences into creative work. “Artistic freedom,” Perl argues, “always involves engaging with some idea of order,” which the artist understands as a form of authority, but to which he doesn’t “necessarily entirely submit.” When an artist responds to the tradition and discipline of a particular medium, he continually asks, “How do I find freedom within authority?” Perl ranges across time, place, and culture—from Peter Paul Rubens to Aretha Franklin, Michelangelo to Bauhaus weaver Anni Albers—to explore ways that artists struggle with authority. Their responses can be “grave, reverent, and saturnine,” he notes, or skeptical, satirical, or mystical. Besides looking directly at artists and their creations, Perl examines writers such as Henry James (“The Art of Fiction”), T.S. Eliot (“Tradition and the Individual Talent”), and philosophers Hannah Arendt and Isaiah Berlin, whose considerations of authority, obedience, and constraint Perl finds salient. The author’s overarching aim is to argue that art must be released “from the stranglehold of relevance.” In a time of political, social, economic, and environmental challenges, Perl regrets that artists, and the work they produce, may be expected to comment on the pressures of the moment. Labeling art feminist, radical, conservative, or gay does not account fully for its meaning in the world. Art, Perl insists, has “an authority of its own.” As W.H. Auden put it, in an essay on Yeats, “Poetry makes nothing happen.” Perl asserts that art allows us “to enter into the life of our time or any other time.”

A thoughtful meditation on the transcendence of art.

Pub Date: Jan. 11, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-32005-1

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 12, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2021

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A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.


The creator of the hit internet series Humans of New York takes it global, chasing down a panoply of interesting stories.

In 1955, Edward Steichen staged a show called “The Family of Man,” a gathering of photographs that emphasized the commonality of humankind. Stanton’s project seemingly has much the same ambition. “You’ve created this magic little corner of the Web where people feel safe sharing their stories—without being ridiculed, or bullied, or judged,” he writes. “These stories are only honestly shared because they have a long history of being warmly received.” The ask is the hard part: approaching a total stranger and asking him or her to tell their stories. And what stories they are. A young Frenchwoman, tearful, recounts being able to see things from the spirit world that no one else can see. “And it’s been a very lonely existence since then,” she says. A sensible teenager in St. Petersburg, Russia, relates that her friends are trying to be grown-up, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, whereas she wants to remain a child close to her parents: “I’d like these times to last as long as possible.” A few stories are obnoxious, as with a Dutch incel who has converted himself into a pickup artist and outright cad: “Of course it’s manipulation, but why should I care? I’ve been manipulated so many times in my life.” A great many stories, some going for several pages but most taking up just a paragraph or two, are regretful, speaking to dashed dreams and roads not taken. A surprising number recount mental illness, depression, and addiction; “I’d give anything to have a tribe,” says a beleaguered mother in Barcelona. Some are hopeful, though, such as that of an Iranian woman: “I’ve fallen in love with literature. I try to read for one or two hours every day. I only have one life to live. But in books I can live one thousand lives.”

A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11429-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.



The veteran actor, comedian, and banjo player teams up with the acclaimed illustrator to create a unique book of cartoons that communicates their personalities.

Martin, also a prolific author, has always been intrigued by the cartoons strewn throughout the pages of the New Yorker. So when he was presented with the opportunity to work with Bliss, who has been a staff cartoonist at the magazine since 1997, he seized the moment. “The idea of a one-panel image with or without a caption mystified me,” he writes. “I felt like, yeah, sometimes I’m funny, but there are these other weird freaks who are actually funny.” Once the duo agreed to work together, they established their creative process, which consisted of working forward and backward: “Forwards was me conceiving of several cartoon images and captions, and Harry would select his favorites; backwards was Harry sending me sketched or fully drawn cartoons for dialogue or banners.” Sometimes, he writes, “the perfect joke occurs two seconds before deadline.” There are several cartoons depicting this method, including a humorous multipanel piece highlighting their first meeting called “They Meet,” in which Martin thinks to himself, “He’ll never be able to translate my delicate and finely honed droll notions.” In the next panel, Bliss thinks, “I’m sure he won’t understand that the comic art form is way more subtle than his blunt-force humor.” The team collaborated for a year and created 150 cartoons featuring an array of topics, “from dogs and cats to outer space and art museums.” A witty creation of a bovine family sitting down to a gourmet meal and one of Dumbo getting his comeuppance highlight the duo’s comedic talent. What also makes this project successful is the team’s keen understanding of human behavior as viewed through their unconventional comedic minds.

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-26289-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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