Now that the University of Texas at Austin is out for the summer (and Austin schools will be soon!), it’s time to think about how to keep your brain working over the break! Blanton educator Andrea Saenz Williams shares some of her summer reads below:
Rain, rain, go away! I’m ready to bask in the summer sun, an icy drink within reach and book in hand. Summertime is busy. Punctuated by interruptions, excursions, and naps (if you’re lucky). I like quick and engrossing reads with chapters that make it easy to press pause. This year, I’m planning ahead and feeling nostalgic. My reading list is going to include a few old favorites that continue to inform and inspire.
Working autobiographically, my first pick is a school- age classic, and probably what fueled my desire to work in an art museum: From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Kongisburg. Don’t let the elementary reading level fool you. This book is for anyone who has ever visited a museum and has wondered what it would be like to stay after hours (and where they would hide out).
Next up, Chaos by James Gleick. Who doesn’t love a book about chaos theory that reads like a fast-paced thriller? I spent a post-grad summer in San Francisco and remember spending hours at the beach, devouring page after page. If this recommendation seems like a stretch for an art lover, try drawing a fractal.
Fast-forward to grad school. Beloved SAIC professor Angela Paterakis (she taught there for almost 50 years) handed out our course reading list and at the top was Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland. Her advice, “keep it by your bedside table and refer to it often.” Art and Fear is chock full of quotes and inspiration that doesn’t feel saccharine, but does inspire. I could open any page to demonstrate this point, but will pull something straight from the introduction:
This is a book about making art. Ordinary art. Ordinary art means something like: all art not made by Mozart-like people—essentially (statistically speaking) there aren’t any people like that. But while geniuses may get made once-a-century or so, good art gets made all the time. Making art is a common and intimately human activity, filled with all the perils (and rewards) that accompany any worthwhile effort. The difficulties artmakers face are not remote and heroic, but universal and familiar. This, then, is a book for the rest of us.
I mailed my first copy of Conversations Before the End of Time by critic Suzi Gablik to an art crush in Los Angeles after a visit to her studio. Not being able to live without it, I’ve since repurchased Conversations and have re-read it several times. I’m always intrigued by how the book intersects with current events (or at least my current thinking). This summer, I’m gonna concentrate on the chapter, The Aethetics of Everyday Life, an interview with Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett. Or, if I’m wanting a side of environmentalism with my art crit (and if the kids are playing outside), I’ll peruse the chapter Doin’ Dirt Time. I’ll probably Conversations Before the End of Time in tandem with Pablo Neruda’s Odes to Common Things. This is a lovely collection of poems about everyday objects. Either Ode to the Dog or Ode to the Tomato would be perfect companions for a lazy backyard afternoon. (C’mon, what’s more summery than a good tomato?)
Last up, Learning to Love You More by Harrell Fletcher and Miranda July. Ray Williams, the Blanton’s director of education, introduced this book to me around the time I started at the museum and it has become something of a philosophical touchstone. But in terms of summer reading, LLYM serves two purposes. First, its super fun to just look at, since it presents multiple interpretations of assignments given by artists Fletcher and July. But the real joy of this book is that in the heat of summer, when feeling subversive or bored, you can flip to the list of assignments in the back and choose one. Because, like the authors state in the beginning, “sometimes it is a relief to be told what to do.”
Do you have a book to recommend? Share with me on twitter @andreasaenzwill.