Over ten years ago a particularly biting segment aired on 60 Minutes entitled YES BUT IS IT ART? It began with Morley Safer quoting PT Barnum’s legendary remark “A sucker is born every minute.” Safer went on to say most contemporary art is “worthless junk.” He even filmed a group of children at the Whitney Museum, and pointing to a large graffiti-like painting, asked, “Do you think you could do as well?” One little boy announced, “I could do better than that.”
The media abounds in messages that today’s new artists are trying to put something over on us and laughing all the way to the bank. The New Yorker always has a cartoon spoofing some current new art world trend. One of my favorites from many years back pictures two men, very well-dressed and puffed up, standing before a Jackson Pollock painting. One man says to the other, “His splatters are masterful but his dribbles lack conviction.”
The Gap in the Bookshelf (one of my favorite subjects). In 1989 there were no books for young readers on looking at contemporary art . Biographies of artists tended to concentrate on the old masters.. So Sandra Jordan and I decided to write our first book together The Painter’s Eye, which we hoped would help children enter a dialogue with new art and come to it with an open mind and a fresh eye. Now almost twenty years later, we have collaborated on 11 books together, and most of them focus on 20th and 21st century artists and artworks. Since the early 90’s, some terrific books about contemporary art for kids have been published. In addition, the lives and works of earlier artists are now being presented in a more exciting, creative way. It was great recently to visit the bookstores at the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Saint Louis Art Museum and see so many of these books filling the Gap on the Bookshelf.
Here are a few books on art for young readers that I enjoyed looking through. Some deal with modern and contemporary art; others cover artworks by more traditional and old master artists (chosen by me because they were so delightful!).
Sandy's Circus: A Story About Alexander Calder by Tanya Lee Stone and Boris Kulikov. A charming tale about the artist “Sandy” Calder making his famous circus, now on display at The Whitney Museum in New York.·
Painting the Wild Frontier: The Art and Adventures of George Catlin by Susanna Reich. This book about the artist George Catlin, famous for his paintings of Native Americans, is filled with photographs, drawings, and reproductions of the artist’s works. Reich also tells a fast-moving story.
Behind the Museum Door: Poems to Celebrate the Wonders of Museums collected by Lee Bennet Hopkins. Illustrated by Stacey Dressen-McQueen. Some of our favorite poets for children invite us into museums and write poems about some of the treasures we might see there from a mummy to a Picasso.
Here’s Looking at Me: How Artists see Themselves by Bob Raczka highlights self-portraits as diverse in style and period as an etching by Durer to a photograph appropriating a Caravaggio by Cindy Sherman. Bob’s many art books for kids are fascinating!!!
There are many more terrific books about art and artists and over the next few months I will try to feature some of them. Hope you will have a chance to see my new book with Sandra Jordan,
Christo and Jeanne-Claude Through The Gates and Beyond (Roaring Brook Press). It tells the story of these two partners in life and art, who have collaborated on large-scale artworks all over the world. The projects from wrapping The Pont Neuf in Paris to unfurling The Gates in Central Park last not more than two weeks and are paid for completely by the artists.The funds come from the sales of Christo’s drawings, prints, models, and earlier works. By the way, they were both born on the same day in the same year, each in opposite sides of the world. We interviewed them over a period of four years. One of the joys of writing about living artists is the opportunity to meet them and follow their work over a period of time. During the years they were organizing and engineering The Gates, our project was on hold. They were so busy. Sandra and I wondered if we would ever finish the book. Finally months after the hugely successful Gates project was dismantled, Jeanne-Claude left a message on our editor Neal Porter’s machine, saying “Let’s get the ball rolling.” And we were back in business!