Archive for category Subject: Art Appreciation

Women Artists: the Linda Nochlin Reader || ed Maura Reilly

Linda Nochlin was the doyenne of art historians and also a champion of women in art. Her seminal article, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?”, which appeared in ARTnews in 1971, quite properly leads this collection of thirty of her most essential essays. If the original piece didn’t effectively answer its own question, such a substantial volume (there are nearly 500 pages) slams the contradiction firmly down in front of you.

It helps that this is, while not extensively so, thoughtfully illustrated and the publisher is to be congratulated on getting some very good colour reproduction on what is basically book paper – they’ve managed to choose a stock that doesn’t leach the life out of anything that touches it, and that’s by no means easy.

Maura Reilly, the editor, provides a handy introduction that sets Linda’s writing in context and there is also an interview in which she looks back on her life and work. Two of the pieces included were specially written for the collection.

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A History of Pictures (rev ed) || David Hockney & Martin Gayford

It’s worth noting that, although this bills itself as “from the cave to the computer screen”, it is specifically not a history of art, at least not in the academic sense. Rather it is, as the title clearly tells us, all about the image.

Dry, it is not. With David Hockney’s forthright views and Martin Gayford’s lucid writing, it never could be. Both are authorities in their own way and the form of the book is a dialogue that crackles with assertion, expertise and even tension. The process is entirely subjective, which is as it should be. Art is, at its root, not about styles, schools and methods. It’s about getting an image – often a narrative – down on paper or canvas. Even when that image is an avowed record – how that landscape looked on that day, the face of that statesman or the embodiment of that classical tale – there’s always a degree of editorial control. How do those figures relate, how does the light fall on that cottage, are the features in that portrait a little blurred or sharply-defined, implying an aspect of character?

This is billed as a compact edition of the original (paperback, slightly smaller page size) with a revised final chapter that updates the coverage of digital art, of which Hockney is an acknowledged master. It adds three of his new artworks, including the stained glass window at Westminster Abbey that was unveiled in 2018.

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The Pursuit of Art || Martin Gayford

There’s a delicious archness to the title of this entertaining book that isn’t apparent from merely knowing what it is – in fact, it could be self-defeating, as it suggests a rather worthy tome dedicated to the labour of Being An Artist.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, of course this is about the creative mind and its processes and, yes, you’d want to read it on that basis because … well … Martin Gayford. It is also, however, the story of his travels in search of art and artists. These, it turns out (should we be surprised?) do not simply involved rocking up at the studio door and being welcomed with open arms. Not all artists live conveniently close to a bus stop, train station or car park and some pieces, such as Brancusi’s Endless Column necessitate a hair-raising journey through a mountain pass and on roads that have partly washed away. The job of the critic doesn’t just involve sitting behind a typewriter and trashing reputations (that’s the reviewer’s job – ed).

So, this is a personal account of tracking down artist and artworks, of planned meetings and chance encounters. Sometimes, it’s a bit like climbing a mountain to seek out a shaman in search of wisdom and then discovering that there was no great revelation and that the effort itself was the enlightenment.

Writing about art is a serious business and can all too easily disappear up its own fundament. This, then, is a breath of fresh air and an indication that even the greatest writers don’t always take themselves entirely seriously. It would be so simple, writing about difficult journeys, to chronicle every twist, turn and impediment, but Gayford is too smart and too good a writer for that. The sense of distance and effort is there, but the passage of time is often only hinted at – a passing reference to a meal, for instance, can indicate that we are several hours on. As Gayford himself concludes, “The pursuit of art is a journey that never stops; the more you see, the more you want to see”.

After I’d sampled this for the purposes of a review, I kept going back to it and it eventually made it to my bedside table. It really is a thumping good read.

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Landscape Painting Now – from pop abstraction to new romanticism

Having relatively little in the way of critical or appreciative analysis, this is mainly a showcase of contemporary work. It is none the worse for that and, lacking an academic tone, is free to concentrate and, more importantly, allow the reader to concentrate on the art itself.

To establish some sort of order, there are general chapter headings – Realism & Beyond, Post-Pop Landscapes, New Romanticism, Constructed Realities, Abstracted Topographies and Complicated Vistas. These are, it should be said, largely curatorial constructs, but they provide a nice framework within which to order a wide variety of material. Within each section, works are arranged by artist and with a short introduction to each – handy especially for those who are less familiar.

The whole thing is substantial, both in extent and format, and conveys a sense of completeness that won’t leave you questioning whether more, or different, works should have been included. The market isn’t immediately obvious, although I suspect that anyone interested in contemporary art would be able to find a convincing reason for wanting it, and parting which what seems a relatively modest forty quid.

If nothing else, it proves that landscape painting is alive and well in the Twenty-First century.

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Hockney/Van Gogh – the joy of nature

Everybody wants a Hockney, don’t they? This book accompanies an exhibition at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and is, it should be said, an excellent alternative for those who can’t make it to the show itself. The number and quality of the illustrations, mostly Hockneys, is substantial and the reproduction well up to the standard you would expect from such an august institution. There is also a useful introductory essay that sets the two artists’ visions in context.

Given all the above, and especially the predomination of work by Hockney, the question has to be asked: would you want it? There are plenty of excellent Hockney collections about, so does the addition of a few Van Goghs (he also being hardly thin on the publication ground) and a rationalisation of putting together two artists who, arguably, share little beyond a fascination with nature, bring anything to the party?

I’m not honestly sure I’d want to part with just shy of twenty-five quid unless it was as a souvenir of a visit, which rather flies in the face of what I said earlier about in being a good substitute for such. For all that, it’s well presented and nicely done and, you might think, worth it for that alone.

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Surrealism || Amy Dempsey

Say “Surrealism” to most people and they’ll immediately think of Salvador Dali. This is a shame, even if it’s inevitable, as Dali is a controversial figure who some argue was more about self-promotion than being a member of any group or movement. On the other hand, he also made a great deal of money, and this can make other artists mad as hell. And, before you say that a book on Surrealism can’t exclude Dali, there is plenty here. Pay your money, take your choice.

This is part of a series called Art Essentials and Surrealism is certainly that, being a major movement of the Twentieth Century when art was moving away from representation and finding its feet in a changing world. As well as Dali, you’ll find other well-known names such as Max Ernst, Andre Breton, Marcel Duchamp, Jasper Johns and Frida Kahlo and many more who won’t be so familiar but are part of the supporting canon.

This is mainly a primer, as the series title suggests, but it is also very thorough, particularly so for what is a relatively slim volume. The Surrealist movement is put in its historical context and its predecessors are covered as well – the index even has an entry for Lewis Carroll. It’s worth noting that there are two indices so, if the main (single page) one doesn’t have the artist you want, turn back for the one covering major figures.

This is an excellent introduction to its subject that you may well feel gives you sufficient information without the need to extend your library further.

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Sensations || Jonathan Jones

This somewhat left-field thesis takes the Enlightenment as its starting point and finds a link between scientific curiosity and the development of art. Jones makes a convincing case, beginning with Robert Hooke’s Micrographia – a work that is extraordinary not just because of its scientific novelty, but also the craft of its illustrations. From here, Newton and Locke come into the picture as scientific exploration inspired a passion for closer examination of the natural world.

It’s reasonable to ask whether this is a concoction, of making facts fit answers. Did the Gentlemen’s Societies where ideas were exchanged encompass both worlds as completely as Jones’s narrative requires? Well, you can’t argue with George Stubbs or Joseph Wright of Derby, whose work arguably continued a thread that Hooke had begun.

The sensations of the title mainly derive from the Sensationalist philosophy of Joseph Locke, which centred on experience (sense) as the key to understanding, and might be said to be the foundation of what is now called the Scientific Method. However, Jones also wants to create a sensation himself. The chapter on George Stubbs is called The Butcher of Horkstow and opens, “ He began by slitting their throats”. That got your attention, didn’t it?

In less careful hands, this style would become the message itself and obscure the narrative behind it. Jones has a surer hand, however, and has managed to create a history of British art that reads more like a thriller than a dry academic tome. It won’t please everyone, but it’s an enjoyable journey that’s also thoroughly inclusive.

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