Saturday, August 18, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #230: Why Art? by Eleanor Davis

Some books are sneakier than others. Some books want you to think they're non-fiction, and then wind their way towards telling a story. Some books ask a really large question in their titles, and then answer it in what they show rather than say.

I say "some books." I don't know that I could give you two other examples.

But Why Art? is like that: deeply sneaky, somewhere in the shadowy neighborhood between fiction and non-, living up to that very large, very encompassing title. I'm coming to think I can rely on Eleanor Davis to do things on that level.

(I've previously seen her You & A Bike & A Road, a contemplative memoir of a journey by bicycle mostly near the southwestern US border, and How to Be Happy, a collection of shorter stories.)

Why Art? does start out as if it's going to be a nonfictional explanation of the impulse to make art, maybe with a focus on cartooning. But it quickly develops characters, though they don't get much in the way of personalities -- they're people who each make a particular kind of art, and that's what's important. We move from the general impulse to make art to seeing these particular people making particular art, and then to the art they make, and a gallery show for that art.

And then things get weird, and weirdly metafictional. It is all about art, and what art is, and why people make art. Davis is not exactly going to answer that question with words, though. She made this book to ask the question, and, in a way, to answer it.

You'll enjoy this book is you like artsy answers to artsy questions -- if you're looking for something straightforward, though, Why Art? will probably confuse and annoy you.

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