Saturday, August 6, 2011

Reading Art Books

I just finished "reading" J. C. Leyendecker, by Laurence S. Cutler & Judy Goffman Cutler (Abrams, New York, 2008), and it reminded me of something I have taken for granted my entire life: different books are read in different ways.  Reading fiction, history or biography is a "start at the beginning" business.  It is linear, and if well written, can be profitably read from beginning to end.

An art book like J. C. Leyendecker is a different thing; at least to a visual artist.  The pictures come first - no reading of words, just paging through to absorb the images and save the good ones in the brain's image bank.  A day or two later a viewing of the images again, but stopping to read the captions to get the materials, size, technique, etc.  Finally, a week or two later if the previous "readings" have piqued my interest, read cover to cover.  By the way, this book is excellent on all levels and is well worth picking up.

Aside1...  I'd love to know what percentage of the population reads art books in this "image first" way.  Also, what percentage reads art books cover to cover, and how many (like my wife) who avoid them altogether.
Aside2...  Military history and economics (among other subjects) tend to be written and read linearly, but necessarily have many maps, graphs and tables that make reading them more jagged and "skip-a roundish".  Complex subjects in general make one stop, reread and absorb (and are perhaps a different category again).

Anyway, the number of art books that I have actually read entirely is quite small - a fraction of the books I own or have checked out of the library.  And, I treat the internet in the same way: images first, text later.

Oh, and Leyendecker?  An amazing artist with the ability to be highly stylized (see book cover) or rough and ready (above); but always a first class recorder of reality.  I was put off at first by his relentless fashionable look, but was won over by his obvious talents (note the range in the following pieces).  It was also impressive that at a time when photography was easily used to complete paintings, he was said to work exclusively from models.

Reading and Writing

This curious relationship between artists and art books has comforted me in writing my own book.  I am writing it in the same way that I would read it; pictures first.  (actually this was the way I wrote my masters thesis - diagrams and graphs first, then text)

So, I began each section (in this case a two page spread) with a group of images that are examples of the principle that I am going to talk about.  I weed them out and decide on a sequence that will bring the idea out, clarify it, and finally exemplify it in a finished architectural rendering.

Next, I sketch out the layout of the images and text, following the sequence arguement.

Finally I write the text, and assemble the page in Word, so that I will have a complete, detailed layout to present to a publisher or critic/editor.  Although it is not the final product, it is complete enough that there is no confusion about the subject, image quality and vision for the final product.

Enough!!!  Back to the book.

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