Friday, April 19, 2013

Required reading

One of my goals for this year has been to read more often than I have in the recent past. Not only to read new (or new to me) books, but to also FINISH books that I've started to read in past years, but for whatever reason(s), never completed. When it comes to books that I want to read, I get that kind of "Oh, shiiiinnnny..." feeling. I'll hear about something through an interview with an author or will be browsing in a bookstore or check into what people are reading online and want to read almost all of it. Of course, I don't have the time to read everything that I want to at the pace that I want to, or I simply lose interest. A couple of other things figure into my reading issues, as well: 

1) I read more when I had to commute on the subway and buses more often. I'd read while waiting and on the vehicle, ensuring that I covered most of a chapter each way. 

2) I'm a slower reader than I used to be. Probably because I fell out of the habit of reading a lot once I had access to the internet. Now, my challenge is to not only read more, but to make sure that my reading comprehension keeps pace. 

I went through a period over the past couple of years where I was doing a ton of crossword puzzles and doing very little reading of novels or non-fiction. Before that, I was reading books a lot. I suppose that this is something of a cycle with me. What's interesting is that I just looked over at a bookshelf with a pile of half-read books, browsed the titles and my initial feeling is that I'm not as interested those books now as when I first purchased them. However, that is a mental block that I need to get past by just picking up one of them, reading and deciding if I want to finish it. If not, then I'll move on. 

Anyway, all of this is leading to what's below. There are two art-related books that I have been engaged in reading recently. Both are artist biographies separated in time by four centuries. The first review of sorts is about Gerhard Richter: A Life in Painting by Dietmar Elger and the second one I am currently reading is Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane by Andrew Graham-Dixon. What's interesting is that I really like the work of both of these artists, and yet, prior to reading these books, I knew very little about, aside from their work and bits of information that I've picked up about them. I know that this might sound odd coming from a painter, but there are a lot of artists whose work I like, but I haven't done a ton of reading about. I think that is what this year is about for me-filling in some of the gaps in my art-historical knowledge. 

The photos accompanying this post are part of a series that I'm calling "After Lunch", where I take photos of the books and other things that I might read or do after I've had my lunch at my job. 

"After Lunch (with Gerhard Richter)"

A while ago, I posted about reading Gerhard Richter: A Life in Painting. I finished it almost a month ago and liked it. Of particular interest to me was how he came to develop his signature photographic paintings as well as his later abstractions and reading Gerhard Richter answered a lot of my questions and more. I've followed his work for a number of years, but knew very little about his early life and how his life as a child in WWII Germany and as a student during the Cold War impacted his art making and ambitions. 

In fact, the meatier part of Gerhard Richter is in pulling together the story of his early days. The latter part of the book that focuses on his work in the 70's on seemed to fall a bit flat to me and then suddenly stops. I suppose that's what happens when you read about someone who is still alive and still very active with his work. Another thing that bothered me were the many references to works that were not illustrated in the book, like the many 'Atlas' works that were referenced. Of course, you can easily  search the artist's site for images of those non-illustrated works, but it was still annoying because so many of them were mentioned. With that said, I still recommend Gerhard Richter because it gives a fuller picture of the life and development of a masterful contemporary artist.

"After Lunch (with Caravaggio)"

I'm currently reading Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane, by Andrew Graham-Dixon. I'm about half way through it and, so far, I'm enjoying Graham-Dixon's carefully researched depiction of the life and work of Caravaggio in the 15th and 16th century. AG-D makes use of old and new research about the life of Caravaggio in an effort to fill in the blanks of the turbulent life of this post-Renaissance master. To his credit, the author goes to great lengths to stick with factual information and avoids much of the hearsay that surrounds the short, turbulent, and somewhat mysterious life of Caravaggio. 

The author's ten years of research definitely shows, but he relates this information in a manner that isn't just a dry recitation of facts, but rather moves the reader along into the gritty world that Caravaggio inhabited in a way akin to how Caravaggio sought to bring a stark realism to the religious subjects he painted. AG-D writes in a way that allows the reader to know a great deal about the artist's life and details about his major works. As a result, there are points where you do have to slow down a bit to take it in but, overall, the book moves along without skimping on important details. 

Caravaggio offers not only a vivid depiction of what life was like for artists and others in Counter-Reformation Rome, but it also discusses the painter's major works in detail, particularly the symbolism of almost every object and figure in the paintings discussed in the book. One point that I really like so far, is the author's deliberate avoidance of sensationalism when it comes to the lives of Caravaggio and the people around him. The one problem that I have with this book so far, is the size of the reproductions. Because of the limits in scale and book size, a lot of the details are lost in the darker areas of the reproductions. 

Even though I still have half of the book to read, I highly recommend Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane. It's a very good artist biography that sheds a lot of light on a creative life shrouded in mystery and whose works continue to inspire and influence others across four centuries. 
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