- For the painter and sculptor Jean Dubuffet, the most profound art was “art brut”—created from chaos and madness by the mentally ill. A new exhibition at the American Folk Art museum explores his ethos. Our managing editor, Nicole Rudick, explains: “Dubuffet advocated on behalf of art brut in famously eloquent pamphlets, speeches, and manifestos. In 1951, he gave a talk at the Art Institute of Chicago called ‘Anticultural Positions,’ which set out his antiformalist, expressive style and his dissatisfaction with Western conceptions of beauty. He rejected the notion that certain objects are more beautiful than others, advocating instead for the idea that ‘there is no ugly object nor ugly person in this world and that beauty does not exist anywhere, but that any object is able to become fascinating and illuminating.’ ”
- Today, literary blogs such as this one face competition from their fiercest adversary yet: Bill Gates. His blog, Gates Notes, features a thriving book reviews section—and Gates, unlike all those self-aggrandizing show-off critics you’ve grown accustomed to, endeavors “to fill his reviews with bits of information he hopes people will consider, even if they don’t end up reading the book. ‘I read textbooks related to global health but they are pretty technical for a general audience, so I generally don’t review them,’ he said … ‘I like to share what I learn from books like that because I know most people won’t read the whole thing but some will read an 800-word review of it.’”
- Conventional wisdom maintains that commercial fiction is vastly more sentimental than “serious” literary fiction—and that eschewing sentimentality is a good way to separate the wheat from the chaff. Academics have tested that notion using sentiment analysis, mapping the number of positive and negative words in literary novels: “There appears to be an assumption at work among the canon that reality is harsh and positivity distorts the truth … It’s not that emotions are absent from the most serious of serious literature. Rather, what is missing is a kind of explicit articulation of belief, what we might call, for lack of a better word, conviction. Over time we seem to institutionally value novels that downplay the clarity of their own beliefs. This makes a good deal of sense—novels that endure do so because they represent more open belief systems, ones that allow readers across broader stretches of time to engage with them and explore their own beliefs.”
- Free yourself from the tyranny of choice. Submit to the awesome power of fate. Visit this Tokyo bookstore, where only one title is for sale each week. (Right now it’s Masaru Tatsuki’s photo anthology Fish-Man.) “This bookstore that sells only one book could also be described as ‘a bookstore that organises an exhibition derived from a single book,’ ” says the proprietor, Yoshiyuki Morioka. “For instance, when selling a book on flowers, in the store could be exhibited a flower that actually appears in the book. Also, I ask the authors and editors to be at the bookstore for as much time as possible. This is an attempt to make the two-dimensional book into three-dimensional ambience and experience. I believe that the customers, or readers, should feel as though they are entering ‘inside a book.’ ”
- In 1939, when he was nine, the historian Gerhard Weinberg fled Germany to escape Hitler. Now Weinberg is eighty-seven and advocating for the first new German edition of Hitler’s Mein Kampf since 1945, along with its little-known sequel. “In 2003, Weinberg wrote, ‘Germany and the rest of the world have not yet come close to coming to terms with Hitler as a person, as leader of a great nation, and as a symbol.’ The publication history of his books seems to support Weinberg’s point. In 1961, publishers were afraid of Hitler’s second book. In 2013, the state of Bavaria showed that it was still afraid of his first. The lack of critical editions didn’t prevent readers from accessing Hitler’s ideas—instead, it prevented historians from shaping the way these books are remembered.”
Remembering Ray Johnson through his pioneering correspondence art.
Ray Johnson thought he was ugly, but I thought he looked cool—just like Ray Johnson.
Being a teenage modern-art fan in Texas in the sixties, I was excited to learn of the New York Correspondence School from Eye magazine, or maybe it was Artforum or Print. Ray, whose early abstracted celebrity photos and painted collages I had seen featured in the pages of many histories of Pop, was encouraging artists all over the world to make and trade mail as an art activity, an idea readily appreciated in the midcentury’s burst of experimental and novel art approaches. Thousands of people began to send art objects to each other through the postal service.
My notion was that Ray didn’t make the first piece of mail art, but his creation of a school around that activity was the benediction for a folk-art movement in motion. Some of these letters were finished statements or handmade objects; others were exquisite corpses conducted by mail, objects that traveled and accumulated the mojo of human touch and attention as they were ever modified. The latter was the kind of thing Ray did: he mailed objects and letters and asked the recipients to add to them and then return them, or send them along to other destinations. Ray’s handmade work, cryptic and rarely seen, was striking, sure, but humorous, too, a quality I really like in art. It had a purposive childishness, but also a readily appreciable design rigor—a controlled looseness, beautiful color, shape and textural sense, a mastery of a private hieroglyphics of bunnies and goo-goo eyes. Read More