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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An entertaining and edifying read
In this collection of essays, originally written for publications such as The New Yorker, Simon Schama gives us his take on a wide variety of artists ranging from the Dutch Masters right through to the giants of modernism. In the introduction he describes how, when writing these pieces, he set out to reach a middle-ground between purely 'formal' approaches to art...
Published on 5 Feb 2011 by W. Johnson

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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well - so much for chatting
Simon Schama is one of my favorite chatterers. He is able to write charmingly about almost any topic and one might perhaps with pleasure be "carried on his back", glimpsing together with him at his chosen topics while he is commenting. However, as far as the essays on art art are concerned, I would like to make a few reserves, especially about the essay on Anselm Kiefer...
Published on 24 Mar 2011 by Suzy


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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An entertaining and edifying read, 5 Feb 2011
By 
W. Johnson - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Hang-Ups: Essays on Painting (Mostly): A Collection of Essays on Art (Paperback)
In this collection of essays, originally written for publications such as The New Yorker, Simon Schama gives us his take on a wide variety of artists ranging from the Dutch Masters right through to the giants of modernism. In the introduction he describes how, when writing these pieces, he set out to reach a middle-ground between purely 'formal' approaches to art criticism, which pay little attention to social, historical and economic factors involved in the artwork's production, and the type of criticism that analyses the historical and materialistic forces in shaping the work, but which sidesteps any discussion of actual aesthetics. Schama believes we can give a more complete account of an artist's work by combining both approaches and so in these pieces we duly find a good dose of history and talk about the personal lives of the artists, as well as substantial passages devoted to the techniques, qualities and visual effects of the works of art in question. In fact, he weaves these strands together very effectively, on the whole; the history, not surprisingly from Schama, is erudite and (crucially) illuminating, and the discussion of the works themselves is always interesting and keenly perceptive. Schama's knowledge of the technical processes of making different art works is apparent and which, importantly, is never just mentioned for its own sake, but rather to explain or clarify the types of experience or sensation they help elicit in the viewer.

Stylistically, as the blurb rightly says, the writing is quite 'idiosyncratic', mixing together academic speak and breezy, colloquial phraseology, which makes for a type of art criticism that is both assured and lively. However, perhaps it should be mentioned that it is not always easily digestible as it tends to be quite referential, lexically dense and (perhaps unnecessarily) verbose in places - certainly much more so than in the popularly-pitched Power of Art. My one caveat is that, for me at least, Schama can end up very occasionally wandering into incoherence.

It should also be pointed out that Schama is almost always effusive with praise about his subjects (although one gets the impression that he does not consider David Hockney to be such a major art heavyweight). Anselm Keifer, Ellsworth Kelly, Cy Twombly et al are all written about, pretty unequivocally, as geniuses. Not that this is a criticism as such; just don't go expecting an iconoclastic overturning of the modernist canon or anything. And while I don't personally share Schama's sense of rapture for Twombly, for example, this does not matter as the writing is never hackneyed or gushy.

All being said, this is a collection definitely worth reading as Schama is a vigilant critic, always on guard against unthinkingly recycling art-speak clichés.

(Note for those intending to buy the Kindle edition: there are one or two typos and a small section of text repeated at one point. However, aside from this, the Kindle edition is well laid out and easily navigable).
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Baked buttock of British Beef, 12 Sep 2012
By 
Eileen Shaw "Kokoschka's_cat" (Leeds, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Hang-Ups: Essays on Painting (Mostly): A Collection of Essays on Art (Paperback)
This is a BBC book, but if there was a programme associated with it I missed it. In any case it is mostly essays about various exhibitions held in the late 90s up to around 2004. Most of these were Metropolitan or abroad so I suppose I wasn't alone. Prof. Schama begins with anecdotes about his lunchtimes at the Courtauld. "Art," he says, "Begins with resistance to loss." I wondered how true that is. Didn't the cave men draw their animals partly to record their existence? Theirs and the animals, I would think. Perhaps with a belief that drawing them would make them appear again? Art, I am inclined to think, was more a matter of hunger, mixed with magic, perhaps, more art must have given the power of reflection. On the next page Mr Schama puzzles me again with a claim that art replaces seen reality rather than reproduces it. I'm not sure that makes any more sense than his first claim. I tend to the idea that we re-live what we have seen, through the beauty and power of thought and memory. It tends to be the simpler explanation (Occam's Razor) that provides the most likely answer. The notion of having to replace anything is redundant. I should pass on quickly because no one wants to read a refutation of something they haven't read themselves. I forgave Schama everything when he introduced me to Michiel Sweerts, a Dutch painter I had never heard of before.

Sweerts (who lived in Delft) worked as a painter in Rome before coming back to prepare for an evangelical mission to China. He and his companions were following the teachings of the austere Vincent St Paul. He proved to be a great trial for his companions because he could not stop talking and somewhere between Isfahan and Tabriz in the summer of 1662 there was a parting of the ways. Sweerts journeyed on to Goa and in 1664 he died there.

What remained of his work was technically superior to almost anything of that period - he could do anything - chiascuro like Caravaggio, dignified human monuments such as those turned out by Velazquez, Van Dyke's Stuart princes, a plague scene like Poussin. The rule since the Renaissance was, learn from the masters and Sweerts was equal to all. But by then all the northern Europeans were considered inferior to the Italians. Sweerts went his own way, like others he invested the commonplace with the dignity of the classical, like Caravaggio and Velasquez in their turn. You can google Sweerts if you're interested - his series of seven paintings (called the seven acts of mercy) are well worth seeing. His self portrait shows a good looking man with a slightly teasing smile. Some of his paintings go against the hierarchies in a sense - for instance - a well-heeled couple's encounter with a group of shepherds; solid, dirty, hairy men, unimpressed by their visitors. The wife stares out at the viewer, implicating us in her discomfort. Most of these paintings engage with the rather more fleshly reality behind the Arcadian fantasy - all to their credit I feel.

Elsewhere in this collection there is plenty of bland British hubris and some baked buttock of British Beef too.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Schama's Artistry, 14 Aug 2011
By 
RR Waller "ISeneca" (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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Simon Schama is as great an art critic as historian; he brings his historian's knowledge to art and writes with passion and beauty on both.
In a challengingly entitled essay on Stanley Spencer, "The Church of Me", he tackles the visionary complexities and stylised paintings of this unique artist and his place in the art world. The tongue-in-cheek" pun, "True Grid", begins a fascinating essay on Piet Mondrian, an artist not fully appreciated and "conversion to the creed" takes time.

The startling range is as follows:

Dutch Games: Sweerts, Rembrant, Goltzius, Vermeer
British Eyes: Lawrence, Rowlandson, Hogarth, Spencer
Modern Eyes: Homer, Trompe l'Oeil Painting, Photograohy, Schiele, Soutine, Mondrian
Fresh Marks: Hockney, Close, Kelly, Rwombly, Henriques, Brenner, Kiefer, Goldsworthy
Fixtures: Renaissance Armour, Salons and Cellars, Mackintosh, Haute Coutoure,
Dutch Fashion

It makes a great companion to his later book, "The Power of Art".

Recommended
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book, 28 Dec 2013
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This review is from: Hang-Ups: Essays on Painting (Mostly): A Collection of Essays on Art (Paperback)
Knew what to expect before purchase. Purchased as a present and thoroughly enjoyed by the recipient. Book arrived promptly within a very short time period.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hang-ups Simon Schama, 7 Jun 2010
By 
Johanna Cooper (Lincoln UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Hang-Ups: Essays on Painting (Mostly): A Collection of Essays on Art (Paperback)
A great read - Schama's inimitable style takes you from cover to cover at great speed.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well - so much for chatting, 24 Mar 2011
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This review is from: Hang-Ups: Essays on Painting (Mostly): A Collection of Essays on Art (Paperback)
Simon Schama is one of my favorite chatterers. He is able to write charmingly about almost any topic and one might perhaps with pleasure be "carried on his back", glimpsing together with him at his chosen topics while he is commenting. However, as far as the essays on art art are concerned, I would like to make a few reserves, especially about the essay on Anselm Kiefer. Having been born in the same year in Germany as Kiefer (1945), I would like to say that I cannot entirely identify with Schamas viewpoints on "Kiefer's visial rhetoric" (sic). In fact, many essays collected in this book are of diffent quality, yet still somewhat entertaining to read. Mostly, because Schama tries to make art palatable to the great public. A difficult task when applying to some hermetic artists like Anselm Kiefer, Cy Twombly ...
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