cover image LETTERS TO A YOUNG ARTIST: Building a Life in Art

LETTERS TO A YOUNG ARTIST: Building a Life in Art

Julia Cameron, . . Tarcher, $19.95 (164pp) ISBN 978-1-58542-409-2

It's a good thing the young poet to whom Rilke famously wrote didn't have novelist, playwright and poet Cameron (The Artist's Way, etc.) for a mentor, or he would have given up on the idea of being a poet. Smug, arrogant and unimaginative, Cameron's combative letters ("You might enjoy Plexiglas cubes for tables for all I know") reveal little in the way of helpful instruction for a budding writer. Addressing herself to an imaginary young writer who seems like a caricature ("wearing black makes [X] feel more like an artist"), Cameron counsels that "creativity is like electricity": the artist merely plugs into the current and acts as a conduit. In this way, she observes, "a lot of masterpieces were made in passing" when the artist was less worried about the quality of the art than getting it down on canvas or paper. Yet she simultaneously insists on the importance of craft. Midway through their correspondence, she declares simplistically, "it is fun to make art." These letters can never substitute for the deeper insights of Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet, Mario Vargas Llosa's Letters to a Young Novelist or even Bret Lott's new and insightful Before We Get Started: A Practical Memoir of the Writer's Life . Agent, Elizabeth Winnick at McIntosh & Otis. (Apr.)