Book: Art is important
Author: Neil Gaiman
illustrator: Chris Riddell
Publisher: Cup/Hachette India
Price: € 399,-
Here is a writer – widely read and revered worldwide – who never graduated from a university, but is now invited to the most prestigious institutions to give lectures. So how did he make it big? “Be daring. Be rebellious. Choose art. It matters,” is the simple mantra Neil Gaiman has adhered to; and its latest offering, a little book that questions existing standards, reiterates its core beliefs and underscores the importance of art — and the importance of making good art — for readers young and old alike.
After school, the prospect of four more years of “forced learning” before he became the writer he wanted to be seemed suffocating. So he stepped into the real world and did what he wanted to do. Writing made him a better writer. He doesn’t call his writing journey a career, because a “career implies I had some kind of plan”; he never did.
When he was about 15, Gaiman made a list of all the things he wanted to do in life — an adult novel, a children’s book, a comic strip, write a movie, record an audiobook, and so on. “I just did the next thing on the list,” he says.
He reveals that when someone ventures into art, they have no idea what they are doing. “This is great. People who know what they’re doing know the rules and know what can and cannot be done. You don’t and shouldn’t do that,” he adds. Gaiman argues that the rules of possibilities and impossibilities in art are made by people who have not tested them themselves. “And you can. If you don’t know it’s impossible, it’s easier to do,” he notes.
It is not exactly easy to turn your dream, ambition or hope into reality. The “Sandman” writer wanted to write comics and novels and stories and movies, but it seemed difficult to get there, so he became a journalist, because “journalists are allowed to ask questions”. In addition, he was paid to write and to train himself to be a better writer.
What worked for him was imagining where he wanted to be – being an author, mainly of fiction, writing good books and supporting himself by his words.
“Imagining that where I wanted to be was a mountain… A distant mountain. My goal. And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain, I’d be fine. And when I really wasn’t sure what to do, I could stop and think about whether it would take me to or from that mountain.”
“I learned to write by writing. I tended to do everything as long as it felt like an adventure, and stop when it felt like work, which meant life didn’t feel like work,” adds Gaiman.
Today, Gaiman is a successful author of more than 30 critically acclaimed books and graphic novels for adults and children, including “American Gods” and “Stardust.” Originally from England, he now lives in America and is a recipient of numerous literary awards. And Indian readers are in for a treat as he will participate in the Jaipur Literature Festival in January 2019.
But the book isn’t just about him. It’s also about art, and the importance of making good art. It’s about the joy of reading and how it can shape better individuals. It’s about libraries and librarians, about success and failure, about nothing stopping you from achieving what you want to achieve and then the whole universe conspires to stop you from doing it.
And all this is conveyed in just a few pages by questioning existing standards. The entire book is handwritten and beautifully illustrated by Chris Riddell. Gaiman’s words, when read in handwritten text and accompanied by black-and-white illustrations, have a distinct appeal that may not be evoked by mere type.
The author has lived up to the values he imparts: bridging the gap between the possible and the impossible to ‘make good art’. And in case you can’t grab the book, Gaiman’s speeches, from which most of this book is derived, are a sensation on YouTube and can be easily looked up.