When I was ten my friend John lent me a book called The Tattooed Potato & Other Clues. John’s a very smart guy—he’s now an attorney in Atlanta—and I think he liked the book because one of the major players, an eccentric portrait painter named Garson, has a side hustle helping the police solve bizarre crimes. I liked it because the main character is a young art student named Dickory Dock who works as Garson’s assistant and plays Watson to his Sherlock and there was a lot of stuff about art in it. The book is written by Ellen Raskin who also wrote the Newbery Award-winning novel The Westing Game. She only wrote a few novels but they’re all funny and cleverly combine the real and surreal with a style similar to Lemony Snicket. They’re full of odd characters and I think I would have enjoyed The Westing Game a lot more if I hadn’t had to do a book report on it for school, but that’s another story. A memorable detail of The Tattooed Potato is that one of Dock’s art professors rages against the terrible aesthetics of street signs, saying,
Why should I expect anyone to appreciate good design today, what with the eye so consistently bombarded by bad examples, atrocious examples of incompetent graphic art, everywhere, at home, in the streets—those awful signs in the streets.
That tickled me because when I was very young I thought there was something weird, even a bit creepy, about street signs, but I also get why they’re designed the way they are. They’re made for quick and easy comprehension without a lot of extra detail. They could still use little touches to reflect the local culture, though, hence the example above of the surfer crossing sign, spotted on Dauphin Island, Alabama.
And on a weird tangent Lucy Liu, who plays Watson on the TV series Elementary, is also an accomplished artist. It’s a case of art sort of imitating art or life or something. It’s difficult to untangle, but not really a mystery.