Deck Name: Art Oracles 
Author: Katya Tylevich
Illustrator: Mikkel Sommer 
Publisher & Year: Laurence King Publishing, ©2018.
Availability: Our Amazon Store and at https://www.laurenceking.com/product/art-oracles/

Art Oracles is a visually stunning 50 card deck that compiles the work of “the great artists”. The illustrations combine portraits of the artists with recognizable subject matter and stylistic elements of their famous works. It’s sort-of meta feeling in that way…seeing the artist merge with their creations. The line between the two becomes blurred in really interesting ways. It’s the whole chicken + egg quandary brought to bear in aesthetic dimensions. 

Each card includes “advice” inspired by the artists’ lives — the topics covered include: life, work, and inspiration. The phrases on the front of the cards are concise + clever, and sometimes read almost like what one would hear in an art critique. This deck isn’t here to coddle you. It’s rather cutting sometimes. But, it’s honest and playful nonetheless. Speaking of critique: the deck can feel a bit like an “old boys’ club” at times, but it makes no pretense about this. Around the cover image on the box, in gold foil letters are the names of “the greats;” so know that representation in this deck follows canonical art history movements — at the expense of wider representation. The London based publisher, Laurence King Publishing released the deck in April, 2018. 

PACKAGING: 

The 2 halves of the thick cardboard box fit together very snug + secure. The box is covered in a white vinyl faux canvas with embossed gold lettering. The effect is very modern and chic. The box is sturdy, but I almost always recommend using a deck bag for travel. Maybe I just worry too much about a box opening in my bag and the cards getting ruined? But, I’d rather be overly precautious with decks than risk destroying them when bringing them out to use in public. 

The card stock is thicker than I expected, making this a very sturdy deck! After months of using it, normal signs of wear & tear are not even remotely present — no fraying edges, or little folds at corners. This deck holds up. The card size is my personal favorite: 3.5” x 5”; you can really dive into the imagery in this larger format. While the smell has faded somewhat over time, this deck had a very strong “print smell” when I first started working with it. Not that I’m complaining — I LOVE that smell. You probably know the one I’m talking about: FRESH off the press. 

The accompanying booklet is 4.5” x 6” printed in full color on paper coated with a satin finish. It is very different from what I was expecting + what I am used to for a deck companion. Organized chronologically, each page contains 2 miniature images of the card fronts with a brief biography of the artists represented. It begins with Leonardo Da Vinci, 1452 and ends with Damien Hirst, 1965. The bios also contain dates of the artist’s life and where they were born. While I do not use the booklet to enhance readings + how I typically use these cards, it is extremely interesting to read as a fan + student of art history. You will learn something about one of your favorite artists, it could be someone you’ve been studying for years; and Katya Tylevich’s biographies will surprise you with some obscure but fascinating detail about their life + work. I want to hear each of these pages developed into an hour long podcast on the artists. So, again, while I haven’t incorporated the booklet into my reading style — it is a very welcome addition to this deck. 

STYLE: 

Mikkel Sommer has masterfully illustrated these images. There are 50 individual card illustrations, plus the cover image, and somehow he has managed a feat of incredible sorcery by using his own personal style + talents as a vehicle to embody the primary stylistic elements of each of the artists-as-oracles. They look like collaborations between the illustrator and the artists. The cards are such a paradox: they all look VERY different + distinct, yet there is the unmistakable style of their creator recognizable in every frame. Every single composition is striking, singular, and visionary. Mikkel Sommer is a chameleon of technique and clearly respects the work of the artists he represents + embodies in Art Oracles.

Ok, here comes the critique. As all art students know: critique, albeit frequently a somewhat painful experience to endure, is necessary. How are we to grow + understand our potential audience without seeing the work through their eyes? And so, although from the cover image on the box, one might think this deck has a wider variety of ethnicities + cultural heritages represented, it is a relatively white, male dominated atmosphere. Which is sort of unfortunate. I understand that the creators are working within the confines of canonical [Western] art history, and want the imagery and aesthetics to be instantly recognizable. But that’s the essence of sticking with cannon: it confines; it excludes + imposes limitations. It elevates some and completely disregards others. 

SOURCE MATERIALS: 

How well do you know [canonical] art history? ‘Cause this deck is your pop quiz. You might want to do a quick refresher by reading through the accompanying booklet of artist biographies + add some internet research about major art movements of the last 600 years in Western culture. Any knowledge can you bring to bear regarding the elements of art + compositional theory will undoubtedly enhance your interaction with this deck. 

There is little information provided with the deck or on the publisher’s website in terms of the creator + illustrator. Brief biographies are on the back of the booklet, but we are left largely guessing their specific influences, motivations, and process for creating Art Oracles. 

GENERAL SUMMARY: 

Overall a really fun, visually engrossing, and also relatively inexpensive deck to work with. Though there is something that feels off-balance about it, and it is the type of artists chosen for the cards. The range of mediums the oracles have worked with stretches from painting to fiber arts to sculptural work to video + light installations. From performance artists to studio-bound hermits, there is no shortage of inspiration or creative juices flowing here — just a shortage of the variety of faces represented. But make no mistake, these artists and their aesthetic are the pinnacle of stylistic development. Each card embodies such a unique and vivid entity. While these figures are often represented as larger-than-life celebrities, Art Oracles helps close the gap between us + them. They are (or were) people who also thread(ed) the strands of life, work, and inspiration while seeking to express the confounding mysteries.