Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Whatcha Readin'? Wednesday

Ah, reading.  My original True Love. Thought it might be fun to occasionally share a review of what I'm been perusing. Fun for me, at least.  ;-)

This week's book: Why Painting is Like a Pizza: A Guide to Understanding and Enjoying Modern Art.

While I don't believe I'll be confusing the two (perhaps because I'd say a pizza is more of a sculpture than a painting), similarities between making a balanced, tasty pizza and an attractive, interesting painting do, in fact, exist. And I see that now thanks to Nancy G. Heller's engaging book.

If ever there were a book deserving to be on all our required reading lists, this is it. (Okay, so there may be a few other books that deserve to be on that list as well. One post at time, people!).

And before you say,  I love [or hate] pizza! Perhaps I already know all I need to know about modern art
"Clearly, paintings are not the same as pizzas, nor are clay pots the same as compositions made with oil pigments on canvas. However, both the individuals who create these things and the people who look at (or eat) them have to consider remarkably similar factors, including a well-balanced composition, appealing textures and colors, and an effective presentation."

If to that you reply,  I don't get it. Some of those crazy paintings don't look like anything, are made out of junk the "artist" found lying around, may have taken only 20 minutes to put together, and sometimes they're all one color!  To that I say, Indeed. Yet Heller assures her reader,
" with no apparent subject matter, and even art that is difficult to recognize, at first, as art, can also provide viewers with great intellectual stimulation and sheer, visceral joy. More than that, avant-garde art can transform our perceptions, enabling us to see, feel and think about the world in a completely new way."

While I believe even a reader already enthusiastic about modern art would enjoy this book (especially as a way to describe the appeal to others), Heller is primarily writing to the uninitiated, the citizen who isn't sure why certain pieces, unrecognizable and incomprehensible to her,  are chosen for display in museums or purchased for thousands (even millions) of dollars.

Heller's writing is accessible, uses specific and interesting examples, and suggests that by helping us to recognize a few essential points about the development of modern art a reader may find her eyes, emotions, and mind better able to analyze the forms of artwork she sees.

 "The purpose of this book is not to survey the recent history of art or to convince anyone to like all types of modern art. Rather, it is to encourage both casual and devoted gallery- and museumgoers to feel more comfortable around art they don't understand by demonstrating that all art, no matter how strange it may seem, is made up of similar aesthetic elements. Therefore, even the most avant-garde art can be looked at, and analyzed, in much the same way as traditional works."

I believe Why A Painting is Like a Pizza , in spite of its rather silly name, accomplishes the book's stated purpose. Heller discusses performance art, installation art, abstract art, art in unusual mediums, and public uproars over particular pieces (think Chris Ofili's Holy Virgin Mary made from various materials including elephant dung), all with the goal of providing her reader enough information to enhance and perhaps understand her gut feelings and initial- (and later-) reactions to certain pieces or styles of art. She also gives the reader tools to discuss likes/dislikes more purposefully and insight into understanding why many people may have very different reactions to the same piece.

That's a lot to pack into a 9 chapter, 172 page book. But it's there. Knowing some basics about how to approach work you are unfamiliar with and may find difficult to understand is an invaluable resource. Please do your brain a favor and pick up a copy or request it from your library. You'll be glad you did.


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