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Media Reviews Archive

Posted February 1st, 2010

Photography: A Critical Introduction
Liz Wells, Editor. London and New York: Routledge, 4th edition, 2009.

This book is an introduction to the critical analysis and interpretation of photography. This textbook, in its fourth edition in a decade, explores major issues in photography; places them in their historical context; lists the leading proponents of various significant views and the photographers that inspire them; models critical analysis of major photographic works and movements; and identifies additional sources for further inquiry. It is not a how-to handbook for the studio photographer, but rather a brilliant introduction to more sophisticated ways of understanding the field. As such, it is appropriate for students beginning advanced studies in the aesthetics of photography, curators and guardians of art collections, and photography professionals.

Each chapter covers a different issue in critical thought. The authors are British, lending Continental insights to the subjects. This is perhaps the greatest value of the book for an American reader as an antidote to that American tendency toward myopic vision. The discussion of late 20th-century perspectives places the start of postmodernism in the late 1970s, suggesting that postmodernism is currently being supplanted by another aesthetic, so new as to defy definition at this time. These are exciting ideas. It encourages a more reflective, less dogmatic approach to photographic media and suggests new vistas of inquiry and exploration.

The photo illustrations are adequate, but an instructor would certainly wish to supplement with additional photos. Thankfully the book lists significant practitioners in the field and provides other supplementary material. This should be essential reading for all serious students of the medium.

Reviewed by Louise Miller, St. Charles East High School, St. Charles, Illinois.  

Creative Techniques: Drawing
By Joseph Asuncion and Gemma Guasch. Barron’s, 2009.

This compilation of brief vignettes describing a thematic approach to art study is an excellent sourcebook for the adult learner and a supplemental resource for the fine art teacher. In Creative Techniques: Drawing, Joseph Asuncion and Gemma Guasch, teacher/artists in Barcelona, Spain cover the art fundamentals well with a first chapter of Basic Techniques describing various wet and dry media, and a closing section of Basic Concepts explaining elements and principles. The other chapters relate uses of various media by exploring a topic—for example, drawing gestures, line, transfers, graffiti, space, and atmosphere.

Each chapter begins with an historical perspective showcasing a particular artist’s work as an example upon which to build a thematic discussion. Following this, there is a step-by-step demonstration of technique, and then Gallery/Window pages with the same subject or model drawn with variations of color, media, or light. The histories are interesting and bring to the reader’s attention several practicing European artists in addition to Masters such as Picasso and Degas. For this reader, the historical insights were valuable and the work by one featured artist, Julio Vaquero, worth additional viewing. The chapters on Space and Atmosphere, Chiaroscuro and Travel Diaries are highlights of the book with fresh technical approaches offered for exploration.

The Graffiti chapter, however, poses some problems for this reader. While the historical introduction discusses the field as ‘street art’ existing outside of established art communities and names several practitioners, it leaves out Banksy (UK), who was recently featured in Art Education (July, 2009). The importance of Banksy may be a difference of perspective location with the reader from the US and the authors from Spain, yet his presence in the media makes him a major player in contemporary public space graffiti arts. The introductory comments for this chapter also refer to ‘graphic designers’ as graffiti artists and expand or re-define graffiti art to include “Internet art, books, and more…a new era of globalization and technology.” The examples resemble graphic design work and the step-by-step images shown are mostly about the traditional action of taking the location to the two-dimensional page. They don’t illustrate modern graffiti where the location is the page. The images also lack the rebellious or meaningful content of the most powerful graffiti work. This chapter, however, has been a catalyst for engaging my high school seniors in rich discussions about public art, the globalization of images, and the role of technology in art. The debate also raises questions on whether we need new terminology for a new ‘art form.’ Creative Techniques: Drawing covers the art fundamentals well and leads the reader into exploration. Presented thematically, it is a media and technique reference book of value for the teaching/studying artist’s inspirational library.

Reviewed by Diane Wilkin, Secondary Division Director for the Pennsylvania Art Education Association, Levittown, Pennsylvania.

Chinese Animal Painting Made Easy
By Rebecca Yue. New York: Watson Guptill, 2009.

This is a very worthwhile resource about foundational techniques and tools for ‘free-style’ Asian painting. It can be useful to teachers who are introducing their students to this powerful and expressive art form.

The book features a comprehensive section on necessary—and cherished—materials such as brushes, paper, ink, and ink stones. A list of suppliers is included. There is a fine gallery of completed works by the artist as well as step-by-step demonstrations.

Ms. Yue’s animal paintings project personality, grace and vigor. I especially like the emotional warmth that she conveys in her representations of mother mammals with their youngsters. The artist’s concise yet energetic paintings allow viewers to discern essential forms in living beings. My upper elementary students gained valuable insights into the process of conceptualizing visually and thinking abstractly by intuitively constructing their own watercolor versions of Ms. Yue’s vibrant creatures. Older students and adults can find guidance in the thorough verbal instructions that accompany the step-by-step painting examples. These include precise descriptions of various brush strokes, loading techniques, and toning options.

The book’s emphasis on the athleticism of brush painting is appealing. Ms. Yue helps us to appreciate the dance-like quality of the process: the fluid wrist and elbow motions that power the intricate pulls, presses, lifts and shifting brush angles that ultimately create the images.

For the most part, the book eschews in-depth forays into composition and the complex historical and philosophical underpinnings of Asian painting. (For explorations of these important topics, I like Mai-mai Sze’s The Way of Chinese Painting or Kwo Da-Wei’s Chinese Brushwork in Calligraphy and Painting.) Instead, Rebecca Yue’s volume sets forth a generous mix of technical information and encouraging counsel that enables individuals to both begin and advance their actual practice of this wondrously lively art.

Reviewed by Edith Pucci Couchman, elementary art teacher, Infant Jesus School in Nashua, New Hampshire, and Maple Dene School in Pepperell, Massachusetts.

Why on Earth Does God Have to Paint? Centripetal Art
By Rafael Chodos. Based on Selected Works and Writings of Junko Chodos. Giotto Multimedia, 2009. 336pp., oversized hardcover.

In Why on Earth Does God Have to Paint, Rafael Chodos documents the artistic journey of his wife, Junko Chodos. Because Junko Chodos’ artistic process is a journey to the center of herself, Rafael Chodos asserts that Junko Chodos’ paintings and writings have established a new concept of art called centripetal art. He defines centripetal art as “art which seeks the center” and explains that “the artist journeys toward her center in order to encounter divine presence there.” He goes on to describe it as “a new kind of art, post-postmodern, which …brings about spiritual growth for both the artist and the viewer.” Rafael Chodos maintains that this type of spiritual art, centripetal art, could not have been created earlier, because of five specific social and intellectual developments that transformed the consciousness of the 20th century into the consciousness of the 21st century. These developments are: the impact of psychology (specifically Sigmund Freud’s theories), the impact of multiculturalism (and cultural exchange which, since the last half of the 20th century, has not been optional), the impact of World War II and fascism (which has deep psychological aspects, appealing to the individual’s fear of facing the responsibilities of freedom), the impact of existentialism and the total absence of complacency, and the impact of the atomic bomb and ecological concerns (the atomic bomb revealing that mankind could become an adversary to both itself and to the whole of creation). Rafael Chodos writes that these five influences combined to move the art world away from modernism and into postmodernism. From this, he asserts, emerged a new and complex spirituality, unveiled in Junko Chodos’ art: her mission being to transform the viewer through the images she creates.

Reviewed by Mary C. Nasser, Art Teacher at St. Dominic High School, O’Fallon, Missouri.


Thanks to the generosity of major publishers with interests in art education who send us their review copies of upcoming books, NAEA currently has on hand the following books and/or videos for review.

Dear James: Letters to a Young Illustrator.

R.O. Blechman. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009.

Candid lessons on art and life in a series of letters addressed to an imagined young illustrator.

Tickle Tut’s Toes.

Julie Appel and Amy Guglielmo. New York: Sterling Books, 2009.

A unique texture-“touch the art” board book on Egyptian art and symbols for very young children.

Laurence Gartel: Digital Media Artist.

(DVD, 13.35 minutes). Glenview, IL: Crystal Productions, 2009.

Gartel has explored computer art for over 30 years; his works have been shown at the Museum of Modern Art, the Smithsonian Museum of American History, and others. He is known for cutting-edge works for many pop culture icons.

Landscape Painting: Essential Concepts and Techniques for Plein Air and Studio Practice.

Mitchell Albala. New York: Watson-Guptill, 2009.

A full-color, detailed practical guide to all aspects of landscape painting by a practicing artist and teacher at Gage Academy of Art, Seattle.

Dropping In on the Impressionists.

(DVD, 18 minutes; plus hardcover full-color children’s book). Pamela Geiger Stephens. Illustrated by Jim McNeill. Glenview, IL:Crystal Productions, 2009.

A lively art history lesson (or series of lessons) for K-8. Children are introduced to Monet, Cassatt, Degas, Manet, Renoir, and Pisarro.


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