A fine introduction to the many fiery debates about art that have occasionally burst into cultural conflagration.

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VISUAL SHOCK

A HISTORY OF ART CONTROVERSIES IN AMERICAN CULTURE

Kammen (American History and Culture/Cornell Univ.) examines the history and significance of art controversies from the 1830s to the present.

The Pulitzer Prize–winner, for People of Paradox (1972), who has written extensively on a variety of issues relating to American culture (American Culture, American Tastes, 1999, etc.), organizes this text thematically, a decision that pays high explanatory dividends but also forces him to deal with some works of art in more than one section (Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ) or to place in one category a work that could arguably be in another. And he doesn’t seem to know what to do with films: He deals with Last Temptation and with Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, but not other controversial American films. These concerns aside, this is a prodigiously researched, well-illustrated and very balanced volume, although Kammen is certainly more latitudinarian than most conservative critics. He begins with a look at public monuments and memorials (including those in Washington, D.C., most of which originally occasioned heated discussion) and reminds us of the fierce debates over Maya Lin’s design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, now one of the capital’s most popular tourist sites. Kammen also examines such issues as nudity and eroticism; the rise of modernism and Abstract Expressionism; the contretemps over public murals (with another look at Diego Rivera vs. Nelson Rockefeller); the influence of “political correctness” and the pressure to maintain racial, ethnic and gender diversity in art funded by government agencies; and the evolution of museums. The book is generously illustrated, though images of some of the most provocative pieces he discusses (e.g., Piss Christ) do not appear. (Contrariwise, there are four photographs of Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party.) Kammen summarizes (and quotes) much of the contemporaneous criticism of the works he discusses.

A fine introduction to the many fiery debates about art that have occasionally burst into cultural conflagration.

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2006

ISBN: 1-4000-4129-5

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2006

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A succinct, passionate guide to fostering creativity.

HOW TO BE AN ARTIST

A noted critic advises us to dance to the music of art.

Senior art critic at New York Magazine and winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in Criticism, Saltz (Seeing Out Louder, 2009, etc.) became a writer only after a decadeslong battle with “demons who preached defeat.” Hoping to spare others the struggle that he experienced, he offers ebullient, practical, and wise counsel to those who wonder, “How can I be an artist?” and who “take that leap of faith to rise above the cacophony of external messages and internal fears.” In a slim volume profusely illustrated with works by a wide range of artists, Saltz encourages readers to think, work, and see like an artist. He urges would-be artists to hone their power of perception: “Looking hard isn’t just about looking long; it’s about allowing yourself to be rapt.” Looking hard yields rich sources of visual interest and also illuminates “the mysteries of your taste and eye.” The author urges artists to work consistently and early, “within the first two hours of the day,” before “the pesky demons of daily life” exert their negative influence. Thoughtful exercises underscore his assertions. To get readers thinking about genre and convention, for example, Saltz presents illustrations of nudes by artists including Goya, Matisse, Florine Stettheimer, and Manet. “Forget the subject matter,” he writes, “what is each of these paintings actually saying?” One exercise instructs readers to make a simple drawing and then remake it in an entirely different style: Egyptian, Chinese ink-drawing, cave painting, and the styles of other artists, like Keith Haring and Georgia O’Keeffe. Freely experiment with “different sizes, tools, materials, subjects, anything,” he writes. “Don’t resist something if you’re afraid it’s taking you far afield of your usual direction. That’s the wild animal in you, feeding.” Although much of his advice is pertinent to amateur artists, Saltz also rings in on how to navigate the art world, compose an artist’s statement, deal with rejection, find a community of artists, and beat back demons. Above all, he advises, “Work, Work, Work.”

A succinct, passionate guide to fostering creativity.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-08646-9

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Nov. 5, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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A wondrous mix of races, ages, genders, and social classes, and on virtually every page is a surprise.

HUMANS OF NEW YORK

STORIES

Photographer and author Stanton returns with a companion volume to Humans of New York (2013), this one with similarly affecting photographs of New Yorkers but also with some tales from his subjects’ mouths.

Readers of the first volume—and followers of the related site on Facebook and elsewhere—will feel immediately at home. The author has continued to photograph the human zoo: folks out in the streets and in the parks, in moods ranging from parade-happy to deep despair. He includes one running feature—“Today in Microfashion,” which shows images of little children dressed up in various arresting ways. He also provides some juxtapositions, images and/or stories that are related somehow. These range from surprising to forced to barely tolerable. One shows a man with a cat on his head and a woman with a large flowered headpiece, another a construction worker proud of his body and, on the facing page, a man in a wheelchair. The emotions course along the entire continuum of human passion: love, broken love, elation, depression, playfulness, argumentativeness, madness, arrogance, humility, pride, frustration, and confusion. We see varieties of the human costume, as well, from formalwear to homeless-wear. A few celebrities appear, President Barack Obama among them. The “stories” range from single-sentence comments and quips and complaints to more lengthy tales (none longer than a couple of pages). People talk about abusive parents, exes, struggles to succeed, addiction and recovery, dramatic failures, and lifelong happiness. Some deliver minirants (a neuroscientist is especially curmudgeonly), and the children often provide the most (often unintended) humor. One little boy with a fishing pole talks about a monster fish. Toward the end, the images seem to lead us toward hope. But then…a final photograph turns the light out once again.

A wondrous mix of races, ages, genders, and social classes, and on virtually every page is a surprise.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-250-05890-4

Page Count: 432

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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