Monday, April 16, 2007

The Penguin Book of Art Writing

The Penguin Book of Art Writing

For every reader of books on art, 1000 people go to look at art. Thank heaven!
-Ezra Pound (filched from the footnote)
The book is fat. Nice blue colour. My copy smells of age and loving readers (the copy is intact). If we ignore my melodrama and move on, the book is an engaging collection of writings on art. There are artists writing about fellow artists, critics reviewing art and the artist, art watchers sharing memorable experiences, artists commenting on what art means to them and so on. In other words, this book is an anthology.

The book opens with a chapter titled In the Studio: The Artist at Work. The first piece in the chapter is about Pierre Bonnard refusing to pose for a photographer. Their meeting appears to have taken place not many months after Marthe's death. The photographer Brassai notes that Bonnard's studio does not have an easel. Instead he finds several canvases nailed on the wall in their half-finished state. Apparently Bonnard liked to work on several canvases, a touch here, a dab there. Brassai mentions the postcards of Bonnard's favourite works, also pinned up, but on a shelf. Vermeer's Street in Delft, Monet's Nympheas,...

Other chapters talk about many things and carry within an amazing number of interesting snippets. In the chapter Gallery-going: The Experience of Looking at Art, there is a note from Rembrandt to one Constantin Huygens, dated 1639, instructing the latter on how to hang a Rembrandt: My Lord, hang this piece in a strong light, so that one may look at it from a distance, and it may appear at its best.

In What is Art?, Andy Warhol remarks, Art? Isn't that a man's name?. Francis Bacon (ah no! not that Francis Bacon) and David Sylvester discuss how photography has influenced art in a positive way. On a related note, Margaret Thatcher, on a visit to the Tate, is said to have said of Bacon (when informed that he was the greatest living painter), Not that horrible man who paints dreadful pictures! JMW Turner thought art a rummy business; Georges Barque that in Art there is only one thing that counts; the thing you can't explain.

Then there are pieces like Henry James tearing apart Lord Leighton's work; Julian Barnes talking about Edgar Degas' portrayal of women; members of the Bloomsbury group praising the work of Walter Sickert (a Jack the Ripper suspect)...

The Penguin Book of Art Writing is filled with such ones. I'd have said worth buying oneself a copy if I hadn't checked that the price reads a 100 USD. Nevertheless, worth borrowing several times. Go seek in the library, now!

1 comment:

Urban Bourbon Ninja said...

A 100 us for that, and they dont even bother making a proper cover?? :)

I'm not buying that.