Book Review: Wait, Do Nothing, and Lay off the Nudes ; the Penguin Book of Art Writing Edited by Martin Gayford and Karen Wright Penguin Pounds 12.99

The Independent (London, England), November 21, 1999 | Go to article overview
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Book Review: Wait, Do Nothing, and Lay off the Nudes ; the Penguin Book of Art Writing Edited by Martin Gayford and Karen Wright Penguin Pounds 12.99


What is art writing, ask the editors of this 600-page anthology of art writing. It comprises "histories, theories, anecdotes, epigrams, how-to-do-it manuals, recorded conversations, fictions and poems". Which explains the inclusion of an imperious Margaret Thatcher ("See, see, see, learn, learn, learn"), and the reflections of a certain Mughal Emperor Jahangir on a dying courtier's ghastly face. Gayford and Wright, professional art critics themselves, follow Baudelaire's maxim that "the best criticism is the criticism that is entertaining and poetic ... since a fine painting is nature reflected by an artist, the best critical study, I repeat, will be the one that is that painting reflected by an intelligent and sensitive mind".

There is no chronological order to this medley of utterances and writings; the approach is thematic. Each section mixes contributions from writers, critics and artists from across the centuries. And each contribution explores the world of art and its satellites; hence there are chapters entitled "On the Couch: Art and Psychology" and "Artists and Models, a Difficult Relationship".

This means that there is fun to be had, especially when we find Vasari and Freud rubbing shoulders as they conjecture on the reason behind Mona Lisa's smile.

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