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You Are an Artist by Sarah Urist Green

A few years ago curator Sarah Urist Green left her office in the basement of an art museum to travel and visit a diverse range of artists, asking them to share prompts that relate to their own ways of working. The result is You Are an Artist, a journey of creation through which you’ll invent imaginary friends, sort books, declare a cause, construct a landscape, find your band, and become someone else (or at least try). Your challenge is to filter these assignments through the lens of your own experience and make art that reflects the world as you see it.

You don’t have to know how to draw well, stretch a canvas, or mix a paint colour that perfectly matches that of a mountain stream. This book is for anyone who wants to make art, regardless of experience level. The only materials you’ll need are what you already have on hand or can source for free.

You Are an Artist brings together more than 50 assignments gathered from some of the most innovative creators working today, including Sonya Clark, Michelle Grabner, The Guerrilla Girls, Fritz Haeg, Pablo Helguera, Nina Katchadourian, Toyin Ojih Odutola, J. Morgan Puett, Dread Scott, Alec Soth, Gillian Wearing, and many others.

You Are an ArtistYou Are an Artist by Sarah Urist Green

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Penguin Press UK for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

This was such a fantastic book! I’d recommend it to anyone, any age. It would make a great gift.

Especially during these times of staying at home, for homeschool parents, teachers, as well any individual experiencing creative blocks within any type of media, anyone looking to exercise their artistic mind and skills, really anyone who wants to tap into an expression of themselves through art, whether you’re feeling super creative or going through a creative block, even a dry spell.

As far as content was concerned, it was out of the box, almost quirky, sometimes the bizarre, the peculiar, the types of art and art exercises I wouldn’t necessarily be inclined to make or decorate my house with or be typically drawn to. With that said; however, the art exercises focused on the actual doing of challenges, rather than an in-depth review of art interpretation which I think was unique to the world of art books and one that I definitely could use more time learning to appreciate and enjoy. And I had a blast doing them!

I found the projects in this book bringing out my imagination, much more hidden and less explored areas of my art perspective and a great creative outlet for my life in general.

I should also mention, and it was a real plus to the projects contained in this book, that you wouldn’t have to go out and buy tons of art supplies to complete the projects. You can pretty much use any items you’d typically find in any junk drawer in the kitchen. Paper, scissors, pen/pencil, and also easily use your phone for any of the photo activities.

The activities brought out ideas, rich sentiment, variations of emotion, which would otherwise be unexpressed. Some of the more unconventional projects contained in this book, combined with the background of select artists, made each exercise thoroughly enjoyable, insightful, and stimulated my mind.

I enjoyed the facts about each artist who was mentioned. Somewhat of an encyclopedia-type approach, such as demographical data, like when and where they were born, but it did not discuss their influences, accomplishments, or personal/artistic challenges in-depth. Which was fine. Perhaps we will see some of this in a subsequent book, which would be awesome, along with some of the psychology behind the routes toward finding self-creativity/reflection for those who may want to explore personal style and what types of media may express or suit an artist’s voice in the way they’d like to achieve. Or which ones would be the best exercises for them to do on more than one occasions and how to vary them to bring out even more of the elements behind the reasoning of including them in the book.

I hope you get to check out this wonderfully fun book! You can see some of the exercises I did on my website and I will be adding more over time. Be sure to share which ones you did in the comments, I’d love to see your project creations!

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A select few exercises from the book.

Blindfolding myself and drawing my home. This, my childhood bedroom.

I had several decorative phases and I rearranged my furniture a lot as a child. Taking out drawers of clothes to lighten the load, lying on my back, and pushing everything around with the strength of my legs and feet.

I had a heavy furniture set. A 4-post Oak wood twin bed with matching dressers. One tall, one shorter with a huge mirror. The black, metal pulls were a decorative, almost whimsical, paisley type shape, hanging down like an elaborate door knocker. They rattled ridiculously every time a drawer was opened.

During my purple phase, I had lavender carpet. The bedspread, the pillows, the curtains, all matching flowy, almost sheer, lightweight, white background with tiny lavender heart print. It was my dream bedroom decor, one I had picked out from the Sears magazine. Barbie and Popples wall decals. The 80s were great years to be a child. My drawings haven’t changed much since then.

Blindfolded left, open-eyed right.

Which one is more expressive?

Perspective exercise.

These are photos of my mother’s purple irises in a few different perspectives.

Raiding the fridge.

Jalapeño poppers, need I say more? Oh my goodness these things are the best. My recipe for Stuffed Jalapeños (otherwise known as Jalapeño poppers, though this version is not battered and fried), can be found here.

So for the artistic exercise, I’d say the dramatic potential to everyday surroundings is captured in the photograph of which I took of two of them (I ate the 3rd early, leaving an oily rainbow glistening in its absence) and cooked them in the oven using a shallow variation of the classic cast iron dish.

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Let’s take a moment to talk about cast iron pans.

If you’ve ever had a set of well-seasoned cast iron pans, you’ll know how they speak for themselves. Passed down from generations. From grandparents or a good yard sale. Shiny, the dark color of iron, consistently uniform and smooth. Distributing heat so evenly for cooking through and better browning which is the mastery of cooking. Fried fish, chicken, sautéed asparagus, pancakes, cornbread, anything tempura. Stove to oven, oven to stove. The best ones you can fry an egg on, flipping it over with ease. No catching, no broken yolks, no messy unintentional mix of crispy edges and mushy scramble.

They are the embodiment of a sincere human quality.

Well-loved, they’ve seen a lot. As individuals, they get better with time and their true contribution to this age’s wisdom is that as a whole, they also have collective longevity, having been in production since the 5th century B.C.

The context is the yummiest thing one could ever eat. The aroma of peppers and sharp, richness of baked cheese. Opening the oven door with a whoosh, a hot puff toward my face. The best comfort food on the planet. Golden tops of filled depressions, surrounded by slightly shriveled edges. Backlit by the jarring oven light, carefully sliding them out from the center rack. Oh the anticipated heaviness of iron, I gently tip the pan to let them settle on my plate.

“So unbelievably scrumptious” I say.

The heat from the ribs and seeds I left in each half. Tender roasted pepper flesh and more bite effort into the tougher, almost earthen skin. Such a contrast with the mingling creaminess, the tanginess of cream cheese, bits of fresh, pungent garlic, a sprinkle of parmesan, the perfect delicate balance of saltiness.

A path I’ve never been on before.

Here is a photo of a nearby pond from an edge I had never been on before. The quietest place possible. Absorbing the silence.

In the center of the flower, farthest back, crouches a metallic-turquiose fly. It flew away before I could get it in focus. I love the beautiful sheen of these common green bottle flies.

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And just for fun, a photograph of a winged-insect I saw in my mother’s yard.

I just love morning light and the shapes I was seeing.

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