Thursday, June 18, 2009

Art & Culture: The Artist’s Mother, introduction by Judith Thurman

Like exhibitions loosely grouped around a theme, books with a themed core seem to come in one of two categories. They’re either lame excuses to connect that which probably shouldn’t have been connected in the first place, or wonderful triumphs that have us looking at the topic in a new way.

In almost every regard, The Artist’s Mother (Overlook) falls into the latter camp. “Maternal love takes many forms,” author and journalist Judith Thurman writes in her introduction, “not all of them benign, but one of the most essential is to provide an experience of attunement.”

We don’t experience that attunement in all of the work collected here, but one does get a glimmer of what Thurman means as well, in some cases, the connections some painters maintain with where they’ve been as well as how they’re getting where they’re going.

The book opens on a fantastic portrait of Albrecht Dürer’s mother, Barbara. Painted when the artist was just 19, it is a masterwork that clearly lays the groundwork for the genius still being developed. For a later glimpse of that genius, a charcoal sketch of Dürer’s mother done just months before her death captures the woman as she was, not idealized as was dictated by the fashions of the time. Both works are remarkable, but it’s terrific to see them almost side-by-side.

Delivered chronologically, the book ends on Andy Warhol’s 1974 portrait of his mother, Julia Warhola. In between is a history of art in maternal form: John Constable, Rossetti, Paul Cézanne, Mary Cassatt, Frida Kahlo and that most famous mother-painter of all James Abbott MacNeill Whistler whose “Portrait in Gray and Black” has come to be known as “Whistler’s Mother.”

The Artist’s Mother is a wonderful short course in art history as well a terrific tribute to one of humankind’s most lasting bond.

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Blogger Juanita Rose Violini said...

Fascinating topic. The book seems timely as well. I have been hearing a lot about how unhappy or dissatisfied people are with their lives and the pressure they feel to measure up to an imagined ideal. I blame growing lack of depth of human connection to ourselves and others for the unhappiness. Who really examines themselves and their character anymore. No doubt, considering the maternal bond will add more depth to my own unexamined areas.

Thursday, June 18, 2009 at 7:15:00 AM PDT  
Blogger Suzanne said...

What a wonderful concept for a book! It makes me smile because as a young art student some 30 years ago, my mother was the subject of many of my projects, due mainly to her patience!
Thank you for sharing this book!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009 at 1:28:00 PM PST  

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