Tuesday, December 31, 2013

How to ruin a good speech

kw: book reviews, nonfiction, speeches, art, artists

In May 2012 author Neil Gaiman addressed graduating students. The transcript of his speech is published in a very small book, Make Good Art. The delivery took 19 minutes. The reading would take most of us about 8-10 minutes, but the goofy typography of Chip Kidd's design makes it take about an hour. I guess, to get a book out of it, Mr. Kidd had to mess around with it, stretching less than 2,000 words onto about 65 pages.

Mr. Gaiman's recipe for turning lemons into lemonade is, as the title suggests, "Make good art." Need I say more? I will, anyway. I have long contended that genuinely good art, whether fine art, writing, or performance, ennobles the reader/viewer/audience. If it doesn't, it isn't good art. Contrast the side-splitting but gentle humor of Red Skelton with a comic I saw on a cable TV show once: his entire act consisted of grinning and jumping and saying, over and over, with various inflections, "It's the S**t!!" And no, I don't know how long that act is, because I changed channels after about a minute.

C'mon folks, you know the difference between a true laugh and a snicker. You know the difference between delight and dismay, between an audience in transport and one hoping nobody sees them taking in the show. And those who claim that ugly art is somehow "great" or "beautiful" just enable their own degradation at "artists" who need a really, really serious attitude adjustment.

Now, Mr. Gaiman's books sell very well, so he must write well, and the speech is well written. I like his message, what I can glean from it, anyway. If the dark red/light cyan typography weren't so hard to read—there isn't a single letter in the book in black ink—I might have enjoyed it more, and gotten more out of it.

This post is also backdated to the day I actually read the book. Like my prior post says, it's been hectic.

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