The great popular artists have an instinctive relationship with the audience. That was true of Maurice Sendak, who died on Tuesday at the age of 83. He followed his gut. He kowtowed to no one. He knew that when pop culture really matters, it’s grounded in personal experience—in something the artist feels so strongly that other people cannot help but feel it too. Sendak had been involved with more than 50 children’s books by the time he became a national sensation in 1963 with Where the Wild Things Are. But even after Max in his white pajamas became part of modern mythology, right up there with the Beatle’s Nowhere Man, Sendak refused to take the audience for granted. He was resolutely independent to the end, and he expected the same of the public that had made him famous. There was something of the nineteenth-century reformer about Sendak—an old-fashioned optimism about the capacity of popular art to change public opinion and make the world a better place. He worked hard to provide public theater for children. He took on the subject of homelessness in 1993, with We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy, his old familiar cast of adorable child-gremlins now living in hideaways jerrybuilt from cardboard boxes.
more from Jed Perl at TNR here.