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Still Looking: Essays on American Art Hardcover – November 8, 2005

4.4 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Bookmarks Magazine

Published primarily in the New York Review of Books, the collected essays in Still Looking are less art criticism than finely honed art appreciations. Reviewers note Updike’s inquisitive tone and earnest interest in his subject matter. The often honored (an American Book Award, an O. Henry Prize, a National Medal for the Humanities) and prolific author once aspired for a career in cartooning and studied at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art in Oxford, England. The major complaint, if it can be registered as such, is that Updike is so effective at bringing these works to life that the book, though amply illustrated, provokes frustration that the exhibitions are no longer running.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Updike's art criticism is free of abstraction and jargon and radiant in its curiosity and discernment. He can't help but bring a novelist's gift for psychological insight to his discussions of art, even as he expertly considers technique and aesthetics. American art is his passion, and within that realm, it is painting that he loves best, although he has included a judicious discussion of Alfred Stieglitz, the most painterly of photographers. Updike begins with a witty discussion of American portraiture and John Singleton Copley, then celebrates American landscape painting in his most rousing pieces, discussing with deep feeling the idea of the sublime during the oh-so-brief era in the New World when "nature reigned untamed" and offering agile responses to the paintings of Frederic Edwin Church, Martin Johnson Heade, and Winslow Homer. Forthright in his castigation of museum exhibitions burdened with dunning commentary, incisive in his interpretation of John Sloan and Arthur Dove, and brilliant in his response to Edward Hopper, Updike is receptivity personified, writing about art with ardent attention, knowledge, and profound appreciation. Updike's immersion in art assures us that there are oases, still, from the crassness of commercial images. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (November 8, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400044189
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400044184
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 0.9 x 10.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #676,658 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Grady Harp HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 19, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Though not widely known, brilliant American novelist John Updike has a life passion for the art of painting, even to the point of studying the making of art at the Ruskin School of Fine Art in England. It is this preoccupation with simply looking at art, especially American art, throughout his life that makes this short collection of essays so intriguing and so alive with the words of a writer instead of those of a scholar or critic.

Some of these essays reference his published essays or art reviews from earlier years ('Just Looking') while the bulk of this book is composed of his very well observed paintings by his favorite artists and art topics: the study of the development of landscape in American painting, the comparison of Albert Pinkham Ryder with Jackson Pollock ('Americans, with their basically millennial expectations, admire holy fools, especially in the arts, and Ryder is our holy fool of painting'), his evaluations of Winslow Homer ('With Homer we feel no waste...He beautifully exploited his talent and his days...'), Thomas Eakins, Edward Hopper (his favorite American painter), Whistler, Childe Hassam, Marsden Hartley, Georgia O'Keefe and Alfred Stieglitz, Arthur Dove, and Andy Warhol. He rages against the period of Abstract Expressionism (!), comparing it to the parallel in American thought processes and mental needs of the time.

Where Updike differs from other commentators on art is in his degree of passion. His obsession with painting informs all of his writing and while some of the essays go on a bit too long, they are never less than wholly felt. This book can be read as an Updike digression, as a scintillating book of art criticism, or as a look at American art history from the stance of a novelist. Whatever approach appeals to the reader, this is a fine, well written, and exceedingly entertaining book. Recommended. Grady Harp, November 05
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Format: Hardcover
John Updike is a prize-winning novelist, but he was also trained in fine art and has written a number of gallery show reviews, especially for the New York Review of Books. His reviews are always interesting and point out many aspects of the artist's work being shown. "Still Looking: Essays on American Art" is a collection of his reviews and that collection is quite eclectic, covering such artists as Whistler, Copley, Ryder, Eakins, Homer, Hopper, Nadelman, Dove, Hassam, Pollack and Hartley, as well as the photographer Stieglitz and two theme reviews on storms and landscapes in his eighteen chapters. While all of his highlighted artists are male, he has good things to say about Mary Cassatt (p. 118) and he does reproduce two of O'Keeffe's watercolors (p. 142) and one of her oils (p. 143). I think his relative lack of female artists in this volume may have more to do with the shows he reviewed for the various publications than any especially strong male bias.

That said, this book is magnificent! The articles are well done and the art work is reproduced in vibrant color. I found a number of works I had never seen as well as "discovering" several artists that were essentially new to me, and was fascinated by the depth of the art produced by them. If you want to begin to learn about American artists, this collection of reviews is a very good place to start.
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Format: Hardcover
Updike makes for a keen and amiable exhibition companion in this collection of essays on American art, and there's little I can add to the positive editorial reviews. The illustrations, however, deserve note: they are extraordinarily sharp, despite their size. As one example on p. 50, the lightning bolt in Heade's "Approaching Thunderstorm" (1859) razors down on the left side of the canvas--a detail I have never seen captured in any other book, including those devoted to Heade and containing much larger reproductions of this memorable work. The publisher's technical staff deserve credit and the appreciation of art lovers who, for this reason, will enjoy Updike's guided tours even more.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
An enjoyable and elegant book of short essays on several American artists from a rightfully esteemed writer, John Updike. He draws his thoughts from visits to special museum exhibits on selected works by these painters, one photographer (Stieglitz) and one sculptor (Nadelman).

Some paintings that I have previously seen and enjoyed now have greater meaning to me due to the insights conveyed by Mr. Updike on the life and work of the responsible artist. Two good examples being the art of Childe Hassam and that of Edward Hopper.

Non-experts (like me) will be induced to go beyond this survey and more deeply explore the full range of work of some, if not all, of Mr. Updike's featured artists.
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Format: Hardcover
I love John Updike's essays. His perspicacious critical writing is, more often than not, a joy to explore. However, I have to agree with a previous review, which wonders at the lack of female representation. In a country with giants like Jenny Holzer, Kara Walker, Louise Bourgeois, Cindy Sherman, Nan Goldin, and Helen Frankenthaler pushing the bounderies of art; it's impossible to think of this book as anything other than a reflection of Updike's personal preferences. Therefore, don't expect a comprehensive collection of essays about "the best" (whatever that means) American art.
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