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From the Director
Those who know me know that I am a voracious reader—newspapers, magazines of many kinds, and, of course, books. I prefer non-fiction to fiction and love art books above all else. My library is akin to many artists’ studios: personal, idiosyncratic, and not open to just anyone. As I continue to settle in at the ISC and at home, I am unpacking books and adding new books to an already damn big library. To my delight, the last year or so has been filled with much contentment because so many books have been published on art and artists—many of them very good and extremely readable.
At some point during the last few decades, the sense of art writing as a craft has faded, replaced by the notion that if enough words are jammed around an object, meaning will somehow magically appear. Yet few of these new school writers say anything. To express an opinion, make an observation, or take a position about a work of art is to bring forth real fortitude of belief. Why has such an approach been allowed to fade? Art writing has also allowed biography to lapse, neglecting the complex and often inexplicable turns and twists of an artist’s life (no more or less complicated than our own) as if the bearing of history on that life interferes with the art being discussed. Bringing the mayhem of the real world into play when writing about artists seems to have become wrong-minded as if art is beyond or above such banal intrusions.
Art writing is a noteworthy skill: sensitive practitioners can turn the reactions, feelings, and at times uncertain emotions of viewing a work of art into clearly defined words, phrases, and articulations that the reader will connect to, consider, debate, and perhaps even enjoy. The joy portion of this learning process cannot be discounted even by those who practice and focus primarily on theoretical intentions and developments. I would say that there have been at least a half dozen or so recent titles that are joyful in their efforts to explore the reaches of artistic exploration and innovation.
Katherine Kuh’s A Love Affair with Modern Art, skillfully edited by Avis Berman after the author’s death in 1994, is a wonderful, thoughtful collection of personal essays about her life in art and the art of her contemporaries. Sculptors as important as Brancusi and Noguchi are discussed and remembered. In Kuh’s altogether autobiographical essays, she not only analyzes their work, but also, at the same time and in the same breath, explains the often intricate nature of her friendships and working relationships with them. She tells terrific anecdotes about her travels and studio visits during the course of a long and notable career that took her from art dealer to curator, to art critic for the Saturday Review, and then to independent advisor. Kuh’s is a serious examination of artists’ lives and works that also discusses the people who surround artists, who not only inhabit their world, but also help to define and determine their individual values and practices. Kuh’s ideas and efforts are well worth exploring as something of a role model especially in as disjunctive an age such as ours. The simplicity of her language and the clarity with which she interprets and presents her subjects could serve us well as we continue to build libraries of historic and critical materials about our contemporaries.
ISC Executive Director