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Hang-Ups: A Collection of Essays on Art Hardcover – 4 Nov 2004
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Schama is an utter original, a showman whose wit and erudition outpace his academic rivals -- Andrew Marr, Daily Telegraph, 11th December 2004
From the Inside Flap
Pre-eminent author and art historian Simon Schama has written widely on art for many years to great acclaim. In Hang-Ups, a personal selection of his articles from, amongst others, The New Yorker, appears in Britain for the very first time.
Brilliantly and lucidly written by one of the most singular voices in non-fiction, this volume of provocative and often idiosyncratic essays makes hugely satisfying reading for lovers of both art and social history.
It contains pieces on artists as diverse as David Hockney, Rembrandt and Charles Rennie Mackintosh and on such subjects as the unforgettable peculiarity of Stanley Spencer.
From the author whose writing has been called sublime and whose ability to bring art and history vividly to life has earned him admiration worldwide, Hang-Ups is Schamas rallying cry for the art lover to look again at familiar works of art and their artists and embrace a new way of seeing.See all Product description
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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.
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).
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,
It makes a great companion to his later book, "The Power of Art".