How Do We Look: The Body, the Divine, and the Question of Civilization

Liveright: Norton. Sept. 2018. 240p. illus. index. ISBN 9781631494406. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781631494413. HIST
Beard (classics, Cambridge; SPQR) desires to shift the focus of art history from the artist to the viewer in this brief book, which serves as a companion to the PBS show Civilizations. Using extensive illustrations of painting, sculpture, and architecture from around the world and throughout history, the author explores how people looked at the human body and how they considered the divine through their art and how their expectations shaped such art in return. This work is successful in complicating the reader's understanding of how and why art functions rather than in providing any specific interpretations, particularly with respect to gender and authority issues. The multiple chapters on Greco-Roman sculpture are the strongest; the reader becomes a joint viewer with the author. Elsewhere, the brevity and the broad scope may prove challenging (or tantalizing): the reader gets only a brief glimpse or a quick thought in some sections.
VERDICT Recommended for fans of this popular author, the Civilizations program, and those looking for brief foray into an alternative form of art appreciation.

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