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The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,
This review is from: The Art of Southeast Asia: Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Burma, Java, Bali (World of Art) (Paperback)
The Good -- Covers a lot of territory in a short space. Rawson points out the most important features of the most significant works, and traces artistic developments leading up to them. For each country, Rawson provides a brief historical overview, running from the earliest known history through the the periods of (in his view) the most significant artistic acheivements. This overview is surprisingly helpful in trying to understand the significance that the works (particularly the monuments) had in the societies in which they were created. Rawson also makes some insightful comments about how religious doctrines have shaped artistic development. If you are going to Southeast Asia, this book will give you a basic idea of what to look for. If you are beginning a serious study of Southeast Asian art, this will give you an overview and a context in which to place further studies.
The Bad -- Covers a lot of territory in a short space. As a result, Rawson cannot mention much more than universally acknowledged masterpieces. With the exception of one modern Indonesian painter and a few 14th Century Thai bronzes, one would gather from Rawson that art stopped in Southeast Asia about 1200. This book was originally published in 1967, and a number of Rawson's opinions and his general attitude seem somewhat out of date. Rawson does not like his buildings "overly" decorated, which seems to me a matter of taste -- a taste clearly not shared by most of the societies he describes. He provides almost no description of the "craft" arts, and very little cross-cultural comparison.
The Ugly -- The photographs of the architectural monuments are almost all atrocious. It's conceivable that these were the best available in 1967, but Thames & Hudson should have done something to update them when they reprinted the book in 1993. In addition to simply upgrading the quality of the photographs, some of the monuments have been significantly restored in the intervening years, so more modern pictures would also provide a better of idea of what the buildings were intended to look like. Worst of all, a number of the photographs are split over 2 pages -- the binding down the middle makes it almost impossible to get a decent look at the picture without breaking the book's back.
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