Coraline: A crocheted adventure and pop culture review

I’ve been fascinated with “Coraline” ever since I saw the movie in theaters in back in 2009. Even though I was 22, it tapped into feelings from my childhood that I think most people experience as children: the assumption that adults don’t understand or listen, and the wish that there was another magical world parallel to our own. Also, a lot of people have difficulty pronouncing my name (even though, like Cor-a-line, it’s REALLY not that difficult). The visual aesthetic also recalled that of another of my all-time favorite movies, “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” which makes sense because both movies were directed by Henry Selick.

Me as “grown up Coraline” for Halloween 2014. I made the dragonfly barrette and green “viewfinder.” It was too hard to find a yellow raincoat, yellow Wellington boots (not pictured are the tan, knock-off Uggs I wore because the color was the closest I could find to yellow) and orange/pink striped shirt.

As I was finishing up my crocheted Coraline doll, a thought occurred to me: if I love the “Coraline” movie so much, and I love Neil Gaiman, how have I not read Coraline the book yet? I bought a copy years ago, but for whatever reason, I never got around to actually reading it. Thanks to the magic of my public library’s audio eBook system and an abundance of boredom while I dog-sat at my boss’s house, I started and finished the (relatively short) audiobook in 3.5 hours. I was absolutely tickled to see that Neil Gaiman himself did the reading of the audiobook. He has the most fabulous voice, which I first discovered when I went to a book signing party for The Ocean at the End of the Lane back in June 2013 and he read an excerpt from the book.

I have decided that I love Coraline the book almost as much as I love the movie, which is rare because I (like most other people) tend to prefer the original source material over the movie renditions. Perhaps it’s because I love the movie’s aesthetic so much, which the book was not as readily capable of conveying. Nevertheless, I love the way that Gaiman creates his children’s stories through the lens of how he saw the world when he was a child, which is slightly twisted and fantastical. Had I not read The Ocean at the End of the Lane first and heard him speak about his autobiographical inspiration, I don’t know if this would have been as immediately apparent.   Continue reading

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Book review: Seven Days in the Art World by Sarah Thornton

I checked out Seven Days in the Art World by Sarah Thornton on March 2… And, after renewing it 4 times, I finished it on May 25. I have to admit that I was overall pretty disappointed with this book. It had such potential to be a critical view of the contemporary art world– indeed, the introduction made it sound like that’s what the book was going to be– but instead, it was almost 300 pages of progressing kiss-assery that embraced the superficial players of the contemporary art world, and more specifically the art market. Admittedly, most of her subjects talk about their involvement in the art world with varying levels of amused derision, clearly aware of the ridiculousness of the decadent game they are playing. But considering that the book was published in 2008, it could have at the very least concluded with a profound statement on the excesses of the wealthy before the Great Recession (though it’s not like all of the rich people were adversely affected by the Recession– far from it). Instead, she just talked about her writing process and thanked every. single. person that she talked to for the book (except for a few  that wanted to remain anonymous). I suppose that it was too dangerous for a writer who wanted to maintain her reputation to bite the hands that fed her information for this book.

Seven Days focuses on seven aspects of the art world: art auction houses, a graduate-level art school critique at CalArts, art fairs (specifically Art Basel in Switzerland), the Turner Prize, working at Artforum, a visit to Takashi Murakami’s studio, and the Venice Biennale. While Thornton’s prose provided a gripping read, it was drenched with the pretension that one finds all too often in the art world. At times, this book was downright painful for me to read– not because it was too difficult to comprehend, but because it exposes a darker side that art history-romantics like me don’t like to think about, which is the commodification of art. Throughout her seven “days,” artworks (and artists) are continually treated like baseball cards: collectors, dealers, and curators talk about whether or not an artist, who may be red hot at the moment, will be relevant in even a couple years. Collectors trade names amongst their friends, donate money and/or lend works to museums to increase exposure, and show off their wealth and egos in auction houses to see who can outbid the other, all in an effort to build up their own collection’s monetary value and status. When you think about it, the collecting missions of the wealthy have largely dictated the major art historical record, which makes one wonder how skewed the perspectives of the various facets of art history may be. And the artists, who have signed up to be a part of this world, play along, hoping that their work will one day be memorable, if not profitable while they are still alive.  Continue reading

Book Review: Lust for Life by Irving Stone

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Vincent van Gogh, Sunflowers. 1888. Oil on canvas. The National Gallery, London. Source

Even though I’m often in a mess, inside me there’s still a calm, pure harmony and music. In the poorest little house, in the filthiest corner, I see paintings or drawings. And my mind turns in that direction as if with an irresistible urge. As time passes, other things are increasingly excluded, and the more they are the faster my eyes see the picturesque. Art demands persistent work, work in spite of everything, and unceasing observation.
– Vincent van Gogh, the Hague, on or about 21 July 1882, to Theo van Gogh (Letter #249)

It’s been a long time since a book made me cry– and I mean actually cry, not just get misty-eyed. I honestly kind of hate admitting that fact, as this book is very much an artifact of 1934 (when it was first published): while it is undoubtedly a classic, it is also a modernist (i.e. heroic and slightly masculinist) telling of the artistic life of Vincent van Gogh. Furthermore, one cannot help questioning the veracity of the biography because many parts had to be speculations by Irving Stone because of how the book is written. Nevertheless, I, like many others, am a fan of van Gogh’s work and have always been fascinated by his tragic life story. And, in all fairness, credit is due to Stone for his research of van Gogh’s 700+ letters to Theo, as well as his admission at the end of the book that some of the scenes were informed imaginings.

I’ve decided that this review is going to be not so much a full-on book review of Lust for Life, but rather several analyses of parts of the book that align with things that have been discovered about van Gogh and his work in recent years. Also, because I listened to the audiobook over the course of 3 weeks instead of physically reading it, my ability to cite specific quotes will be limited, and I apologize in advance for any discrepancies between my interpretation and the source material.  Continue reading