Monday, October 19, 2009

Sister Wendy's American Collection (2000)

Sister Wendy is a petite British nun with bucked teeth and is absolutely marvelous at introducing art to the art deficients like me. I first saw her on PBS as she talked about pieces of art, dressed in her habit, her hands working in front of her just from the elbows.

In this book, Sister Wendy shows us art housed in six different museums in the United States. There are sculptures, paintings, fabric, and even musical instruments from just about everywhere in the world from ancient Egypt to modern art.

The fabulous thing about this book is that she will explain the symbolism or the technique used in a way that doesn't patronize or is condenscending. She sounds inspirational and passionate when her topic is of a religious tone. However, when the topic is violent or sexual in nature, she continues on without embarassment or shame. I love how she tells us how the pieces make her feel to help us explore our own feelings.

Referring to a part of the Raft Cup by Zhu Bishan, she says, "If you look at the traveler's expression, well-fed he may be, but his face is filled with wonder and with longing. Here is the man who could have had it all but wasted his opportunity. Of whom might this not be more true than the emperor? For all its complexity, this is a genuine cup. Every time the emperor drank from it, he would be eyeball to eyeball with that face -- ecstatic and yet forever yearning. I would love to know his thoughts."

The items of art are grouped by the museum that displays them, but inside each group they are randomly ordered, not arranged by medium, country or artist of origin, or even era. For instance, a page of Mondrian art, all geometric and primary colored, is followed by a 17th century Japanese painting of an exiled emperor on Okinoshima, featuring gentle colors and waves.

I highly recommend this to people, even if or especially if they aren't, knowledgeable about art.

My rating for this book: ++++

No comments: