Literary Quote of the Month

“For poems are not, as people think, simply emotions (one has emotions early enough)—they are experiences,” … Rilke, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Books can be Called Pieces of Art, But can "Art" Books be Read Just Like Any Other Book? A Review

My Father's House by Thomas Dunn is a book written about a series of 9 paintings by the artist Will Barnet. The series was called My Father's House, and the paintings are just that - paintings representing some aspect of his Father's House, where his aging Sister Eva still lived.

In another lifetime, I was an art student who loved Will Barnet. I actually met him at a small gallery show back in the late 70's. His paintings are simple, elegant and some may characterize them as stark. They are stylized without a brushstroke out of place, like some japanese paintings and I loved them for his cats. One of his favorite subjects was the family black cat and he painted a lot of paintings with that cat.

In 2009, Will Barnett was donating one of the painting in the My Father's House series to Amherst College, and the curator of American art at the Mead Museum (the museum associated with Amherst College) called Thomas Dumm in hopes that he would come to the presentation and speak. Dumm is a professor at Amherst and had written about Loneliness and people. The curator thought it would be a good match, based on the fact that most of Barnet's paintings conveyed a kind of loneliness. What happened was that Dumm and Barnet became fast friends because Dumm could relate to Barnet's paintings and understood some of the deeper meaning that Barnet conveyed in his paintings. This book is a result of that relationship.

In My Father's House, Dumm interprets each of the 9 paintings individually. I found his interpretations interesting and I enjoyed reading this part. He makes you look beyond what the actual paintings physically represent and dig deeper to what the artist was saying in the painting. The questions about loneliness, dealing with the ghosts of our past, what can you see beyond the obvious. This is what art students love…

What I didn't love was the long, I want to stop reading because I am falling asleep and I "got" what you were trying to say already 20 pages ago, introduction. Yes, this is suppose to be scholarly and Thomas Dumm introduces us to the concepts of Emerson, Spinoza, Cavell and Nietzsche, to name a few, that influenced Barnett's work, but I thought it could have been more concise and it was not necessary to take up 30% of the book. Is an introduction suppose to be as long as the book?!

I did enjoyed the preface, which told the story of Dumm and Barnet's meeting, and a brief smattering of Barnett's life and influences. Maybe if this could have been expanded just a bit it without the intro it would have worked for me.

I would recommend this book to art students because the interpretations of the paintings were thought provoking and enjoyable. If you're an Will Barnet fan, this would also be a nice book to pick up. "Regular" readers not into the arts may want to skip this one.

My Father's House: On Will Barnet's Painting by Thomas Dumm will published by Duke University Press Sept. 2014. I received an eGalley of My Father's House by Thomas Dumm from Duke University Press for review. I want to thank Duke University Press Books for the opportunity to review this book.

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