We are entering a dark age of ART EDUCATION in America's public schools. No Child Left Behind, mandatory test assessments, and the financial recession are decimating the "arts" in our schools.
Because "art" knowledge is not measured on tests and art does not have the societal priority of the sciences or language skills, administrations target it in any first round of budget cuts. Consequently, libraries, as the society's and community's traditional cultural representative, resource depository, and the trustee of our civilization and culture, are obliged to accept the responsibility of preserving, advocating and promoting the arts. Remember, in the depths of the dark ages, Western Civilization was saved by the courageous efforts of book lovers and librarians!
Do you remember those college art appreciation classes? Art Explained (104 pages) would be an ideal introductory text. The author, Robert Cummings, has compiled forty-five painting masterpieces from Giotto's thirteenth century “The Adoration of the Magi” to Picasso's “Guernica “ finished in 1937. At the beginning of the book, the author explains the six guidelines he's used in looking at each work. Also, he offers an analysis of what makes a masterpiece. Prefacing each painting is a paragraph of historical background and biography. He then dissects the figure(s), image(s), and object(s) within the painting. He annotates or analyzes what is symbolized, represented, and means, thus, why the artist painted it that way.
The book's format is large, over fourteen inches by over ten inches, and the paintings are reproduced in color. The author devotes a two-page layout to each work. The targeted readership is the general public. The explanations are printed around the painting's borders in the margins connected by a line from what is being described. For instance, the author states that a bloodstained ax lying on the raft in Gericault's "The Raft of the Medusa"...is the only reference to the horrific cannibalism described by survivors." or the blooming sea anemone in Bottocelli's “Birth of Venus "...reinforces the idea of the arrival of spring." At the end of the book there is a short glossary of selected art terms and a good subject/keyword index.
Although first published in 1995 as Annotated Art, the revised 2007 Art Explained covers the same paintings. The author's other books: 1998 Great Artists: The Lives Of 50 Painters Explored Through Their Work and one of the Eyewitness Companion Guides: Art, Painting, Sculpture, Artists, Styles, Schools published in 2005 are also worth acquiring. Similar in brief, annotated format but covering more than one hundred paintings, Patrick De Rynck's 2004 How To Read A Painting: Lessons from the Old Masters would be a logical follow-up for readers wanting more.
Here are some further titles and reference resources I would recommend for readers, libraries, and general collections. Every library should have the latest edition of H.W. Janson's definitive History of Art. His shorter YA edition, History of Art for Young People should be on every schools shelf. Art History, Dada And Surrealism and numerous other paperback titles from Oxford University Press's Very Short Introductions series are worth considering. Oxford's six volume Encyclopedia Of Artists with their two page biographies is handy. Art for Beginners from the popular For Beginners comic/graphic series is worth have. Another "brief" resource is the Harry N. Abrams Essentials series. Of course, libraries should have both the Dummies and Complete Idiot's art manuals. The best and most entertaining art history surveys range from the old standby, Kenneth Clark's Civilisation, to Art: A New History by Paul Johnson, my favorite--Shock Of The New by Robert Hughes, and Simon Schama's recent Power Of Art. The Clark, Hughes, and Schama books have also been made into terrific documentaries that are available on DVD.
For a few recent titles pertaining to other aspects of the subject, there is Jonathan Harr's The Lost Painting about a search for a lost Caravaggio, Laney Salisbury's Provenance, which deals with a famous forgery scheme, Monuments Men by Edsel about rescuing art during World War II, and The Looting of Iraq's Museum, Baghdad reminding us that art can also be a casualty of war.
I would also mention a few historical novels or fiction involving art and artists. My favorites are: My Name Is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok (great YA title), Naked Came I (Rodin) by Weiss, Colossus (Goya) by Marlowe, Master Painter (Van Eyck) by Mullins, Masterpiece by Zola, Moon and Sixpence (Gauguin) by Maugham and, obviously, Chevalier's 1999 Girl With A Pearl Earring. Along with Irving Stone's Agony and the Ecstasy and Lust For Life, his earlier, obscure Passionate Journey (Kansas artist John Noble) is appealing.
For a few years, I have subscribed and been pleased with Oxford's "user friendly" and inexpensive "art" online database. Art Resources and Art Cyclopedia are a couple of good FREE online sites useful for art history, reproduction of works, and artists.
Recommended by Robert L. Hicks, librarian