Saturday, January 19, 2019

Two Books

I'm an avid reader.  But, while lots of art educators like to read books about pedagogy, and all sorts of stuff related to teaching and education and such, I admit that I do not.  I read for pleasure and escapism; I like a good story.  It can be a novel - pure fiction, maybe a post-apocalyptic or dystopian story, or a well-written piece of magic realism, or perhaps a historical novel based on a real person or situation, or just about anything else, as long as I enjoy the writing.  I also appreciate a well-written memoir.   But today's post is about two books that I've read recently, both related to art.
I first learned about the early 17th century Italian artist Artemisia Gentileschi in a graduate art class on female artists, in the late 70's, while I was a young teacher.  I was compelled by her story and her work, and never forgot her.  (And I must admit, I love the rhythmic sound of her name!) A year or so ago, I was at a library book sale, and came across the book The Passion of Artemisia, by Susan Vreeland, pictured above.  I added it to the pile of books on my dresser and have finally read it.

If you don't know anything about Artemisia, reading this book is a good way to learn her story.  While it is a novel, and therefore fiction, much of it is based on the known facts of life, including her rape by a painting teacher, and the trial of her rapist.  It is well-written and a compelling story, and I highly recommend it.  But if you read it, please remember, it is a novel, which means characters are invented to enhance the story, and portions of her life are edited and simplified.  Still, if it brings to life an artist you might otherwise know nothing about, and makes you want to read more about her, it is worth the time.  And after reading it, you might agree with me that Artemisia Gentileschi was a badass!! 

My book club recently selected The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro as our month's reading.  It is a novel, based loosely on the true story of the unsolved theft of artwork worth more than $500 million from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.  The story of the theft is especially intriguing to me because I recently learned that there was a possible connection between this theft and an attempted 1981 heist at the Hyde Collection, here in Glens Falls NY where I live.  (The thieves hijacked a Federal Express truck and then got stuck in traffic, causing them to arrive at the museum after closing time, and ruining their plan.  The beautiful Rembrandt portrait of Christ and other valuable artwork at the museum remained safe, and security was subsequently much improved.)

Anyhow, the book is the story of a young woman who is a struggling artist, and works for a company that makes reproductions of famous works of art.  She is approached to copy a Degas painting that had been stolen in the Gardner Museum theft.  (Remember, this book is a novel; this particular Degas painting is a fictional invention.)  From the book, I learned a bit about art forgery, and about Isabella Stewart Gardner and her museum, so I guess it was a worthwhile read.  But if you read it, don't expect a great piece of literature!  It's an easy read, so its a good book to toss in your bag to read on the beach or in an airplane, but it is not likely to make your top ten list!  I honestly admit I disliked the main character, and found the story very improbable, but I suppose, since I now want to visit the Gardner, it was a worthwhile read.

Have you read either of these two books?   Any other art-related books that are good stories? 

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