"Picasso & Matisse. Manet & Degas. Pollack & de Kooning. Lucian Freud & Francis Bacon. This is the story of four pairs of artists-- each linked by friendship and a spirit of competitiveness. Taken together, they form an impressive lineage stretching across more than 150 years. But in each case, these relationships had a flashpoint, a damaging psychological event that seemed to mark both an end and a new beginning, a break that led onto new creative innovations"--
The artists Smee selected to discuss helped redefine "art" in various ways, establishing new norms, styles and unique visions of artistic production.The work of each of these creators explored new ground, broke old rules and paved new paths that both opportuned and challenged new artists toward new means of expression.
Each artist Smee discusses achieved his fullest potential largely through the influence of his friendship with the other, friendships which ultimately ended, sometimes bitterly, as each artist grew and explored his own genius.
Personally, I love art galleries, art museums and artistic creations in general, but I have no great understanding of the art I so often admire. Smee's deep understanding of the elements of art and artistic production helped me learn a great deal about art and a more thorough understanding of the elements that combine to make artistic production so rich and engaging that they are admired and appreciated for ages.
Overall Rating: 4 out of 5
One of my favorite things to learn about is how art is made — I mean art in a broad sense, in terms of writing, painting, filmmaking, etc. I find it incredibly satisfying to learn about the lives of those who’ve created amazing pieces of work, and learn how their circumstances influenced those works. So, when I saw that this was available on NetGalley, of course I requested it.
Sebastian Smee does a wonderful job in going through the pairs of artists and giving brief summaries of their lives and how they were affected by each other. I love that this gives a brief glimpse into each of the artist’s works, so that we can see these constructions were not created out of a vacuum, but within the life of an actual person. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that, so it’s nice to learn something about each artist.
The writing itself is incredibly understandable and I felt that the stories were fast-paced but well fleshed out. I was engrossed almost the whole way through and never felt like I was missing any information about the artists, but the story didn’t feel drawn-out. The perfect balance.:)
What would have made this book a five was if we were given a brief description of the time period and how art was currently viewed in the culture before delving into the artists’ lives and how they were changing it. We get a lot of detail on what the artists do, but not necessarily why that was groundbreaking for their time — the only reason I was able to almost keep up was due to my vague memories of an art history class I once took. I think knowing the context of the time period would have been incredibly helpful for understanding the different artists and appreciating their new approaches to art.
My favorite section was definitely the Matisse and Picasso chapter, but I also think that those are the two artists I know the most about, so there might have been a bit of a bias when it came to that. I also think it was the least dysfunctional relationship that Smee explores (at least, it seemed that way to me), so that also might have been a factor.
If you’re interested in how art is created, or learning more about the lives of some famous artists, then I definitely recommend you pick this up. I greatly enjoyed it.
Originally posted on Going on to the Next.