Art Matters: Because Your Imagination Can Change The World, by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddell
I had read most of the text in this particular book before, but only because it was included in the author’s large collection of essays, A View From The Cheap Seats. The addition of illustrations certainly makes this short volume much quicker to read and also adds a certain degree of humor to it. I’m not sure that these particular essays put Gaiman’s best foot forward when it comes to his thoughts as an artist. Proclaiming an absolute right on his part to ridicule when the ridicule of certain privileged beliefs is becoming contrary to law. The fact that the author’s criticism is likely largely to be accepted (although I have never seen a case where he attacked the legitimacy, of say, Islam, and risked violence; he is far more likely, like many of his ilk, to attack Christianity) seems to blind him to the dim attitude the contemporary doyens of political correctness are taking to the sort of criticism they receive from the Judeo-Christian tradition. Even so, there are many people who will find a great deal of enjoyment in this work that I do not and there is still a lot to celebrate here even as someone with some very different cultural and religious views than the author.
This particular book consists of illustrated portrayals of four writings by the author, all of them brief and of the sort of material that he would likely have given originally in short speeches. The first statement is the author’s credo, which, I have noted above, contains the author’s claim to be both willing to accept criticism from others as well as his demand to criticize others according to his own perspective. Admittedly, this is not so different from my own view, and since I do not believe the author to be a hypocrite it was not something that bothered me too much within itself. After that the author makes a plea for the importance of libraries, reading, and daydream, although the author seems to equate reading fiction with reading for enjoyment, whereas I have always read a majority of nonfiction for fun, given my interests in history and related subjects. Third comes the only essay I had been unfamiliar with, “Making A Chair,” which is entertaining in the way that the author and illustrator combine to make the process of writing similar to that of making a chair, with notes on what both chairs and books should and should not be used for. Finally, the author ends with the plea to make good art.
It is striking that so much of this book’s appeal regarding art is shifted in tone and emphasis when it is illustrated as opposed to remaining in just words. Taken just as text, the writings included here are simply of pamphlet length and of the same sort of approach. Indeed, throughout this book the author appears like a pamphleteer in defense of art. But is art really under assault? Who, aside from my mother, considers fantasy literature in general to be illegitimate in the first place? Perhaps there is simply a disconnect between a fragmented world where people like all kinds of different genres and approaches to writing and the insecurity of people who worry that fantasy and sci-fi is not thought of as cool. Being a geek is hard, and one feels very unpopular when one is involved in genre writing, but a lot of this book just feels a bit more defensive than it needs to be. Good art can and should be celebrated, but one should not feel as if one’s art is under attack in such a world as this, at least not at present, unless one’s art is Christian in nature.