When I started teaching Art History over twenty years ago, I quickly discovered that people who have great talent in the visual arts often do not have a similar gift for writing about it. Alas this book rather proves the point. Ostensibly it is a volume which seeks to demonstrate that despite their protests to the contrary, contemporary artists are profoundly influenced by the work of the Old Masters as well as more recent practitioners-yet these days this seems a less than revolutionary observation. Still a good range of contemporary artists are featured here and it is interesting to see which works and artists they select as particularly important to their career. However, the quality of the writing is very varied-the best contributions come from those artists whose work really is closely intertwined with particular artists or styles-the articles by Bill Viola on Bellini or Gillian Wearing on Ensor clearly show a very precise relationship between past and present. Many other pieces are much less impressive and border on the banal never getting much beyond the 'Caravaggio and me' level. The artists are not helped by the amount of words they are given-in some cases only half a page and most barely reaching 700 words. The diversity of the illustrations is valuable, but the quality of reproduction is mediocre often on the dark side. In summary, I am not sure who this book will appeal to: it is nowhere near detailed enough for the serious student of art and too personalized to be of great interest to the more general reader. In short, a luxury purchase that many will feel able to do without.
"In My View" consists of pieces by 78 different artists, working in all media, describing a work or artist that has affected or influenced them. Each artist is given a couple of pages to explain their choice, and the pieces are beautifully illustrated on matt paper with reproductions of their chosen works. These reproductions are sometimes accompanied by pictures of the author's own work which enable allusions and influence to be seen.
I loved picking up this book and becoming immersed in the various artists. Almost all the authors had interesting and insightful things to say and I was introduced to art and artists I was unfamiliar with as well as gaining new insights into familiar works. The list of wonderful works I could mention is very long, but I particularly enjoyed reading about 'The Race Track' by Albert Pinkham Ryder (chosen by Susan Hiller), Armando Reveron's 'White Landscape' (chosen by Allora and Calzadilla), and Rousseau's unsettling painting 'Old Junier's Cart', fascinatingly analysed by Danish Artist Tal R.
As well as paintings this book also covers sculptures, photographs, installations, and architecture. Some of the works described now exist only in photographs and others have only been encountered by the authors in art books; this prompts wider reflections on the way in which we first encounter certain works and how our own history and experiences influences our reception.
In conclusion, this book is an absolute treat and I would recommend it to anyone interested in art and appreciative of stimulating writing.
If the late Thomas Kincaid (the USA's best-selling artist, and painter of cringingly treacly greetings card landscapes with, he says, God guiding his hand) lies at one end of the art spectrum, and, say, Kasimir Malevich (a white square on a larger white square) is at the other, then that makes me a middle-of-the-roader. Which may possibly explain why I haven't heard of 90% of the "leading artists" whose views are encapsulated here (and those I have heard of are mostly known to me for not the best of reasons).
To be fair to the author, he himself doesn't call them "leading" artists, just "international artists" so it's presumably the publishers who are responsible for the misleading subtitle. The author's more accurate description may offer another reason why I haven't heard of most of them, for in many cases they live in far away places. I don't follow art in Poland, Austria, Japan, Mexico and Puerto Rico, to name a few of the many countries represented, or of seemingly homeless artists (one contributor being described as simply living and working "in situ").
Having no idea what the majority do, it was thus deflating to find that so few of the contributors show their own art; I would have thought that the whole point of hearing an artist's account of his major influences is to see how they have affected his work. There is not much point in a German lady telling us how she was influenced by J M W Turner, for example, if we can't see where it led her. However, I suspect, on the evidence of those who do show their own work, that most. if not all, of these artists, despite often citing old masters as their inspiration, are what are today termed "modernists".
The essays are a very mixed bunch, some a couple of paragraphs, some a page or two, some straining credibility by extreme flights of fancy, others down to earth. Not all the contributors appear to be "artists" in the sense that many might think; I allow photographers to be artists (I'm one) but there seem to be architects and interior designers in here as well.
Artists' writings are of great interest to art historians - the compiler and editor being such. If any of these artists' reputations survive, or even become enhanced, say, 100 years after their deaths, future art historians will owe him a debt of gratitude. But, for me here and now, the absence of examples of most of the artists' work seriously reduced not just the value of the book, but also the value of the individual contributions. Presumably Amazon's "look inside" feature will show the list of contributors; it would be best to look at it first to see if sufficient are known to you to make it a worthwhile purchase.
ADDENDUM: Two days after writing the above, I took delivery of Theodora Philcox's "Still Life in Oils". At under £6, the publishers claim that it's aimed at "developing the skills of the amateur"; but not only is the editor an art historian like Grant, but her 22 contributors from 9 different countries are no less distinguished than those in Grant's book, more so in some cases - and whilst writing about their inspirations and techniques, they show their work in detail. Not only is the format similar, therefore, it's much superior. See my review.
This book contains brief, concise essays by today's artists on the art of yesteryear. It keeps its focus by getting the artists to concentrate on (usually) one work: the one that knocked them backwards.
In the space of two or three well-illustrated pages, the artist explains their reaction to the art and how it influenced them. This focus prevents the book being shallow or just a coffee-table book of lovely pictures, although it's that too. One could argue that we can't see how the writer was influenced, but it would be difficult to show that without doubling the size of the book, since influences can be quite subtle. I'm happy to concentrate on their inner response.
We can't help wondering how we are "supposed" to respond to art, even though we know it's a foolish question. Here we get the best answer we'll ever get: we see how other artists responded and were inspired. And it's not just painting: Man Ray and William Blake also get a look-in.
Reading a whole book about art can be daunting. This is a perfect book for those who want to dip in, learn something useful and then go away and think.
on 3 November 2012
This is an interesting and not-too-taxing read for anyone who is more than moderately interested in art. It is not too scholarly and by its nature is divided into bite-size chunks that you can read in any order that takes your fancy. However, I've got two issues with it. First, whether this book is any good or not depends on who you want to learn about - the writers or their subjects. We learn a lot about the former and - I venture to say - not much about the latter. That's because being a good/great artist doesn't make you a good art historian. There a a few rather wonky 'facts' offered and some flaky thinking. For example, we're told that Michelangelo's final sculpture is unfinished as it was his last work, despite the fact that Michelangelo left pieces unfinished his entire life - he was notorious for it - so the writer is jumping to conclusions that sound like they're based on lack of historical knowledge. So, if you're interested in the motivations and passions of the modern writers, this is an interesting and worthwhile read, but if you're interested in learning about their canonical subjects, you'll find betters books elsewhere.
My second issue is that I think they've missed a trick I not including any female artists who are being restored to their rightful places in the canon. Obvious candidates like Artemesia, Judith Hals, Mary Garrard and Camille Claudel come to mind. But there's nothing new about that. It's just a missed opportunity I think.
I ordered this because I have an interest in art but my collection of books is limited and quite dated. The concept of modern artists choosing their favourite from their predecessors appealed to me. This approach gives you an eclectic range of material from 7th century up to the middle of the 20th century.
What this means is that there are some well known pictures and some quite out of the ordinary. And that is the real attraction, a very mixed bag and I found much I really liked - and some I was less keen on but I may change my mind at some time.
This nicely produced hardback is slightly smaller than A4 size which means the reproductions are clear.
There are many interesting comments made by present day artists about what fascinates them about older work; I can not comment on all 78 -you really need to buy the book! But to give a flavour -
Ilya Kabakov comments on a painting of `Worker' by Kazimir Malevich painted in 1933 the year Ilya was born. They are both Russian, and Ilya suggest that Kazimir was pretending to paint what the authorities wanted but was really showing something else - a woman whose child had been taken away. For me such an insight I found very enlightening.
I find the number of religious themes chosen by today's artists quite encouraging, as if to say that they are not neglecting the spiritual element in art.
Although this book is not I would suggest for the connoisseur it is nevertheless an interesting and fascinating journey through the inspirations and preferences of more than seventy five contemporary international artists. The appeal of the book is that it gives you a glimpse of how an artist thinks and what has influenced them about a particular work of art.
The list of artists who contribute to the book are a veritable who's who of the modern art world and combined they give an insight into the work itself and their personal connections that they have with it.
Not all of the selections are from what may be termed the standard pick of great works and it contains quite a few surprises. The result is a fascinating mix of art from the fifteenth century to the 1960's. Almost half of the artists have chosen work from the twentieth century, and often they are not simple adulations of a historic piece of art.
For art students it is an intriguing excursion around the perceptions, feelings, and opinions of the personal favourites of leading artists, and for the enthusiast a useful addition to their collection. It is a book you can dip into, look up a particular work of art or read what moved them and find out what actually persuades and influences artists.
This is an interesting book that presents artworks which have inspired or influenced 75 contemporary artists. Some of these make perfect sense, as in sculptor Michael Craig-Martin choosing the father of conceptual art Marcel Duchamp or sculptor Anthony Gormley choosing the great sculptor Jacob Epstein. However, the majority just seem rather random, for example Ed Ruscha on John Everett Millais, and many others do not have examples of the work by the contemporary artists therefore it is hard to see how they have been inspired by the chosen works.
So basically what we have is a selection of photographs of artworks - including paintings, sculpture, photography, architecture - from the fifteenth century up to the present day, with a commentary by a modern artist. Some of these commentaries are informed and insightful, others use the chosen work as a starting point to to make personal comments on wider aspects of art, while others are just vague. I did enjoy looking at the images and I did read a few of the pieces but in the end this seemed to me a contrived exercise in curating.
This is an odd book. Odd because it doesn't fall into any conventional expectations of what I'd consider an "art book".
'In My View' is a collection of artists and their views on chosen works of art by other artists and glancing through you may well not recognise many of the works chosen, or many of the artists for that matter. However because it mixes well known artists and the less famous, it works. It sheds light on works and artists that most books would overlook and therefore sheds light on some new ideas and some fresh ideas that are well worth a read!
This is probably a book for an artist or art lover, and may not appeal to art fans with more traditional taste, but a great coffee table book to dip into, or to read a quick section of in a spare five minutes perhaps, for those with more contemporary taste.
Given a chance, this book will probably pleasantly surprise.
I enjoyed this book a great deal - I found the work of artists from the past far more engaging than those of today (I suspect most readers will feel the same) - this book forms a sympathetic bridge between the two.
Artists (from the past) include Michelangelo, El Greco, William Blake and Peter Paul Rubens.
The quality of the production is really good and worth mentioning - nice sized hardback with excellent reproductions and typesetting on high quality paper. It's good to hold and return to.