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How Do We Look: The Body, the Divine, and the Question of Civilization

by Mary Beard

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2447110,648 (3.64)3
From prehistoric Mexico to modern Istanbul, Mary Beard looks beyond the familiar canon of Western imagery to explore the history of art, religion, and humanity. Conceived as a gorgeously illustrated accompaniment to "How Do We Look" and "The Eye of Faith," the famed Civilisations shows on PBS, renowned classicist Mary Beard has created this elegant volume on how we have looked at art. Focusing in Part I on the Olmec heads of early Mesoamerica, the colossal statues of the pharaoh Amenhotep III, and the nudes of classical Greece, Beard explores the power, hierarchy, and gender politics of the art of the ancient world, and explains how it came to define the so-called civilized world. In Part II, Beard chronicles some of the most breathtaking religious imagery ever made--whether at Angkor Wat, Ravenna, Venice, or in the art of Jewish and Islamic calligraphers--to show how all religions, ancient and modern, have faced irreconcilable problems in trying to picture the divine. With this classic volume, Beard redefines the Western- and male-centric legacies of Ernst Gombrich and Kenneth Clark. Includes 92 illustrations.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
As a physical object, this book is a triumph: the cover shimmers, the paper is heavy and smooth, the art is well chosen and beautifully rendered. As a text, though, it has little to offer. Although the title (and to some extent, the layout) positions it as a revisit of John Berger's influential Ways of Seeing, the chapters are short, shallow, and overly simple. Interesting pieces of art—some well known, some not—are touched upon, Beard's main point about each is briefly stated, and then we move on. Other reviewers indicate that these chapters are actually transcriptions of the script for a television show I haven't seen, which would help explain this. But it left me disappointed in Beard, whom I had admired, especially when she seems to honestly believe that an ancient Greek man (almost certainly fictional, too) who masturbated onto a statue was guilty of rape—of the statue. This bizarre opinion is not just tossed off, but actually returned to later. It's one of those things that can leave a reader wondering about the author's sanity.

So I'd recommend this book as a tiny coffee table book and as an introduction to works of art and architecture, many non-Western, that merit further investigation. As a work by a distinguished classicist and public intellectual, it's an embarrassment. ( )
  john.cooper | Jul 19, 2022 |
I was drawn to this book by Mary Beard, whose reputation proceeds her. I don't typically read a lot of art history or analysis, but this short volume was both interesting and highly readable. Looking at the role of the viewer in art and traveling around the world, this book manages to make a complex topic approachable. If you're interesting in art and the ancient world, this book is likely for you. ( )
  wagner.sarah35 | Sep 1, 2020 |
From the wording of the title, I thought Beard had created a critique of how we view antiquity in the manner of John Berger. Inside, she explains that it's more of a re-definition of previous interpretations by the likes of Johann Joachim Winckelmann, Christiana Herringham, Ernst Gombrich and Kenneth Clark.

With the aloofness of a Taoist or the mischievousness of a conceptual artist, Mary Beard considers all that happens to an artwork after its inception to be legitimate contributions to its artistic qualities, whether it's criticism, religious objection, vandalism or even rape! It makes me think that Beard is being a bit like Marcel Duchamp, who, when his Large Glass (1915-23) was accidentally damaged in 1927, repaired the damage but left many of the cracks intact.

Apart from the usual places Kenneth Clark would have visited back in his day, Beard's tour takes us beyond Europe to Mexico, Egypt, China, India, Turkey, etc. And instead of focusing on creators, Beard highlights the artworks' spiritual and physical connections with their viewers throughout history. This is a quick, thoroughly enjoyable read containing many attractive colour photos. ( )
  camlee | Jun 24, 2019 |
Classicist Mary Beard looks at the way art reflects and influences religion.
  ritaer | Mar 4, 2019 |
Some new insights into how Art reflects what was going on in society at the time. In depth look at faith and how the artist expresses one’s religious and political context at the time. ( )
  JosephKing6602 | Oct 16, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
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From prehistoric Mexico to modern Istanbul, Mary Beard looks beyond the familiar canon of Western imagery to explore the history of art, religion, and humanity. Conceived as a gorgeously illustrated accompaniment to "How Do We Look" and "The Eye of Faith," the famed Civilisations shows on PBS, renowned classicist Mary Beard has created this elegant volume on how we have looked at art. Focusing in Part I on the Olmec heads of early Mesoamerica, the colossal statues of the pharaoh Amenhotep III, and the nudes of classical Greece, Beard explores the power, hierarchy, and gender politics of the art of the ancient world, and explains how it came to define the so-called civilized world. In Part II, Beard chronicles some of the most breathtaking religious imagery ever made--whether at Angkor Wat, Ravenna, Venice, or in the art of Jewish and Islamic calligraphers--to show how all religions, ancient and modern, have faced irreconcilable problems in trying to picture the divine. With this classic volume, Beard redefines the Western- and male-centric legacies of Ernst Gombrich and Kenneth Clark. Includes 92 illustrations.

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