If you’re looking for something inspirational in the art line you would find it difficult to pass up The Power of Art. The book is available in the shops now and at $60 it’s a snip. For the wealth of information and Simon Schama’s deep insights twice the price would not be outrageous.
He delves into the works of eight artists including one sculptor, which is probably about the politically correct ratio. With some historical context, side references to other works, a little biography and a great deal of original perception Schama concentrates the lens of his penetrating eye on one major work of each. In the case of Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini the work he chose is the Ecstasy of Saint Theresa.
He pulls no punches our Simon and goes straight to the core of the matter. She is in ecstasy alright; deep in an orgasmic spasm; defenceless, carefree and utterly abandoned. Bernini, as in most of his work, pulled no punches either; and he got away with it. Bernini read into Theresa’s own accounts of her religious ecstasies during her communion with her god and took a more earthly view of the source of her spasms. He combined the two and fashioned a life-size sculpture of religious and sexual ecstasy that has never been equalled. He ran the risk of offending his ecclesiastical commissioner which is not uncommon but to risk offending his god could, in the sixteenth century, get you burned at the stake and, in these times, attract at least a Fatwah. You have to be exceptionally talented to be tolerated and desperately needed be forgiven.
So take a leaf out of Bernini’s book and make what you will; and take a leaf out of Schama’s book and commit it to memory.
If words are not your thing then the DVD might be. You can get this from the BBC (www.bbcshop.com) for 19.99 pounds. It has been shown in Britain but not yet here. I cannot believe we are not to see it. With its understated re-enactments, economical text and lavish visuals of painstaking professionalism this is the TV for you. Any serious artist must have the book or the DVD or, better still, both in their library. Buy both for yourself and several books for friends; Christmas is never far away.
John Wooller President