Dan Sandman

Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

52: Civilisation by Kenneth Clark

In Art, Books, History, Non-Fiction on 26/12/2014 at 12:00 pm

Civilisation by Kenneth ClarkIt’s non-fiction this week, and Kenneth Clark’s classic Civilisation (British spelling), first published in 1969, is the book I have chosen to finish this year with. Within its pages are thirteen essays spanning the history of Western civilisation, from the fall of the Roman Empire to rise of The United States of America, and almost everything in between – excluding Eastern civilisation and the history of woman. Brilliantly written and loosely matching the BBC television series of the same name, this book is written by an enthusiast whose work has set the standard for quality broadcasting ever since. I think in many ways, as a post-television form of art history, this gripping narrative is yet to be surpassed.

Each chapter is focused around a particular heading – for example ‘The Pursuit of Happiness’ or ‘The Worship of Nature’ – explores this topic referencing great works of art or philosophy or music or literature or engineering or science, and broadly follows a chronological timeline, weaving in and out freely. The essays teach a generally humanistic outlook, and one which argues ‘that order is better than chaos, creation better than destruction (pg.245).’ Through his authoritative enthusiasm for art and knowledge, Clark stresses the important role that ‘men of genius’ have played throughout history and advancements in learning. For Clark, its Michelangelo or Einstein or Shakespeare – the geniuses of this world – who carve out a path towards a better world. And his arguments are very convincing, well thought out and founded by years of intense reading.

However, as the subtitle suggests, this is A Personal View and one which is open to debate. To highlight this, even I myself – a newly converted Clark fan – think that Clark is a little bit biased towards his Catholic and Scottish roots (as he very well should be, if that’s where he’s preaching from). But for what little my thoughts are worth, I agree with many of Clark’s opinions and tastes – despite the fact that he was writing fourteen years before I was born. He is right to think that not everyone will agree with his personal view of European civilizaion, and that cynical intellectuals will continually seek to undermine those with a humanistic outlook. Personally speaking, what I continue to like and support, is Clark’s appreciation of courtesy and nature, his stance against those interested in vendetta and violence (again, see pg. 245), and the intellectual curiosity of his every sentence.

Search for Civilisation by Kenneth Clark online, buy the book from a bookshop or borrow it from your library.


18: I Was Vermeer by Frank Wynne

In Art, Biography, Books, Non-Fiction on 02/05/2014 at 12:00 pm

I Was Vermeer by Frank WynneBefore he became an art forger, Han van Meegeren was an excellent painter of original realistic works with a fantastic technique and a number of successful projects to his own name. He had won a prestigious award, held profitable exhibitions, and had even sketched what was to become the most reproduced image in twentieth century Holland. But whilst Han van Meegeren was still a young man, still creating naturalistic paintings, the art world had dramatically changed, turning first towards impressionism and later to cubism. By the 1920’s, Han was incensed and embittered against these changes, enraged by the movement away from the rules of academic painting. Han had harvested a great sneering contempt for art critics and several bad habits – alcohol, morphine and prostitutes. And yet, despite Han’s personal troubles, he was extremely meticulous in his approach to forgery. Han van Meegeren fooled his enemies, swindled the Nazis, and painted with a vengeful passion.

In this biography, Frank Wynne brings this exciting story to light with a cultured intelligence. Employing engaging headings and quotations, each chapter invites the reader to discover more. The story explores in some detail the hows and whys of the forger’s life. How he used Bakelite (the first commercially made plastic) to resemble antic varnish. Why he had initially become an artist as a revolt against his father.

In conclusion, I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to a friend. In particular, I admired the writer for appropriately balancing just enough attention to detail with the right amount of psychological insight. Indeed, as I appreciated this gripping life story, I had to remind myself that I was reading non-fiction. That is because the facts of the story have been crafted in a novelistic way, both to inform and to delight.

Sometimes the truth really is stranger than fiction.