Book Review: The Art of Rivalry by Sebastian Smee

Art of Rivalry
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Title: The Art of Rivalry: Four Friendships, Betrayals, and Breakthroughs in Modern Art
Author: Sebastian Smee
Publisher: Random House
Hardcover: 416 pages
Source: NetGalley
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Pulitzer Prize–winning art critic Sebastian Smee tells the fascinating story of four pairs of artists—Manet and Degas, Picasso and Matisse, Pollock and de Kooning, and Freud and Bacon—whose fraught, competitive friendships spurred them to new creative heights.

Rivalry is at the heart of some of the most famous and fruitful relationships in history. The Art of Rivalry follows eight celebrated artists, each linked to a counterpart by friendship, admiration, envy, and ambition. All eight are household names today. But to achieve what they did, each needed the influence of a contemporary—one who was equally ambitious but possessed sharply contrasting strengths and weaknesses.

Edouard Manet and Edgar Degas were close associates whose personal bond frayed after Degas painted a portrait of Manet and his wife. Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso swapped paintings, ideas, and influences as they jostled for the support of collectors like Leo and Gertrude Stein and vied for the leadership of a new avant-garde.

Jackson Pollock’s uninhibited style of “action painting” triggered a breakthrough in the work of his older rival, Willem de Kooning. After Pollock’s sudden death in a car crash, de Kooning took over his mantle and became romantically involved with his late friend’s mistress. Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon met in the early 1950s, when Bacon was being hailed as Britain’s most exciting new painter and Freud was working in relative obscurity. Their “intense but asymmetrical” friendship came to a head when Freud painted a celebrated portrait of Bacon that was later stolen.

Each of these relationships culminated in an early flashpoint, a rupture in a budding intimacy that was both a betrayal and a trigger for great innovation. Writing with the same exuberant wit and psychological insight that earned him a Pulitzer Prize for art criticism, Sebastian Smee explores the way that coming into one’s own as an artist—finding one’s voice—almost always involves willfully breaking away from some intimate’s expectations of who you are or ought to be.

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

One of my favorite things to learn about is how art is made — I mean art in a broad sense, in terms of writing, painting, filmmaking, etc. I find it incredibly satisfying to learn about the lives of those who’ve created amazing pieces of work, and learn how their circumstances influenced those works. So, when I saw that this was available on NetGalley, of course I requested it.

Sebastian Smee does a wonderful job in going through the pairs of artists and giving brief summaries of their lives and how they were affected by each other. I love that this gives a brief glimpse into each of the artist’s works, so that we can see these constructions were not created out of a vacuum, but within the life of an actual person. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that, so it’s nice to learn something about each artist.

The writing itself is incredibly understandable and I felt that the stories were fast-paced but well fleshed out. I was engrossed almost the whole way through and never felt like I was missing any information about the artists, but the story didn’t feel drawn-out. The perfect balance. 🙂

What would have made this book a five was if we were given a brief description of the time period and how art was currently viewed in the culture before delving into the artists’ lives and how they were changing it. We get a lot of detail on what the artists do, but not necessarily why that was groundbreaking for their time — the only reason I was able to almost keep up was due to my vague memories of an art history class I once took. I think knowing the context of the time period would have been incredibly helpful for understanding the different artists and appreciating their new approaches to art.

My favorite section was definitely the Matisse and Picasso chapter, but I also think that those are the two artists I know the most about, so there might have been a bit of a bias when it came to that. I also think it was the least dysfunctional relationship that Smee explores (at least, it seemed that way to me), so that also might have been a factor.

If you’re interested in how art is created, or learning more about the lives of some famous artists, then I definitely recommend you pick this up. I greatly enjoyed it.

Book Review: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

snow flower and the secret fanTitle: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
Author: Lisa See
Publisher: RandomHouse
Kindle: 288 pages
Source: Chicago OverDrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

In nineteenth-century China, in a remote Hunan county, a girl named Lily, at the tender age of seven, is paired with a laotong, “old same,” in an emotional match that will last a lifetime. The laotong, Snow Flower, introduces herself by sending Lily a silk fan on which she’s painted a poem in nu shu, a unique language that Chinese women created in order to communicate in secret, away from the influence of men.

As the years pass, Lily and Snow Flower send messages on fans, compose stories on handkerchiefs, reaching out of isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments. Together, they endure the agony of foot-binding, and reflect upon their arranged marriages, shared loneliness, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood. The two find solace, developing a bond that keeps their spirits alive. But when a misunderstanding arises, their deep friendship suddenly threatens to tear apart.

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

This book has been on my reading list for so long, I’m not even sure why I added it in the first place. It’s available on OverDrive, which is huge for me actually getting some reading done these days, and I think I might have seen that it was a “most popular” book, and added it to my wishlist. So, I wasn’t really sure what I was getting into when I started it. I kind of hate reading descriptions, because I feel like they ruin my discovery of the story, so it’s nice that I have such a long to-read list, because it gives me time to forget the book description.

Overall, I would say that Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is solidly entertaining. It’s not too complex, so it’s easy to get through, and the main character is fairly easy to relate to, even if she is a bit judgmental. See does a good job in keeping the plot moving with interesting twists and turns, and the beginning is well developed in terms of detail and the reader is gently led from one conflict to the next. I’m currently reading a book that’s incredibly choppy, where we get one huge conflict that takes a chapter to introduce, followed quickly after by a page-and-a-half resolution, and then another huge conflict again. This book is definitely not like that. The beginning and middle take their time to fully develop, which allowed me to become immersed when it was going on.

While I thoroughly enjoyed most of it, the end was lacking a little bit. Everything about the culture and way of life is incredibly detailed, and I loved learning about the different customs of these people through the eyes of Lily. However, if a book about the cultures and customs of women in the Hunan Province is what I wanted to read, I would have picked up a nonfiction book. What I really wanted from this particular novel was a good story, and the story/plot elements were lacking for me. I understand that the author spent a lot of time researching, which I appreciate in a novel like this, but she spent too much time showing off that research instead of dedicating space to plot and character development near the end. The climax wasn’t as developed as it could have been, which made the resolution fall a bit flat.

Again, that’s not to say that I disliked this book. I liked it quite a lot — the ending just wasn’t as satisfying as I would have liked. As a quick read, this is perfect. A little gruesome at times (I still can’t get over the foot binding scene. Ah!), but easy to get through and entertaining. There definitely was enough drama to keep me interested the entire time.

Book Review: Torment by Lauren Kate

Torment by Lauren Kate.jpgTitle: Torment
Author: Lauren Kate
Series: Fallen, Book 2
Publisher: Random House
Hardcover: 452 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Hell on earth.

That’s what it’s like for Luce to be apart from her fallen angel boyfriend, Daniel.

It took them an eternity to find one another, but now he has told her he must go away. Just long enough to hunt down the Outcasts—immortals who want to kill Luce. Daniel hides Luce at Shoreline, a school on the rocky California coast with unusually gifted students: Nephilim, the offspring of fallen angels and humans.

At Shoreline, Luce learns what the Shadows are, and how she can use them as windows to her previous lives. Yet the more Luce learns, the more she suspects that Daniel hasn’t told her everything. He’s hiding something—something dangerous.

What if Daniel’s version of the past isn’t actually true? What if Luce is really meant to be with someone else?

The second novel in the addictive FALLEN series . . . where love never dies.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I’m grateful my friends told me to stick with this series, because I definitely liked this book better than Fallen. There was still a lot of teen angst, which I guess you have to expect from a book like this, but the story was more believable, which I appreciated.

With all the stuff that’s going on, Luce is finally becoming a little less whiny and helpless and is taking charge of her own life. Thank goodness! I wanted to see this in the first book, but I’m glad that it came about eventually. One thing I didn’t like about her was that she seems to be a bit stupid at the beginning. I mean, she just went through this huge battle with people trying to kill her, yet she doesn’t listen when Daniel and Cam tell her to stay at the school where she’s safe. This cluelessness on her part is an attempt at conflict, I think, but it just irritated me.

Another thing that bothered me was the tension between Daniel and Luce. Again, I feel it was forced. Daniel using phrases like, “Don’t disobey me!” to Luce doesn’t make any sense to me. He knows her personality and knows how she’d react to that. And why can’t he just explain things? It doesn’t help the suspense at all, because the reader pretty much knows what’s going on and it bothered me a lot.

Despite that, I really did like this book. I liked the new characters we were introduced to, though Miles is a bit annoying. And Shelby is definitely my new favorite. Seeing children of angels and demons and learning what they can do was a highlight. It was also strange to see how popular Luce is in the angel/demon world. Kind of a Harry Potter moment for her.

The story itself was fast-paced and interesting. I kept wanting to know what would happen next and what Luce would figure out about her past that would shed some light on what’s going on in the present. I loved the ending and how it gave enough information to satisfy my curiosity, but not so much that we now know all that’s going on. It answered some questions, and made me ask a few more. I thought the final battle at the end was a little unrealistic — really, nobody saw that? But I can get over it.

If you found yourself on the fence about Fallen, don’t give up on the series! Definitely give Torment a try before you decide not to like it.