Saturday, May 30, 2009

What is Brian Foss reading?

This weekend's featured contributor at Writers Read: Brian Foss, author of War Paint: Art, War, State and Identity in Britain, 1939-1945.

His entry begins:
I’ve always got two or three books on the go, and the last couple of months have been no exception. Not long ago I finished T.J. Clark’s The Sight of Death: An Experiment in Art Writing. Like so many other art historians, I’ve been an admirer of Clark’s scholarship for many years. More recently, though, he’s allowed his visual acuity to drive and shine out of his writing as never before. This culminates in The Sight of Death, which records, in diary form, his intense visual examinations of two paintings by seventeenth-century French artist Nicholas Poussin. Looking closely at the two paintings almost every day for many months, Clark began by jotting down general impressions, and then over the ensuing months wrote regular diary entries about his evolving reactions. As time passed he become more and more interested in – even obsessed by– both the details of the paintings and then by the larger themes that grew out of this visual scrutiny. The details were often tiny, easily overlooked bits of imagery, paint application or composition that, for less attentive viewers (which is to say, for almost everyone else), could easily seem minor to the point of inconsequentiality, if indeed they were noticed at all. Reading Clark’s cumulative, day-by-day recordings of his observations constitutes a master class in how to look at art with one’s full attention, on how to build substantial philosophical analyses on the basis of ongoing observations rather than of preconceptions, prejudices and assumptions, and on how ultimately to relate what one sees to one’s socio-political convictions. This book was a treat from beginning to end: a compelling read that gave me no end of lessons in how to look at works of art....[read on]
Brian Foss will soon be leaving his job as Professor of Art History and Associate Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts at Concordia University in Montreal, and will be taking on a new job as Professor of Art History and Director of the School for Studies in Art and Culture at Carleton University, in Ottawa.

Learn more about Brian Foss' work at his Concordia webpage, and read more about War Paint at the Yale University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: War Paint.

Writers Read: Brian Foss.

--Marshal Zeringue