Three books about art



It’s Photo Book Friday, but I first wanted to briefly mention three books about art that I read recently. In each case, the books have been out for a while, so I’m sure you have heard about them before. (more)

Dennis Dutton’s The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution caused a bit of a stir a while back, and it seemed that a lot of people were happy to dislike the idea that art could be a result of evolution (even if they don’t dismiss evolution altogether). To me, it seemed like the perfect wait-for-the-paperback book: Probably interesting. I admit it was actually much better than expected, and - yet again! - it made me think that at least half the people who didn’t like the basic idea had never bothered to even read the book. The Art Instinct tackles the issue from various angles, including a discussion how we feel about art, which has strong repercussions for why we find plagiarism so repulsive. It’s very smartly written, and even if you end up disagreeing with the basic conclusion, there will be enough left to think about. Recommended.

I bought Edward Dolnick’s The Forger’s Spell: A True Story of Vermeer, Nazis, and the Greatest Art Hoax of the Twentieth Century directly after reading The Art Instinct, because Dutton spends some time talking about fake art works. I had seen The Forger’s Spell in book stores before, and it struck me as the kind of book I wouldn’t enjoy. Boy, American authors really love their Nazi stories. And you could easily remove most of the whole Nazi (Göring) bit from The Forger’s Spell, without omitting anything essential (essentially since the book never really explains how Göring got one of the paintings in question). The book centers on a Dutch forger who painted fake Vermeers and sold them for a lot of money, fooling an assorted bunch of art experts. If you love seeing art experts being exposed as a bunch of people who just tout the Emperor’s New Clothes, this is the book for you, but I must warn you: Don’t get too giddy, because, thankfully, the book very clearly shows why the whole Emperor narrative is as flawed as those fake Vermeers. Bonus feature: You (kind of) learn how to fake a 17th Century painting (Hint: Get a big oven).

Lastly, there’s Sarah Thornton’s Seven Days in the Art World, which I only bought after reading an interview with Thornton somewhere. The cover of the book and the way it was reviewed had made me think the book was completely superficial nonsense, but it’s probably the best book about the art world I have read in a long time. I suppose covering seven aspects of the art world (fairs, studios, crits, etc.) is easier to sell if you package it as “seven days.” In any case, Seven Days in the Art World provides a huge amount of insight into how the art world works, literally works, and you get more than just superficial gossip about rich collectors or about the antics of spoiled artists. Way more actually. It’s a very, very smart and fun read, highly recommended.