Finding a Likeness: How I Got Somewhat Better at Art (Paperback)
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.
About the Author
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 Herman Hesse Prize. Baker has two grown children; he and his wife live on the Penobscot River in Maine.