Archive for category Author: Julian Rothenstein

A Gift from artists, poets and photographers (under 13)

“Out of the mouths of babes”, we say, when a simple and sometimes uncomfortable truth emerges. This child’s eye view of the world has all the charm that characterises everything else Redstone Press have sent me. They seem to have decided that I understand their rather eclectic mindset and sideways views. And, yes, I think I do.

Books like this can easily be – and frequently are – cutesy, saccharine or twee. This, however, relies on its content for impact and has the good sense not to dress it up as anything other than it is. It wears its manifesto on the cover: “The most joyful art is made by children. Adult artists are almost never able to recapture the clarity with which they saw the world in childhood” – a quote by David Shrigley.

And he’s right. For a child, everything is new, is as it is and not to be questioned and above all, black and white. Thus we get “Dear God, Thank you for the baby brother, but what I prayed for was a puppy” – joy and disappointment in a single thought, honestly expressed without judgement and accepting of the world as it is because to change it is unthinkable. We also get simplicity: asked what they want to be when they grow up, a three year old answers “When I grow up I want to get a hat and put it on”. You see what I mean? Delightful, let’s all go “Awwww”, but acknowledge that the book hasn’t told us to do that. The lack of narrative, particularly a narrative from an adult point of view allows us (the adults) to express our own emotions, not one a random editor has created for us.

Because this is a written review (well spotted, go to the top of the class), I’m having to quote words, but there are, as the subtitle says, pictures as well. I’ll leave you to find the drawing on a sheet headed “Today Was My First Day in Art Class – this is what my teacher looks like”, or a painting, definitely from the naïve school, of the artist’s friend that is so creatively good that it’s in the collection of the Children’s Museum of the Arts. You can look at it for a long time and see depths that an older artist (this one is 8) would have missed through analysis and artifice. The face is open and honest in a way only a child could see.

Why am I reviewing this? Well, because they sent it to me and it would seem curmudgeonly not to, but also because I like it. I don’t belong to the school that insists that everything a child does is brilliant. I’m more with Tristram Shandy’s Uncle Toby. Told that the great Dr Slop composed a work the day he was born, he responded, “They should have wiped it up, and said no more about it”. For the grown-up artist, it’s a break from mundanity and the perfect palate-cleanser.

But, as I said, this has charm and nothing else.

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Everyday Play || ed Julian Rothenstein

That’s the trouble you see. Have a bit of fun with a publisher’s playful jeu d’esprit, as I did with The Book of Emotions and they send you something else in full expectation of a similar sparkle. This stuff doesn’t write itself, you know and I toil for – ooh (never you mind) – to get the right words, all in the right order and a mood that reflects what the author was trying (sometimes successfully) to say.

Once again, this isn’t, on the face of it, a fit for what I write about, but delve below the surface and there’s a lot about art and creativity here. It’s fair to say that neither book is entirely serious and that’s a good thing. Even creatives are allowed to enjoy themselves once in a while. I am right now, for instance. I’m drawn, for example, to the guide to How To Become An Aesthete, which turns out to be a lot harder than just channelling Fotherington Thomas (oh, Google it, for goodness sake). I also chuckled over a shopping list written on a memo sheet for Paul Zee For Senate: “Draino, Plunger, RCA cables, Peaches, Bath Tub Scrub Brush”. The fact that this was apparently found by David Shrigley, wry observer par excellence, just adds to the fun. What tale of domestic meltdown does this betoken and are the peaches part of a weird cleaning ritual or a welcome source of refreshment after doing unspeakable things to drains? And do the cables mean amplified music is a requisite? And is that to relieve the tedium or cover up noises we really shouldn’t think about? No, we shouldn’t be told; speculation is much more fun – and fun is what this book is all about.

There’s so much here. Games, including Dangerous, situated right next to Cricket (a thing my front teeth wouldn’t dispute), insults, book games. Or you might want to try living like Marcel Proust (who was habitually used, to throw buns to the bears, that live under the stairs*). You’d definitely want to dip into Alice in Wonderland, or hobnob with Myles na Gopaleen**.

I could go on, but this coffee won’t drink itself and there’s something interesting happening outside the window which, as all creatives know, absolutely has to be given your full attention. Anyway, thanks for reading, it’s been real.

* That Clerihew is © me, btw.
** AKA Flan O’Brien, aka Brian O’Nolan

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