Steal Like an Artist …. Show Your Work.

Two great, short, fun and irreverant books by Austin Kleon. Workman Publishing. 2012 and 2014.

Kleon-Steal  Kleon-Show

Inspiring and challenging contemporary ideas for artists, writers and anyone about finding, reusing, sharing, working collaboratively in so many interesting ways.

Absorbing his message encouraged me to publish an “Art Discoveries” page on this blog — no point in just gathering wonderful stuff I come across without putting it out there for others to explore and enjoy.

I strongly encourage you to take an hour and watch this video of Kleon’s presentation at SXSW in 2014, where he puts it all together so very well. ( Where else will you learn about ‘vampires’ and ‘human spam’ ? ) .

I am glad that I ran across Mr. Kleon’s work and I continue to enjoy his weekly newsletter  – 10 captivating ideas in my mailbox to explore every Friday .

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Syllabus; Notes from an Accidental Professor.

by Lynda Barry. Drawn and Quarterly. 2014. 200 pp. illustrated.

Read this book for the engrossing wild-ride – an illustration style – heavily/heavenly laden with cartoons, hand-written text, constantly varying page formatting and border designs,Syllabusdecoupage, watercolour sketches and exciting typographic ideas.

it is both a diary of, and syllabus for some courses in cartooning which Lynda taught at the University of Madison, Wisconsin. It is a mashup of all of the above ingredients  by the author and by her students. It is woven together by a hugely varied set of hand-drawn images such as

Burning houses, drawing ‘jam’ session cartoon images, daily diaries, cartoon stories, pages of wild images from the imagination, short poems by Emily Dickenson, combined with text about deep questions of derivation, meaning, sharing, transforming, daily practice related feelings and much more. I must include an example here to convey some of the lush complexity, excitement and wisdom in this book.


See for yourself, and search/google images for “Lynda Barry Syllabus”. You may feel compelled to just buy the book so you can rave about it with others.

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Show and Tell; how everybody can make extraordinary presentations.

by Dan Roam. Penguin/Portfolio. 2014. 260 pp. fully illustrated.

A business-oriented book with practical ideas for development of stories and use of pictures and graphics to convey ideas to listeners.  The author differentiateShowAndTells 4 kinds of presentations, namely those designed to: provide information, teach something, motivate people to act and change beliefs.

Roam explains that you must have a clear story line.

Story lines for the above 4 are:
the Report ( information ),
Explanation ( teaching ),
Pitch ( move to act ) and
Drama ( beliefs )

Presentations are built on a “Presentation’s Underlying Message Architecture” – a PUMA, represetned by this simple graphic – representing a typographic cat

  • PumaHead = main idea
  • Spine = main story line
  • Legs = supporting ideas
  • Tail = one last hook

This book is an entertaining and exhaustively detailed discussion of how to put things together.It is brilliantly  illustrated and uses thoroughly worked out examples.

Definitely worth knowing about and using as a reference when composing presentations.

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Tenth of December. by George Saunders. Random House. 2013.

Wonderful short stories. The kind of book you pick up and read right through – I did.

Strange mental musings of ‘Everyman’.  Depictions of our mysterious inner lives. People thrust Dec10into highly-charged, weird situations. Places where we stumble and run up difficult life situations, situations revealed through hallucination, stream of consciousness, wanderings of the imagination unexpected turns of event. These are disruptive tales – some are redemptive and in some  we just run into a brick wall.

The stories invite us into fraught situations, where our sympathies are engaged and we become caught up in the lives of people making tragic or heroic decisions. We are involved in life-experiences/ thinking/ beliefs of people from trailer parks to mansions – 0ften both in the same story . The typical experiential world of the people in these stories conveys alienation, fragmentation, confusion, constraint and delusion.

The degree of oppression from society upon the characters is a major aspect of the stories as the author imaginatively explores the effects of social class, or age/disease, family structure, slavery or immoral science.

This may sound depressing, but it is not so. There is a probing humanity in it all which is very satisfying. There is always some insight and revelation.




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Grant and Sherman; the Friendship that Won the Civil War. Charles B Flood. Harper, 2006.

GrantAndShermanA highly readable and rich exposition of the development of Union strategy during the American Civil War and how Grant and Sherman rose from near-obscurity and failure to become the major military leaders of that conflict on the Union side. The book is not only a military history, but also a history of the personal struggles of both men and their families throughout their careers. It is a story of how their deep trust of each other grew and supported them over time ultimately ensuring that both men were able to work successfully to win the war for the Union.

An example of the workings of their relationship was when Edwin Stanton ( Secretary of War ) stirred up destructive rumours in Washington and in the press of the north, virtually accusing Sherman of treason due to Sherman’s proposed peace terms to General Johnson and half of the Confederate army ( this was before Lee’s surrender to Grant). Grant worked with Sherman so ensure that a divisive confrontation within the Union was dissipated and the surrender was done fairly and relatively justly.

I found this book hard to put down. The way things are presented is much like reading a novel where we learn lots of background plots and plans and meetings, changes of direction, character development and so on. It gives you a picture of the massive waste of lives in the war, It helps you see how the soldiers doing the fighting felt about their leaders, their adversaries and the back-and-forth developments of the war. For example when Sherman was trashing his way through Georgia with 62,000 soldiers, there were thousands of slaves who left the plantations and followed the troop trains. It became interesting in human terms, how the army related to these ‘freedmen’.

The book strives to show how the conquerors related to those they defeated and vice versa in many tangled situations. It is complex and worth reading about. It was a turbulent and terrifying time for millions of people.

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Lincoln’s Autocrat; the Life of Edwin Stanton. William Marvel. The University of North Carolina Press 2015

I listened to this as a full text talking book on a free library service called “Hoopla” over 20+ hours in June and July.  )

This is a long and impressive biography of a strange and powerful 19c American public figure – Lincoln’s secretary of War during the US Civil War. Edwin Stanton is shown to be a deceptive and evasive person and a shrewd manipulator and force of nature in a
turbulent political environment. He was a capable organizer but he was vindictive and harsh to real and imagined enemies. He did not hesitate to wield power, once he acquired it, to the end of defeating the Confederacy. He used the press destroy the reputations of powerful people, such as Democrats of the time who spoke out against the Republicans’ ( Lincoln’s ) policies. He imprisoned thousands of the less powerful who showed resistance to the all-out loyalty he demanded. He manipulated military furloughs during the civil war to essentially stack the votes in favour of the Republicans in possible disctricts where there was possibility of losing seats in Congress. He basically used every trick in the book ( for his times ) . At the same time he walked a tightrope to assist the radical abolitionist cause in Lincoln’s government – when it suited him and when he could ensure it did not go to far. It was never publicly clear whether he actually personally wanted to see true emancipation or not – seems likely he did not want things to go ‘too far’, but that position, like most others he voiced, was typically ambiguous and people heard what they wanted to hear when he actually took some position or other.

We read fascinating cases of intrigue, treachery, duplicity, debate and backroom power plays that went on under his auspices. His relationship to Lincoln was nuanced, as Lincoln realized he needed Stanton and was willing in most cases to turn a blind eye on abuses of power. This surely echoes many current political relationships in governments of our time. In some cases, Stanton’s panic over possible Confederate encroachment on Washington hindered important military opportunities. Stanton did act decisively and it was he who paved the was for U.S. Grant into highest military office, when Grant showed his determination to fight and win, unlike most other Union generals before him. In some cases he messed up badly, such as in his refusal to condone prisoner exchanges at one point for extended periods. This caused much preventable death and suffering of captured soldiers on both sides and Stanton ensured that others took the blame for his own decisions – such as the Confederate commander of Andersonville camp.

I found this a good book which took the time needed to explain the details and complexity of a turbulent period of American history.

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Story of my People

Nesi_StoryOfMyPeopleBy Edoardo Nesi. ( English translation of “Storia della mia gente”, tr. by Antony Shugaar ) . Other Press, New York, 2012. 163 pp. ISBN 978-I-59051-554-9.

Fascinating, sad, lyrical and yet hopeful book about the rise and decline of modern Italy, a decline due to an open embrace of globalization by governments and ideologues who did not care about Italy or care to understand the race to the bottom and their fantasy of greed. Surely, Italy is an exemplar of what is happening everywhere due to globalization.

From the unique perspective of a reflective writer who also is the last owner/manager of a family weaving mill in the Tuscan town of Prato,  Nesi writes of his early literary development and in parallel of his experiences as a factory owner in a sad period of Italian history.

In the chapters  concerning writing and writers, Nesi shares his love of F. Scott Fitzgerald, of whom he remarks:

“[ . . .  Fitzgerald ] managed to put into words the elusive and nebulous material that so often makes up our finest and most crystalline thoughts, the ones of which we’re proudest, the sacred ones,  the ones we feel are ours and ours alone, private and inexpressible, and inexpressible precisely because they are private: the very essence of our understanding and sensibilities, as well as any author’s Holy Grail, because their understanding lasts only the duration of a spark, and then vanishes, incredibly delicate and as fragile as a tropical plant of thought, inevitably leaving behind it a stab of regret that we’ve lost something crucial”   [ pp 34-35]

Nesi also translated David Foster Wallace’s book: Infinite Jest into Italian, and is a devoted reader of Joan Didion.

In regard to the heady days of Italy after WWII, there is a beautiful passage about his father-in-law Sergio Carpini – designer and producer of many fine Italian fabrics, a proud man,  yet one whose work as a fabric creator was essentially marginalized into a footnote – perhaps symbolic of what has happened to much of Italy itself. [ pp. 76-79 ]

We come to share his deep concern about the future of this beautiful country and also feel a nobility and honour always present in her people.  At one point, Nesi writes about accompanying authorities on a ‘raid’ on a sweatshop in Prato. These places often employ illegal Chinese immigrants, as in this case, and are often run by Chinese owners. Working and living conditions are terrible – yet these conditions may be better than in China. In one section he writes of the Italian fire inspectors, health inspectors and police:

“Instead, what you seem to see is that they are working with something that closely resembles pride, walking tall in the knowledge that they are the last link in a system of values that commands respect and should be fiercely defended, which ultimately takes concrete form in one of the few principles concerning which we all agree in unison, a principle that therefore defines us, we Westerners: our adherence to the deep-seated sense of justice that underlies the ideas that helped shape our body of labour laws, that old and tattered piece of equipment, still gleaming after all these years, a mechanism that was crafted precisely in reaction to the kind of monstrous exploitation of human beings that I see right here before my eyes, [ . . . ]” [ p. 111 ]

Nesi has only scorn for economists ( such as Francesco Giavazzi ) who touted the so-called “Systema Italia” as a path to a golden future, and who worked with weak governments to sell out the country to rapacious free-trade deals. For example he says at one point:

“Evidently the economists didn’t know that our small-scale industrialists, manufacturers of fabrics and shoes, bathroom fixtures and household appliances and ceramic tiles and son on, had neither the money nor the lines of credit from banks, nor the ambition nor the luxury, neither the personnel nor the talent, nor the courage nor the recklessness, and neither the vision nor the faith in the future to risk everything they’d built up until that moment, having started out with so little and having been blessed by such great good fortune, that it was ridiculous even to think that an industrial system of small manufacturers could board a plane and move to the opposite side of the planet [China]  and shoot up in size over the course of just a few short years . . .” [ p. 136 ]

The book ends with his reflections on a stirring mass protest in Prato – a protest whose giant ( locally made ) banner read: Don’t shut Prato Down”. There is no tidy solution to everything in this book. The author walks a thin line between despair and some kind of redemptive fortitude. We do read of several people commenting to him and thanking him for his insights from an earlier book of a similar theme: Age of Gold.

It is hoped that through his writing he is helping his compatriots ( and us all ) to realize and share what has been lost and what we still have of value in this Wal-Mart world. 

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Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything ?

download Viking Press. Toronto. 2015. 314 pp, plus 50 pages of references and notes plus an index

The short answer “Yes”.

The long answer involves a readable, thorough and systematic take-down of our fantasy culture around ‘celebrities’ . How parents waste their resource and the their children’s lives pursuing impossible sports or acting/singing/dancing goals, for example. How people waste huge amounts of money on bogus ‘cleansing’ and dieting fads which have virtually zero real benefit. How people think that they can become famous and do not understand what the odds mean for them. Why some of us pursue fame as a goal in itself.

We also find out about the significant soul-destroying effects of celebrity on that tiny portion of humanity that achieves it.  A couple of quotes:

“[ . . .] big dreams, even if unrealistic, are fun and can play an important social role. Plus, I can completely reltate to the fantasy of fame. I devoted a significant part of my young adult life to the pursuit of rock ‘n roll stardom.”

But more importantly, I believe the message of this section is liberating. Ideally, it will release us from the grip of celebrity-fuelled ambitions and the social expectations that come with them. I hope it allows us to make more informed choices as individuals and parents. More broadly, I hope it highlights the pernicious impact of celebrity culture on our values and our conceptions of the good life. ( p. 194 )

Or this

“The American Dream  is based on the idea that if you work hard enough you can have a good life and do whatever you want. But the whatever-you-want carrot that is meant to drive our society forward does not — again, in any real sense — exist. The carrot at the end of the stick isn’t real.” (p. 271)

This book is a good read. If it seems daunting, you can read chapters or sections without having to read from start to finish.

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This post is to flag that I am getting back into blogging now that I am retired from full-time work in IT .

Some likely coming ‘attractions’

  • Notes on the more interesting books I come across
  • Images/comments on my Art work, artists and blogs, other sites and info
  • Language Learning sites and ideas of note
  • Some travel pix around Saskatchewan
  • material about Gardens and Landscaping
  • Links to internet programming sites I find interesting
  • Anything else that I feel like sharing

My printmaking mentor Jack Cowin, passed away in October, 2014 at the age of 66.
Shown at left is an etching by Jack Cowin of a Springer Spaniel, for example

Here’s a link to  one of the galleries carrying his work.  I learned a lot in his courses – printmaking techniques of course, where he was a master, and looking back, I recognize his intense concern with his students. He really cared about those he taught and wanted them to think broadly and pursue their art interests fully. He loved his work and it really came out.


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Inside The Kingdom; My Life in Saudi Arabia.

 by Carmen bin Laden.   2005. Grand Central Publishing.

ImageA Swiss woman of Persian origin, Carmen was married well before 911 to one of the 29 brothers of the infamous UBL. The author tells of a promising marriage gone bad.  The main message is about the oppression of women — so exhaustive in Salafist Saudi Arabia that it is all encompassing.  Most women in the ‘power structure’ of the Kingdom are shown as accepting the complete domination of their lives and minds, their future and their children’s future by a version of Islam in which submission to men is pretty well total.

Many of the apparently urbane, civil, engaging men of the princely and privileged families in the Kingdom are seen as immoral, ego-driven and hypocritical when living in the west versus the way they live in their homeland.

The book reads like a description of the the ancien regime of France – except this is now and the Kingdom is best friends of the USA for obvious reasons. Real democracy, women’s rights, anti-racism, religoius tolerance — all are crushed within the Saudi autocracy and we in the west say nothing because the Saudis control the oil.

How our heroine escapes this hell with her children makes a good read.

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