Top positive review
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Ideal for fifth formers.
on 21 June 2013
All the other reviews so far are correct. This book, published by the Tate and clearly aimed at visiting school groups, fulfills its remit - but that remit is rather narrow. The intention is to introduce newcomers - and I would say older schoolchildren, not adult artists starting out - to the principles behind, and processes involved in, using a sketchbook. Not the sort of large sketchbook used for detailed, full-scale studies, but the sort which pops in your pocket and doubles up as a journal - the sort now sold in every format from cheap rip-offs of Moleskines to lavish leather-bound Italian jobs that you might hope your rich auntie will buy you.
Why am I so sure this is for those taking art at school, rather than older students or adults? Because the language is clumsily didactic, at times echoing the more irritating self-help manuals in style. The back cover states "Your sketchbook is unique and belongs to a unique artist - you. Use your sketchbook and it will come to life: nourish it and you will see your art (or design, or photograhy, or film) transformed . . . " - a quote which taps straight into my inner 15-year-old. "Yeah, whatever" replies my soul.
Unfortunately the main text is similar in tone; a blend of worthy exhortation and rather sad attempts to inspire. It clunks along, addressing the reader as "you" ; one can almost hear the corduroy jacket with leather elbow patches. I'm not sure what its target audience will make of some of it; a chapter entitled "21st Century Artist" starts 'You are making art in the twenty first century. You have a massive variety of possible techniques and technologies open to you. Why use a sketchbook now?' and follows this with a quote from David Hockney about using cameras and tablets; first, irrelevant to the point, secondly hardly the most youthful or '21st century' of examples, and thirdly, a man particularly noted for using i-Pad and camera a heck of a lot these days. Several of Hockney's sketchbook pages are indeed shown, but they do not delight the eye or hold the attention.
Lots of other pages from the sketchbooks of real artists, both famous and obscure, are illustrated but they fall prey to the same problem. Many examples are dull or even ugly. I know there is the danger that too much excellence will make the reader think "I could never do that", but few of these invite emulation. Surprisingly little use had been made of the large-page, full colour format. The most exciting pages are those from the sketchbook of short-lived genius Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, who died in 1915. Surely there must be up-to-date examples as seductive, but if so the author has failed to find them.
It must be clear by now that I don't personally like this book. In which case, why have I given it 4 stars? Because it seems to be so thoroughly intended as a textbook that it is only fair to judge it by those standards. As such - a school textbook for those studying art at GCSE or A level - it does fulfill its role relatively well. But if you want something to inspire you to work on your own sketchbook/journal there are many more exciting books out there - even if they may have you tearing out your hair in envy. This book will, at least, have you thinking "I could do at least as well as that", which is an obscure kind of selling point.