The Song of the Earthby Hugh Nissenson
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Even before his birth, Johnny Baker's life is in danger. His mother breaks the law when she has her fertilized egg endowed with genes that will give her son the potential to become a visual artist. Born in 2038, John Firth Baker is the first genetically engineered artist. At the age of nineteen, at the threshold of his career, he is murdered. Now, ten years after his death, Baker has become famous. An art curator has organized a show of his work, and his biography-culled from journals, e-mails, and interviews with those who knew him best-is published. The Song of the Earth is this "biography." It presents a powerful and haunting portrait of an artist as a young man in the twenty-first century.
Baker is born into a world transformed by technology: genetic profiles, space travel, and controlled housing communities are commonplace. Global warming has altered the environment. A planetary gender war is raging, familial structures are shattered, and new religions contend with the old. Yet human needs remain the same: the search for love, the desire for approval, the longing for fame, and the quest for knowledge. The Song of the Earth is a hypnotic novel about our desire to control our destinies, our yearning for immortality, and the very human impulse to create art. With prose, poetry, and images, Nissenson tells an original tale that brilliantly captures the experience of another time and place.
- Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
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- Barnes & Noble
- NOOK Book
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- 7 MB
Read an Excerpt
This biography of John Firth Baker, illustrated with his work, is published in collaboration with The Virtual Museum of Modern American Manual Art, which organized and mounted the current Baker retrospective that commemorates the tenth anniversary of his death.
The book's title comes from the title of Baker's favorite poem:
The Song of the Earth
by Clorene Welles
& devour life.
I father forms
that thrive &
those that fade.
I'm the sheath
& rusts its blade,
this patch of sunlight,
that patch of shade.
John Firth Baker was the first genetically engineered visual artist. A confluence of fundamental contemporary expressions of creativity-science, art, and religion-made him into a uniquely twenty-first-century phenomenon.
A bound and printed book like this is a fit commemorative for Baker, who cherished bound books. Baker was a self-taught manual artist; his figurative images, always the work of his own hands, appeal to the sense of touch, as well as sight. They convey Baker's deepest feelings, his fantasies and dreams. The political and sectarian uses to which his art was put by others made him famous at nineteen; then he was murdered.
Baker was posthumously transformed into a myth, which continues to grow. His work is now given an iconic significance he never consciously intended. Gaians claim the images he made, particularly those they call "Baker's Dozen," are tangible visions of his quest for Gaian Consciousness.
John Firth Baker's inner life was more complex-far richer-than that. He died before he could fulfill his promise as an artist. Yet his handful of work endures. Baker was an American original. This book tells his whole story for the first time.
I organized The Song of the Earth around interviews I
Meet the Author
Hugh Nissenson is author of six books, including Tree of Life, a National Book Award and PEN/Faulkner Award finalist. Nissenson lives in New York City with his wife.
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