Case Study: How Art Can Make You Happy
I wanna talk to you, do a little case study about a book. Get my little notes and my little book. It's this book right here. It's called How Art Can Make You Happy and it's by me! I wrote it. (chuckles) So it's a little funny to make my case study my own book, maybe, I wondered about that, but I wanted to speak both, most of what I'm telling you today is very much from the editor side of the equation, but I have also been an author and worked on that side so I felt like maybe giving you some examples from that part of my experience might also be helpful to show in practice how some of the things I've been talking about actually come into play. So this book came about, I think maybe it's because of my job title, which... I don't feel that fancy, but my job title sounds really fancy. Like when you hear that someone is the executive editor of art publishing (murmurs), like, it sounds like I probably spend every weekend going to museum and gallery openings and super caught up on every sing...
le artist ever. Which, okay, I do try and be caught up on artists, but I think... My best guess is that that can sound a little intimidating because what happened was, I found that whenever I was talking to people and the subject of art came up, be that like having coffee with a colleague or making small talk at a party or whatever, the subject of art would come up and then people would get so miserable, like so guilty and sad and grumpy about art. The biggest one was guilt. They felt like they should be making time to go look at art, to go to museums, to go to art galleries, but they weren't making the time or they felt intimidated by the gallery scene or whatever it was, and this is what they wanted to start talking about when I wanted to talk about art, they're like, "Oh God, I missed the big Van Gogh show, oh!" It was so sad. And it really was at variance with what I had in my head that art should do. And I had this nagging idea in my mind and I kept having conversation after conversation with people that were like this, and I was just like, no, no, no, no, no. Art should not be making you miserable. Art should be making you happy. Is all art happy, is it all cheerful, like puppies and sunshine? Of course not, some art is very challenging. Some art is very disturbing, but it should be making you happy I think on a deep seated level that you're being given an emotional experience and that is joyful on a deep level. So I try and say this to people and they were just sort of like (moans), "I just feel guilty." So, this is what I mean when I talk about coming up with a book idea that you and you alone could write. I clearly had a different perspective on this than most of the people I was talking to. They're kind of all going right and I'm going left. They're all saying art is this horrible, sad thing and I'm saying, no, no, it's a happy thing. And that right there I think is that intersection of how are you different? How are you unique? We all have this kind of slant-wise vision on the world. Something that we see differently than other people tend to, the thing that people ask our advice on, the thing that people are saying that comment, like, "Oh, I never thought about it that way, huh." And not in a snarky, annoying way, but like they're actually interested kind of way. So those moments where you kind of diverge from the mainstream I think are the really interesting places to look as the potential for your book idea. I mean it took me awhile to come to this because I thought of myself as an editor. I had put together a couple of previous books but they were more in the capacity of a photo editor, a curator role. I hadn't written a book before with words, so it took me awhile to figure out, like, oh, this idea I can't stop thinking about, it keeps nagging at my brain, that's a book. That's a book I wanna write. And sure, lots and lots of people have written books about art and have written books about art appreciation, but nobody that I know of ever wrote a book about art that ended up looking like this book. I think the reason that it had to have bright yellow pages and it had to have this shiny gold big box of foil on the cover and it was the way it was is because of the nature of the text that I had written, that I wanted a small, easy, joyful, happy book and this very much what ended up getting created. So I think this is a great, great example of how an author and publisher can collaborate together to make something, and I wanna make this sort of division of labor, separation of church and state very clear about this project. I wrote the work, that's all I did. I was the writer, I sat at my dining table on the computer and wrote some words. And the publisher did print up the book, in this case, perhaps not surprisingly, did everything else. So everything about how this book looks and how it's amazing, which are largely because of the graphic design and the production. So these pages that are yellow and gray are made with special inks. This is actually a pewter metallic ink. Like the production department did so many amazing things. These, they're called boards, the hard covers (taps book), are thinner than average. I think the normal one is like one millimeter, and this is like half a millimeter or something like that so it feels light and manageable in your hand. All of these decisions that the publisher made as well as editing my text and making it about a million times better than it was when I wrote it. The collaborative thing that goes on between an author's idea that only that author could have and the publisher's contributions to make it a book that sells out in the world. There's also a very similar thing going on with the title. When I first turned in my book proposal, the working title that I had on there was The Guilty Art Lover's Guide to Art Happiness. Which I still think is kind of an entertaining title and funny maybe? At least it's funny to me, but it's a mouthful in your mouth and it's not just a mouthful in your mouth. If you saw that on the cover of a book, I think you would just be like, what? What does that mean? I have to read that three times before I even figure out what you're trying to say to me and even then, maybe I'm not quite sure. So going back and forth, my editor and I had this long email chain of brainstorming tons and tons of title ideas and boiling it down to its essential, what are you really saying? What is the book actually about? How can we say that in the shortest, most concise, most pithy way, because often, especially in a museum bookstore which is the kinda place this book is really selling, you've got someone in there just walking along, browsing, kind of looking at things. You have what, a fraction of a second that their eye falls on this book and they're either gonna just keep moseying on or they're gonna go, "Ooh, what's that? "That's interesting," and then pick it up and then maybe take it to the cash register. So I think by contractual arrangement, a publisher has control of the design, the cover, and the title. But now I'm putting my editor hat back on for a minute. As an editor, part of working really collaboratively with authors is you work on all of those things together. I would never want to bring a book out where the author wasn't happy with the cover or the title or something. You're not gonna force something down someone's throat. But you do presumably have the expertise as a seller of books to know what works and what doesn't out there in the marketplace. To know what retail accounts need and what, to know what consumers need and want when they're buying books. 'Cause the ultimate goal is to get the book in the hands of most people possible. I mean A, that's how everybody makes money, but B, it's also how you spread this news that you wanted to spread, presumably. So I think those are other examples of how that collaboration can happen. And in terms of all those ways I listed, of all the different ways that you might want to work, the way I wanted to work in this particular case was just writing words. I learned to be an author, a writer, a writer of text. I could have turned this in and they could have hired an illustrator to illustrate it. They could have bought stock photography of famous paintings to put in the book alongside these images. There's a million different ways you could have made this book look and that was the publisher's decision because I was not a visual creative on this book. I actually do have a book coming next year that I am the visual creative of, which is my drawings, and it's beyond exciting, but that's a different kind of authorship. This is the kind of authorship of just being a writer and trusting the publisher to handle the visual piece of it. In this case they just chose this very design-driven direction where everything you see that makes this book beautiful is either a graphic design choice or a physical production package choice. There's no additional person needed to draw pictures for it or something like that. And basically part of why I bring this up and did this whole little case study is I wanted to talk about how it feels to go from this nagging idea, just like this thing that keeps coming up. Oh it came up again. Huh, I keep thinking about that. All the way through the process of writing, making, editing, producing a book to where we're here, where you're actually holding this finished thing in your hand and it is almost impossible for me to overstate how amazing that feels. It is phenomenal. I have literally helped hundreds of artists go through that exact same process and helped them do that. And I also thought it was rad and nice and great for them, but none of that prepared me remotely for opening the box and there it was. And it's mine and has my name on it and I wrote it and it looks so amazing. That experience is priceless. So I wanted to, you know, let you guys know that from a personal, sort of emotional standpoint. It's pretty cool.