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Camille Paglia's Fun and Sensible Intro to Art History Book

I have a vague media-induced sense that Camille Paglia is some extreme "dissident feminist" (to quote today's wikipedia article on her). But when I read Paglia's new introduction to art history book Glittering Images, the only thing that was shocking was how sensible it was! 

Her attitude is one of respect and for the craft of art, and for the evolving economics that shape the art in each era. Each chapter focuses on one art movement and one art example art piece. She starts with the Egyptians and very quickly gets to the 19th century, at which point time compresses and she tries to compare and contrast for the reader the shotgun spray of 20th century art movements up through and past the Happenings of Yoko Ono and John Lennon. Admittedly, I slogged a bit through the first chapters - I doubt there's anything anyone can say about Greek sculpture that I'm going to find interesting, but her chapters on the last 200 years of art sparkled like a cave of treasure. 

Paglia uses art as a mirror to reflect a little what was going on in each era, and so this is a very palatable way to get a little better perspective of the thread of European history as well as European art.

The most controversial aspect of the book is her anointing of George Lucas as the greatest artist of our time. Her points are reasonable though: digital film is an incredible art form and arguably the most creative and high-impact artistic media of our time.  I find it interesting that we like to name a particular artist (e.g. Lucas, or say Hieronymous Bosch), much great art is the work of workshops, and more broadly, the work of the collaborative communities that create the tools and knowledge and tropes. Not only the end-of-the-chain digital artists who make the final decisions, but the folks who envisioned and created the computational tools to model and render and composite the imagined scenes.

The book is about Western art, and makes no attempt to be comprehensive even at that.  I am not sure I can forgive her slighting of the early Netherlandish painters who revolutionized art by (basically) inventing oil paints, which enabled artists to do more subtle shading and create more realistic and complicated paintings.  

Don't skip the introduction - it's one of the most interesting parts of the book. In fact, I'll end this review with my favorite quote from Paglia's intro:  "Civilization is defined by law and art."

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