Review: Art Matters, by Neil Gaiman

Art Matters is a quick read, with few words and many pictures. The pages are small. But it is not a little book.

It contains four short essays, the words all hand-scrawled in capital letters alongside Chris Riddell’s lovely little sketches. The format is raw and straightforward. Neil’s tone here is conversational, even a little conspiratorial, as he lays out things he firmly believes about words, the creative process, the importance of fiction, libraries, and reading – not just as an escape, but as a force for fundamental good in the world. He makes his case compellingly.

“You’re finding out something as you read that will be vitally important for making your way in the world. And it’s this: the world doesn’t have to be like this. Things can be different.”

The illustrations enhance the text in subtle ways, sometimes drawing attention to particular words and phrases, sometimes adding a little more meaning than the words would have alone. There are many little Easter eggs for those who have followed Neil and Chris’s other work, and there is just the right mixture of deadly seriousness and whimsy, putting me in mind of Shel Silverstein’s best work.

The book is good, in part, because it is so small. You can comfortably read the entire thing in a sitting, or a single section in a few minutes. It’s not a great epic, to be traversed over many too-late nights of “one more page.” It’s a plate of tasty morsels, to be savored for a few minutes at a time, again and again over the years, until it weaves itself into your mental fabric.

“Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be…was a mountain. A distant mountain. My goal. And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain.”

The best section, “Make Good Art,” is the largest and final portion of the book. It was originally a commencement speech Neil gave in 2012. You can watch him give it here (although without illustrations).

“Make Good Art” is a bit biography and a bit advice from an excellent and successful writer. It contains enough wisdom that every time I read it I take away something useful. It’s a good refresher, a palate cleanser, and a reminder of what’s important.

In short, it’s a great little book.

“Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do…make good art.”

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