Monday, March 1, 2010

What Painting Is -March 2010-Book of The Month

When one looks at a Monet, what exactly is one looking at? A framed painting, surely. And, too, as traditional art history texts would suggest, an "impression of light and atmosphere." But for art historian and painter Elkins, the essence of a painting--" what painting is" --goes beyond such abstractions. For one must not overlook the "process" of painting itself, the process by which artists get their hands dirty mixing oils and pigments, jabbing and scraping until one day the mess of paint blobs magically emerges as water lilies (or a haystack or a field of poppies) on the canvas. Indeed, it is the transformative power of the act of painting that Elkins explores in What Painting Is and that he elucidates expertly by way of another transformative art--the ancient practice of alchemy. In each of the nine chapters, Elkins draws parallels between artistic and alchemical processes. Like the alchemist, the painter sequesters him-or herself into the studio to mix and match substances in search of a recipe that will turn unpromising materia prima into the perfect painting (the philosopher's stone). Elkins, a true alchemist of ideas, has conjured up an original and insightful book that is sure to transform the reader's understanding of painting. Veronica Scrol

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