How Do We Look: The Body, the Divine, and the Question of Civilizationby Published 04 Sep 2018
|How Do We Look: The Body, the Divine, and the Question of Civilization.pdf|
Conceived as a gorgeously illustrated accompaniment to “How Do We Look” and “The Eye of Faith,” the famed Civilisations shows on PBS, renowned classicist Mary Beard has created this elegant volume on how we have looked at art. Focusing in Part I on the Olmec heads of early Mesoamerica, the colossal statues of the pharaoh Amenhotep III, and the nudes of classical Greece, Beard explores the power, hierarchy, and gender politics of the art of the ancient world, and explains how it came to define the so-called civilized world. In Part II, Beard chronicles some of the most breathtaking religious imagery ever made—whether at Angkor Wat, Ravenna, Venice, or in the art of Jewish and Islamic calligraphers— to show how all religions, ancient and modern, have faced irreconcilable problems in trying to picture the divine. With this classic volume, Beard redefines the Western-and male-centric legacies of Ernst Gombrich and Kenneth Clark.
"How Do We Look: The Body, the Divine, and the Question of Civilization" Reviews
How Do We Look is based off Mary Beard's BBC documentary, Civilisations. That makes it slightly janky as a book but still very informative. Probably would have done better in the coffee table format but I probably would not have picked it up then and I'm happy I did.
The book centers on the experience of the consumer of ancient art through two lenses: the body and faith. Beard cautions us from thinking of art and architecture from the context of a museum and asks us to engage with it as the people of the time did when these objects were created. For instance, many of the beautifully painted greek ceramics were the result of a commercial industrialized process, something that I found surprising. Beard has also taken a broader view of civilisation than the very west-centric approach that is often taken when writing about any subject from a macro view.
For someone who doesn't know much about Art History, this is an accessible introduction to it, partly because Mary Beard isn't writing as a Art Historian.
A beautiful and witty art survey, about one of my favorite subjects--people and how they represent themselves. What does it mean politically and socially to be painted "warts and all," or as a hundred foot tall, bare-chested incarnation of Ra? Beard carefully chooses pieces from around the world, setting them in context and revealing how they illustrate the culture's sense of self, power, gender and imagination.
Very accessible, maybe even too light and brief, but still so many lovely nuggets of insight.
Reminds me of why I miss my University days. Mary Beard gives us enough information to spark our interest but not so much that it exhausts our appetite for the subject. We aren’t being thrust information that’s purely black and white, this means this and that is that, but being gently guided to ask questions, explore ideas and think more deeply for ourselves.
Plain speaking and very accessible, touching on a broad range for the length of the book, I hadn’t really planned to blitz through in one sitting (having grabbed it on impulse at the supermarket and getting absorbed into the introduction whilst the groceries were still being rung up - sorry cashier!) but the end snuck up on me. This read had all the same post-seminar learning buzz of yesteryears, leaving me all kinds of nostalgic and a little heartbroken. And, possibly, a little too blissed out over the chapter bibliographies in those final two dozen pages.
Divided into two halves, as titled, How We Look (5*) and The Eye of Faith (4*), I couldn’t bring myself to give this less than top marks for the final verdict. Stunningly presented, beautiful colour photographs throughout and paperstock that makes my inner book nerd’s toes curl... All in, if the topic floats your boat, you’ll be missing out if you pass this by. Gem.
How Do We Look offers the reader a question well worth exploring: how do humans use art to explain how they think and feel about themselves. This is a question stolen directly from an Intro to Art syllabus, but it is a question worth asking because human imagination is arguably the most powerful force in the known universe. It can literally impact the physical world as humans create visions based upon their experiences and perceptions and imaginings, and Beard takes her reader through the centuries of the human experience to show how humans have channeled their imagination into creating some of the greatest artistic wonders of the world.
How We Look is not always as in-depth as I would have liked, but Beard's works tend to leave the reader inspired to begin their own explorations. The value of a book like How Do We Look is how it can inspire new readers, or even experienced readers, to contemplate the purpose and function of art and remind us how art can impact our reality.
Whether it's sculpting boxers out of bronze or literally carving a temple into the side of the mountain, human beings create. It's worth a moment of the reader's time to ask themselves where and why that impulse exists, and what they could or should do with it.