Essays on Art
In this posthumous collection of John Updike’s art writings, a companion volume to the acclaimed Just Looking (1989) and Still Looking (2005), readers are again treated to “remarkably elegant essays” (Newsday) in which “the psychological concerns of the novelist drive the eye from work to work until a deep understanding of the art emerges” (The New York Times Book Review).
Always Looking opens with “The Clarity of Things,” the Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities for 2008. Here, in looking closely at individual works by Copley, Homer, Eakins, Norman Rockwell, and others, the author teases out what is characteristically “American” in American art. This talk is followed by fourteen essays, most of them written for The New York Review of Books, on certain highlights in Western art of the last two hundred years: the iconic portraits of Gilbert Stuart and the sublime landscapes of Frederic Edwin Church, the series paintings of Monet and the monotypes of Degas, the richly patterned canvases of Vuillard and the golden extravagances of Klimt, the cryptic triptychs of Beckmann, the personal graffiti of Miró, the verbal-visual puzzles of Magritte, and the monumental Pop of Oldenburg and Lichtenstein. The book ends with a consideration of recent works by a living American master, the steely sculptural environments of Richard Serra.
John Updike was a gallery-goer of genius. Always Looking is, like everything else he wrote, an invitation to look, to see, to apprehend the visual world through the eyes of a connoisseur.
The previously uncollected art writings of the prolific and award-winning novelist and critic Updike, who died in 2009, are compiled in this handsome volume. The essays explore works by artists including Monet, Klimt, Degas, Mir , Magritte; the major movements of Impressionism, Surrealism, Pop art, and Minimalism; and the habits and tastes of the collectors who shape our understanding of fine art's place in American culture. The reviews, most of which appeared in the New York Review of Books and the New Republic, continue the analytical approach employed in the celebrated collections Just Looking (1989) and Still Looking (2005) by unspooling like narrations of a museum ramble with Updike at your side. Through Updike's lens of novelistic psychology, some of the best-known biographies of 19th and 20th century art history take on a wholly original cast. Our guide is eternally curious; informal but well-informed; adept at describing color, line, or brushstroke without falling back on jargon or metaphor. Whether he's transported by a Monet landscape or thrown off-balance by Richard Serra's torqued elliptical sculptures, Updike is always honest about how he is personally affected by the artwork. As the final document of Updike's sensitive and passionate approach to art, this book reinforces the late writer's great lesson: that we should always be looking. Illus.