Drawing Us In: How We Experience Visual Art

edited by Edna Chiang and Deborah Chasman

ISBN: 0807066079

I’ll start off by saying what I know about art, and why I read this book. I know very little about Art, maybe something more about art, and in general, might be described as one of those “I know what I like when I see it” people, albeit with an open mind about what I’ll look at. I picked up this book because I’ve been increasingly intrigued by the visual as of late, and because it is a collection of essays mostly by writers (Dorothy Allison, Mary Gordon, and Mark Doty all have pieces here) — in other words, by “word people” — and I feel comfortable with them.

It is a slim volume, under 150 pages, containing 15 different essays. There are no illustrations, no pictures of any kind are reproduced. At first I thought this was an odd choice (a book about art with no pictures?) but it works extremely well. It forces the reader to think more about art than would be necessary if the contributors could just say “see this.” Instead, the writers can talk about how “seeing this” affected them, or what they hope to experience when they see art, and why they look.

I loved this book. It suffers from some problems common to collections with a wide variety in authorship (results are frequently uneven; thematic gaps appear) but not enough ruin the enjoyment gained from reading about what an author is passionate about.

I liked considering the ideas in defense of abstract art; the argument between those who believe in the “instantaneous seeing” of art those who espouse a “time-elapsed” view; most of all I loved seeing that are so many different ways to “look.” Reading it made me want to go to a museum and stand in front of “great” paintings, and go to galleries and look at photographs, at sculpture, and think about how I see. Highly recommended.

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