My Review of Look Both Ways, by Debbie Millman (c) Louise Dunn Herman, July 25, 2010
…like the sculptor who looks at a stone and realizes what it could be, Debbie Millman has transformed the book form into her own creation. It has become, in addition to it's message, an object.
While reading the book Look Both Ways, by Debbie Millman, an enriching experience takes place. The cover is conventional, yet the palette and overlapping comma symbol on it’s front take on greater significance as the ‘story’ unfolds. Opening the book, you first find a series of pages that resemble the chalkboards of childhood. As you begin to read, you are drawn, literally, into the text by the casual conversational way it is written. You might be reading someone’s notes in their lined hard cover black and white school composition book. Or perhaps, it could be a diary. But soon enough, easyness in reading starts to give way to weaving eye movement as you are forced to follow the types' gradual uneven changes. Along the way, you encounter some cross-outs and smudges which speak of first drafts, or suggest the spontaneity of only one draft, or the innocence of a child's first efforts.
Periferally, you sense something more. The blackness of the chalkboard appears painted on. And toward the edges, color, quite pleasant, peeks through. This ‘underpainting’ or layering suggests the artist’s hand, or brush as it were. And the white chalk-like script is immediate, and familiar, and common. So, there is a lot to see, and read, and think about on each of the pages. Sensitized now, you notice as you read, that the pages appear to take on an ever increasing sophistication as the ‘child’ grows up, moves to the city, begins a career. This build-up increases in a gradual curve, almost imperceptible until you realize what is happening. The style is changing along with the author, as she reveals the various foibles and traumas of school, personal relationships, and work-related choices.
In the last two essays, a fully realized marriage of art, style, and content suggest the satisfaction of having realized a dream. In one essay, the direction lines, flow chart-like, pace the author and the reader in a choppy but purposeful stride. The final essay contains shadowy, ghost-like echoes of words, barely perceptible in strategic yet visually scattered places (read between the lines). Floating on a sophisticated evolved backdrop, this final piece displays a secure and fully realized artist’s hand as well as a firm control of the medium. Millman has, despite her aha moment of choosing ‘branding’ as a practical career, achieved what she tells us she really wants to be: an artist and a writer.