TEMPERAMENTS

ARTISTS FACING THEIR WORK

For The New Yorker, Hofstadter has taken over the role Calvin Tomkins used to fill—as art chronicler: half critic/half profile- maker. And at this he is very, very good. In the five long pieces collected here—about Jean Helion, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Avigdor Arikha, David Bomberg and the subsequent generation of London painters (Kossof, Kitaj, etc.), and Richard Diebenkorn—he almost negligently scatters brilliant associational perceptions (why, for example, Cartier-Bresson the photojournalist was hardly different from C-B the surrealist: the same ``cretinous voyaging'') while being cannier than most art writers about the varieties and dilemmas—glorious both—of representational painting. He also writes (occasionally he posturingly overwrites) with a genuinely beautiful style. But what is a little disconcerting is the form of the articles: Hofstadter seems to appear in the company of the artists he writes about here not exactly as a journalist but as an instant intimate or friend; there is an air of relaxed offhandedness (``I got to know Richard Diebenkorn in 1986, a few years before he and his wife, Phyllis, moved from Santa Monica to Healdsburg, in northern California. Dick was already sixty-five then but a lot of his strict, formal, well-to-do Protestant background still showed''). This self-conscious relaxation of role carries over as well into what he has to say about the painters: He has scorn finally for the Londoners (``dungeon masters'') on account of their all-or-nothing aesthetic neuroticism and battles with life, while reserving his highest admiration for the artist who, like Diebenkorn, is serious without solemnity. Deflation of high artistic pretension and behavior in favor of pragmatic dilution always has been, editorially, a New Yorker stock-in-trade—and Hofstadter is particularly good at it. But the attractiveness of the interesting men (and most often quite interesting artists too) that he writes about seems finally more about personal style than art.

Pub Date: April 7, 1992

ISBN: 0-395-58111-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1992

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AN AMISH FAMILY

Stripping away all preconceptions about the picturesque Amish, Naylor introduces the Stolzfus family of Intercourse, Pennsylvania which perseveres in its plain life against the pressures of what the Amish call the "gay" world. The strength and happiness of the Amish way are best expressed on important family and community occasions — a wedding, a funeral, a barn raising. But Naylor doesn't skirt the problems that the order's rules present to individuals — a boy must hide his copy of Profiles in Courage in the hayloft or risk being accused of "chair-mindedness"; a cousin who has taken up worldly ways is "shunned" and must be mourned as dead (worse, members who want to remain within the order may also be "shunned" if they commit some serious infraction); and both women and men are expected to form stable, very traditional marriages — a pressure that may account for the fact that most Amish suicides occur among young married men. More surprising, Naylor takes us to a barn dance to show that some Amish groups tolerate youthful rowdiness to the point of permitting gambling and drinking at these unchaperoned outings (intellectual curiosity is considered more of a threat to stability than the sowing of wild oats). Yet despite the number of Amish youth who surreptitiously own cars, the majority seem content to adopt the plain life style. And the biggest threat to the Stolzfus' and their neighbors is not dissatisfaction from within, but the mushrooming tourist industry which has sent land values skyrocketing. This unromanticized family shows both the narrowness and inconsistencies of the Amish tradition, and the survival of a stable, supportive community life that most of us can only imagine.

Pub Date: March 1, 1975

ISBN: 0848801091

Page Count: 192

Publisher: O'Hara

Review Posted Online: Oct. 26, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1975

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OUR FEDERAL UNION

THE UNITED STATES FROM 1816-1865

Electoral politics and the military events of the Civil War are the main threads of Asimov's narrative and he moves briskly through a tortuously complex era. But though Asimov strives for neutrality throughout, his choice of subject matter gives this history an establishment cast—the Seminole War, for example, becomes merely an incident in Spanish-American relations, and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo is hardly more than a footnote to military victory. And there is certainly little indication here that this was the age of canals and railroads. Cultural history, though it slips in sideways now and then, is barely covered. Asimov does appreciate the ironies of foreign policy—during these years the United States often considered itself the standard bearer for world revolution while Russia defended traditional regimes. And the unfussy outline of presidential policies and the solidification of our two-party tradition (which clarifies the importance of one-issue parties like the Anti-Masons) makes this a useful overview and a good point of departure for more specialized studies.

Pub Date: April 25, 1975

ISBN: 0395202833

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 14, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1975

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