Tag Archives: art

Home Is Where the Hearth Is

Making of Home Amazon

The Making of Home: The 500-Year Story of How Houses Became Our Homes by Judith Flanders (Thomas Dunne Books, $26.99, 368 pages)

Display had become the essence of the house. This public display of the private was considered to have a moral dimension, too. Immanuel Kant thought that “No one in complete solitude will decorate or clean his house… but only for strangers, to show himself to advantage.”

Judith Flanders presents her survey of the evolution of the house into a home in an unmistakable textbook format with glossy color illustrations, notes, bibliography and index. The writing is a bit stilted; however, Ms. Flanders is British. This may just be her natural style. She takes a close look at what we believe to represent past times and daily practices and brings a logical scene to her reader.

Apparently, those of us who are inclined to study interiors from the distant past have done so only at a superficial level. There’s more to what was meant in those historic paintings of rooms such as Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Wedding Portrait (1434). Social mores, values and fantasy are often present in the form of innocuous fabrics, colors and subtly placed items.

The evolution of relationships (men, women and children), geography and personal values are all determining factors in what was the place for sleeping, cooking and keeping animals – a house, and what we now call a home.

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The cadence of the narrative evens out once the reader is past the first few chapters and becomes more of a lecture rather than a heavily laden introduction to the concept of a dwelling.

Well recommended.

new small house

The New Small House by Katie Hutchison (The Taunton Press, $32.00, 217 pages)

On the heels of the recession there was a resurgence of interest in small houses, and even smaller retreats.

Residential architect and small dwelling advocate Katie Hutchison follows in the illustrious footsteps of Sarah Susanka, author of the Not So Big House series. Both women are experts in the use of materials, site and scale. Taunton Press has added to their coverage of housing possibilities with The New Small House.

Smaller is better for a certain segment of the house-buying public. Ms. Hutchison focuses on dwellings that are not just small (at 1700 square feet or less) but also smartly laid out, sited and built with carefully selected materials. Her 10 small house strategies are defined up front and eloquently illustrated through a series of in-depth reviews of homes and retreats across the United States.

961 square feet

The book is a guide to what makes for a successful new small house. Hutchison goes into specific details about each of the beautiful and unique dwellings. The icons that alert the reader to the strategies employed are posted with each selection. Several of the owners are fellow architects who are clearly kindred spirits of hers.

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The New Small House is meant to prompt thoughtful consideration of how we can live with less and make better choices. It also gives the reader plenty of ideas for downsizing or building a personal retreat.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publishers.

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The Teddy Bears Picnic

Hero: The Paintings of Robert Bissell (Pomegranate, $65.00, 140 pages)

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Hero bear

“Mystical” and “engaging” and “riveting” are words that only begin to describe the spectacular bear painting gracing the cover of Hero. This is obviously a lush coffee table book. More than that, it is a journey into the world of painter Robert Bissell. Bissell is a master at photorealism with a marvelous twist. Rather than slavishly reproducing the likenesses of creatures in the wild, he grants his subjects an intimate aura.

Hero bears and rabbits

The bears and rabbits (his favorites) have startling anthropomorphic qualities in their eyes, gestures and positioning. These creatures are caught in Zen-like moments. Bissell has provided disarmingly open statements about his works and their inspiration in the paragraphs that accompany most of the paintings reproduced on the pages of this big impressive, high-quality book.

Unlike many of the books of this genre that include explanatory historic notes, the text in Hero serves to draw the reader in and add depth to the paintings. The reading experience is captivating, so much so that the many pages are clearly not meant to be flipped through; rather, they must be savored and revisited to grasp the full meaning of Bissell’s work.

Mr. Bissell, who currently lives in Oregon, was born in the United Kingdom. He was a professional photographer prior to committing to being a painter. The composition of his paintings is impeccable and his photographer’s eye flawlessly translates a mix of fantasy and reality into pictures that hold the viewer’s attention.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Coming Up Next…

A review of Hero: The Paintings of Robert Bissell.Hero

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Color My World

Drawing on the Right (nook book)

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain: A Course in Enhancing Creativity and Artistic Confidence by Betty Edwards (Tarcher/Penguin Group, $19.95, 320 pages)

Just imagine, by following the text carefully and participating in the exercises in a book, you can learn to draw. This is not some huckster come-on or phony art school premise. Author and teacher Betty Edwards has expanded and updated the fourth edition of her book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Ms. Edwards has carefully translated her thorough and patient teaching style into a truly worthwhile course in drawing. Moreover, she has taken the basic concepts, tools and philosophy behind the value of learning to draw and set forth a detailed and well-illustrated guide for everyone. If you can hold a pencil and are able to see, you can draw, not just ordinary stick figures, but rather, fully-developed and recognizable portraits.

Drawing on the Right Side includes ample historic context for the role that drawing and illustration have played over the last few centuries. As recently as the 1800s, the need for accurate drawings was critical to the success of newspapers, magazines and books. With the technological advancements associated with photography in the ensuing decades, the importance of drawing, and specifically the teaching of drawing, slipped into the background. With the transition to this invention, artists like Vincent Van Gogh and Georges Seurat were free to express themselves and explore artistic techniques without the expectation of producing accurate naturalistic pictures. That’s not to say that these artists skipped learning the skills required to render shapes and appealing compositions. In particular, van Gogh spent serious time and effort learning to draw.

Ms. Edwards sets the reader at ease by demystifying the process of drawing. She grounds her methodology in carefully researched neurological facts. The left side of the brain is vastly different than the right side. The left is the logical, sequential and verbal side; whereas, the right side is all about spacial and relational interpretation and sensing. Be assured it takes a bit of effort to override the over-developed left side in order to get to the creative, artistic ability we all possess.

As someone who participated in live classes based upon these techniques years ago, I know they produce truly gratifying results. There’s nothing missing here. Anyone who wants to know how to draw will be able to do so by committing to doing the exercises and reclaiming their youthful view of drawing and creating.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain is also available in a hardcover edition, and as a Kindle Edition or Nook Book download.

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New York Minute

An Object of Beauty: A Novel by Steve Martin (Hachette Audio,$34.98)

An Object of Beauty is the first novel I’ve read by Steve Martin.   I’ve enjoyed Martin’s comedy and movies for years, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from him as an author.   What I discovered was a very well written, intriguing novel about the art world in New York City in the 1990’s and 2000’s.   My husband loves to talk about how Steve Martin is one of the premier banjo players in the country.   With his music, comedy, acting, and writing, I think it is safe to say that Steve Martin is a true renaissance man.

An Object of Beauty has one of the most unusual heroines that I’ve had the pleasure to read about.   In the vein of Scarlett O’Hara or Catherine Earnshaw, Lacey Yeager is a strong-willed woman who cares mostly about herself and getting ahead at the cost of those who get in her way.   Yet, she is fascinating to read about.   I really enjoyed this book and couldn’t stop listening to Lacey’s story.

An Object of Beauty is narrated by Lacey’s friend Daniel.   Daniel once had a casual fling with Lacey, but now meets her occasionally as a friend and fellow art lover.   While Daniel writes for an art magazine, Lacey works her way up the chain of the art world to own her own gallery.   Lacey’s rise to the top is filled with scheming and intrigue, and involves at least one mystery that is finally resolved at the end of the story.   Lacey has learned to find art an “object of money” rather than an “object of beauty” and she lets this passion control all even if it costs her the love of her life.

Lacey’s journey was fascinating and I especially loved how the art world and Lacey’s place in it paralleled the major events of our time.   This included the rise of the markets in the 90’s and early 00’s and the crash at the end of the decade.   Lacey’s experience on 9/11 was quite intriguing and I couldn’t turn the CD off at that point!   I also didn’t know how this affected the art world.   I know next to nothing about art and I loved Martin’s detailed explanation of how the art world works.   It was interesting and never boring.

I listened to the audiobook as read by Campbell Scott.   He did a fair job as a narrator and stood in for me as Steve Martin narrating the novel.

Laura Arlt Gerold

Used by permission.   You can read more reviews by Laura Arlt Gerold at the brilliantly titled Laura’s Reviews, http://lauragerold.blogspot.com/ .

A review copy of the audiobook was provided by the publisher.

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The Hypnotist

The Hypnotist by M.J.  Rose (MIRA)

“(W)hat I thought was missing her has really been the part of me that loved her like that.”

Author M.J. Rose has the ability to gently pull her reader into a web of intrigue.   Once begun, this tale unfolds magically and then it’s too late to turn back or put the book down.   The Hypnotist is the third in The Reincarnationist series.   Rose’s subtle character development allows the reader to move through time with the main character, an FBI agent specializing in the recovery of stolen art.   The plot provides a charming mix of Middle Eastern political intrigue, family dynamics, museum culture and, of course, the notion of reincarnation.   The premise of the story is that the power to control people is more valuable than money.   In this case control is mind control.

Many of the characters are portrayed with both physical attributes and realistic medical conditions.   It is refreshing to read about someone who is a thoughtful, intelligent older woman who, by the way, has multiple sclerosis.   However, not all of the characters are so well conceived.   The mercenaries – and there are quite a few of them – are stereotypically heartless and greedy, lacking any real dimension.

M.J. Rose is at her best when providing reverential descriptions of art works, primarily paintings and sculpture.   Clearly, she has a comfortable working knowledge of daily life at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.   She fills the museum with wide-eyed elementary school children playing among the exhibits that occupy the public spaces and quirky curators and restorers who work their magic behind the scenes in the depths of the immense building.

The author’s disarmingly soothing voice works to her advantage when she explores the notion of reincarnation.   She draws the reader into a complex mix of reality and imagination that spans time and location.   The Hypnotist relies on a dreamlike romanticism for its charm.   Many chapters begin with thought-provoking quotes regarding energy, souls and afterlife.   The most compelling scenes are the ones in which the action is served to the reader using pragmatic, low-key descriptions of horrific actions in the past and present.

M.J. Rose is a very skillful storyteller.   No wonder Fox Television will soon have a show based on the premise of this series of her books.

Highly recommended.

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   An advance review copy was provided by MIRA Books.

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Time Goes By

In the Fullness of Time: 32 Women on Life After 50 will be released by Atria on April 27, 2010 in trade paperback form ($16.00).   This collection of essays, poems, photographs and drawings was edited by Emily W. Upham and Linda Gravenson.   The following is an excerpt from one of the essays included in the compilation.

“My Narrow Escape” – Abigail Thomas

I like living alone.   I like not having to make male conversation.   I like that I can take as many naps as I feel like taking and nobody knows.   I like that if I’m painting trees and the telephone receiver gets sticky with hunter green and there’s a long drool of blue sky running down the front of the dishwasher, nobody complains.  

I’m seldom lonely.   I have three dogs, twelve grandchildren and four grown kids.   I have a good friend who now and then drives down with his dog.   We’ve known each other so long that we don’t have to talk and when we do we don’t have to say anything.   When he asks me if I’d like to take a trip around the world, I can say yes, knowing that I’ll never have to go.

Inertia is a driving force in both our lives.  

Sometimes I feel sorry for my friends who are looking around for a mate.   I don’t want one, and I don’t want to want one.   It has taken me the better part of 60 years to enjoy the inside of my own head and I do that best when I’m by myself.

I am smug.   I am probably insufferable.

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