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Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees: Expanded Edition Paperback – February 2, 2009

4.8 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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The bestselling author of "Encyclopedia an Ordinary Life" returns with a literary experience that is unprecedented, unforgettable, and explosively human. Hardcover | Kindle book
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"A magnetic (now expanded) biography."--San Diego Union-Tribune

"Seeing is Forgetting may not be just the best biography of an artist out there but also one of the best books on contemporary art-making."--Frieze

"'Seeing Is Forgetting' and 'True to Life' are not only about the artists talking to Weschler or, through him, to each other; they're about the artists talking to themselves."--Los Angeles Times Book Review

From the Inside Flap

"Robert Irwin, perhaps the most influential of the California artists, moved from his beginnings in abstract expressionism through successive shifts in style and sensibility, into a new aesthetic territory altogether, one where philosophical concepts of perception and the world interact. Weschler has charted the journey with exceptional clarity and cogency. He has also, in the process, provided what seems to me the best running history of postwar West Coast art that I have yet seen."—Calvin Tomkins
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; Expanded ed. edition (February 2, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520256093
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520256095
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #26,098 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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I've read on ton of books of art history and theory, and this one stands out as one of the best.

Through thirty years of friendship and discussions, Weschler traces Bob Irwin's career, from buffing car dashboards in high school to creating monumental gardens and installations in his old age. The benefit of this extended coverage is that we get to see how Irwin develops in every stage of his career, often as these developments are happening. We discover how relationships, environment, the art world, and philosophy influence Irwin's evolution and how each element manifests itself in his work.

Irwin typically deals with abstract, minimalist, and formalist art which is often considered "difficult", even by open minded art viewers. In these interviews, he extensively details his mental and physical process, offering an unparalleled look at just what goes into these works. He recounts staring at a canvas for weeks, trying to decide precisely where a line should go and what impact it will have on the finished work. Even if you don't find yourself mesmerized by the next Agnes Martin you come across after reading this book, you'll at least gain an appreciation of why some people find it interesting and what might have been going through the mind of the artist when he/she created it.

Part of what this makes this biography so compelling is that Irwin is an incredibly appealing character. Most successful artists are pigeonholed as shameless self-promoters or tortured geniuses. Irwin comes across as humble, brilliant, open minded, sincere, and indefatigably dedicated to his work. He seems like an art world version of Richard Feynman; the kind of curious guy you'd love to explore ideas with over a beer. He can talk about betting the ponies and Wittgenstein.
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Format: Paperback
I first read this book in 1983 and now again in December 2010 - and it stands as the best artist biography I have ever read. Irwin begins with customizing cars in the 1940s and proceeds seamlessly through realism, abstraction, minimalism, and on to the Getty Gardens and Dia Beacon - but really the book is not about "isms" - it is about presence and perception - a life altering read.
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Format: Paperback
This book is an extremely well written and understandable account of the life and work of one of the greatest artist of our time. "Seeing is Forgetting" brings with it an understanding of the processes and theory involved in creating art that is entirely your own. This book includes Art history in the making and should not be missed.
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Format: Paperback
I plan to expand this review later, but I just wanted to say that this book has improved the way I use my visual perception. We receive so much information from all of our senses that it is difficult to give the attention required to maximize the value of our experiences. This book encouraged me to be more attentive to and perceptive of what I see as Peter Stankovich has helped me to be more attentive to what I hear. Peter's book is about one on one conversations while this is about viewing inanimate objects, but they are both about being involved in the present with the experience. Both books help you enrich your life as it occurs.
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Format: Paperback
First off, Weschler is amazing. This book is excellent. This is rather a review of Irwin's aesthetic itself.

Robert Irwin (Seeing is Forgetting)considers art to refer, not to an object or series of objects created by an artist for aesthetic pleasure, but rather to the experience that such objects may provoke. Art names a “Frame of Mind” in which the viewer (or, presumably listener, as well) becomes “conscious of their consciousness” (131). “Art” names precisely the experience in which one is enabled to perceive their own perceiving. To become aware of oneself as a subject with an incredible capacity for perception. Indeed, Irwin deems this human potential “the single most beautiful thing in the world” (227).
This explains why it is that Irwin’s works of art assume the minimalist, reductionist form that they do. It is a means for him to strip down art to its most essential element, which is perception. Irwin understands “perception as the essential subject of art” (188). A work of art is not intended to awaken viewers to a new idea or concept, in this way gesturing toward something other than itself, but rather, it is to awaken an awareness of one’s own capacity to perceive. Of course, there is a certain difficulty in speaking of “works of art” in regards to Irwin’s projects because for him, the viewing subject itself is the work of art. So then, in fact, anything could lend itself to art, for art “exist[s] not in objects but in a way of seeing” (190).
All of Irwin’s later projects are governed by the intent to facilitate the experience that constitutes art. He seeks to eliminate anything within his works that could become the object of a ‘literate reading’ – a reading that grasps for some meaning external to or other than the sheer experience of perception.
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Format: Paperback
A new expanded edition, beautifully designed . . Even if you're not an artist, read this book. If you're an artist, you need it. Maybe you don't like Irwin's work or never heard of him: read this book. Remarkably, this biography of the most minimal of minimal artists contains no abstruse language, no mysteriously self-important pronouncements, nor even a single reference to any French esthetic theorist. Not only is this written in clean, straightforward prose; you can hardly put it down. It also raises critical, fascinating questions about the nature of art, and of the way we see. I've recommended this book to several people. It's never what they expect. They've always thanked me.
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