A Is for Art: An Abstract Alphabet

Overview

A is for Art: An Abstract Alphabet is a remarkable journey of discovery about art and language through painting, collage, and sculpture by Caldecott Honor artist Stephen T. Johnson. With literal renderings of each letter, complete with witty titles and playful, alliterative captions, Johnson's abstract art forges connections between words, objects, and ideas.

Can you find the hidden letters? Look closely and you will see a letter C made of colorful candy, a letter H hidden in a ...

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Overview

A is for Art: An Abstract Alphabet is a remarkable journey of discovery about art and language through painting, collage, and sculpture by Caldecott Honor artist Stephen T. Johnson. With literal renderings of each letter, complete with witty titles and playful, alliterative captions, Johnson's abstract art forges connections between words, objects, and ideas.

Can you find the hidden letters? Look closely and you will see a letter C made of colorful candy, a letter H hidden in a hook, and an S in a soft shadow. From A to Z, each stunning, original work of art will stimulate the imagination and creativity of children and adults alike.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The artist creates a marvelously complex alphabet book that doubles as a trip to an art museum and a stint at a coffeee house poetry reading. Readers and listeners of all ages will enjoy seeing the original art and hearing the wordplay of each letter...An index provides details of the artist's works and shows us where the hidden letters are."— Connie Goldsmith, CALIFORNIA KIDS! Family Fun Guide
Becca Zerkin
For a magnificent medley of works produced over many years, some on a huge scale, read Stephen T. Johnson's A Is for Art: An Abstract Alphabet…The art is also just plain fun to look at. The colors and materials are eye-popping…This is a grown-up's alphabet, but for children it is also a whimsical introduction to the realm of abstract art.
—The New York Times
Children's Literature - Kathleen Karr
A Caldecott Honor winner for Alphabet City, the artist Stephen T. Johnson has decided to have another go at the alphabet—once again illustrated exclusively with his own art. As Johnson explains in his prefatory author's note, recently he has been focusing his work on interpretations of words from the English dictionary, thus the "literal abstractions" he presents in this new book. Running the gamut from abstract-paintings-cum-collage such as Blueberry Blues to the minimalism of his orange Object to the Rauschenberg-inspired spoons of Souvenir Series, Johnson does manage to connect his work to each letter of the alphabet—while also paying tribute to the major artistic movements of the later 20th century. Although it might take an art major to catch all the allusions, kids will just try to make the obvious visual connections. To help them out, appended to the book is an index to the individual art pieces that points out the location of each hidden letter. Reviewer: Kathleen Karr
School Library Journal

Gr 3 Up

This exciting alphabetic compendium began with a dictionary. Following years of study and work as a realistic painter, Johnson found himself wanting to explore abstract art. He started by collecting words for each letter of the alphabet. Then, he created a piece based on their meanings. For example, the caption for Dotty Diptych reads "Densely distributed dominoes, divided by dark and light dots on dual panels, disappear under drips of dramatically dashed paint dribbling downwards." Inside the white border of the page is the vivid reproduction of two wooden panels covered in dominoes. As with each of the 26 works of art, there is more to be discovered. Here, yellow and white paint covers some of the dominoes, transforming everyday game pieces into dimpled bricks. Also, Johnson has hidden a letter of the alphabet in most of his creations. The works vary from paintings and collages to sculptures to installations, and an index reveals the locations of the hidden letters as well as dimensions and materials for the pieces. Children will enjoy seeing everyday objects like candy used in his creations, and will no doubt be inspired to come up with some abstract art of their own. This book may easily spark discussions about what can be used to make art and who decides what it is. In an author's note, Johnson shares his thoughts on this matter. For more inspiration, see Joyce Raimondo's What's the Big Idea? Activities and Adventures in Abstract Art (Watson-Guptill, 2008).-Lisa Glasscock, Columbine Public Library, Littleton, CO

Kirkus Reviews
Johnson laces an exhilarating visual exploration of 20th-century art history with alliterative A-to-Z wordplay. The 26 paintings and sculptures, some gallery-sized in scope, cleverly combine specific objects, letterforms and even paint hues-all with names beginning with the illustrated letter. T's double spread, the three-paneled painting "Triptych," features "[t]hick-textured titanium paint" and "[t]en teal blue thumbprints" and includes tracing paper and tape-a "tiny three-dimensional toy to tease out trains of thought." The mix of media, visual problem-solving and stylistic derivations (Stuart Davis, Motherwell, de Kooning and others are invoked) make this a terrific springboard for student art extensions. Each composition usually sports the inclusion of the spread's featured letter, with occasional, rather fey textual allusions to "misplaced" letters: "(The omitted letter O occupies the upper left on the opposite page.)" A poignant author's note invites readers to contemplate two disparate art pieces from Johnson's youth, and a visual "index" reveals media, dimensions and a hidden letter key for each piece. Enigmatic and absorbing. (Informational picture book. 6-12)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780689863011
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books
  • Publication date: 9/9/2008
  • Pages: 40
  • Sales rank: 605,879
  • Age range: 5 - 9 Years
  • Product dimensions: 9.10 (w) x 12.10 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephen T. Johnson is the creator of such well-known children’s books as the Publishers Weekly bestseller My Little Red Toolbox, the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award winner My Little Yellow Taxi, the Caldecott Honor and New York Times Best Illustrated Book of the Year Alphabet City, and the New York Times Best Illustrated and ALA Notable Book A Is for Art. His drawings and paintings are in numerous private and permanent collections, including the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and a mosaic mural at the DeKalb Avenue subway station in Brooklyn, New York. Johnson and his family live in Lawrence, Kansas. Visit him at StephenJohnsonStudio.com.

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 9, 2009

    The aesthetic child's "eye-spy"

    Steven Johnson's "A is For Art" accomplishes what children's books hope for most: engagement and education. In his collection of contemporary abstract art Johnson teaches kids that art need be "realistic," that artists play with suggestion. In his language he is experimental and silly. My son mostly enjoys ferreting out the hidden letter in each piece (or, by now, remembering its location). He has even started to memorize some of Johnson's most alliterative artistic captions. "A is For Art" is memorable, fun, and instructive for kids and their artistically inclined parents.

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  • Posted November 26, 2008

    Another Great Alphabet Book from Stephen T. Johnson

    Six years in the making, A is for Art is a monumental achievement. To help illustrate the point, I will admit a false assumption my lazy brain made when I first saw the book: "Oh, how cool! He's exhaustingly searched through thousands of pieces of contemporary art to discover connections with the alphabet."<BR/><BR/>Not quite. It's even more amazing than that. Imagine if a letter had the power to dictate an artist's creation. "X" instructs the artist to use "x-rays and xerographs of xylophones," and, of course, the x-rayed and xerographed xylophone images must themselves form the letter "x."<BR/><BR/>What is so fresh about Stephen's set of alliterated constraints is that they are not restricted to subjects (nouns) alone. Descriptors (adjectives) and action words (verbs) also inform the creation of his pieces. For example, in "Ice Cream Floats," the "imitation" ice cream cones are "individually illuminated, isolated, immobilized, immersed, inverted, identical, and insoluble."<BR/><BR/>In his own words, Stephen had been, "exploring the English dictionary, selectively choosing and organizing particular words from each letter of the alphabet and, based solely on the meanings of the words, developing a visual work of art."<BR/><BR/>Back to my lazy brain. Where I had originally thought that Stephen searched for these alphabet connections in pre-existing art, he, instead, created all of the art pieces after having worked within a set of self-imposed, alphabet-based constraints.<BR/><BR/>The results reveal startling symmetries, that to a casual observer remain hidden. I use "symmetries" in the broadest sense of the word. Stephen's compositions display a harmony and order that invoke an almost mathematical beauty.<BR/><BR/>"Golden Sections" is a painting based on the letter "G" that depicts a visual representation of the "golden ratio" (think nautilus shell chambers). The letter "G" can be clearly discerned as we follow the fractal through several recursions. <BR/><BR/>In its color palette and use of media, "gradations of green, gray, and gold...rendered with gouache, graphite, glitter, granulated gunpowder, and glue," "Golden Sections" creates such a harmonic effect that one better understands Soviet scientist's V. Vernadsky's assertion that "a new element in science is not the revelation of the principle of symmetry, but the revelation of its universal nature." <BR/><BR/>Finally, I must comment upon Stephen's observation that "the self-imposed limitations and restrictive nature of using only words from each letter of the alphabet to generate an original creation have turned out to be truly liberating."<BR/><BR/>As someone who works with constraints myself (I'm currently working on a 32-page picture book that tells a story using only words that begin with the letters "qu"), I am in complete agreement with Stephen on the power of constraints to unleash creativity. It's a paradox, but that is probably why it works.<BR/><BR/>Stephen's work is concept art at its most meaningful and accessible, ready to tickle the brains and eyes of children of all ages. His work truly exemplifies the notion of "ideart," in which the concept (idea) and its artistic expression are one and the same.<BR/><BR/>I applaud Stephen on his genius creation.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 7, 2009

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