Archive for category Publisher: Cassell

The Whole Picture – the colonial story of the art in our museums || Alice Procter

This is about as timely as it gets and is certainly woke. Alice Procter’s Uncomfortable Art Tours around museums in London were born out of a sense of frustration at a lack of acknowledgment of colonial history in art galleries.

This is only partly true, as any historian worth their salt knows about the role of colonialism in mainly the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. I would like to think that an image such as The East Offering Its Riches to Britannia, painted for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, could not fail to make any viewer feel at least a little uncomfortable. Images of kangaroos, however, perhaps more simply educate a willing public about the fauna of distant lands – even if they were invaded and their indigenous populations subjugated. Dürer, of course, famously drew a rhinoceros probably only from a description. It would not be unfair, I think, to say that George Stubbs was not quite so well-informed. And then we have the famous Tipu’s Tiger, an automaton that mauls an unfortunate British soldier. The point that Procter makes rather eloquently here is that while the original is in London, only a rather poor plastic copy exists in the original location.

This, of course, raises the perennial question of whether all art should remain where it was created, or whether it can be moved about the world. It is inevitable that such moves will involve a degree of plunder and this is not limited to a single place or civilisation. Sometimes, the very movement becomes the story itself and history can lend an awful lot of perspective – we can marvel at a Roman statue of a legionary dominating a subjugated Celt without feeling the need to ask for the whole of modern Italy to be cancelled.

To be fair to this book, and its author in particular, this is neither preaching nor a rant, but rather an examination of a subject that is very much to the fore. Should we pull down statues of slave traders or let them stand and tell the story of how they came to be there? Which one illuminates history and which consigns it even further to the dark recesses of memory than it already is? If you want information that will help you think, it’s here.

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Defining Moments in Art || general editor Mike Evans

I have to admit that I’m struggling with this – indeed, in more ways than one because it’s not only a thick, heavy tome, but a paperback, which means that it doesn’t support itself and, if you want it to stay in one piece long enough to make use of it, you have to give it a lot of support.

I’m also struggling because so far I’ve failed to see the point of it. The idea seems sound at first: a survey of developments in art from 1860 to the present day, listing key events, artists, artworks and exhibitions in a chronological context that, I assume, is intended to show how art develops in relation to the events which are its background or to which it, itself, forms the background. It’s a noble aim and getting a “group of international art critics, journalists and curators” to contribute must have seemed like a sure-fire recipe for success. The alternative would, of course, be a strange mash-up that lacks an overall sense of cohesion; to continue the culinary metaphor: a dog’s dinner.

I think the format has a lot to do with the problem. If you have to wrestle a book into submission just to turn the pages, you’re never going to feel well disposed towards it and this is not a book that in any case makes you feel welcome at first glance. There are too many short pieces and too few illustrations – 250 in nearly 800 pages really isn’t a lot – and the type is small enough to appear indigestible. Make it about 10 inches square instead of 8, increase the type size and put a hardcover on it so that it sits comfortably in the lap and I think this could have been a wonderful source of serendipitous ideas and information to dip into of a winter evening. As it is, and I’m sorry to have to say this, it hurts the knees, wrists, eyes and brain, coming across as a rather Gradgrindian rehearsal of facts: And now, girl number forty, you know what the history of art is.

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Cartooning Foundation Course || John Richardson

A lot of books about cartooning concentrate on the gag and tell you very little about the actual process of constructing what is actually quite a complex and very specialised piece of artwork. They also, rather naturally, tend to major on the style of the author, which can be an obstruction when it comes to telling you, the reader, how to develop your own ideas and style.

John Richardson is not a household name in this field, and yet you have probably seen his work. More of a commercial artist, he specialises in developing ideas for posters and comics and also developing characters for newspapers and magazine. Stylistically, he is something of a chameleon, which ideally places him to write a book about the business of cartooning.

In this style of drawing, less is most definitely more: it’s about economy of line and of ideas. The first part of the process is to simplify the idea to a single message and then to convey it with the simplest possible drawing. John is absolutely excellent on the craft of line-work and, although he touches on the use of computers, his introduction to equipment contains much that is traditional, even the old-faithful Rapidograph.

He is also particularly sound on the construction of a drawing, basic outlines, hatching, ways to suggest movement and character and of layout methods, the area where cartooning most crosses over with graphic design.

In the hand, this does not feel like a substantial book, but there are 144 pages and it’s as well presented as we have come to expect from Cassell’s rather excellent Foundation Course series.

Year published 2006
List price: £15.99

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Complete Art Foundation Course || Curtis Tappenden, Nick Tidnam, Paul Thomas, Anita Taylor

Most how-to-paint or art-course books are pretty much anything but what they profess to be. Hot on technique, they tell you how to put paint on paper or canvas, but not how to paint a picture and almost all suffer from being over-designed, which means that they’re OK for dipping into, but never really offer the progression of thought, approach and development that could lead their to be regarded as any sort of substitute for a teacher-led course.

The main problem with book learning is that there isn’t someone at hand to guide the student, offer advice and comment and to answer questions and, as often as not, it’s the attempt to address this, to give the feel of a true course, that produces a book that looks anything but.

This present offering is in fact a bind-up of four different volumes that Cassell have previously published. Bind-ups rarely work. Shoehorning several entirely different books into one cover can be a bit like putting a single meal, from soup to nuts, on one plate. It’s convenient, saves on the waiter’s time and the washing up, the sales people like it because they can wax lyrical about the variety and extent that you can see it all at once (don’t shout at me, I know I’m mixing metaphors here), but it just proves that more is nearly always less. Several small, carefully presented portions are so much better than one big pile that just looks like, well, what big piles generally look like. If I’d had a hot dinner for every well-intentioned bind-up of a series of introductory guides to painting media I’ve seen, well, I wouldn’t be reduced to mixing my own metaphors.

So, that’s the bad news, but stick around because this is where it all gets better. In fact it gets very much better because this is quite the best painting course I’ve yet seen. It’s clearly presented, there are lots of illustrations, including guides, diagrams, sketches, finished paintings and step-by-step demonstrations. There are colour charts, mixing guides, palette tips for the demonstrations and break-out details, all just about where you need them, not just where they look good. The design doesn’t intrude in the way I’ve been implying it usually does, but the people who worked on the series haven’t been afraid to eschew a tight grid that makes every page look the same. Although there’s a consistent flow, there’s a feeling of variety which removes any chance that this is going to get boring at any point. It’s also worth noting that, although each section has its own contents list (there isn’t one main one at the front), this doesn’t feel like four books sheltering under one cover.

Book designers get far too little credit. If they do their work well, it becomes invisible; it’s only bad design that anyone ever notices. There should be an award and it should be an empty plinth with a label saying, “The invisible award for unobtrusive page design”.

The fact is that this is an art course you could actually work through from cover to cover. It’s problem is that it’s going to have limited appeal to people who already paint because they’ve already settled on a medium. Maybe you work in watercolour and do a bit of drawing. Well, you won’t be wanting the oils and acrylics sections, will you? Well, this isn’t really aimed at you. It’s aimed at people who are just starting and who haven’t fixed on anything yet, apart from the general idea of doing a bit drawing and painting. It’s a bookshop book, one you pick up and browse, not one you go on websites looking for, though maybe you should. The really nice thing about it is that it stands a fighting chance of giving someone like that enough confidence and ability that they might want to go on and then there’s a whole load more books they can buy.

If you’ve made it to this website, you’ve probably got an interest in art already, so do someone else a favour. Buy them this book for Christmas, or a birthday, or just because you like them, I don’t mind. Just do it. It’s wonderful value at a mere twenty pounds and it’s a hardback, whatever it may say anywhere else. With discounting going on all around us, very few books are worth the price printed on their cover. This is.

Cassell Illustrated 2006

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