#17. Modern Art Explained (no, really. seriously. )


I do love little books, especially if they have great pictures. They get more points if they are educational, informative and fun to read.  “Why Your Five Year Old Could Not Have Done That: Modern Art Explained”  by British author, educator, art historian and artist Susie Hodge fits the bill perfectly.


A tiny tome, it examines 100 works of modern art, many of which have historically attracted critical hostility or derision, particularly for appearing to be over-simplified and easy enough for a young child to have done.


The author discusses and delineates just why, in fact, your five-year-old could not have created that Cy Twombly chalkboard painting, or Pollack’s poured paintings, or Pippilotti Rist‘s hanging underwear chandelier, though you might think otherwise.

ImageThere are five chapters, arranged as Objects/Toys, Expressions/Scribbles, Provocation/Tantrums, Landscapes/Playscapes, and People/Monsters. A few of the artists included: Lynda Benglis, Anselm Kiefer, Gilbert&George, Eva Hesse, Vito Acconci, Louise Bourgeois, Damien Hirst, Dan Flavin, Tracey Emin, Rothko, Richter, Cornell, Johns, and of course Duchamp, Picasso, Modigliani, and the like, along with dozens more. It’s packed. (remember,100 artists!)ImageImage

A great little gem to add to your art library. And it hardly takes up any room. (Here’s a charming and comprehensive 2-minute video of the (very attractive) author talking about the book, and explaining how it’s set up.)


When I googled Susie Hodge, I found that she has a slew of published books, articles and online pieces ranging from modern and conceptual art to medieval art and architecture to teachers’ resource articles, including the Tate Britain and the Victoria and Albert Museum , as well as books on How to Draw Dogs and How to Draw Cats. (No kidding.) She is an art historian, educator and lecturer, and facilitates workshops in history and non-fiction writing, among other things. 

A companion book by the author is 50 Art Ideas You Really Need To Know which covers, incredibly, fifty defining artistic periods in art history, from Prehistoric art to Hyperrealism and New Media.

Here’s my excellent advice:


#10. Stopping Trying

Confession: I used to try to be a certain way, look a certain way. I wondered if I was beautiful enough, smart enough, cool enough. Wondered how others would see me and/or my art. If my art was “good” enough, different enough, unique enough, powerful enough, inventive enough..If it was really meaningful. And on & on. Although I’ve consistently fought this stupid and annoying monkey on my back, it’s a constant process to shake it off. (“What? You think that’s GOOD ART? who are you kidding? who do you think you are?” ) This stuff is all a product of fear. Fear of what? Being rejected? Being hurt? Failure? Being seen as stupid? Being found out that I’m not really who I pretend to be? (see: impostor syndrome)

I know I’m not alone. It seems so many young (or not-so-young) emerging creatives are SO concerned with being edgy, cool, hip, trying their damnedest to impress. What about just DOING? Making? Saying? I know the feeling so well. Wanting, desiring, hoping for acknowledgement and “success”, wanting to stand out in the crowd, be “different”, get “known”.  Don’t all artists?

Maybe not.

“If we are willing to open ourselves up and be laid bare, to respond to the moment and without hesitation, to connect deeply with our audiences’ eyeballs and the minds behind, we will be freed of the bullshit that holds us back. We will tap into the deep wellsprings of creativity that lie beneath our artifice and style and self-conscious crap and hesitation and self-deception and excuses and fears. We will make art of truth.” Danny Gregory

Artist/writer/thinker all-around amazing and inspiring human Danny Gregory recently wrote a truly brave post regarding fear.  I’ve been ruminating on this topic quite a bit recently, and interestingly enough, over the past few weeks, I’ve been coming across references to one of my favorite books on the subject, which if you never read (in art school, or out, or whatever) you’d best find it– “Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmakingby David Bayles and Ted Orland. (1993, folks, and still as timely as ever.) Funny how when something is percolating, references keep showing up. Somehow, my old copy of Art&Fear has been missing. I was actually looking for it yesterday, in my studio, when a visitor happened to mention it in our conversation. No luck. Then this morning, reading some comments on Danny’s post “The Fears of a Clown“, there’s yet another reference to the book.. so bingo—-I look in my bookshelf (where I’ve looked a ton of times before), and find it immediately. (dust-covered.) Obviously I’m supposed to re-read it. So I will.


 To quote Danny Gregory, again: “At their core, drawing, painting, clowning, all art, are about letting go, responding from your gut, trusting, working hard. Can you let go of all your preconceptions and finally, truly, truthfully see? Can you embrace and trust your audience rather than trying desperately to impress or con them?… Art is not entertainment. It is the way to what matters in our lives. To conquer our fears, we must face them, turn their ugly lies to beautiful truth, and share what we have made of them on the page or the stage.”

 Funny thing. As I’ve begun stopping the “trying”, I realize I no longer worry about what others think, so much. I’ve begun just “doing”. {I will not quote the famous footwear company here, but you know the deal}

“There is no try, there is only do.” Yoda