November 22, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Explore Art: Nonfiction Titles for Teens

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“Media Mania” gets unplugged to feature exciting new books that spotlight the oldest form of mass communication: art. Ranging in topic from magnetic and multifaceted biographies of art world giants, to volumes that encapsulate enlightening exhibitions of 20th century American art to the personal joys and public resonance of creating folk art, these handsomely illustrated offerings invite teens into an intriguing and thought-provoking world.

Get to know an artist

Everybody PaintsIn Everybody Paints!: The Lives and Art of the Wyeth Family (Chronicle, 2014; Gr 7 Up), Susan Goldman Rubin introduces three generations of American paragons. Born the son of a practical minded Massachusetts businessman in 1882, Newel Convers (N.C) was determined to follow his creative calling and, working in oils on canvas, became a well-known illustrator of popular magazines and classic children’s books. Brought into N.C.’s studio for formal training at age 15, Andrew (1917-2009) used watercolors to depict scenes of Maine and later moved to tempera for works such as the richly detailed Christina’s World (1948). Andrew’s son Jaimie (1946- ) also shared the Wyeth childhood passion for drawing, and uses “combined mediums” for his realistic portraits and paintings. Rubin makes it clear that art beats in the heart of this family along with affection. Delightfully described are N.C.’s love of drawing pictures of pirates and giants for his young children before bathing them and putting them to bed, or young Jaimie exploring his grandfather’s studio—left untouched since his death in 1945—and using the illustrator’s chests of costumes and props to play dress up. Black-and-white family photographs, reproductions of works by all three artists, and childhood drawings are perfectly placed to enhance the entrancing narrative.

Like the lush yet thorny roses that frame the cover photo of the couple, Catherine Reef’s Frida
& Diego: Art, Love, Life (Clarion, 2014; Gr 7 Up) paints a portrait of two independent-minded
and audaciously creative individuals and a complex relationship that is passionate and
prickled with heartache. This vividly written duel biography explores the personal lives and
groundbreaking careers of Mexican artists Kahlo (1907-1954) and Rivera (1886-1957). Reef
traces the path each painter took to creating art (Diego began attending art school as a child, studied in Europe, and quickly found fame at home and abroad while Frida began painting to stave off boredom during a lengthy recovery from the devastating traffic accident that would leave her in often-debilitating pain for the rest of life) and Frida and Diegochronicles the development and impact of their very different bodies of work (Rivera’s epic-scale murals and depictions of Mexican life and Kahlo’s soul-revealing self-portraits).

Set in context against historical and cultural events, the book also describes the couple’s often-revolutionary politics, radical-for-the-times life styles, and tempestuous marriage (both had numerous affairs), while underscoring their enduring love for each other. Enhanced by well-chosen examples of their work, intimate black-and-white family photos, and contemporary photographs, this volume is riveting, revealing, and romantic.

This is DaliA new series of graphic novel profiles (Laurence King, 2014; Gr 10 Up) penned by art historian Catherine Ingram blends witty narratives with comic-book–style illustrations that inventively—and often drolly—expand the texts, reproductions of pivotal artworks, and the occasional black-and-white photo. The book design is superb: each volume features a pen-and-ink portrait of its subject on the cover, a bright-hued spine that provides contrast, and a well-chosen quote from the artist that imparts each man’s essence. Biographical highlights and astute and accessible discussions of particular works are woven into a tapestry of historical events, contemporary cultural trends, and art history context.

Illustrated by Andrew Rae, This iIs Dalí introduces the popular Spanish artist “known for his lavish lifestyle, his gravity-defying moustache and his bizarre art,” a self-promoting megalomaniac who made (and spent) millions, had a knack for exploiting  “potent subject matter,” and led an existence as attention-grabbing and surrealistic as his artful objects (e.g, 1936’s Lobster Telephone). Fittingly, This Is Warhol opens with Andy’s Photobooth Self-Portrait (1963), a work that, like the artist, “…embraces popular culture” and “finds beauty in the throwaway.” With beginnings as a commercial artist, a voyeur’s eye for cultural trends, and the ability to transform himself from “awkward kid” to “avant-garde player,” Warhol managed to elevate the ordinary into the extraordinary. This Is Pollock, illustrated by Peter Arkle, strives to separate the artist’s career from his famously “bad boy storyline” (he is well-known for drunken antics and public displays of bad behavior) and demonstrate how his “monumental drip paintings reflect a uniquely American vision.” Eloquent, informative, and amusing, the series’ urbane viewpoint and sometimes-titillating illustrations make it best suited for more mature readers.

Visit an art exhibition

Witness Art and Civil RightsCurators Teresa A. Carbone and Kellie Jones present Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties (Monacelli Pr., 2014; Gr 9 Up), a companion volume to an exhibition organized by the Brooklyn Museum that marks the 50th anniversary of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement and “explores the telling intersection or art and activism on behalf of the struggle for racial equality.” More than 100 works by African American artists and others reveal a wide variety of aesthetic styles and artistic viewpoints.

Thoughtfully written essays accompany the reproductions of paintings, sculptures, and documentary photos of protestors, freedom marchers, and individuals. Jones explores how “the ability to control, even just to have access to, one’s own image, or manage the framing of representation, was huge for African Americans” and the many different strategies utilized by individual artists; Connie H. Choi delves into how contemporary photographers “wrote” history by taking “advantage of both the photograph’s ability to portray a particular moment and its power to effect change and bring awareness to a broad audience;” and Carbone discusses how artists ranging from Romare Bearden to Robert Rauschenberg employed collage to incorporate physical evidence (photographs, newspapers) into their work to eloquent, often politicized effect. Interspersed throughout are personal recollections about the era written by artists such as abstract painter Jack Whitten and fashion designer and AFRICOBRA collective member Jae Jarrell. Providing an illuminating and powerful perspective on the era, these stunning images offer much for students to look at and admire, contemplate, and discuss. The exhibit travels to Dartmouth College’s Hood Museum of Art (August 30 to December 21) and The Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas in Austin (February 8, 2015 to May 10, 2015).

What Nerve!Published in conjunction with an upcoming exhibition at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum, Dan Nadel’s What Nerve!: Alternative Figures in American Art, 1960 to the Present
(D.A.P./RISD, 2014; Gr 10 Up) provides a look at 50 years of eye-popping, thought-provoking, boundary-pushing paintings, drawings, sculpture, photographs and video, and ephemera.
Existing mostly outside the mainstream art world, the artists represented here are, as Judith Tannenbaum’s introduction points out, “…a quirky, unconventional lot.” Though “…their styles range from hard-edged and refined to rowdy and rambunctious,” they all “…adhere to imagery based on the human figure, demonstrate an independent streak that enabled them to go against the grain of  prevailing trends, and live as radical artists in regions outside the country’s primary cultural  centers.”

Spanning several generations, the book centers on artist-initiated collectives—Chicago’s Hairy Who, California’s Funk artists, Detroit’s Destroy All Monsters, and Providence’s Forcefield—as well as individual artists who either influenced or were influenced by these groups, including legendary comic-book creator Jack Kirby and Christina Ramberg, whose depictions of the female body imprisoned in constrictive undergarments are simultaneously sensual, disconcerting, and discussion-starting. From Karl Wirsum’s pulsing-with-energy paintings to the colorfully patterned and knitted full-body shrouds donned by Forcefield members during  performances, these works demonstrate how each artist navigated a unique route through the back roads of American culture and art history. Teens will be attracted to the artwork’s flamboyant creativity, pop-art meets fine-art imagery, brazen humor, and uninhibited points of view. The exhibit runs from September 19, 2014, to January 4, 2015.

Celebrate hands-on creativity

Ashley Bryan puppetsIn Ashley Bryan’s Puppets: Making Something from Everything (S. & S., 2014; Gr 7 Up), the award-winning author and illustrator showcases his family of more than 30 hand puppets lovingly crafted from found objects—shells, sea glass, bones, driftwood, etc.—picked up during beach-combing expeditions near his home in Maine. Each carefully named creation is amazingly animated and imbued with personality and sparkle. Pulled-back photos of several puppets standing clanlike in a row alternate with larger images of individuals that allow for closer examination of the materials used and the fine detailing. These featured puppets are paired with first-person poems that lyrically link their outer parts to their inner selves. There is something elemental about each folkloric figure, whether clothed in glorious gown, fishnet-decorated robes, faded patchwork cloak, or workmanlike denim. With a regal driftwood oak head with “branches like antlers” and fur-adorned garment, Abayomi, Ruler of People, has the bearing of a just and loving leader; the sturdy brass-post head, electric-socket neck, and fork hands of Kitaka, Good Farmer, prove his “mettle” as a crop cultivator; with acorn-husk eyes hidden behind thick seaglass spectacles and outstretched shredded-satin wings, the owllike Cazembe, Wise One, exudes mystery and sagacity. Puppets, poems, and personas converge into a dazzling tour de force of creativity that will mesmerize readers and perhaps inspire them to conceive, construct, and vivify their own hand-crafted clan.

CraftivismGathering together treatises written by artisans across the globe, Betsy Greer introduces the concept of Craftivism (Arsenal Pulp, 2014; Gr 10 Up), a new movement that interweaves crafting with activism. Craftivists create “…something that gets people to ask questions,” forming dialogue in a non-confrontational way by inviting others to “join in a conversation about the social and political intent” of their creations. More than 30 essays and interviews feature creative and committed  individuals including Australian Sayraphim Lothian, who strives to grow optimism and sense of community through acts of “guerilla kindness”  such as leaving handmade foam cupcakes for strangers to find; male duo Varvara Guljajeva and Mar Canet whose publicly displayed machine-knit art pieces “use and challenge technology” to explore concepts of art and social issues; and graffiti knitter Lauren O’Farrell, who first graced London’s Occupy movement with a hand-knit mouse holding a “Down with Fat Cats” sign in 2011 and now leaves protest mice on UK streets to celebrate freedom of speech and convey her hope for a better world. Each chapter includes full-color photos of crafters and their work along with brief bios and websites. A fascinating glimpse at grass roots activism and inspiring volume for dedicated DIY-ers ready to take their passion to the next level.

Start building your career

Art IncProfessional artist Lisa Congdon’s Art Inc. (Chronicle, 2014; Gr 10 Up) offers a practical, comprehensive, and empowering guide to earning a living as an artist. Beginning with advice about embracing the mind-set of a thriving (not starving) artist, developing an individual voice, and tapping into a support system, clearly written chapters provide nuts and bolts basics about business management (planning goals, organizing time, etc.), promoting one’s work (via website, social media, and more), selling (everything from pricing to packaging), connecting with art shows and galleries, the world of illustration and licensing, and time management. Interviews with successful artists appear throughout, and a list of useful resources is appended. The book’s can-do tone and wealth of information make it a useful resource for aspiring artists ready to look to the future.

Publication Information

BRYAN, Ashley. Ashley Bryan’s Puppets: Making Something from Everything. S. & S./Atheneum.
2014. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781442487284.

CARBONE, Teresa A. & Kellie Jones. Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties. Brooklyn
Museum/Monacelli Pr. 2014. Tr $40. ISBN 9781580933902.

CONGDON, Lisa. Art Inc.: The Essential Guide for Building Your Career as an Artist.
Chronicle. 2014. pap. $16.95. ISBN 9781452128269.

GREER, Betsy, ed. Craftivism: The Art of Craft and Activism. Arsenal Pulp. 2014. pap. $24.95.
ISBN 9781551525341.

INGRAM, Catherine. This is Dalí. illus. by Andrew Rae. ISBN 9781780671093.
_____. This is Pollock. illus. by Peter Arkle. ISBN 9781780673462.
_____. This is Warhol. illus. by Andrew Rae. ISBN 9781780670140.
ea vol.: Laurence King. 2014. lib. ed. $15.95.

NADEL, Dan. What Nerve!: Alternative Figures in American Art, 1960 to the Present. D.A.P./
RISD Museum of Art. Sept. 2014. pap. $39.95. ISBN 9781938922466.

REEF, Catherine. Frida & Diego: Art, Love, Life. Clarion. 2014. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780547
821849.

RUBIN, Susan Goldman. Everybody Paints!: The Lives and Art of the Wyeth Family. Chronicle.
2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780811869843.

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Joy Fleishhacker About Joy Fleishhacker

Joy Fleishhacker is a librarian, former SLJ staffer, and freelance editor and writer who works at the Pikes Peak Library District in southern Colorado.

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