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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POEM: All Hail, Warhol! [Day 17 NaPoMo: Doggerel]

[With doggerel the only way to be “good” is to be ironically bad.]



Being a true genius must be hard work.
Is there a less laborious path to the perks?

I’m so glad you asked:
Just convince the right person you’re a genius,
and you’ll be in like porn star penis.

Just stack some boxes of Brillo pads,
reprint some old burger joint ads,
slather color on portraits — Tammy Faye Bakker-style —
(just make sure to showcase the subject’s creepiest smile.)

Lest you think I’m just being snarky,
I say this without a trace of malarkey,
if you can buy mansions off a soup can label you didn’t design,
genius is too meek of a word, you stink of the divine.
[Like Odysseus being dropped in the lap of goddesses
who were ready & eager to pop open their bodices.]
Do you think the Campbell’s marketing artist has a mansion?
He probably retired with a meager pansion.

I say this without derision,
to be great artist you don’t need to show in galleries, Parisian
you simply need to showcase your vision
of some poor shmuck’s labors
to the person who can get you a better class of neighbors.