Saturday, March 8, 2008

Look! Seeing the light in art, by Gillian Wolfe - review

Look! Seeing the light in art, by Gillian Wolfe
When I selected the books for the brand-new library at my son's school, the 700's (art) gave me fits. Apparently, if you are a young person, the only artists you need to know about are Andy Warhol, Georgia O'Keeffe, Monet, Picasso, Leonardo, and, weirdly, Frederic Remington. Maybe Matisse, maybe Faith Ringgold. Diego Rivera. The biographies by Mike Venezia, which are pretty much the only game in town, have the UGLIEST covers in juvenile non-fiction - not his fault, but awfully hard to make yourself buy, especially since the books are about ART.

Nowadays, the fact is, I will pretty much buy any kid book that is loaded up with reproductions of art. People keep trying to come up with different didactic presentations - Lucy Micklethwait's books exhort kids to find numbers, shapes, and colors in art; and Phil Yenawine's books for MoMA organize works of art around varieties of color, lines, people, and story (among others).

The kids at MoMA hate those Yenawine books, for reasons I don't
understand. Me, I think they're ok. The fact is, I don't really care. Most of the exercises in these books are useful and can even be fun, but what's important to me is that the works selected as examples are, in the first place, good examples, of course, but also, that they are reproduced at a high quality, and large. Bonus points if the selections represent a stylistic spectrum and aren't the same 10 pictures every other book uses: a cubist Picasso, a Matisse Jazz piece, a Van Gogh, a Renoir, and an Egyptian fayoum painting.

Look! Seeing the light in art gets mixed marks here - the reproductions are not particularly large or high quality, but there are some unexpected choices - a Henry Moore drawing, a Diego Rivera painting (instead of the expected de Chirico), a Frank Hampson instead of the Lichtenstein that is de riguer in such books. I'll buy this book for the school library, and dream of the day someone lets me write this book.

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