July 19th, 2008

Books!

Hmmm ...

Sometimes I have a hard time "pulling the trigger" on a review, and this has certainly been the case with this book. I finished reading Pat B. Allen's Art Is a Way of Knowing well over two weeks ago, but every time I thought about starting in on a review of it, I was always too tired, too busy, whatever. Even tonight, I was desperately trying to think of other things to do than to crank out 600 words on this.

Needless to say, this is not a good sign. Sometimes it takes me a long time to get around to a review when I've tagged stuff that I want to quote (and I just hate transcribing passages from books), but usually it's because the book was, to paraphrase Wolfgang Pauli's famous dismissal, "not even bad". If a book is bad, I could gleefully savage it. This, however, is just ... eh.

Frankly, the most amazing thing about Art Is a Way of Knowing is that it appears to still be in print. I'd picked up a many-stickered and fairly beat-up copy of this at a used book store a month or so back (in part of a "fill a shopping bag for $5" deal), lured on by its sub-title of "A guide to self-knowledge and spiritual fulfillment through creativity". A more realistic sub-title would have been "The self-absorbed whining of a mediocre artist trying to fit in as an art therapist."!

Now, I realize (and anybody reading my reviews regularly will have no doubt have recognized) that I have a strong bias against "personal journey" books, especially ones that purport to be something else and never really reach a narrative conclusion. I always feel cheated because I spent the time to read the book to get the information promised (ala this one's sub-title), but ended up in a situation akin to being stuck next to some emo navel-gazer for a four hour social event, having to listen to them endlessly pick through their psychic lint.

As is frequently the case, this is not entirely without merit. The first 40 pages of actually using various techniques to pull out some inner realizations are fascinating ... heck, I even went and bought some art supplies to try some of the detailed exercises ... but once the author gets those on paper, the whole rest of the book is about her and, honestly, I don't care. I didn't pick this up to inform myself of her angst, dammit.

This is, of course, why I'm shocked that, 13 years later, this book is still in print. To think of all the brilliant and important books that have come out, been ignored, and disappeared in that time, and compare it to this ... I mean, who's buying this? The only thing that makes sense to me is that the Open Studio Project that she co-founded (but doesn't seem to be currently affiliated with) might still use this book as a text. Her bio blurb claims that she's an adjunct professor at the School of the Art Institute, which might be another place keeping this in print ... although looking at the examples of her work in this book, I can't imagine how she ever became associated with that institution. Again, I'm biased, but my 8-year-old comes home with similar stuff from art camp.

As Johnny Carson used to say: "It takes all types to fill the freeway!", so there might be people for whom this book is a treasure, but I sure can't recommend it. I suspect that any of the "good parts" are likely to be found in better form in books actually about art therapy, which means that what you're getting here is just the author working through her own crap, and using the reader's attention to do so. If, for some inexplicable reason, you want to pick up a copy of this, you'll have to pay for it, as there aren't even cheap new/used copies available (further making me suspect that some poor slobs are having to suffer through this as a classroom text). Bleh.


Visit the BTRIPP home page!