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Why Art?

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What is “Art”? It’s widely accepted that art serves an important function in society. But the concept falls under such an absurdly large umbrella and can manifest in so many different ways. Art can be self indulgent, goofy, serious, altruistic, evil, or expressive, or any number of other things. But how can it truly make lasting, positive change? In Why Art?, acclaimed gra What is “Art”? It’s widely accepted that art serves an important function in society. But the concept falls under such an absurdly large umbrella and can manifest in so many different ways. Art can be self indulgent, goofy, serious, altruistic, evil, or expressive, or any number of other things. But how can it truly make lasting, positive change? In Why Art?, acclaimed graphic novelist Eleanor Davis (How To Be Happy) unpacks some of these concepts in ways both critical and positive, in an attempt to illuminate the highest possible potential an artwork might hope to achieve. A work of art unto itself, Davis leavens her exploration with a sense of humor and a thirst for challenging preconceptions of art worth of Magritte, instantly drawing the reader in as a willing accomplice in her quest.


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What is “Art”? It’s widely accepted that art serves an important function in society. But the concept falls under such an absurdly large umbrella and can manifest in so many different ways. Art can be self indulgent, goofy, serious, altruistic, evil, or expressive, or any number of other things. But how can it truly make lasting, positive change? In Why Art?, acclaimed gra What is “Art”? It’s widely accepted that art serves an important function in society. But the concept falls under such an absurdly large umbrella and can manifest in so many different ways. Art can be self indulgent, goofy, serious, altruistic, evil, or expressive, or any number of other things. But how can it truly make lasting, positive change? In Why Art?, acclaimed graphic novelist Eleanor Davis (How To Be Happy) unpacks some of these concepts in ways both critical and positive, in an attempt to illuminate the highest possible potential an artwork might hope to achieve. A work of art unto itself, Davis leavens her exploration with a sense of humor and a thirst for challenging preconceptions of art worth of Magritte, instantly drawing the reader in as a willing accomplice in her quest.

30 review for Why Art?

  1. 4 out of 5

    Dave Schaafsma

    Well, that was unexpected. This is to my mind one of the best comics creations I have encountered this year, or in awhile. And not exactly a graphic novel, exactly. But it is, too, finally, as a story emerges. Let me explain: Great cartoonist/illustrator Davis creates a book with a kind of textbook title, to help students of art understand the nature of art, gradually appears to spoof and unravel that purpose in surrealistic or absurdist ways, and then shows us she has been serious all along, rea Well, that was unexpected. This is to my mind one of the best comics creations I have encountered this year, or in awhile. And not exactly a graphic novel, exactly. But it is, too, finally, as a story emerges. Let me explain: Great cartoonist/illustrator Davis creates a book with a kind of textbook title, to help students of art understand the nature of art, gradually appears to spoof and unravel that purpose in surrealistic or absurdist ways, and then shows us she has been serious all along, really. Her book really could be used as a textbook or reflection on the nature of art and the purpose of the imagination in the world, after all. In the end the text, which early on is a series of illustrations and cartoons about ideas about color and form, evolves into an allegory about a collective of artists that calls attention to the fact that technical issues are really not the most important aspect of what art is about. Art is ultimately about its relationship to life, and to its transformative powers. Art is at its best heart and soul and society. But we get to that simple, possibly reductive point in unexpected ways. And we do look at a range of possibilities in art, ranging from realistic representation to performance art. Finally, we do grapple with questions artists have struggled with for centuries such as the centrality of and definitions of beauty. Maybe this book is not for everyone, if you like conventional art and tales, but this is a book not written by a scholar of art but an artist. Why Art? was definitely for me. In the end it gets wild, seemingly out of control, and it actually moved me in a way that surprised me. I loved it.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jon Nakapalau

    Immersive and inquisitive - unique perspective on the motivational aspects of creating art. 'Art for art's sake' examined in a very deep way; (strangely echoing the song of the same name by 10cc). I think the philosophy of art is truly one of the most underappreciated aspects of insight into culture - a very deep reflection on this in this GN. Immersive and inquisitive - unique perspective on the motivational aspects of creating art. 'Art for art's sake' examined in a very deep way; (strangely echoing the song of the same name by 10cc). I think the philosophy of art is truly one of the most underappreciated aspects of insight into culture - a very deep reflection on this in this GN.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Adam Stone

    Is art blue? Is it orange? How big is art? These questions and more are involved in Eleanor Davis's "Why Art?" There are several five star reviews already about how wonderful this book is, and about how they are going to sleep with it next to their bed. I'm very happy people have found joy in this book. For me, it seemed really empty. An artist who is himself flimsy is made of paper maiche. A performance artist who sincerely says "I love you" to her audience is sincere. So? I had the same sense of " Is art blue? Is it orange? How big is art? These questions and more are involved in Eleanor Davis's "Why Art?" There are several five star reviews already about how wonderful this book is, and about how they are going to sleep with it next to their bed. I'm very happy people have found joy in this book. For me, it seemed really empty. An artist who is himself flimsy is made of paper maiche. A performance artist who sincerely says "I love you" to her audience is sincere. So? I had the same sense of "shrug emoji" that I had reading Rupi Kaur's poetry. These statements and ideas seem like they should be deep, but they don't actually say anything, and provide me with no emotional connection to, well, anything. It does revisit its revelations about characters by the end, so it builds to...something. I guess I would recommend it to people who like Instagram poetry but wish it had a long, disjointed narrative.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Stewart Tame

    Hmmm … this wasn't what I was expecting. For some reason I thought this was going to be nonfiction, a meditation on the whats and whys of Art. I suppose, on some level, it is exactly that. But on the surface at least, it's a dreamlike journey that explores Art as a metaphor for life, or life as a metaphor for Art. Or both. Or neither. As you’ve probably guessed, it resists easy interpretation. Honestly, I’m kind of underwhelmed. It's good for what it is, but, as far as trippy, arty comics go, it' Hmmm … this wasn't what I was expecting. For some reason I thought this was going to be nonfiction, a meditation on the whats and whys of Art. I suppose, on some level, it is exactly that. But on the surface at least, it's a dreamlike journey that explores Art as a metaphor for life, or life as a metaphor for Art. Or both. Or neither. As you’ve probably guessed, it resists easy interpretation. Honestly, I’m kind of underwhelmed. It's good for what it is, but, as far as trippy, arty comics go, it's fairly average. I don't hate it. I don't love it. I don't really regret having read it, but it just ultimately was not particularly memorable.

  5. 4 out of 5

    vostendrasamigosyotengolibros

    Why everything Eleanor Davis creates is so perfect and beautiful? I'm stunned really so sensitive so deep so poetic, I just love Eleanor Davis. I really recommend this. But if the toxic masculinity in this society has affected that much that you can't read poetry without feeling violate this is not for you and I think it's not the job of author deconstruct your fear of sensitivity, it's yours, so don't be a as;)ole. Why everything Eleanor Davis creates is so perfect and beautiful? I'm stunned really so sensitive so deep so poetic, I just love Eleanor Davis. I really recommend this. But if the toxic masculinity in this society has affected that much that you can't read poetry without feeling violate this is not for you and I think it's not the job of author deconstruct your fear of sensitivity, it's yours, so don't be a as;)ole.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Kennedy

    holy and pure and scary and true this book will sleep in my bed with me for the next few weeks pure pure magic again from Eleanor

  7. 5 out of 5

    Carolee Wheeler

    Eleanor, what does the inside of your mind look like?

  8. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    (A version of this review was published, in German, in the Swiss comics journal STRAPAZIN.) I was struck by the final line of a review I read a while ago in some American magazine or website that I can, alas, no longer locate: “We don’t deserve Eleanor Davis.” I found that comment rather peculiar, but it’s one that has made me think a great deal since then about the relationship between creators and consumers of artwork. What should or must one do to “deserve” the work of any artist? Perhaps the (A version of this review was published, in German, in the Swiss comics journal STRAPAZIN.) I was struck by the final line of a review I read a while ago in some American magazine or website that I can, alas, no longer locate: “We don’t deserve Eleanor Davis.” I found that comment rather peculiar, but it’s one that has made me think a great deal since then about the relationship between creators and consumers of artwork. What should or must one do to “deserve” the work of any artist? Perhaps the typical American comics reader is not worthy of the thoughtful, elusive, and allusive comics of Eleanor Davis. While the “graphic novel” has come a long way in the last generation, it’s still a bit of a lost form in the Anglophone world, poised awkwardly both in readers’ minds and in bookshops between the genre ghettos of kids’ comics and superheroes and the legitimacy of literary fiction or conceptual art. To complicate matters more, Davis’s work often begs that old pedantic question: is this comics? At times her work puts me in mind of R.O Blechman, Michael Leunig, Edward Gorey, Jules Pfeiffer and other such poetic practitioners of maybe-comics. Or, to refer to artists maybe more familiar to readers of STRAPAZIN, Davis makes comics in the way that Anke Feuchtenberger, Martin tom Dieck, or Nicholas Mahler make comics: comics drawn by artists who appear never to have read very many comics. Such a description perfectly fits Davis’s newest book, WHY ART? I’m resisting saying much about the book because I don’t want to spoil it. Not that WHY ART? is merely an elaborate joke with a punchline, but to describe it too much may ruin its effect on the first-time reader, and its effect is worth experiencing. The book, composed mostly of simple black and white drawings, starts out like an introductory textbook, explicating types and categories of art, the intentions of artists, how viewers perceive and understand art, and the dynamics of museums and the art market. But from there the book goes off in a completely unexpected direction, slyly and gently forcing the reader to reconsider “why art?” Why is making art is such an essentially human activity? How does art fulfill social and psychological needs? And how can art, most powerfully, save and redeem us by bringing us together? I can’t tell you whether or not you deserve Eleanor Davis, but I can tell you with great confidence and enthusiasm that WHY ART? deserves to be read by anyone who likes smart comics or who wants to understand creativity better.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Ashita Thakur

    A surprising 15 minute read where Eleanor delves into conversation around our relationship with art as audiences and creators. It is humorous and tongue in cheek but not as deep as it is purported to be. Maybe I’ve read too many art related books lately but her message reminded me of Instagram poetry in some places and pseudo philosophy in others. I did enjoy her humour and some ideas that she raises, but going through the reviews it seems like people love this because it’s by this Eleanor person A surprising 15 minute read where Eleanor delves into conversation around our relationship with art as audiences and creators. It is humorous and tongue in cheek but not as deep as it is purported to be. Maybe I’ve read too many art related books lately but her message reminded me of Instagram poetry in some places and pseudo philosophy in others. I did enjoy her humour and some ideas that she raises, but going through the reviews it seems like people love this because it’s by this Eleanor person who everyone loves. My lack of context however didn’t make me expect anything and from a virgin Eleanor reader it was okay I guess but not excellent. However, I will add that it’s short length and easy writing mean that I might read it again whenever I want to read something short and artistic.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Derek Royal

    What I thought would be a more expository text actually turned out to be something completely different. And fascinating. In many ways this is an enigmatic text, but multiple readings reveal a more coherent message, or messages, about the potential of creativity.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Rod Brown

    Davis takes a tongue-in-cheek look at her title question while managing to be just a bit profound. From the opening pages ("Orange artworks. Blue ones. Both orange and blue ones.") made me laugh out loud and think immediately of This Is Not an Apple and Dr. Seuss. That sense of playfulness continues throughout with some digressions into deeper pain, especially the performance artist section. Clever overall, but a bit too odd for me in the end. Davis takes a tongue-in-cheek look at her title question while managing to be just a bit profound. From the opening pages ("Orange artworks. Blue ones. Both orange and blue ones.") made me laugh out loud and think immediately of This Is Not an Apple and Dr. Seuss. That sense of playfulness continues throughout with some digressions into deeper pain, especially the performance artist section. Clever overall, but a bit too odd for me in the end.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Liz Yerby

    Part comics, part textbook, Davis is asking some big questions. a very enjoyable little ride.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Mateen Mahboubi

    A veritable journey through art. I enjoyed the beginning, I enjoyed the end and I enjoyed everything in between. A quick read with a lot to take from it. Highly recommended.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Larnacouer de SH

    Do you ever look at someone and wonder what is going on inside their head?

  15. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

    Don't think this graphic novel's absurdist, off-the-wall sense of humour would be for everyone, which is why I loved it. I chuckled a lot. The sense of humour reminded me a lot of SuperMutant Magic Academy, except with less of the nihilism and more metaphor and symbolism in this work. I do like that Davis is one of those artists that changes her medium and style throughout her graphic novels, but I do feel like the cover of this and the work in You & a Bike & a Road was more moving aesthetically Don't think this graphic novel's absurdist, off-the-wall sense of humour would be for everyone, which is why I loved it. I chuckled a lot. The sense of humour reminded me a lot of SuperMutant Magic Academy, except with less of the nihilism and more metaphor and symbolism in this work. I do like that Davis is one of those artists that changes her medium and style throughout her graphic novels, but I do feel like the cover of this and the work in You & a Bike & a Road was more moving aesthetically to me than Why Art? Although this might just be down to personal tastes.

  16. 5 out of 5

    hweatherfield

    What a perfectly sized meta adventure through an artists' philosophy. Witty, emotional, simplistic, and just all around beautiful - Why Art? is a graphic masterpiece for artists and non-artists alike. Through surreal storytelling, Davis creatively brings us through a deep analysis of the many aspects of art and art-making, finally providing us with the answer by transcending what it means to be a human that creates. Its definitely a deeper read than it looks, and I was touched by it. Will be rea What a perfectly sized meta adventure through an artists' philosophy. Witty, emotional, simplistic, and just all around beautiful - Why Art? is a graphic masterpiece for artists and non-artists alike. Through surreal storytelling, Davis creatively brings us through a deep analysis of the many aspects of art and art-making, finally providing us with the answer by transcending what it means to be a human that creates. Its definitely a deeper read than it looks, and I was touched by it. Will be reading this again, probably many more times. Would recommend this to everyone, especially artists looking for more meaning to their process and the world around them.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Rudolph Rihner

    Eleanor Davis is one of the best comics artists around.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Shivani Sharma

    Okay, what was this?!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Emilia P

    YES ART. Eleanor Davis, this could be one of those throwaway sketchy businesses, but no, it celebrates and mocks and reveres and challenges the work of artists, and why we/anyone/she creates. Power, anger, need, instinct. A bit of a unexpected whirlwind in a slim little volume. I like Davis' outlook a lot, she brings her whole self to whatever she does, and I am happy to bring myself too. :) YES ART. Eleanor Davis, this could be one of those throwaway sketchy businesses, but no, it celebrates and mocks and reveres and challenges the work of artists, and why we/anyone/she creates. Power, anger, need, instinct. A bit of a unexpected whirlwind in a slim little volume. I like Davis' outlook a lot, she brings her whole self to whatever she does, and I am happy to bring myself too. :)

  20. 4 out of 5

    Diz

    This is a bit bizarre. It's not really about art, but about how people relate to art and what it means in their lives. Also, it's about how the power of creation leads us to learn something about ourselves. It does get a bit abstract at times, so multiple readings are probably necessary to fully appreciate it. The way this book is written is more like a children's picture book for adults rather than as a comic, so there is a lot less text than in a typical comic. This makes it easy to do the mul This is a bit bizarre. It's not really about art, but about how people relate to art and what it means in their lives. Also, it's about how the power of creation leads us to learn something about ourselves. It does get a bit abstract at times, so multiple readings are probably necessary to fully appreciate it. The way this book is written is more like a children's picture book for adults rather than as a comic, so there is a lot less text than in a typical comic. This makes it easy to do the multiple readings that are needed.

  21. 5 out of 5

    dv

    A beautifully unexpected voyage into the world of art. It starts like a common sense visual guide on art, it expands by investigating subtle aspects of the activities of researching, producing and communicating art, it explodes into chaos and them comes back with great insights. A great little book.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jenee (her/hers)

    As a visual artist and a creative, I loved this book, and by reading this appreciate my journey a lot more.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Glade

    Perfect.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Zach

    Beautiful and weird.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Raina

    What a super fascinating little piece. I love that this book refuses to fit in any kind of box. In a lot of ways, the layout of the pages resembles what I would call a Picture Book - a book intended for adults to read aloud to children. Davis' illustration style is simple at first glance. Almost entirely black on a white background. And the book has a small frame (only a couple iPhones wide, maybe an inch taller than it is wide), but is fairly thick. This book is all about the concept. And the ab What a super fascinating little piece. I love that this book refuses to fit in any kind of box. In a lot of ways, the layout of the pages resembles what I would call a Picture Book - a book intended for adults to read aloud to children. Davis' illustration style is simple at first glance. Almost entirely black on a white background. And the book has a small frame (only a couple iPhones wide, maybe an inch taller than it is wide), but is fairly thick. This book is all about the concept. And the absurdity of even asking the question of the concept. And it makes those statements with style.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jordan

    A pleasant little piece with a strong DeForge vibe, from the lightly satirical niche community examination to the surreal twists, but with a lot more heart and sentimentality than DeForge would ever allow. The play of ink, the large open spaces and the deep black, worked really well. Blown up pencil lines, craggly scribbles, smoothly rendered corporeal curves, all beautiful. Less a story of why we make art and more why we continue to make art, despite everything that gets in the way.

  27. 5 out of 5

    tinaathena

    Eleanor Davis is very good at these really profound and incisive moments that get swaddled up in irreverence and silliness so you don't see them coming. The gooeyness and movement that goes into the characters is always pleasant to look at, but ultimately the writing is where it's at. Look forward to reading more from Davis! Eleanor Davis is very good at these really profound and incisive moments that get swaddled up in irreverence and silliness so you don't see them coming. The gooeyness and movement that goes into the characters is always pleasant to look at, but ultimately the writing is where it's at. Look forward to reading more from Davis!

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    YES ART! YES TO THE POWER AND IMPORTANCE ART HAS IN OUR LIVES!! YES. TO. ART!! I don’t even know where to start with this graphic novel, and actually I don’t know if to label it as “graphic novel”, it’s just something in the middle. I absolutely LOVED IT and I think i’m going to read it again and again and again because damn, Eleanor Davis asks some big and important questions even if it gets bizarre.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    Weird, surreal and abstract...thus, honestly, it wasn't for me. I wanted to feel that I was creative enough to understand it but then felt bad that I obviously wasn't profound enough to get what artist Eleanor Davis was getting at, although a few panels did resonate with me. Haven't we all felt like we deeply connected with a book or a piece of art, and then felt slightly offended when someone so clearly different from us says the same piece describes them? Weird, surreal and abstract...thus, honestly, it wasn't for me. I wanted to feel that I was creative enough to understand it but then felt bad that I obviously wasn't profound enough to get what artist Eleanor Davis was getting at, although a few panels did resonate with me. Haven't we all felt like we deeply connected with a book or a piece of art, and then felt slightly offended when someone so clearly different from us says the same piece describes them?

  30. 5 out of 5

    Joshua Anderson

    This is my first time reading any of Eleanor Davis’ works, and I’m not sure I can give it the glowing positive review many others have given. I guess I was expecting something more philosophical when I began, but that’s my own expectations getting in the way. After finishing the book and thinking about it on my own I begin to like it more. The last couple of pages left an impression, especially when I started thinking of the book’s title. It’s such a quick read, and the art work imaginative. I’l This is my first time reading any of Eleanor Davis’ works, and I’m not sure I can give it the glowing positive review many others have given. I guess I was expecting something more philosophical when I began, but that’s my own expectations getting in the way. After finishing the book and thinking about it on my own I begin to like it more. The last couple of pages left an impression, especially when I started thinking of the book’s title. It’s such a quick read, and the art work imaginative. I’ll chew on this book for a little while.

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