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Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars

by Camille Paglia

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2165115,068 (3.73)1
An enthralling journey through Western art's defining moments, from the ancient Egyptian tomb of Queen Nefertari to George Lucas's volcano planet duel in "Revenge of the Sith."

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29 very spirited and opinionated essays on 29 pieces of art during the centuries. Paglia shows that culture studies at its best can enlighten, provoke and inspire an interesting dialogue with artists, their time and their artifacts. ( )
  ajungherr | Mar 15, 2018 |
A problem with discussing art in books or textbooks is that reproduced images never do the real thing justice. It's even worse when they're reproduced in black and white. My copy of "Glittering Images" is the paperback format, and it's very good quality with color plates for each piece discussed, although if you want to study in detail, it'd be best to find the images online where you'd be able to zoom in and out.However, it is much appreciated that Paglia and the publisher produced a quality edition in paperback (this book originally came out in hardback).

The introduction is thought-provoking, and it is one I wish everyone who has any kind of interest in the arts would read. Paglia states: "Members of the art world and residents of metropolitan regions with major museums suffer from a tragic complacency about the current status and prestige of art. The fine arts are shrinking and receding everywhere in the world. Video games, digitally animated movies, and televised sports have far more energy and variety as well as manifest impact on younger generations. The arts are fighting a rearguard action, their very survival at stake. Museums have embraced publicity and marketing techniques invented by Hollywood to attract large crowds to blockbuster shows, but the big draws remain Old Master or Impressionist painting, not contemporary art....Art makes news today only when a painting is stolen or auctioned at a record price." (p. vii). I actually wish I could quote the entire introduction.

Although I kind of know Camille Paglia is considered to provide sometimes-controversial opinions (in general, not just on art), and that I have her much-longer "Sexual Personae" in my TBR (I'd love to be reading this next, but alas, it is back at the house in another state we're trying to sell), her essays in "Glittering Images" did not strike me as providing controversial opinions on the artworks she chose to discuss.

Each of the essays showcase (in chronological order) an artwork Paglia choses to cover, and thus, because there are 29 essays, there are only 29 pieces of art discussed. Therefore, this book is not an extensive survey on art history. Still, most readers (unless they are closed-minded to art in general) -- even those who love art history (such as me), will take away new information -- and at least some of it providing food for thought-- from reading this volume.

Paglia thinks highly of the art of painting -- she states "the decline of painting has cut aspiring artists from their noblest lineage" (p. viii) -- but sculptures and architecture and installment art are included here as well. As a final declaration, she discusses George Lucas and how his Star Wars film series have proved him to be one of the best modern artists to date.

Additionally, Paglia covers pieces that occasionally seem idiosyncratic in her choices for discussion. For instance, Essay 10 "Lord of the Sea" covers a painting done in the Mannerist style "...the chilly last phase of Renaissance art, produced against a background of political instability and corruption" (p. 53). This painting is "Portrait of Andrea Doria as Neptune" by Agnolo Bronzino. I had never heard of Bronzino until now. And, I had not even known that Andrea Doria was a real person -- I thought that the shipwreck that occurred in 1956 that I've heard about was just a random feminine name. Paglia does mention the shipwreck but explains that Andrea Doria was a prominent leader during 16th century Italy.

My overall impression is that Paglia chose pieces that appealed to her, arranged them in chronological order, then provided a history of each with occasional insight. She does all this in a very readable manner. Those that might be disappointed in this book might be ones who had been hoping for a more encompassing view of art history -- or for more of whatever controversial views she is known for (I have to read more of her to find out what those views are, exactly). She states that this book is for a general audience who might not have frequent access to art.

I did like this book very much and actually want to re-read this (and maybe skim some parts, though) again in the near future.

Edited to add: one more point...Paglia provides an index but not a bibliography (she says the latter would add too many pages). This was frustrating when she mentions art criticism by Oscar Wilde and Walter Pater -- if she isn't going to include a bibliography, then at least perhaps she could have mentioned in the text the specific titles of what she is referring to. ( )
  ValerieAndBooks | Sep 23, 2014 |
Over the years, I've run into Camille Paglia's essays at unexpected times, and I seem to always come away thoughtful and, occasionally, amused. Clearly coming from a perspective distant from my own, politically and culturally a member of East Coast academia, I never the less found her insights and way of putting things provocative.

When I heard that her newest book argued that George Lucas was one of greatest, if not the greatest, of modern artists, I was intrigued. First off, because I've been a Star Wars fan since I was a child making light sabers out of wrapping paper tubes. And second, because I've occasionally, like many other fans, wondered if Lucas had lost his way with the Prequels.

How does an art critic find Lucas, who has turned Star Wars into one of the most profitable franchises in history, to be an artist?

Of course, I was intrigued.

Paglia's Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars is a survey of art through history, with each entry a selection of an era. Paglia describes the piece of art, starting in the bronze era and passing through ancient Greece, the middle ages, the Renaissance, and so on. Each entry is two to three pages long and provides background and narrative, analysis and context for the work. The writing is fluid, colorful, and, like I had found in Paglia before, intriguing.

I'm not an art critic, let alone an art historian. At best, I can appreciate a few pieces of well known art. What I found in Paglia was an informative survey of art through the ages. In the introduction Paglia argues that what we are losing in our quest to get to the top of the education ladder is an appreciation of what art has brought us to where we are.

It's fascinating reading, even if there are a few pieces of art from the modern era looked--to me--more like spatters of paint than art.

I recommend it, whether you are an experienced art critic or a novice, as I am.

And Lucas? I'll let you discover on your own why Paglia thinks he is today's greatest living artist.

( )
  publiusdb | Apr 29, 2014 |
very interesting choices and good discussions of the art. i never got star wars. i saw the first one with 2 guys who were stoned. i was "perfectly" straight and had no idea what was going on. neither did they. saw it again and gave up. ( )
  mahallett | Feb 27, 2014 |
Some 29 essays providing an introduction to art.

The big gripe a lot of people will inevitably have with this is that a lot will be left out - could you imagine the difficulty of trying to introduce somebody to literature with only 29 books? Still, it's a very respectable introduction and cross-section of European and North American art, and the author's opinions are very ... fiery, to put it mildly.

My only (minor) criticism is her choice of Star Wars Episode III to represent modern pop cinema. If you had to pick something from Star Wars, IV or V are better. ( )
  HadriantheBlind | Mar 30, 2013 |
Showing 5 of 5
[Paglia] is especially good at the difficult trick of providing context for the newcomer to art history without being tedious for a more experienced reader. She is no dreary docent. . . She is also adept at helping readers to see the radical original impulse in now familiar forms.
added by sgump | editWall Street Journal, Gary Rosen (Oct 17, 2012)
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An enthralling journey through Western art's defining moments, from the ancient Egyptian tomb of Queen Nefertari to George Lucas's volcano planet duel in "Revenge of the Sith."

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