Authors: Min Jin Lee

For most of my reading life, I loved to slowly graze through bookshelves. At least once a week, I’d spend a good couple of hours just browsing, usually in a used bookstore, not discriminating between genres, prices, pub. dates, or authors’ backlists. I would stand and stare at spines, then hinge out one book after another, reading jacket copy, flyleaves and a paragraph or two plucked at random. Sometimes I’d emerge with an armful, sometimes empty-handed. The hunt was the fun.

Things have changed a lot as bookstores have been increasingly usurped by websites. Now I am forced to hopscotch on a course based on others’ opinions and algorithmic recommendations. I am a difficult read, I imagine. — I consume history, pulp fiction, thrillers, classics, science, nature guides, how-to, how-not-to. Genre is an unreliable guide of what will strike my fancy. But Amazon thinks it knows me and serves up minor variations on the themes and authors I’ve already exhausted.

I used to judge a book by its cover. But now books appear on my Kindle as tiny greyscale icons. I can barely read their titles. Looking for any sort of guidance, I read a lot more newly published books and best sellers than I ever have. And I find I abandon many books mid-course, a practice I would never have permitted when I was younger and much more loyal or maybe just forgiving.  Now I know time is growing shorter and the options seemingly infinite. Lose me in the first hundred pages and I’ll find another book on the fishes in the sea.

Certain books keep appearing in my recommendation list. Years ago, I read Free Food for Millionaires.  I barely remember much more about it than I liked it.  But Amazon wants me to read Pachinko, also by Min Jin Lee. It’s a National Book Award finalist. I tend to be attracted to award nominees, just because they blink brighter in the endless sea of books, appearing to ensure quality in the bottomless fathoms of self-published crap and mystery novels with “Girl” in the title.

Finally, I give in and click over to read the description. A book about Christian Koreans in Japan in the 1930s? Uh, no. None of that is interesting. But Amazon insists and Pachinko shows up again and again, “Inspired by your purchases”. Inspired!

I give in again and download the sample. It begins in a boarding house for Impoverished fisherman. Again, not something I care about. But slowly I do start to care. The sample hooks me and begins to reel in. I start to care about these people. Their fastidiousness.  Their morality. The strangeness of the situation. The unfamiliarity contains the familiar.  The language is as crisp and clean as sun-dried bed sheets.

And even though it’s foreign and historical, it’s honest. Discussion of bodily functions, of sexuality, of wavering morals are all modern and not wrapped in pious bullshit. People speak and act like people. They are very different from me and yet the same.

The book is longish, something I tend to forget on my Kindle which holds so many books of so many lengths. But it contains so much. It follows one generation then another, interweaving stories, throwing characters into impossible situations and then fishing them out, dripping with regret or discovery, forgiveness or shame, setting them back on their pins to struggle forward. It’s epic and yet so personal.

The whole mystery of Korea, of what it is, where it comes for, how it has been shaped by history, where it fits into my world, all become clearer with each page. Not in a didactic way but through story, through the way global conflict inflicts itself on little lives, how they groan under its weight, how they struggle on.  I learn but also feel how poverty inevitably creates criminality, how religion provides succor and delusion, how nuanced and brutal racism is in every society.

One of the characters in the book manipulates the pins in his Pachinko machines so customers’ balls are guided to certain outcomes.  That’s how I felt reading the book, pinging between events and people, bouncing across the story, on a long and surprising journey crafted by a master of physics, story, and the human mind. I don’t mean Amazon (though that too) but Min Jin Lee, whose next books I will immediately download when it appears on my recommendation list.

Sketchbook Club #2: d.price

We convened another meeting of the Club to discuss the work of one Dan Price of Joseph, OR. He was one of my earliest and greatest mentors.

Some notes: 

Moonlight Chronicle back issues:
I see that on this site Dan said he doesn’t have back issues in print anymore but will be making e-versions of them. If you email him and bug him, maybe he’ll pull some out of the attic. It’s worth a shot. Otherwise, you’ll have to make do with his books — which are pretty awesome too.

Moonlight Chronicles:
How to Make a Journal of Your Life:
Radical Simplicity:
Learn about his simple life in this film about d.price:

The Art of the Cinema

In the movies, artists are generally bastards, nuts or addicts. Here are some of my favorites.


The Agony & the Ecstacy: Irving Stone boils down the Sistine Chapel with a liberal amount of artistic license. Good painting scenes. With Charlton Heston (ugh) as Mike B and Rex Harrison as Julius II.

Lust for Life: More Irving Stone. Kirk as Vincent, Tony Quinn as Gauguin, Vincent Minelli at the helm. Beautiful and nutty and the best Vincent biopic.

Bird: Clint Eastwood’s version of Charlie Parker’s life.Good but not as good as:

Round Midnight: Dexter Gordon plays Bird, Lester Young & Bud Powell all rolled into one. It will make you love jazz.

Moulin Rouge: The original: Toulouse-Lautrec and Zsa Zsa Gabor.

Basquiat: Julian Schnabel directs this story of fame, drugs and demise. I liked Basquiat a lot more than the film but it’s still worth a gander.

Ed Wood: Proof that one of the most important things an artist needs is belief in himself.

Tucker: Automaker as artist. A sunny metaphor for Coppola’s battle with the Hollywood establishment

Amadeus: Nothing like the scene where Mozart dictates the Reqiuem to Salieri. I could watch this dozens of times. And I have.

Savage Messiah: I loved this movie in college. Ken Russell’s bio of French sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and his mad affair. Tortured, weird and romantic.

Pollack: Ed Harris’s tribute to Action Jackson but with a little too much drunkness and a little too little painting.

My Left Foot: Danny Day Lewis as Christy Brown, paralyzed poet and painter. Have been meaning to see it for 15 years. Will soon.

Shine: Pianist David Helfgott has a mean dad, a breakdown, and a lot of scenery to chew. Decent but overrated.

Hilary and Jackie: The lives of classical musician sisters, one wild, one straight. I enjoyed it but honestly don’t remember it that clearly.


Rivers and Tides: Simply the best movie I’ve ever seen about the creative process. Documents the work of Andy Goldsworthy the British sculptor. Still in some theatres. Avaialable on DVD in 9/04

Le Mystére Picasso: In 1956, Clouzot filmed Picasso painting on transparent canvases, revising the work as he goes, a chicken becomes a nude becomes a landscape, etc. Mind blowing.

Crumb: portrait of the great underground comix artist and illustrated journal keeper, intense and revealing. See it even if you think you don’t like him.

Wild Wheels: a tribute to art cars (covered with mirrors, grass, plastic fruit, etc) and the people who make them.

28th Instance of June 1914, 10:50 a.m. – McDermott & McGough are a pair of artists who live as if it were PreWWI, their clothes, their home, their plumbing, their manner and their photography. Beautiful and strangely compelling.


Edward Scissorhands: A fairy tale about the artist as outsider. By one of the most creative directors in modern cinema.

The Royal Tennenbaums: The story of a creative family and the least good of the great films of Wes Anderson.

The Moderns: Alan Rudolph’s story of artists in Paris in the 1920s is wildly surreal and romantic and has a wonderful soundtrack.

An American in Paris: A highly realistic story of artistic struggle. Gene Kelly, Minelli, and my fav: Oscar Levant.

Quartet: 4 stories, one of a pianist who studies for years to get a critic’s approval. Also by Maugham.

The Razor’s Edge: Bill Murray (of all people) was in the good version of this story of a WWI vet discovering himself as an artist and a spiritual being.. It was very inspiring to me when I first saw it two decades ago.

The Commitments: Slightly too raucous story of an Irish soul band but a good appreciation of appreciation.

The Hours: Virginia Woolf and all that.

New York Stories: The first part of the trilogy is by Scorcese with Nick Nolte as a larger than life painter who can only work when obsessed with a woman. Some beautiful moments.

The Horse’s Mouth: I loved this book as a kid — it made painting into the most heroic of acts. Alec Guiness plays Gulley, a screw up of a painter, in search of the perfect wall for his mural.

Got any to add?


How about Life with Picasso by Francoise Gilot?

According to IMDB there’s a TV film called:

Pablo Picasso: Réminiscence

Is that the one?

What’s it like?

I love your top two documentaries. I just watched Love is the Devil about Francis Bacon, which I found very fascinating.

Then there’s “Surviving Picasso”, came out a few years ago.

Benny and Joon has some wonderful scenes with Mary Stuart Masterson’s character creating directly on the canvas using her hands as well as drawing with more traditional materials.

‘Camille Claudel’ is a wonderful movie about the life of the sculptor that worked for Rodin and then later became his mistress. Of course its a tragic story , women artists didn’t really have a chance in those days . She ends up being committed by her brother the french poet Paul Claudel . I don’t think she was crazy just filled with a lot of passion for her art . Passion was not something women were allowed to feel in those days.

what about Cavaragio by Derek jarman and there was a great documetary about that mail artist based in NY which I saw at the edinburgh film festival… but I can’t remember his name!

I recently saw Frida with Salma Hayek. Apart from the fact that she is much more gorgeous than the real Frida to look at, I thought the quirkiness of this movie was brilliant. It surprised me.

A friend of mine at work keeps INSISTING that I need to see “The Girl with the Pearl Earring” because of its art theme. Maybe that would be a good one to check into! Thanks for the listings!

As a documentary on the creative process and the techniques and aids used by the some of the great masters I highly recommend David Hockney’s Secret Knowledge – it is available in both video and book. I was absolutely fascinated when the documentary screened here in Australia, it opened many new insights and evolution of the creative process.

i agree with the royal tenenbaums also because wes anderson’s brother did all the great illustrations (the ones that “Richie Tenenbaum” does) and all the “book” illustrations and also does a great job on the rushmore/royal tenenbaums special additions packages.

also : American Splendor about Harvey Pekar (!!!) with a little bit of Crumb (!)

I must also cast a vote for Frida. What a beautiful movie! Each frame is an artistic composition with rich rich color. Also, I’m afraid Bill Murray’s Razor’s Edge, although I’m sure his intentions were good, cannot hold a candle to the book which was simply amazing. The problem with the movie is that the protagonist is just not supposed to be a funny guy! Another movie not to be missed is My Architect which is about Louis Kahn. It’s still playing at some theaters but I’m buying this one when it’s available. This from someone who doesn’t watch the same movie twice.

P.S. –

what about songs about art / artists ?

how about “artemisia” about artemisia genteleschi (sp?)? struggle of women artists. love affair. torture by thumbscrews. pretty decent film.

I loved a documentary on the building of the National Gallery of Art with IM Pei…showing a lot of the work with Henry Moore and Sandy Calder.

All of the work that went into every inch of the place….interesting.

Movies: Sweet and Lowdown, Woody Allen, starring Sean Penn as brilliant guitarist best moment: when penn bashes his guitar against a tree crying “i made a mistake, i made a mistake”

Lady Sings the Blues, Diana Ross Billie Holiday. for the music alone and Ross ain’t too bad either ….

Shadowlands, Debra Winger and Anthony Hopkins, about C.S Lewis

Fiction: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man , James Joyce…those last paragraphs/lines, i weep everytime

Sula, Toni Morrison, the artist without an artform

Oranges are Not The Only Fruit, Jeannette Winterton, evangelical upbringing + lesbian= writer

Einstein’s Dreams Alan Lightman, a mathematic/scientific poet….vignette dream meditations on Einsteins mind during his patent clerk days toiling on relativity by night.

whoops! guess i added books too….woolf/the hours made me do it!


How to Draw a Bunny – about Ray Johnson, mail artist (2002)

Goya: The movie (1999)

(Also liked Frida and Girl with a Pearl Earring)

“Angels and Insects” includes scenes of a woman who keeps an artistic nature journal … although there are definitely other themes …

I’ll keep thinking …

My Architect – about Louis Kahn, got an Oscar nod this year, and well deserved too.

Rivers and Tides? I dunno. I felt like even more of an outsider to Goldsworthy’s work after seeing that. It would have benefitted from some serious editing.

That’s my $.02

It’s not totally about an artist’s struggle, but A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries, film by James Ivory, based on a novel-based-on-her-life by Kaylie Jones (her dad was James Jones, who wrote From Here to Enternity), is about growing up in a bohemian, artistic family.

Also, Un Coeur En Hiver, a French film about a violinist and the man who makes her the violin.

Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould is a wonderful movie. About Glenn Gould.

I’d nominate Pecker by John Waters – quirky, funny and very, very scathingly revealing about the machinations of the art world.

Not to be missed is the PBS special on photographer Ansel Adams; I think it was from the series “the American Experience.” Available from the PBS catalog.

“Agony and the Ecstacy” also has a wonderful score by Alex North. I often listen to it while I’m working.

Tony Hancock’s comdey ‘The Rebel’ c.1960; an office worker goes off to live the artist’s life in Paris. Although Hancock was the best-loved sitcom star in Britain at the time he had a yearning to do a movie like Jacques Tati’s. Never quite pulled it off, tragically.

How To Draw a Bunny about Ray Johnson is really worth going out of your way to see.

La Belle Noiseuse by Jacques Rivette

Dream of Light by Victor Erice

A couple of months ago I saw back-to-back three films about artists:

Pandaemonium about poet Samuel Coleridge and his friendship with Woodsworth – and descent into drug-addled craziness – a rocknroll account of an interesting fellow.

Passion about composer Percy Grainger, another troubled artist, the story took me by surprise having thought him a “simple” sort of composer. I was very mistaken.

and The Pianist, the haunting Polanski film about Szpilman’s endurance through Nazi terror in Warsaw.

They were all exhausting and heart-wrenching stories. But man oh man, it was a good day.

The Fifth Element!

see – the part where bruce willis is listening to the diva sing – and it keeps cutting back to Leelo fighting the badguys over the stones.

see – there’s this pretty little moment when he believes everything is true. Art shows the way to love shows the way to love saves the universe.

i really need to write about this more coherently someday. 😀

I have to second Stone’s Lust for Life…the movie made me want to find out more about Vincent…I saw it after hearing the song by Don MaClean–Starry Starry Night. (GREAT POET/GREAT SONG…ONE OF MY FAVORITES!!) By the way…I learned how to play it on my tin whistle Danny…how’s the guitar going????

I also have to second The Pianist. The compelling love and urge to play music touched my soul. His identity was more deeply embeded as a pianist, rather than a Jew. I feel my art defines me more than anything else as well.

Thanks everyone…I will have to visit the video store on some of these!!

I haven’t seen this one added, it is fairly obscure. You seem to

be an enthusiastic Van Gogh fan like myself, and you would

definitely enjoy “Vincent and Theo”. It shows a lot of the darker

side of Van G.’s life, such as the time he took in a pregnant

prostitute. The scenes are brilliant and suffused with the yellow

light of “The Night Cafe”.

Directed by Robert Altman, it stars Tim Roth as a quiet, intense,

muttering painter. I love this film and watch it every few months.

Also someone mentioned “Surviving Picasso” and “Camille Claudel”. Camille is devastatingly sad, but casts a lot of light on the relationship between herself and Rodin.

I also would like to mention a great film that stars J. M. Basquiat as himself, “Downtown 81”. It is a musical and poetic romp through the art and post-punk scene of NYC circa 1981. It was recently released after 20 years on a shelf! Great fun film, also with amazing live music scenes and a cameo by Blondie.

A good movie about becoming an artist, against all odds:

“Dog of Flanders”

(the original 1959 version, with David Ladd, Donald Crisp, Monique Ahrens, Theodore Bikel,)

The documentary Speaking in Strings about violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg profiles a very passionate and unorthodox musician.

i don’t have a film to add, though i did enjoy Pollack, but thank you Dan once again, for your unfettering vision. that’s what attracted me to your site initially, you take a stand for all those individuals who allowed themselves to be consumed, perhaps devoured by their passion for visual expression. you are truly a becon on this artists’ path.

‘Life and Death of Vincent Van Gogh’: the biography of Vincent using only his paintings, some locations and excerpts from his correspondence.It was powerful movie.


For fictional: “The Legend of 1600.” Beautiful. The duel between the protagonist and Jelly Roll Morton is one of the most amazing scenes on film. Great score by Ennio Morricone (his last, in fact).

henry and june!

Just in case anybody else is still checking out the comments on this post, here’s a hard-to-find but really great doc of an artist: Gabriel Orozco (that’s the name of the film and the artist). To crib from the Miami film fest: “Internationally recognized Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco uses found objects to instigate a dialogue into how meaning can be formed from the arbitrary and the ordinary.” Very inspiring.

i too was so totally mesmerized by Le Mystére Picasso, i think its a really long film, but both times ive seen it i cannot rememeber time. I can only remember at the end kind of waking up and realizing my mouth was open and i had a crusty line of drool leading from the side of my mouth.

How about an angel at my table – both film and book

i too was so totally mesmerized by Le Mystére Picasso, i think its a really long film, but both times ive seen it i cannot rememeber time. I can only remember at the end kind of waking up and realizing my mouth was open and i had a crusty line of drool leading from the side of my mouth.

How about an angel at my table – both film and book