bookshelf :: cindy kane's print companions
There are two pivotable books of my youth, which shaped my life as an artist.
The first was The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, whose spirited unconventionality was utterly liberating to me. I distinctly remember feeling that I was a free person after reading that book. That I had a free mind and anything was possible. I was a suburban child of the 1960s, growing up near Washington DC, craving adventure.
Later, when I was seventeen, I read Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. This book taught me about the bad habits of artists which I would later emulate for a while. I was infatuated by Paris of the 1920s and devoured books that focused on this era.
Henry Miller’s wonderfully titled, The Books in My Life, was also my constant companion in those years. In this memoir, Miller chronicled the significant books in his life. It was a labor of love, and I highly recommend it to anyone who finds a copy somewhere as it's now out of print.
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien is something I go back to again and again, and has had a profound impact on me. It's an exquisite Vietnam War memoir detailing the physical and psychic burdens that we carry, specifically after war, but applicable to wounds we carry through life.
Relevant to Vietnam issues, I recently read A Rift in the Earth by James Reston Jr, which documents the creation of Maya Lin’s Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington D.C. He takes us through the national outreach contest for memorial ideas, and inside the Yale architecture class in which Maya Lin, at age nineteen, completes and submits the assignment, and wins. Reston details a riveting account of the long process in accommodating a determined young artist, the ensuing racism she endures, and her evolution along the way.
Of course, Maya Lin’s first book, Boundaries, is an important book on my shelf. When I need to write about a project I’m working on, I will review her written description of how she conceived the Wall memorial. The simplicity of her language in describing only what you see will benefit any artist who tends toward hyperbole.
There are many biographies of artists and writers on my shelves. But the one biography that is uniquely different is about Philip Guston called Night Studio, written by his daughter Musa Mayer. Mayer is a therapist, and writes unflinchingly about Guston as a father, husband, and artist whose work transformed dramatically in the middle of a successful career. We learn how his gallerists struggled to wrap their minds around his new direction while standing by him. Mayer writes to the challenges of having such a moody and brilliant father, yet never as a victim. It is a great achievement and a wonderfully comprehensive portrait of one of my favorite artists.
In this category, I would add the memoir by photographer Sally Mann called, Hold Still. The surprise in this book was learning about Mann’s close friendship with the painter Cy Twombly, who happened to be her neighbor in Lexington, Virginia.
Photo journalist Lynsey Addario’s memoir It's What I Do is also a must read for young journalists, or photographers.
I have dozens of bird books all over my studio. And lately, books about whales. I become infatuated with a particular species and then will read everything I can about their nature and habitat. A good friend gave me a great birthday gift — a subscription to the Smithsonian magazine, which is full of stories about things like the root systems of trees and the pathways of communication through their roots and the soil. This is uplifting reading in terrible political times.
I have many beautiful large art books of favorite artists, photographers and sculptors, but they are merely a feast for the eyes. They don’t nourish me the way a novel does, or a great film. It's those gems, like Karl Ove Knausgård’s books, or Willa Cather’s My Antonia, or Mark Slouka’s unforgettable coming of age novel, Brewster, that sink in slowly and shape the way I think about the world, and my small place inside it.
Cindy Kane's paintings are on view at The Granary Gallery in West Tisbury.
Cindy Kane's new series of whale paintings was featured in the recent issue of Arts & Ideas Magazine. To read more, click here.