By Joseph Romero
NEW YORK, 2 March 2006 More in the tradition of belles
lettres than formal art criticism, this collection of American
novelist John Updike's previously published exhibition reviews of American
art is a source of pleasure and wit for whomever takes the time to read
Updike attributes his passion for art to a single
painting purchased for thirty-five dollars by his mother during the
Depression, when his rural parents could least afford it. Later, he
went on to take two courses at Harvard followed by a year at the Ruskin
School of Drawing and Fine Art in Oxford.
Still, it seems to
be his modest American farm house background coupled with his gift for
elegant prose that yield, for example, amusing meditations on "The
American Face" and the portraiture of John Singleton Copley essays which
convey a perceptive grasp of American nativism that are a far cry from the
often turgid assessments of the art historian or professional art critic.
Some might argue that Updike doesn't always get it right or
is ill-at-ease with his topic Marsden Hartley and Jackson Pollock are a
stretch for him. Also, given the time period covered by the collection
(1990 - 2004), it is unfortunate that the art of preeminent
African-American artists Jacob Lawrence (1917 - 2000) and Romare Bearden
(1912 - 1988) is not covered each benefited from comprehensive and
itinerant retrospectives in the United States from 2001 to 2005.
Nonetheless, his keen observation of and psychological insight into
representational and figurative American art (Winslow Homer, Thomas Eakins, Edward Hopper
for example) demonstrate a lively and sophisticated visual literacy that few writers
outside of visual arts possess today.
Still Looking: Essays on American Art
Knopf (November 2005)
Hardcover: 240 pages