15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: Outsider: Always Almost: Never Quite (Hardcover)Quite a ride. Surprising, untrammelled, well written and fascinating. Surprisingly harsh on himself and quite gentle in some ways of the villains he meets.
Sewell get a lot of flack for being a reactionary conservative but actually his insistence on good writing and fact-backed opinion makes him something of a radical. Sure he loves to lob the odd stink bomb to annoy but actually they get thrown into both camps of the political spectrum. This book will no doubt give the vapours to some of his middle England readers but actually, as his account shows, middle England is way more complicated than you might expect. If you have ever doubted his claim to know his subject, then there is no sign here: deep love of learning, of scholarship, are at his core. But you'll find, just like his reviews, accounts of that are spiced with juicy accounts of his own sexual adventures (or misadventures) and what happens in backrooms (gay or straight).
Nicely he gives accounts of the forgotten art heroes and heroines who are not big names: the `librarian types' on whose shoulders the celebrities stand taking glory. Many are wonderful excentrics, the Charles Hawtree's of the art world. Some however - an account of Kieth Vaughan's lover comes to mind - are far too brief. A first hand account from a perspective excluded from most art history but it's hardly presented before its over and he moves on. As a gay man interested in 'hidden' histories I wanted more of this.
I did think it curious that he did not describe pictures he loves but rather it's all about the dates and times pertaining to them. One reason is the training he received - taught that everything starts with facts. Saying what you `think' or `believe' is the case really would not do. I applaud that but really would like a bit more about his feelings when standing in front of what he regards as great art, modern or old. You can know all the facts but be dead to the experience. I'd like to hear more in the next volume about his personal top pictures or artists in those terms. Can't wait for volume 2 - as indiscrete as possible please Brian .
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 3 May 2012 11:07:02 BDT
The Green Man says:
Thanks for this review. I have rushed to order Mr Sewells book.
In reply to an earlier post on 3 May 2012 11:17:10 BDT
arts guy says:
Mr Sewell will be pleased I'm sure!
In reply to an earlier post on 16 Sep 2012 20:03:00 BDT
I think that the only purpose of an art critic is not to convey what he or she feels about the work in question, but to objectively compare it with others of the genre in terms of technique, intellectual and aesthetic nourishment. Thus true critics describe context and technique, omitting their personal appreciation (or otherwise) of the work.
There are too many post-modern reviewers, amatuer and professional, who describe art in terms of whether they like it or not, a failing which we all succumb to, as a couple of walls of my apartment blearily remind me.
Sewell's thrust, if you'll forgive the intended apropos pun, is that of a single-minded, highly educated and specialised critic, and if one asks oneself who 'one' would rather be trapped in a lift with for four hours, the choice perhaps between Tracy Emin or Brian Sewell would be illuminating. I have refrained from inserting a Smiley here, I do hope Mr. Sewell approves.
Posted on 22 Feb 2013 15:32:26 GMT
Michael Volpe says:
I interviewed Brian on stage about these books last night. I have discussed his reaction to pictures with him many times over the years and you can safely assume he reacts emotionally to them. I asked him last night, in front of a full house, to recount a single experience. He recalled going to Dresden and seeing a large Poussin, a picture that he had looked at in small copy form, on the wall behind Blunt's desk, many, many times. On seeing this picture in the flesh for the first time he was overcome and sat on a bench in the gallery, heaving and sobbing. A harsh looking female security guard approached him, placed her hand firmly on his shoulder and said "NO WEEPING in ze gallery!".
Before the humourus punchline, Brian was still visibly moved by the memory.
In reply to an earlier post on 28 Nov 2013 06:07:20 GMT
Adrian Maxwell says:
An interesting point you make, as Yoda would say. Im not sure that it is possible, let alone preferable, for an art critic to do anything objectively. Save to describe physical measurements, format, style etc. I rely on an art critic to give me a personal assessment and its up to me (the receiver of the critique) to filter, assess, absorb and utilise the opinion. But I do take your point about post-modern reviewers, I don't touch most of them with the proverbial. Sewell is giant amongst assessors of art and we will be at a great loss when he hangs up his boots.
In reply to an earlier post on 28 Nov 2013 17:24:32 GMT
Last edited by the author on 28 Nov 2013 17:26:15 GMT
arts guy says:
He is something of a cross-over critic/historian. Usually he paints an objective picture of the society or historical background and follows it with the subjective opinion. For me his best reviews are of artists or works he loves: too often critics are blinded by their dislike of an artist and fail to skin the beast as a result (Robert Hughes was another - his hatred of Warhol made him purblind... to use one of Brian's favourite words). By and large I like my historians to be critics and my critics to be historians. Scholars are apt to forget to be human in their quest for facts (Helen Langdon). I'd recommend Julian Bell, Robert Hughes, Camille Paglia, Gombrich, Kenneth Clark, Arthur C Danto and Simon Scharma... and Brian of course!
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