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Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars Hardcover – October 16, 2012
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“Daring…. Beautifully written and rich in details…. A unique mixture of political candor, professional critique, gossipy details, and the author’s trademark inflammatory ideas…. Supports her assertion that the definition of art is already changed. It begs the question, ‘Has anyone else in the art world noticed?’…. Extols the value and enduring legacy of Star Wars as it stands at the forefront of a new definition—a new era—in fine art.” —iFanGirlBlog
“[Paglia is] an art-for-art's-sake worshiper of art and literature whose close readings, influenced by Walter Pater and Sigmund Freud, are pyrotechnic and passionate.... Particularly pleasing are Paglia's sketches on Donatello's still-shocking 15th century sculpture of Mary Magdalene as a starved ascetic, and on Titian's voluptuously sensual ‘Venus With a Mirror’ (c. 1555), two nearly diametrically opposed works that Paglia makes speak to each other by noting curiously androgynous elements in both figures…. The relentlessly austere Caspar David Friedrich's ‘The Sea of Ice’ (1823-24)...is juxtaposed in surprising fashion by the following image, Manet's 1879 ‘At the Cafe,’ a subtle study of ordinary Paris street life. The paintings, as well as the artists and their eras, thereby achieve a collage-like mutual illumination.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“Paglia's scintillating prose, acute analysis and perceptive assessments of five millennia of art history make her tour a joy to take, to argue about and to learn from…. A perceptive and enthusiastic guide on this journey to see and experience fully works of art from ancient Egypt to today.”
“It is her prose, jargon-free, muscular, and fearlessly opinionated, that ought to grab readers of any age. Once pulled into the Grand Foyer for her tour through the centuries, the reader is in complete thrall to the masterpieces on view. Paglia opens with an essay about the murals of Nefertari's tomb in Egypt's Valley of the Queens, and right out of the gate—make that grave—her interdisciplinary command of history, archaeology, and even cinema is evident…. [Paglia has] an honesty and enthusiasm that, when wedded to a profound intellect, one can't put a price on.”
—The Barnes & Noble Review
“The book's subtitle—‘A Journey Through Art From Egypt to Star Wars’—highlights Ms. Paglia's impressive range and famously eclectic tastes. . . . Ms. Paglia chooses well, from works both celebrated and obscure. She is especially good at the difficult trick of providing context for the newcomer to art history without being tedious for a more experienced reader. She is no dreary docent. . . . She is also adept at helping readers to see the radical original impulse in now familiar art forms.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“A magisterial, poetically composed, and masterly study of 29 great works of Western art. . . . Paglia writes rhapsodically of art's power . . . [she is] one of the most erudite public intellectuals in America.”
—The Philadelphia Inquirer
“The ever-provocative Paglia returns with a survey of Western art, captured in 24 essays that move from Egyptian tombs to Titian’s Venus with a Mirror to Eleanor Antin’s conceptual art project 100 Boots. The provocative part? In the end, she proclaims that the avant-garde is dead and that George Lucas is our greatest living artist. This will get the smart folks talking.”
“[A] highly reflective and imaginative history of images in Western art. . . . Paglia writes with energetic lucidity, and her entries on the Laocoön and Donatello’s Mary Magdalene are standouts in this absorbing volume. Both a valuable cultural critique and an elucidating history, Paglia’s latest would suit the general reader, as well as those looking for an alternative approach to contemporary ways of seeing.”
“Critic/provocateur Paglia applies to the visual arts the same close scrutiny she lavished on poetry in Break, Blow, Burn (2005). . . . An intelligently detailed examination of 29 works of art, ranging from a tomb painting of Egyptian Queen Nefertari to George Lucas’ film Revenge of the Sith. . . . The author cogently locates individual pieces within a cultural continuum and eloquently spotlights the artistic qualities that make them unique. . . . Paglia gives a vivid sense of the sweep and scope of art history. The author loves pop art (Warhol’s Marilyn Diptych), but sections on Eleanor Antin’s 100 Boots and Walter De Maria’s Lightning Field display a surprising fondness for conceptualism and minimalism as well. African-American artists get their due in essays on John Wesley Hardrick’s sensitive portrait, Xenia Goodloe, and Renee Cox’s witty Chillin’ with Liberty. . . . Paglia is a wonderful popularizer of art history and art appreciation.”
“Paglia, an ardent and often controversial defender of the arts and creative freedom, argued for the value of poetry in Break, Blow, Burn (2005). She now presents an equally commanding case for reclaiming the visual arts as a necessary and nurturing cultural force in a time of alarmingly diminished support for arts education. Given our ‘screen’ habit, we are awash in a ‘sea of images,’ mostly commercial in origin, that threatens to drown our ability to focus and think critically. The best way to regain our visual acuity, Paglia believes, is to focus on paintings, sculpture, and the decorative arts within art’s rich continuum. So this interdisciplinary firebrand and die-hard populist showcases 29 outstanding works, each representative of a certain style or period, beginning with a tomb painting of Queen Nefertari and working up to Andy Warhol’s portraits of Marilyn Monroe. Paglia’s succinct, lively, and illuminating essays combine aesthetics and social considerations ad she recalibrates our perception of, say, Renaissance artist Donatello’s ‘harsh and imposing’ depiction of Mary Magdalene, or Jamaican performance artist Renee Cox’s Chillin’ with Liberty. The book’s climax is Paglia’s bound-to-be-inflammatory assertion that filmmaker George Lucas is ‘the world’s greatest artist.’ Paglia’s bold and rigorous, handsomely illustrated and welcoming art iconography will accomplish her mission to provoke, enlighten, and inspire..”
—Booklist, starred review
About the Author
Camille Paglia is University Professor of Humanities and Media Studies at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. She is the author of Break, Blow, Burn; Sexual Personae; Sex, Art, and American Culture; and Vamps & Tramps. She has also written The Birds, a study of Alfred Hitchcock.
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Paglia, always controversial, the classic fierce liberal, perhaps last of a dying breed of progressive thinkers who can separate politics from culture and ideology from anthropology. Here is a practical and principled firebrand whose views were cast in 1960's rebellion; beliefs of free speech and anti-establishment - an individualist who looks with distain at the contradictions of today's elite academic progressives who passively embrace the bloated, autocratic bureaucracies that Paglia and her peers fought so valiantly to dissolve. This background is important, for the author makes a passionate case for public funding of visual arts with a logic and pragmatism not typically associated with this community. Paglia harshly criticizes the art world's disingenuous knee-jerk defense of "third-rate" works like Andres Serrano's controversial "Piss Christ" that undid decades of progress of The National Endowment For the Arts. Likewise, she is justifiably critical of conservative/evangelical sins against culture; "provincial philistines when it comes to the visual arts." Yet, this avowed atheist earnestly defends religion, recognizing the importance of religion on civilization but also on art, and therefore the need to study the world's religions. "Sneering at religion," she observes, "is juvenile, symptomatic of a stunted imagination."
The selected works and accompanying essays represent an eclectic mix, from well known works like Warhol's pop icon "Marilyn Diptych," Jackson Pollock's frenetic "Shooting Stars" or Jacques-Louis David's macabre "The Death of Marat," to much less obvious choices: Elenor Antin's "100 Boots," Donatello's haunting "Mary Magdalene," or George Grosz's biting satire in "Life Makes You Happy." In the former category and worthy of special note is Picasso's menacing "Les Demoiselles of d'Avignon, described by some as "the most important painting of the twentieth century." This has always been one of my favorite paintings, and when in New York, I always try to make it a priority to visit MoMA to see it. But having read Paglia's essay "Heaven and Hell" which accompanies "Demoiselles," I'll never see this overpowering canvas the same way. While volumes have been written analyzing Picasso's sexually charged imagery, in a scant four pages Paglia captures new dimensions of horror and brilliance between the pigments; "whores are meat on the rack."
As an engineer by training and an entrepreneur/businessman by practice, I am wholly unqualified as an art critic. But while Camille Paglia and I may be on opposite sides of the political spectrum, we would find common ground in the unequivocal importance of visual arts in our collective human culture, and in the need to reintroduce art and art history in our schools, K-12 through university. Paglia has targeted "a general audience for whom art is not a daily presence" - a goal she meets brilliantly: provoking, illuminating, and inspiring - challenging the reader to extend beyond the gray monotony ruts of life and the garish video imagery of our slavishly digital culture. "Glittering Images" is an uncommon book that not only deserves to be recommended, but to be purchased for friends and especially for children who all too often are missing this important element in their education. Bravo, Camille - I am in awe.
The introductory essay might be the keenest part of the entire book. Paglia asserts that great art creates dynamic, "glittering" images that draw the viewer in and captivate him or her. For thousands of years of western art, sculpture and painting -- through action, color, and composition -- dominated the world of art, but these media are now out-competed - in a nearly Darwinian sense - by even more dynamic, glittering computer-enhanced graphics and big-screen cinematography. Indeed, as Paglia proceeds chronologically through her survey of western art, the most recent painting selected for an essay was painted in 1930, over eight decades in the past (true, a Jackson Pollock work from 1949 is chosen, but Pollock's "painting the air" technique of splashing and throwing paint at the canvas is essentially a different genre from applying paint directly onto the canvas). As contemporary minds are drawn to enhanced, dynamically moving images, will future generations even be able to stay still long enough to seriously look at traditional paintings and sculpture? Probably not, implies Paglia, and that is unfortunate. I see this in my children. If Paglia's hunch about the future of art is correct, then it's not unreasonable to be concerned not only about the survival of traditional visual art, but about other western cultural and artistic treasures as well. As we train our brains to "surf the net" and digest information no longer than a blog post or a tweet, will future generations read Shakespeare, Aristotle, or a biography of Winston Churchill, for example?