Camille Paglia-Glittering Images

Synopsis: Here is an enthralling journey through Western art’s defining moments, from the ancient Egyptian tomb of Queen Nefertari to George Lucas’s volcano planet duel in Revenge of the Sith. Glittering Images takes us on a tour through more than two dozen seminal images, some famous and some obscure or unknown—paintings, sculptures, architectural styles, performance pieces, and digital art that have defined and transformed our visual world. Camille Paglia combines close analysis with background information that situates each artist and image within its historical context—from the stone idols of the Cyclades to an elegant French rococo interior to Jackson Pollock’s abstract Green Silver to Renée Cox’s daring performance piece Chillin’ with Liberty. In a stunning conclusion, she declares that the avant-garde tradition is dead and that digital pioneer George Lucas is the world’s greatest living artist. (Adapted from Goodreads)

Themes Explored: non-fiction, art history, art, art appreciation, criticism, cultural awareness, culture, avant-garde, history, essays, artistic expression, ancient Egypt, Star Wars, culture appreciation

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Review: Art history never fascinated me in college. Probably because all my art class professors stopped caring about 5 decades beforehand and only lectures on the most boring/obscure art work imaginable. I had one professor announce at the beginning of the semester that he was retiring soon and just did not care about this class or our education. Needless to say, I learned so much about art. *insert eye roll*

Anyways, while I do not find art the most fascinating subject, I am looking to expand my cultural horizons. Sadly, most art books I have read over focus one some minutia of a random artist. I tend to prefer books about art heists over ones exploring the history of symbolism. I do not know about you guys, but some non-fiction books read too much like the kind of dry lectures that lulled everyone to sleep in college. Having only read some of Camille Paglia’s newspaper articles, I did not know what to expect from a full length book. In the end, I was pleasantly surprised by Glittering Images.

Written with the non-art aficionado in mind, Glittering Images explores approximately 1,000 years of art history. Each of the twenty-nine explored pictures represents a major movement within the art and cultural world at a specific point in time. Paglia begins with ancient Egyptian funerary images of Queen Nefertari and ends with George Lucas’s artistic renderings in Revenge of the Sith. Each picture is followed by a brief paragraph on the historical context and then an exploration of the cultural impact. No segment is longer than six pages, which turned out to be the maximum length of time I can read about art. What I greatly appreciated was Paglia showing how each piece influenced others throughout the ages. Apparently Egyptian styling is still rather common in certain portrait styles.

The book is apolitical. While Paglia discusses how politics influenced certain types of art, she examines these influences through an objective lens. Art represents neither good nor bad, it merely reflects the artists feelings at the time of creation. I think people try to put too much significance into art and try to make it represent something “meaningful”. Sometimes art is just something beautiful to admire or a way for an artist to express a complex emotion that words cannot capture.

With only twenty-nine works to examine, Paglia keeps the book short and concise. This is more an introductory primer to major trends in the art world than an in-depth exploration. Overall, I enjoyed reading the different vignettes and feel slightly more knowledgeable about art history. If you are an art fan or merely looking to expand your cultural knowledge base, Glittering Images is a good place to start.

Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars, 2012, Pantheon, ISBN: 9780375424601

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