The Principles of Uncertainty by Maira Kalman

Title: The Principles of Uncertainty
Author: Maira Kalman
Genre: Art / memoir

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Goodreads | Powell’s

I’ve kept journals regularly for 16-17 years now, and have done art journaling/visual journaling/illustrated journaling (there are different “schools”) for a few years as well. So I was kind of excited to stumble across this one on my local library’s shelves (they have a disappointingly small number of books containing or pertaining to art). I love looking at people’s art journal pages on the internet, and I loved and miss livejournal, where you basically got to read other high schoolers’ (or sometimes they were in college!) diaries.

This book was nice, and I liked it—it’s hard to look through someone’s paintings and drawings and not like them, especially when someone is so free with their “random” thoughts and creative renderings as this author. I liked Maira Kalman’s style and choice of colors especially. I liked it when she recorded things she’s seen or people she has ostensibly read about (Vladimir Horowitz, Tolstoy). But I have to say the praise on the back of the book seems extravagant: “absolute favorite book of recent memory” and “sublime” and “there’s nothing else even remotely like it.” Er, actually, there is. But maybe it’s unfair to hold the blurbs against it; after all, the book itself never made such claims, and marketers are definitely going to try to make that sale.

I really enjoyed her artwork, and I found her small, daily observations were my favorite things about the book. Sometimes it seems like she’s trying for profound but not quite getting there. And that seems harsh, I know, when we’re talking about what seems like a personal journal and personal, private ruminations. I feel sort of mean for saying it, and I am certain that many things I write in my personal journal when I’m feeling deep wouldn’t carry much meaning for people besides me, and that’s why I don’t show them to hardly anyone and get annoyed when Peter digs out a sketchbook to let his parents look at. Places where I am reaching for some kind of personal profundity are not something I would want published, and it seems kinda weird to see similarly “profound—kinda sorta, but only to me, in my head, after this certain specific thought process” things in a published book. But hey, it’s part of the human experience, and I’m glad it’s out there. I wish everyone could get their cool artwork and accompanying philosophical thoughts of varying quality published (honestly I do). Near the end it kind of starts to unravel. The last two and maybe even three months it seems like she’s lost her thread a bit.

Anyway, if you’re at all interested in this kind of book, I would give it a go. It’s a couple hundred pages (Goodreads says 336), but most pages only have like 18 words on them, sometimes none. Of course it is a good idea to linger over the paintings, especially the ones that catch your eye! There are some real gems in here. I would definitely peruse her other books.


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