Monday, December 05, 2005

Christmas Gift Books From 2005: Arts

Contemplating Art: The Gift That Keeps On Giving
by William S. Kowinski

SMILE OF THE BUDDHA: Eastern Philosophy and Western Art, From Monet to Today

by Jacquelynn Baas, with a foreword by Robert A.F. Thurman
University of California Press

“It depends a lot on the particular artist, but I certainly am convinced that the mind in the moment of creativity and the mind in the moment of meditation are the same mind.” Yvonne Rand, a Buddhist teacher and a major figure at the San Francisco Zen Center for 28 years, said this to me in an interview. Jacquelynn Baas, this book’s author, calls Rand her teacher, and dedicates this book to her.

Baas selects 20 particular artists, from early 20th century stars like van Gogh, Gauguin, Duchamp and Kandinsky to more recent and widely known artists like Georgia O’Keeffe, Jasper Johns, Isamu Noguchi, John Cage, Agnes Martin and Nam June Paik. Her rigorous scholarship and fine writing illuminate the connections between creativity informed by at least some exposure to Buddhist thought, art and practice, and the works available for our engagement (many in illustrations.)

Perhaps even better, Baas looks at somewhat lesser known past(Odilon Redon) and current artists (Vja Celmins), and at the art of two well-known women whose work is seldom examined in the same spirit as other artists, namely Laurie Anderson and Yoko Ono.

The Buddhist perspective is useful in understanding artistic intent, but even more in our role as the viewers (or listeners or experiencers), regardless of whether the artist has a specific relationship to Buddhist practice. Exploring and then focusing the meditative mind is invaluable to taking in more of what the artwork has to offer us. Baas begins her chapter on Robert Irwin with his statement: "If you asked me the sum total---what is your ambition?—basically it’s just to make you a little more aware than you were the day before of how beautiful the world is.”

That beauty produces a particular pleasure inherent in Buddhist practice, which seems pretty dour to some because of its discipline. Yet as Robert Thurman gently make the point in his foreword, “How incredibly fortunate that the Buddha smiled!”

Other Recommendations:

AN AMERICAN LENS: Scenes from Alfred Stieglitz’s New York Secession
by Jay Bochner. MIT Press.

The life and times of an American photographer, exhibitor and activist of the arts who changed the art world and its relationship to his time, providing links between Europe and America, and the new technologies and realities of his twentieth century. (full review)

AN AMERICAN THEATRE: The Story of Westport Country Playhouse
by Richard Somerset-Ward. Yale University Press.

Through the 20th century, this time touching the changing roles of theatre, movies and television in a changing nation through the story of this important and new kind of theatrical enterprise, the summer theatre: at times more innovative, and often more accessible to more people in this suburbanizing country. With a foreword by two of Westport's famous stalwarts, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. (Full review.)

DEATH SENTENCES:How Cliches, Weasel Words, and Management-Speak Are Strangling Public Language
by Don Watson'>Gotham Books

"Words can be like notes, like expressions of the soul," Don Watson writes. "They can make our hair stand up, they can lift our understanding to a higher plane, make us see things differently. They can inspire love and hope. You can see it happen before your eyes. Words can create a magic halo."

But before closure can be achieved on such product, robust parameters of total quality and competitive international best practices are key self-management and self-marketing requirements, in order to leverage vibrant pre-empowering emotional communication nodes and re-purpose functional deployment as a strategic initiative committed to an enhanced content provider environment. A personal mission statement sometimes helps.

You get the idea. It's pointed, funny and pretty short, too. (Review here.)

ITALIAN TALES: An Anthology of Contemporary Italian Writing
Massimo Riva, editor. Yale University Press.

Riva, who is professor of Italian studies at Brown University, has collected tales (mostly of the 1980s and 90s) that curious and casual readers can enjoy, while supplying helpful background and point of view for both interested readers and scholars of literature and culture. Bravo!

HERO, HAWK AND OPEN HAND: American Indian Art of the Ancient Midwest and Southedited by Richard F. Townsend. Yale University Press, in Association with the Art Institute of Chicago. (Review)

Published late last year, this is still an excellent gift book of text and photos for anyone interested in Native American cultures, cultural history, arts and artifacts.

You can search for new or used books using the Powells Bookstore box on this page. If you buy something after linking from here, this site gets a cut. Thanks.

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