Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Book nine: Epic Content Marketing by Joe Pulizzi.

My friend Kelly Hindley should write a book.  Because she's been talking about ideas and issues presented in Epic Content Marketing: How to Tell a Different Story, Break Through the Clutter, and Win More Customers by Marketing Less by Joe Pulizzi for a very long time.  And to be honest, she's been talking about those ideas in ways that are more interesting than in this book.

First, you may be asking why am I reading a business book when I've committed to reading books about art and artists. Well, several of my clients mentioned that this book was influencing the way they are shaping their current marketing efforts.  And when clients are taking a book seriously, I like to get some insight into the ideas that are influencing them.

This is a perfectly fine business book.  The ideas are valid and represent an honest assessment of where many corporations are taking their marketing efforts.  The internet, and more importantly social media have monumentally changed the marketing landscape. And Pulizzi offers a thorough assessment of smart ways to respond to this new environment. The ultimate take away is that companies have to do more than just brag about their products.  They now have to create communications that are valuable, interesting, and entertaining.  And he's right.

As I mentioned, this book is thorough.  Maybe a little too thorough. Many parts of the book are redundant and a little boring.  But that might be because I work in marketing and much of this information was not new to me.  In fact, I think many enterprise companies would be aware of this information.  Although I think small and medium businesses would find this valuable information.

Nonetheless, I still wish Kelly Hindley had written this book.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Book eight: The Dog Stars by Peter Heller.

I might as well get this out of the way.  I didn't like Peter Heller's The Dog Stars.  You may be wondering why I chose to listen to this audio book (performed capably by Mark Deakins) when I've committed to reading books about art and artists.  Well, this was a selection by my book club. And to be honest, I didn't really pay attention to the suggestion of this book and agreed to read it without looking at the description.  Had I done that, I could have guessed that this would be a tough book for me to love.

The Dog Stars is a story about the post-apocalyptic demise of the human race. And not many of those stories appeal to me. When book critics and readers alike were gaga for Cormac McCarthey's The Road, I was wondering why.  This book feels a lot like The Road, although I think Heller's work offers a more interesting story line.  After a deadly virus has decimated the human population, Hig (our central character and narrator) finds himself alone in a dangerous world with only one companion to help him survive the occasional attacks by others hellbent on killing everyone and everything in sight. He's a pilot, a hunter, a fisherman.  Oh and a wanna be poet. The books tracks his travels as he navigates this dangerous and unpleasant environment.

There are a lot of things I didn't like about this book.  Let me mention a few:

The story:
This is bad on me.  I certainly can't blame Heller for my dislike of the story.  I just don't react well to stories chronicling the downfall of humanity.  Good grief, I even had a problem with the Hunger Games books for their assertion that in the face of extreme adversity, humans tend toward evil, like kids killing other kids.  Here the violence, and the suggestion that every other person is the enemy is unbelievable.

The sexism:
I'm likely to get skewered for this argument.  But really, am I the only one who thinks this book is antiquated in its portrayal of women and their role in society.  Let's start with the fact that almost no women appear in the book and if they do, they're sickly or in shorts and a sexy shirt, working in the garden, happy to cook dinner, and waiting for the man of their dreams.  Most romance novels offer stronger, more assertive female character than The Dog Stars.

The book seems to suggest that women are just too frail to survive an apocalyptic environment as most of those remaining are men who are blood-thirsty power mongers out for domination.  Sure there's a brief mention toward the end of the book that one group of marauders may have included women. But it didn't meet my standards of understanding modern women.  Because I'm positive that when the apocalypse arrives, there are a whole lot of powerful, smart women who will definitely outlast me. This book would benefit from a bad-ass female character.  And Cima, our damsel in distress protected aggressively by her ex-military father, isn't her.

The writing style:
Heller isn't a bad writer.  But it's obvious that he fancies himself a poet.  And certainly the writing style of this book with it's super short, staccato sentences, is in vogue right now and has a poetic feel.  (Although can you really call them sentences when many of them only imply verbs or nouns?) Granted, I'm not an avid poetry reader so this hyper-stylized way of writing might just fall flat on my ears.  But those moments in The Dog Stars when the writing strays from more traditional forms are often contradictory to the intent of the story.

The ridiculous lines:
Okay, this might not deserve its own category because really, I think it is a result of combining the last two categories. But there are some unbelievable lines in this book.  Lines that had me rolling my eyes and snorting out loud.  Here are just a few of my favorites.

  • "First instinct was to climb down there and murder the f*%@^er and take his woman." And take his woman?!?
  • "My name is Hig. I was born in the year of the rat. . . I am an Aquarius. My mother loved me. She really, really loved me." I can't decide who this channels more,  Shirley MacLaine or Sally Fields.
  • And my personal favorite, "Can you fall in love through a rifle scope? Damn!" I'm from Wyoming and that line still makes me roll my eyes.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

A meticulous, salty obsession.

Motoi Yamamoto at Westminster College
I’m a fan of earth art and have gone out of my way to see works located in some very remote areas.  But there are occasional works of art that capture the spirit of earth art but are much easier to see.  Motoi Yamamoto’s Return to the Sea: Saltworks is one such installation on view now at the Meldrum Science Center on the campus of Westminster College.  But you’ll have to hurry because the installation is only up through April 12 after which the whole thing will be swept up and taken to Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty and cast into the Great Salt Lake.

But I’m getting ahead of the story.  A little context is in order. Motoi Yamamoto’s medium of choice is salt. From massive constructions to intricate, maze-like illustrations his designs are mesmerizing works of simple sodium chloride; in fact Morton was a sponsor providing the 400 pounds of table salt needed for the installation.

Motoi Yamamoto during the installation of Return to the Sea.
I went to visit the exhibit during its creation.  It was almost a religious experience.  I was there over the weekend and the Meldrum Science Center was nearly empty with just a few students helping create the time-lapse video and overseeing an empty “public participation” space. Amidst that silence, Yamamoto padded about in stockinged feet and repositioned a mat on the floor.  Methodically he laid down an intriguing pattern that felt perfect even for its apparent randomness.

It's hard not to draw parallels to the art work of Yayoi Kusama, but that might be because I just finished reading Kusama’s autobiography, Infinity Net.  Both artists use meticulous repetition to create works that have an inherent Japanese attitude; an attitude that’s thoughtful and imbued with a deep, quiet emotion. And both artists’ work comes from very painful, emotional experiences.  For Yamamoto, that moment is the death of his sister at age 24 from brain cancer.
Return to the Sea: Saltworks by Motoi Yamamoto (2014, salt)
The work is also spectacular for its use of line.  Yamamoto can draw a perfect line, in salt no less.  And he works quickly, faster than it appears from his quiet movement.  I spent a little over an hour watching him work and while it seemed like he was moving at a slow pace, he filled in a substantial portion of the design while I was there.  His lines are so fluid and precise, they reminded me of Keith Haring, another artist who was brilliantly adept at using precise, free-form drawing to create engaging art.

In the end, all of Yamamoto’s works are swept up and returned to the “sea.” In this case, the “sea” will be the Great Salt Lake at the site of Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty.  This seems like the perfect location considering Smithson’s embrace of entropy and a desire to allow his works to change with the environment around them.  Yamamoto’s act of destroying each work is an even more dramatic embrace of the theoretical, ethereal side of art.

You can participate in the destruction of the work on Saturday, April 12.  Something I would be doing if it weren’t for a conflicting commitment.  Find more information here. Here are a few more photos from of Return to the Sea: Saltworks.

Return to the Sea: Saltworks by Motoi Yamamoto

Motoi Yamamoto at work

Installation of Return to the Sea: Saltworks by Motoi Yamamoto.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Book seven: Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen.

It's surprising how hard it is to find a book that is just an easy, pleasant read; a book that is well written and engaging without being simplistic; a book that reminds you how much fun it is to curl up with a good book. Anna Quindlen's Still Life with Bread Crumbs is just that kind of book.

Rebecca Winter is an aging photographer who once enjoyed significant fame and fortune thanks to a series of iconic images that many considered feminist statements. But sales and royalties from the images have nearly dried up, leaving Rebecca in a financial bind.  In response, she rents out her New York City apartment and moves to a small New York town and rents a cheap, run-down living space.

While in her new home she meets a variety of classic small-town characters that are easily appreciated for their humor, especially if you've lived in a small town.  It's that small-town setting that makes the book quaint, but not in a sappy, saccharine way. The book's quaintness evolves from characters who have known each other most of their lives; who care about each and are always ready to help.  Take the local bakery owner who loves all things British and fancies herself somewhat of a matchmaker. She's always willing to help her neighbors whether it's loaning out her large ovens to cook a too-big Thanksgiving turkey or sending some fresh-baked goods to provide a little cheer.

And then there's roofer Jim Bates. He's a big, warm-hearted character with a sister whose That  issues play a pivotal role in the story.  Jim also tracks birds for the state wildlife bureau and finds himself in need of a photographer. That interaction ultimately results in a relationship that while romantic, I hesitate to call a romance.  Why? Because I've seen this book referred to as chick lit, and it's much more than that. It's a book about the nature of humanity.

Of course it's also a book about art since that's my reading theme of 2014. This books feels like an honest discussion of art and artists in the modern world.  The way artists achieve success and then somehow lose it only to be lauded again later in life.  The way gallery owners are able wrest so much power from the art world. And the way artists find the inspiration to create new work. It's also a fresh take on the topic thanks to the mashup of small-town life with the highfalutin, New York art world.