Finding a Likeness: How I Got Somewhat Better at Art (Paperback)

Finding a Likeness: How I Got Somewhat Better at Art By Nicholson Baker Cover Image

Finding a Likeness: How I Got Somewhat Better at Art (Paperback)


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Named a Most Anticipated Book of 2024 by Literary Hub

From the acclaimed and bestselling writer Nicholson Baker, a deeply personal account of his journey learning how to paint for the first time, and a meditation on the power of art in times of crisis

Nicholson Baker wanted to learn how to paint.

In 2019, after years of researching and writing about secret and often horrible government programs for his book Baseless: My Search for Secrets in the Ruins of the Freedom of Information Act, he was wiped out. Having been steeped for so long in the history of war, violence, and conspiracy, the world had lost some of its brightness. Photography had scratched a creative itch for years, but now, Baker was desperate to squeeze more out of what he saw – he wanted to live, slowly, through the snatches of life he was recording in photos. Maybe, he thought, he could learn to paint? The idea consumed him, but he was nagged by an even more debilitating doubt: What if he failed?

Finding a Likeness is Baker’s record of the years he worked to improve his artistic skills, beginning with his first, humble attempts to set paintbrush to paper. Driven by a natural curiosity and a strong desire to paint faces, clouds, and landscapes that actually resemble faces, clouds, and landscapes, he attends classes from local artists, watches YouTube tutorials, and seeks out master painters from the past and present in the hopes of uncovering their secrets. In his inimitable voice, Baker recounts the highs and lows of the creative process, reflects on memories of growing up as the son of two painters, and learns what it means to really see.

Filled with Baker’s own art, as well as the work of artists from around the world, Finding a Likeness is a tender and deeply felt testimony to taking a step back and going back to basics. Baker improves dramatically in his craft, but as he considers what it means to try, fail, and try again, he discovers far more than what it takes to paint a cloud – rather, he shows us how to bear witness to the world, to the good and the bad, and to do it all justice with paper and ink.
Nicholson Baker has written seventeen books, including The Mezzanine, Vox, Human Smoke, The Anthologist, and Baseless—also an art book, The World on Sunday, in collaboration with his wife, Margaret Brentano. Several of his books have been New York Times bestsellers, and he has won a National Book Critics Circle Award, a James Madison Freedom of Information Award, a Guggenheim fellowship, and the Hermann Hesse Prize. Baker has two grown children; he and his wife live on the Penobscot River in Maine.

Product Details ISBN: 9781984881397
ISBN-10: 1984881396
Publisher: Penguin Press
Publication Date: April 2nd, 2024
Pages: 352
Language: English
“There’s an invigorating novelty in seeing a master try something new without immediately becoming virtuosic . . . Over the course of the book, something like [Baker's] career in miniature unfurls. Baker’s initial interest in visual art as a means of paying attention to the inanimate world—to still scenes, small tools and landscapes, cool clouds—gives way to a fascination with the human form, specifically the human face . . . You feel that Baker has grown out of certain things, or grown into them . . . In place of Baker’s old image-hoarding style is a less flashy, smudgier, more serene approach; in place of solitary preoccupations, a more expansive embrace of artistic indebtedness.” Bookforum

“Baker details how he met his artistic goal without freighting the narrative with extended metaphors or self-aggrandizement, making for an ode to the ups and downs of the creative process that’s refreshingly direct . . . Generously interspersed with the author’s work (his amateurish early efforts hearteningly improve), this will fortify anyone learning a new skill.” Publishers Weekly

The narrative describes in detail the artistic activities that Baker, who lives in Maine, pursued over the next two years, from the four-day plein-air workshop in Camden, where his instructor passed along advice he had received ('Open your damn eyes!'); to his brief obsession with painting clouds, the 'puffy, huge, lunglike, breathing, hippopotami of the sky'; and the online courses he took once the pandemic began . . . he is a witty guide, open about his failures and stumbles . . . An amiable journey through an author’s attempts at mastering art.” Kirkus

“National Book Critics Circle Award winner Baker (Human Smoke) tries his hand at illustration. While he has tackled heavy topics such as World War II and secret government programs in previous works, this book is a joyful and often humorous respite. Baker chronicles his artistic growth from 2019 through 2022, showcasing his many sketches, landscapes, still lifes, and portraits . . . Baker took art courses and used social media for further guidance and finding styles and subjects . . . Nuggets of art advice, about tracing and digital enhancement, are scattered throughout. A fun chronicle of a writer’s attempt to get better at visual art, which will likely inspire readers to give it a go as well.” Library Journal