And sometimes to books
Kat Murrell's new column debuts with comments on new books by Alain de Botton and George Lois.
This column is supposed to be about art, but we’ll stretch that like silly putty this week for a brief musing on a couple of interesting new books. They have much to say about visual culture, so momentarily consider this Susceptible to Images…and sometimes text.
The first book is by British philosopher Alain de Botton. With him, the words “pop,” as in popular, and “philosopher” follow in quick succession, and in an entirely complimentary way. He is a writer who has revealed Proust as a comfortable companion for daily living and written poetically about the industrial sublime of snack food manufacturing in England. His latest book is Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion, a title certain to garnes attention in the minefield of spiritual provocateurs.
Whatever your mystical leanings, dear reader, de Botton’s point is that much in the humanities, particularly art and architecture, can provide the guidance, solace, comfort and instruction traditionally ascribed to religion. Not through rote dogma, of course. After all, the humanities are far too squirrelly for that. But art, literature, philosophy and the traditions of world cultures can shepherd us through the emotionally fragile territories of life, grapple with questions of how to live with ourselves and each other, what to do and how to deal.
Where de Botton is earnest and thoughtful, advertising guru George Lois is bombastic and hilarious. He chucks pearls of wisdom at your head throughout his entertaining polemic, Damn Good Advice For People With Talent. At first, the hyperbolic onslaught of the front book flaps put me off. “Each lesson is a mind-blower and a possible life-changer…”. Really? But get past that and the fun begins.
It is surprisingly refreshing to read someone who so damned certain about his creative work. Lois has spent decades in advertising and does not see it as the scourge of modern visual culture. He is a man in love with it, though he has famously described it as “poison gas.” He will sell you on this and can make you regard the ubiquitous world of advertising differently. Lois invites us not only to embrace the sales pitches that surround us, but also to look at them more critically. After all, today’s ads could be next century’s museum pieces (note the current Posters of Paris show at the Milwaukee Art Museum).
Lois doles out 120 different pieces of advice, usually within an entertaining story or pithy example. One stood out for its mark of contemplation and quietude. In Lesson #65, Lois explains that he goes every Sunday to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York: “Mysteriously, the history of the art of mankind can inspire breakthrough conceptual thinking, in any field.
It seems he and de Botton are on to the same idea. A museum is more than the pretty pictures on the wall and a repository of historical facts and technical skill. Maybe in that quiet space we can find solace and strength for whatever it is we are susceptible.
And now, Kat Murrell’s private weekend art datebook: