BOOK REVIEW: Making a Masterpiece by Debra N. Mancoff

Making A Masterpiece: The stories behind iconic artworksMaking A Masterpiece: The stories behind iconic artworks by Debra N. Mancoff
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Release Date: November 1, 2022

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In this book, Mancoff discusses a dozen works of art considered masterpieces, explaining how the paintings came to be, what influenced the artist, and what influence these paintings had on art or culture that contributed to their widespread designation as masterpieces. This background information is presented by way of helping to understand what it is about these paintings that made them stand out.

It’s an interesting selection. There are paintings, such as Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus,” da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” and Hokusai’s “The Great Wave,” that one would imagine being on any short list of artistic masterpieces. There are others that one could imagine making the cut or not, but which are certainly iconic (e.g. Grant Wood’s “American Gothic.”) But there are also painters who one would expect to see included on the list, but whose most well-known or iconic work isn’t the one presented – e.g. Klimt’s “Woman in Gold” is discussed instead of “The Kiss” and Van Gogh’s “Fifteen Sunflowers” is included rather than “Starry Night.” The most controversial inclusion is the last, “Michelle Obama” by Amy Sherald – not because it’s not a beautiful painting and interestingly arranged for a portrait (which are usually pretty boring to a neophyte such as me,) but because it hasn’t been around for sufficiently long to know whether it will lodge itself in the collective conscious the way all the other entries have, so earning the designation of masterpiece. [It’s also owned by the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, and thus hasn’t had the commercial distinction by which masterpieces are usually determined – i.e. being auctioned for insane sums of money – e.g. Warhol’s soup cans (which are included in the book.)] That said, I liked that there were some “outliers,” as it was more opportunity to learn something new.

The book not only includes pictures of artworks as well as closeup details, but also pictures of works that were influenced by each and sometimes photos relevant to the story behind the paintings.

I enjoyed reading this book and learned a great deal about these important works of art.


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BOOK REVIEW: Black Water Lilies by Michel Bussi; Adapted by Fred Duval

Black Water LiliesBlack Water Lilies by Fred Duval
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Release date: October 11, 2022

This is a murder mystery novel by Michel Bussi adapted into a graphic novel. It’s a bold move to transform it into a graphic novel because the story is so setting-dependent, that setting being the timeless tourist village of Giverny in France, a village that served as the model for many of the paintings of Monet. That said, the book worked for me. I found it engrossing from cover to cover.

A trio of police detectives arrives in Giverny to investigate the death of a man who was stabbed and subsequently bludgeoned, his corpse found in a picturesque stream. So, one has this small town where everyone knows everyone else — and the secrets and the rumors, except these outsider detectives who must learn what they can from questioning locals who are used to keeping things to themselves. The detectives aren’t even clear about whether the victim was done in by his womanizing, his attempts to acquire rare paintings, or some unknown cause. Therefore, they have to purse multiple lines of investigation at the same time.

I found the story to be well-crafted in terms of how information is concealed and revealed and how the loose-ends and anomalies are tied up in the end. The art is beautiful and green, and captures the scenic appeal of Giverny. Though I should note that I don’t read many mysteries and those who do and who have intense attention to detail might find problems that I missed altogether.

I’d highly recommend book. Those with an interest in art will find the book particularly intriguing.


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DAILY PHOTO: Inanimate Camel Art

Taken on the Sacred Way [Beijing Ming Tombs] in the summer of 2008
Taken in Dubai in 2017
Taken in Amritsar in April of 2016

“Anguish” [Haiku]

“Anguish” by August Friedrich Albrecht Schenck (1878)
mother bleats a cloud,
standing over its dead lamb --
ringed by a murder 

BOOK REVIEW: The Art of Darkness by S. Elizabeth

The Art of Darkness: A Treasury of the Morbid, Melancholic and MacabreThe Art of Darkness: A Treasury of the Morbid, Melancholic and Macabre by S. Elizabeth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Release: September 6, 2022

As the title suggests, this book collects a diverse group of artworks that share the common theme of the macabre. While most of these works are paintings, a few photos and sculptures are included. It’s also predominantly Western (European and North American) art, but some exceptions exist, notably several Japanese works are included. Where the collection really shows its breadth is in the styles of art and eras included. The works range from more than half-a-millennium old to some produced within the last couple years, with the expected variations in styles and media, given the centuries covered. The collection is also varied with respect to the popularity of the pieces and artists. You’ll likely see some familiar works (e.g. Fuseli’s “The Nightmare,” Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” and Dalí’s “The Face of War.”) However, most of the works were new to me. (Granted, I’m a visual arts neophyte.)

The pieces are arranged into four topical divisions, each containing three chapters. The subjects include realist content such as: bodily ailments, crime, dark takes on nature, and architectural ruins. However, much of the book delves into surreal and supernatural subject matter, including: nightmares, hallucinations, gods, monsters, ghosts, and magic.

The book lets the art do the heavy lifting, but it does have brief chapter introductions and captions for each piece that includes not only the title, artist, and (if known) the year the art was released, but also some interesting tidbits about artwork and / or artist. These write ups are concise, intriguing, and well-written, and offer some fascinating insights. The book also presents numerous quotes from poets, artists, and other intellectuals.

I learned a great deal from reading this book and discovered some new favorite artworks, art that is beautiful or grotesque but often a combination of both — but always evocative. If you’re interested in how artists depict the darkness in the lives and souls of humanity, you should definitely give this book a looksie.


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DAILY PHOTO: Hanumans Around India

Darjeeling’s Shrubbery Nightingale Park, December of 2021
Shimla; June 2015
Mangalore; July 2021
Kurseong; December 2021

DAILY PHOTO: Konark Carvings

Taken in December of 2021 at the Konark Sun Temple