My grateful thanks to Bei Guo at Midas PR for inviting me to participate in the launch celebrations for Things That Art: A Graphic Menagerie of Enchanting Curiosity by Lochlann Jain and for sending me a copy of the book in return for an honest review.
Things That Art
Lochlann Jain’s debut non-fiction graphic novel, Things That Art, playfully interrogates the order of things. Toying with the relationship between words and images, Jain’s whimsical compositions may seem straightforward. Upon closer inspection, however, the drawings reveal profound and startling paradoxes at the heart of how we make sense of the world.
Commentaries by architect and theorist Maria McVarish, poet and naturalist Elizabeth Bradfield, musician and English Professor Drew Daniel, and the author offer further insight into the drawings in this collection. A captivating look at the fundamental absurdities of everyday communication, Things That Art jolts us toward new forms of collation and collaboration.
My Review of Things That Art
A series of drawn images with commentaries.
My word – or should that be ‘my image’? I don’t think I have encountered a book quite like Things That Art before and I’m not quite sure how to review it. I actually ‘read’ this book three times before attempting to summarise my thoughts. I loved the title Things That Art. Whilst it describes the contents of the book perfectly, it also generates the question, ‘Things that art what?’ so that the reader is immediately drawn into a more inquisitive frame of mind.
Firstly I simply looked at all the images and pondered their links and meanings. Whilst some were obvious, many of Lochlann Jain’s associations are startling, innovative and clever so that they reward time spend looking and looking again. I confess I didn’t understand all of them, even after reading the commentaries and looking (or reading) again but this is by no means a criticism. I researched some things, expanded my vocabulary, knowledge and understanding and felt Things That Art had not only been fascinating to explore, it had enhanced who I am because I now have a more acute and questioning attitude to objects around me than before. For example, I found myself adding items to some of the concepts presented too because Lochlann Jain had made me think differently. By way of illustration, I mentally included racism and sexism to ‘things that are institutionalized’ and I think this is one of the joys of Things That Art – it is more than a picture book or graphic novel, it’s a catalyst for thought.
The artwork has a naive quality that belies the meanings and references it embodies, and adds to the overall effect of the book in taking the reader by surprise. The commentaries are fascinating essays that enlighten the reader and make them appreciate Things That Art still further. Again, I felt my ignorance challenged (I didn’t know what ‘koan’ meant for example. It’s ‘a paradoxical anecdote or riddle without a solution, used in Zen Buddhism to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and provoke enlightenment’ and fits this book perfectly) and having read the commentaries and looked again at Lochlann Jain’s images it was akin to being given entry to an elusive and elite club. This felt quite special!
I am unsure how to encapsulate Things That Art in a summary. It is peculiar, disturbing, thought-provoking and hugely entertaining. Things That Art is totally unlike any other book I’ve encountered before – and all the better for it!
About Lochlann Jain
Lochlann Jain is a non-binary British academic and Professor of Anthropology at Stanford University and Global Health and Social Medicine at King’ College London. Jain has studied art at the Slade (London) and the San Francisco Art Institute. Whether in art or scholarship, their work aims to disrupt ways of knowing. Jain’s work has been praised as “a remarkable achievement,” (TLS), “a whip-smart read” (Discover Magazine), “brilliant and disturbing,” (Nature Magazine), and having “the phenomenological nuance of James Joyce.” (Medical Humanities) Jain is the author of Injury (2006) and Malignant: How Cancer Becomes Us (2013).
Lochlann Jain has won numerous prizes for work in anthropology and medical journalism, including the Staley Prize, June Roth Memorial Award, Fleck Prize, Edelstein Prize, Victor Turner Prize, and the Diana Forsythe Prize. The work has been supported by Stanford Center for the Advanced Study of Behavioral Sciences, National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship, and the National Humanities Center.
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