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

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Conceived as a gorgeously illustrated accompaniment to “How Do We Look” and “The Eye of Faith,” the famed Civilisations shows on PBS, renowned classicist Mary Beard has created this elegant volume on how we have looked at art. Focusing in Part I on the Olmec heads of early Mesoamerica, the colossal statues of the pharaoh Amenhotep III, and the nudes of classical Greece, Be Conceived as a gorgeously illustrated accompaniment to “How Do We Look” and “The Eye of Faith,” the famed Civilisations shows on PBS, renowned classicist Mary Beard has created this elegant volume on how we have looked at art. Focusing in Part I on the Olmec heads of early Mesoamerica, the colossal statues of the pharaoh Amenhotep III, and the nudes of classical Greece, Beard explores the power, hierarchy, and gender politics of the art of the ancient world, and explains how it came to define the so-called civilized world. In Part II, Beard chronicles some of the most breathtaking religious imagery ever made—whether at Angkor Wat, Ravenna, Venice, or in the art of Jewish and Islamic calligraphers— to show how all religions, ancient and modern, have faced irreconcilable problems in trying to picture the divine. With this classic volume, Beard redefines the Western-and male-centric legacies of Ernst Gombrich and Kenneth Clark.


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Conceived as a gorgeously illustrated accompaniment to “How Do We Look” and “The Eye of Faith,” the famed Civilisations shows on PBS, renowned classicist Mary Beard has created this elegant volume on how we have looked at art. Focusing in Part I on the Olmec heads of early Mesoamerica, the colossal statues of the pharaoh Amenhotep III, and the nudes of classical Greece, Be Conceived as a gorgeously illustrated accompaniment to “How Do We Look” and “The Eye of Faith,” the famed Civilisations shows on PBS, renowned classicist Mary Beard has created this elegant volume on how we have looked at art. Focusing in Part I on the Olmec heads of early Mesoamerica, the colossal statues of the pharaoh Amenhotep III, and the nudes of classical Greece, Beard explores the power, hierarchy, and gender politics of the art of the ancient world, and explains how it came to define the so-called civilized world. In Part II, Beard chronicles some of the most breathtaking religious imagery ever made—whether at Angkor Wat, Ravenna, Venice, or in the art of Jewish and Islamic calligraphers— to show how all religions, ancient and modern, have faced irreconcilable problems in trying to picture the divine. With this classic volume, Beard redefines the Western-and male-centric legacies of Ernst Gombrich and Kenneth Clark.

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

  1. 5 out of 5

    Margaret Sankey

    A beautiful and witty art survey, about one of my favorite subjects--people and how they represent themselves. What does it mean politically and socially to be painted "warts and all," or as a hundred foot tall, bare-chested incarnation of Ra? Beard carefully chooses pieces from around the world, setting them in context and revealing how they illustrate the culture's sense of self, power, gender and imagination.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Joshua

    How Do We Look offers the reader a question well worth exploring: how do humans use art to explain how they think and feel about themselves. This is a question stolen directly from an Intro to Art syllabus, but it is a question worth asking because human imagination is arguably the most powerful force in the known universe. It can literally impact the physical world as humans create visions based upon their experiences and perceptions and imaginings, and Beard takes her reader through the centur How Do We Look offers the reader a question well worth exploring: how do humans use art to explain how they think and feel about themselves. This is a question stolen directly from an Intro to Art syllabus, but it is a question worth asking because human imagination is arguably the most powerful force in the known universe. It can literally impact the physical world as humans create visions based upon their experiences and perceptions and imaginings, and Beard takes her reader through the centuries of the human experience to show how humans have channeled their imagination into creating some of the greatest artistic wonders of the world. How We Look is not always as in-depth as I would have liked, but Beard's works tend to leave the reader inspired to begin their own explorations. The value of a book like How Do We Look is how it can inspire new readers, or even experienced readers, to contemplate the purpose and function of art and remind us how art can impact our reality. Whether it's sculpting boxers out of bronze or literally carving a temple into the side of the mountain, human beings create. It's worth a moment of the reader's time to ask themselves where and why that impulse exists, and what they could or should do with it.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Edgar

    tl;dr: This is an informative, brief read that gives us some insights into art and the relationship we have had with it over time. I was a little surprised to see Olmec art in the book as it is typically the Aztecs, Mayans and Incans that get the burn in most books, but each of the art selections underscores a point Beard likes to make in each chapter. In this book, we are treated to writing on a number of notables artworks. The Olmec heads get to kickstart the book. As we know very little about t tl;dr: This is an informative, brief read that gives us some insights into art and the relationship we have had with it over time. I was a little surprised to see Olmec art in the book as it is typically the Aztecs, Mayans and Incans that get the burn in most books, but each of the art selections underscores a point Beard likes to make in each chapter. In this book, we are treated to writing on a number of notables artworks. The Olmec heads get to kickstart the book. As we know very little about the Olmecs, Beard takes the opportunity to use them as a platform to spring questions that will percolate through the book. She more or less addresses or echoes these questions in each chapter or section. What is the use of the work? For who is the work for and what was their place in society? The massive statues of Amenhotep III in Luxor follow. Here, we are following the Roman Emperor Trajan and his interaction with the "singing" statues. This story is used to exemplify art as an interactive matter. Beard is very well known for her writing on ancient Rome, so it is quite nice to see her continue that thread here even for a few quick pages. From there, we get a view into gender roles and expectations from the ancient Greek pottery of around 600 BCE. There are sly bits of humor found in this book, particularly, in this chapter, and they are part of what made this book such an enjoyable read. The Look of Loss chapter continues the focus on the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians and the naturalistic portraits found on their coffins. I was especially satisfied by this chapter. I was completely unaware of the existence of these coffins prior to reading this book, and I feel like they are a hidden gem. The book's attention changes course to tell us about the Terracotta Soldiers in China. Beard guides us through the variety and individuality found in the soldiers of which is apparently due to a set of stock characteristics mixed and matched. Reading this chapter made me think of the "Create A Player" feature you can find in a number of video games. The book makes its way back to Egypt to the "Ramsessium." The many massive depictions that adorn the tomb/temple of Ramses II/Ozymandias are all supersized. Beard points this place as one of the most well known cases of a ruler seeking to amplify their own grandiosity through the power of image and art. In the statues, Ramses II towers above all others. Beard also points out there likely was a contingent of nonbelievers. "The more power flaunts itself in your face, the more it risks undermining its claims to be taken seriously" the author writes. Next, the "Greek Revolution" is covered. A series of photographs from varying time periods help us understand the dramatic changes that took place. The highlight of the chapter goes to "The Boxer." I know little about sculpture, but it is clear this statue is really quite magnificent in its craftsmanship. Beard's selection of works shines ones again. Beard tells us about a rather crude bit of history regarding the "Aphrodite of Knidos." The story is a little sordid but the chapter in all did very well to help me understand the changing landscape of its time. It is easy for us to think of the major characteristics of the Greeks and their art while failing to remember that the Greeks were not always "the Greeks" and that the evolution of their art and values took hundreds of years. Of course, Beard takes time to also remind us that *our* world's lofty views of the Greeks and their art have changed over time as well. Beard tells us the story of Johann Winckelmann, the Syon House, the Belvedere Apollo and the Dying Gaul. Winckelmann's writings regarding the classical works were hugely influential and helped shape much of the values we places on the ancient works. In the second half of the book, we are taken to Angkor Wot where the astronomic religious intent of the design is juxtaposed with the contest of 'best selife' taken by tourists. Its a funny little bit but not the only thing that makes up this prologue to the second section. It serves to have us consider the way art and religion work together and apart. This thread brings us to the Cave Art of Ajanta as detailed by Christiana Herringham in her life. Beard asks us to think about how art changes, no matter how slightly, when we try to re-record it in an attempt to save it from fading from memory. Next, we move on to a number of works that exemplify the use of art in the hand of Christianity in the Roman/Byzantine Empire. The Church of San Vitale in Ravenna, with the emperors and empresses in proximity to Jesus Christ in the mosaics, various paintings such as of the Last Supper and Tinteretto's Nativity, the Virgin Mary of Macarena in Seville. Each of these works reflect, reject, or push the boundaries of what was the doctrine of their times. The inclusion of the Emperors and Empresses in the paintings, the inclusion of their-time commoners in the backgrounds of paintings, the extreme ornateness of idols. These pieces push, pull, establish their places in the wider discussion of Christian doctrine. For the last section, Beard writes about Islam. She repudiates the thought that Islam is an artless religion. The Sancaklar Mosque is of grand modern design, the Blue Mosque of Istanbul is clearly a masterful piece of art both on the interior and exterior. The calligraphy found in Mosques is complicated and delicate. Beard essentially makes the case that we, westerners, often fail to appreciate and understand the nature of Muslim art in the wider sense. In one of the last chapters, Beard brings us to a particularly curious case: the Kennicot Bible. It is an extremely interesting part of the book. This bible was created at a time in Spain where Muslim, Christian and Jewish artistic sensibilities would swirl together in a way. The illustrations found in this Bible clearly show the different visual influences of the Abrahamic religions. If you have never seen it, you check it out. It looks like it comes from a different timeline. Before the book ends, we read a little about the destruction of some symbols and imagery. There are incredibly ornate, intricate places of worship and there are bare, austere places of worship. And as such, there are people who cannot imagine there is any other way that is correct and faithful but theirs. One can follow logically that there would be conflict as a result. We are given details of some destruction as result of these schisms. Some statues had their faces destroyed, or some churches were stripped of decadent decoration. Beard asks us to reorient ourselves and remember that when look back at such history, we are looking at it as we are, as image lovers. And maybe thats a good thing for Mary Beard! If we were not image lovers then perhaps Beard would not have gotten the chance to write this book haha But even better for me, as I have gotten the chance to read this book and enjoy it thoroughly. This is probably the briefest book I've read in twelve years but this is easily the longest review I've written. This is because writing a review of this length allows me to remember better the contents of this book before I have to return it to the library. This probably isnt the first or even fifth book, I'd think to recommend to someone when it comes to history or art, but I think anyone's reading on those subjects would feel incomplete without this essential little volume

  4. 4 out of 5

    Lily Green

    Very informative and easy to read prose! This would be a fantastic addition to a 100 level art history class.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Patricia

    This was accessible and interesting, which are two things I wouldn't often say about art history.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Henk van Vliet

    “One of its most powerful weapons has always been ‘barbarity’: we know that we are civilised by contrasting ourselves with those we deem to be uncivilised, with those who do not - or cannot be trusted to - share our values. Civilisation is a process of exclusion as well as inclusion” “In the end, one person’s barbarity is another person’s civilisation” Mary Beard shows in this short and beautifully illustrated book two aspects of art. It feels like short essays, and left me longing for a bit more “One of its most powerful weapons has always been ‘barbarity’: we know that we are civilised by contrasting ourselves with those we deem to be uncivilised, with those who do not - or cannot be trusted to - share our values. Civilisation is a process of exclusion as well as inclusion” “In the end, one person’s barbarity is another person’s civilisation” Mary Beard shows in this short and beautifully illustrated book two aspects of art. It feels like short essays, and left me longing for a bit more in depth discussion of some of the examples Beard brings up. Firstly how through ages and cultures the human form in art has been used as propoganda (Ramses his massive statues), an examplifier of power (the Xi’an terracota army) or on a more personal level a reflection of loved ones lost (Greek and Roman portraits). She shows that the human fascination with depicting and immortalising its own form is quite universal and that crosspolination between for instance Egyptian statues and the Greek Kouros exists. For Western eyes art has a lot to do with the as perfect as possible mimicry of reality, and this view is often used as a barometer of one’s civilisation, handily making the Greek/Roman civilisation come up on top as the most civilised. Beard stops this section with a reflection on the enormous effort the Olmec must have poured into their human like statues at the same time the Egyptians did. The second part dives into the contrast between the statue/portrait and the concept (like Virgin Mary), a balancing act between piety and idolatry for many religions throughout the world. An interesting perspective I had not thought of is that some overcrowded murals are just that, and were equally hard to understand for then present onlookers as for us now, to invoke serious religious reflection and introspection.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Akemi G.

    The premise of this book is intriguing. Art history often focuses on the artists, and sometimes their models, but seldom the viewers. However, as commissioners of the artwork, as art dealers, and as consumers, viewers determine the value of art and influence the creative processes with their preferences. It's especially interesting in portrait art; how we see ourselves, and even more importantly, how we wish to be seen--the cultural ideal--is manifested in the art. However, the book fails to dig The premise of this book is intriguing. Art history often focuses on the artists, and sometimes their models, but seldom the viewers. However, as commissioners of the artwork, as art dealers, and as consumers, viewers determine the value of art and influence the creative processes with their preferences. It's especially interesting in portrait art; how we see ourselves, and even more importantly, how we wish to be seen--the cultural ideal--is manifested in the art. However, the book fails to dig deep enough to make a point; it's just filled with interesting trivia. For instance, the naked statues of ancient Greece. The author points out it was probably inspired by the statues made in ancient Egypt, although Egyptian statues are dressed. Oh. Is that a mystery? When you make a lasting impression of your fellow humans, don't you want to make his image at his best, and for Greeks, that meant when the person was playing sports, and they played games naked. So the statues are naked. It also meant the statues were a shot in movement. In contrast, the best time for Egyptians were when he stood in front of the pharaoh, or dressed in their best clothes probably for special occasions like wedding. The author briefly introduces the terracotta warriors found in the tomb of China's first emperor, again without making any significant point but throwing questions casually; these were not meant to be seen, and yet so nice! Why? Well, no one knows ... (move on to the next chapter). (My humble opinion is that, for the ancient people, the underworld was as real as the living world; these warriors were very visible by the emperor.) I'll stop here. One of the stars is for the beautiful pictures.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    I really like Mary Beard and her perspective on human civilization through her expertise in antiquity. This book focuses on the question of who are we when we are looking at art, not only how do we see art, but how does art reflect our gaze. Using numerous examples of ancient figurative art from the Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, Olmec, and Chinese she tries to find the role of the viewer. Next she turns to the religious structures from multiple major religions to explore where the gods are in the a I really like Mary Beard and her perspective on human civilization through her expertise in antiquity. This book focuses on the question of who are we when we are looking at art, not only how do we see art, but how does art reflect our gaze. Using numerous examples of ancient figurative art from the Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, Olmec, and Chinese she tries to find the role of the viewer. Next she turns to the religious structures from multiple major religions to explore where the gods are in the art, and where the people are. It is fascinating, provocative and well argued.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Meredith

    It's good. But it felt too short. Probably for the better since the market for people who want to read 600 pages on the topic is limited. It was a snack.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Tessy Consentino

    Fascinating read on art and sculpture and how people from long ago memorialized themselves and others.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Penny Cipolone

    Can Mary Beard ever write a book that doesn't deserve 5 stars?

  12. 4 out of 5

    Phil

    Sumptuously produced, it was an easy read in one sitting on a rainy afternoon. Mary Beard is a classicist of the highest order, yet this book was, for me, a prime example of overreaching. Her credentials as an art historian or critic are clearly lacking. Her statements are often pedestrian, and her ignorance of religion and art beyond Christianity and Judaism shallow.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Ellen

    This is a companion book to a TV series (well 2 episodes of said series), so it is a short and somewhat shallow introduction to the topics it covers. The illustrations were very integral to this book, which I appreciated. Unlike most books, I was able to see a picture of each and every piece the author mentioned (saving me the time of looking them up online). I wish it had been more in-depth, hence the lower rating, because I would like to learn more about many of the conclusions drawn. The end This is a companion book to a TV series (well 2 episodes of said series), so it is a short and somewhat shallow introduction to the topics it covers. The illustrations were very integral to this book, which I appreciated. Unlike most books, I was able to see a picture of each and every piece the author mentioned (saving me the time of looking them up online). I wish it had been more in-depth, hence the lower rating, because I would like to learn more about many of the conclusions drawn. The end of the book gives a list of resources for readers interested in learning more about the specific works of art and locations, but lists nothing for people who want to research more examples of the themes discussed.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Terence

    In sum: "So much depends on who is looking, from ancient master or ancient slave to eighteenth-century connoisseur or twenty-first-century tourist. And so much depends on the context in which they look, whether ancient cemetery or temple, English stately home or modern museum. I am not sure that it is ever possible entirely to recreate the views of those who first saw classical art, and I am not sure that it is the be all and end all of our understanding anyway (the changing ways these objects h In sum: "So much depends on who is looking, from ancient master or ancient slave to eighteenth-century connoisseur or twenty-first-century tourist. And so much depends on the context in which they look, whether ancient cemetery or temple, English stately home or modern museum. I am not sure that it is ever possible entirely to recreate the views of those who first saw classical art, and I am not sure that it is the be all and end all of our understanding anyway (the changing ways these objects have been seen through the centuries is an important part of their history too). But in How Do We Look I have tried to reflect the domestic ordinariness - and occasionally the flamboyance - of some ancient art, and I have tried to recapture something of 'the shock of the new'." (p. 205-6)

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kimberly Schlarman

    Very basic introduction to how we have looked at and engaged with art objects throughout the centuries. This is a very quick read with short chapters focused on a specific place, object, or topic. Unfortunately, it is very Western-centric although Beard says she tried not be. Even when she discusses Olmec statues or Ajanta Buddhist cave art, she devotes a lot of time to how Western archaeologists and art historians viewed these works. Despite this, I love how Beard approaches art history--with a Very basic introduction to how we have looked at and engaged with art objects throughout the centuries. This is a very quick read with short chapters focused on a specific place, object, or topic. Unfortunately, it is very Western-centric although Beard says she tried not be. Even when she discusses Olmec statues or Ajanta Buddhist cave art, she devotes a lot of time to how Western archaeologists and art historians viewed these works. Despite this, I love how Beard approaches art history--with a focus on the consumer rather than the creator.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

    You look fine Mary. Why do you ask? Oh, How Do We Look is the title of the book. Sorry, at first glance it looked like Mary Beard was the title. By the way, are you the same Mary Beard who presents episodes of Timeline - World History Documentaries? You are! I just finished Caligula With Mary Beard on Youtube. Love your work. Really enjoy your wit and knowledge. OK. I'll take this book home with me and see how I like it. So I did and I quite enjoyed the read. Mary Beard single-handedly pulled my no You look fine Mary. Why do you ask? Oh, How Do We Look is the title of the book. Sorry, at first glance it looked like Mary Beard was the title. By the way, are you the same Mary Beard who presents episodes of Timeline - World History Documentaries? You are! I just finished Caligula With Mary Beard on Youtube. Love your work. Really enjoy your wit and knowledge. OK. I'll take this book home with me and see how I like it. So I did and I quite enjoyed the read. Mary Beard single-handedly pulled my nose out of my beloved political and military history books and just may have kindled my interest in art history. This is a companion book to episodes 2 and 3 of the TV series Civilizations. The book is divided into two parts. The first part is about the body image as seen in ancient cultures through their art, particularly their statues and paintings. Part 2 deals with religious faith and the portrayal of the gods. Those learned in anthropology and art seem to think this work is shallow and incomplete, but I think it is a great introduction to art and it's contribution to the creation of civilizations. It's also a good launch pad for showing how humans use art to explain the ways they think and feel about themselves. Beard discusses the importance of historical context, religion, and even historical perceptions on the role human form in deciphering and understanding art, especially of ancient civilizations. This is a very quick read with short chapters focused on a specific place, object, or topic. The many, beautiful illustrations are integral to the book. The reader can see a picture of each and every piece the author mentions (without even having to Google them). It might be fun to grab the Civilizations DVD to watch just after reading the book. You'll know just about everything Liev Schreiber is going to mention, and you can really annoy everyone else who is watching.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Joe Tullio

    This was a quick, fun book whose theme is pretty tightly focused on bringing alternate perspectives to the observation and appreciation of art around the world. It’s based on Mary Beard’s work on the reboot of the classic BBC series Civilisations. I watched this series while also reading the book and found it quite helpful. I’d also recommend the paper version for the nice color plates that accompany nearly every work discussed in the book. People familiar with Beard’s work (e.g., The Fires of Ve This was a quick, fun book whose theme is pretty tightly focused on bringing alternate perspectives to the observation and appreciation of art around the world. It’s based on Mary Beard’s work on the reboot of the classic BBC series Civilisations. I watched this series while also reading the book and found it quite helpful. I’d also recommend the paper version for the nice color plates that accompany nearly every work discussed in the book. People familiar with Beard’s work (e.g., The Fires of Vesuvius, SPQR) will recognize her ability to bring unique takes to well-studied historical subjects. History is, after all, a never-ending process of discovery and reinterpretation. What I enjoy most about her writing is her self-awareness of the biases and projections we make from our modern context onto ancient subjects that in many ways are decidedly alien. For example, she stresses the influence of early surveys of art that elevated the status of Greek and Roman sculpture to barometers of civilization’s progress. In the extremely stylized and at times grotesque sculptures of Olmec civilization, she finds a contrast in aesthetic and representation that makes them no less intriguing to the observer. Many more of these alternate perspectives are covered, from the mixing of contemporary and period figures in renaissance art to hybrid cultural influences brought about by religious clashes and trade routes. Beard even finds something to appreciate in the targeted destruction of ornate religious art by iconoclasts, noting the airy, elegant appeal of a barer, minimal aesthetic. Overall, this book was a quick and engaging way to remind me of the particular perspective I bring to viewing art. In future trips to museums and historical sites, I feel I’ll benefit from the different ways of looking I learned here.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Joseph

    This book is, to the best of my knowledge, a companion to the new rendition of "Civilizations" that aired on PBS a few months ago. If you have not watched the new series, I highly recommend it. Among others, this book primarily explores how we look at figures from a western bias, as well as how faith has influenced how we interpret and understand images. As a teacher of art history, I found the series "Civilizations" extremely useful and engaging for both myself and my students. That being said This book is, to the best of my knowledge, a companion to the new rendition of "Civilizations" that aired on PBS a few months ago. If you have not watched the new series, I highly recommend it. Among others, this book primarily explores how we look at figures from a western bias, as well as how faith has influenced how we interpret and understand images. As a teacher of art history, I found the series "Civilizations" extremely useful and engaging for both myself and my students. That being said, I cannot highly recommend this companion book. I do not believe it adds anything substantial to what I have already watched. If I had NOT watched the series, then I would have found it difficult to find my footing in this book. The main problem is that unfortunately, just as Mary lets you in on some clever insight, she does not really expound upon it, or go further than a short paragraph about it. For example, Beard provides a cursory examination of the impact of realism in art in her chapter, "The Stain on the Thigh." The devotion of an entire chapter to what is one of many anecdotal reprisals, wets the appetite of the reader but provides no in depth analysis. One would think that a follow up book would be the perfect opportunity to go further into the discussions that began in the series. Sadly, when I was done reading, I felt like I had wasted my time and money.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Patti

    Mary Beard is not as well known in America as she is in Great Britain I dare say, but this down to earth Cambridge professor has entertained, and educated me via Youtube. She delves into ancient civilizations and makes their world part of our own with her intelligent and witty tutorials. How Do We Look is a book that explores how we as modern people, look at ancient art. The first half of the book deals with the human body in art, the second part tries to decode the very complex world of relig Mary Beard is not as well known in America as she is in Great Britain I dare say, but this down to earth Cambridge professor has entertained, and educated me via Youtube. She delves into ancient civilizations and makes their world part of our own with her intelligent and witty tutorials. How Do We Look is a book that explores how we as modern people, look at ancient art. The first half of the book deals with the human body in art, the second part tries to decode the very complex world of religion in art. This is a short book with many photographs (a quick read) which my leave some readers wanting more. I found that I learned much by reading this book, and used the internet to expand on her writing. The book seems to globe trot without any cohesive meaning either in time or geography. I think we as readers expect some cohesive thread to lead us from beginning to end, at least I do. Even though I gained some knowledge from this book, I must say that I would rather watch and listen to Mary Beard on Youtube.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Holly

    I read a fair amount of children's fiction but I rarely read nonfiction directed at children, and that's what this feels like: a textbook for a junior high introduction to art history course: basic ideas, treated cursorily, in short chapters (chapters typically end at the point where the analysis is just getting started), written for an eighth-grade reading comprehension level. It's not bad, and it only took me about 90 minutes to read it, so I can't really call it a waste of time. But it's cert I read a fair amount of children's fiction but I rarely read nonfiction directed at children, and that's what this feels like: a textbook for a junior high introduction to art history course: basic ideas, treated cursorily, in short chapters (chapters typically end at the point where the analysis is just getting started), written for an eighth-grade reading comprehension level. It's not bad, and it only took me about 90 minutes to read it, so I can't really call it a waste of time. But it's certainly a disappointment, even with the gorgeous photos. Based on the one other book by Beard I've read, Women & Power: A Manifesto, I just expected more.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Alex Sayf

    Mary Beard's How Do We Look is an engaging and lucid look at the ways humans have represented themselves over the course of millennia, in both secular and religious art. Beard is obviously a gifted scholar and writer, and she makes a huge amount of information intelligible for the lay reader. For anyone who is a specialist in classics, art history, or anthropology, the book will undoubtedly seem extremely over-simplified, and even for me (not an expert at all) it felt a little too light and bree Mary Beard's How Do We Look is an engaging and lucid look at the ways humans have represented themselves over the course of millennia, in both secular and religious art. Beard is obviously a gifted scholar and writer, and she makes a huge amount of information intelligible for the lay reader. For anyone who is a specialist in classics, art history, or anthropology, the book will undoubtedly seem extremely over-simplified, and even for me (not an expert at all) it felt a little too light and breezy at times. But it was still a great learning experience, and also a gorgeously designed from book from an aesthetic perspective -- many lovely images. It would be a good gift for the intellectually curious friend or family member in your life

  22. 5 out of 5

    Patrycja

    I guess I was expecting a different read or maybe different format of this book. This is basically research based on sculptures and art through centuries to show how human interpreted and had looked at art. Different cultures and different traditions would show a person in a different way. And depending on who was looking at the statues, they would see something different in the art. The sculptures and art varied and were changing through centuries. F.ex. the Greek statues often showed a man naked I guess I was expecting a different read or maybe different format of this book. This is basically research based on sculptures and art through centuries to show how human interpreted and had looked at art. Different cultures and different traditions would show a person in a different way. And depending on who was looking at the statues, they would see something different in the art. The sculptures and art varied and were changing through centuries. F.ex. the Greek statues often showed a man naked, while Egyptian one not. Through time sculptured human would also change appearance, poses. They became more lively. Religion, status had also impact on how the statues were seen. There are a lot of images accompanying the book, which I is very helpful and informative.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Luis Cuesta

    I received this book as a Goodreads Giveaway. To star I wold say that Mary Beards book is a joy to read, too short for certain and packed with lessons quickly absorbed.Thebook is filled with historical details and Beard’s ideas about the images of gods are fascinating, especially with regard to the Ajanta Cave drawings in India, which force viewers to actively interpret their complexity, searching for truth and faith in the darkness. Even more thought-provoking is the Islamic use of calligraphy, I received this book as a Goodreads Giveaway. To star I wold say that Mary Beard´s book is a joy to read, too short for certain and packed with lessons quickly absorbed.Thebook is filled with historical details and Beard’s ideas about the images of gods are fascinating, especially with regard to the Ajanta Cave drawings in India, which force viewers to actively interpret their complexity, searching for truth and faith in the darkness. Even more thought-provoking is the Islamic use of calligraphy, more symbolic than practical, bridging the gap between art and the written word.Overall and most important, in the book she has come up with her own narrative and personal vision of art.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mindy Maddrey

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. This book is broken into two main parts -- how humans have depicted human forms in art and how humans have depicted divine forms in art. The book is GORGEOUSLY illustrated, with examples from a variety of (mostly Western) cultures. Alas, the book suffers from the same problems as the television show, Civilisations, that was its basis. The topics are so broad and the possible sources so diverse that the book inevitably feels like "dabbling". There's no overarching system of moving from one piece This book is broken into two main parts -- how humans have depicted human forms in art and how humans have depicted divine forms in art. The book is GORGEOUSLY illustrated, with examples from a variety of (mostly Western) cultures. Alas, the book suffers from the same problems as the television show, Civilisations, that was its basis. The topics are so broad and the possible sources so diverse that the book inevitably feels like "dabbling". There's no overarching system of moving from one piece of art to another; instead, the discussion rambles. Each individual observation was fascinating. I just wanted more of a "whole" to control the entire book.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Monical

    Interesting book that fails for me due to lack of photographs. The physical descriptions, along with the author's explanations, don't really fit until you see the image. I also thought the selections were highly edited (it is a very small book) but the reason for the selections weren't well explained. I managed to get through undergrad without an art history class, but this book confirms my choice to not take art history. I may re-review Kenneth Clark's "Civilization,"which is cited as a motivat Interesting book that fails for me due to lack of photographs. The physical descriptions, along with the author's explanations, don't really fit until you see the image. I also thought the selections were highly edited (it is a very small book) but the reason for the selections weren't well explained. I managed to get through undergrad without an art history class, but this book confirms my choice to not take art history. I may re-review Kenneth Clark's "Civilization,"which is cited as a motivation for this book.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Danielle

    Where do I even begin with this? Mary Beard is probably my absolute favourite author, and every book of hers I've read was exceptionally well-written, captivating, and enlightening. She has such a way with words, I adore reading her work. I'll be honest, I didn't know she released a new book until I was at the bookstore, and the gorgeous cover caught my eye. I got the book without really knowing what it was about, and I was pleasantly surprised about the subject. It was very good, and I highly r Where do I even begin with this? Mary Beard is probably my absolute favourite author, and every book of hers I've read was exceptionally well-written, captivating, and enlightening. She has such a way with words, I adore reading her work. I'll be honest, I didn't know she released a new book until I was at the bookstore, and the gorgeous cover caught my eye. I got the book without really knowing what it was about, and I was pleasantly surprised about the subject. It was very good, and I highly recommend it, as always.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Aine

    Popular histories can often be criticised for over-simplification to the point that they instead tell fairytales. Mary Beard’s contribution to the Civilization’s series does something different; it shows us how to read sources. Instead of telling a particular story about the history of art and what to think of it, Beard instead points to questions we should ask about artists, patrons and audiences. With that, it is a much more interesting and useful book for a layperson. I would recommend to a fr Popular histories can often be criticised for over-simplification to the point that they instead tell fairytales. Mary Beard’s contribution to the Civilization’s series does something different; it shows us how to read sources. Instead of telling a particular story about the history of art and what to think of it, Beard instead points to questions we should ask about artists, patrons and audiences. With that, it is a much more interesting and useful book for a layperson. I would recommend to a friend.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Janis

    Classics scholar Mary Beard, a presenter in the BBC series Civilisations, wrote this slim volume to accompany that series. She covers a lot of ground very quickly here, but her views on how humans from ancient Greece and Rome, Egypt and Mesoamerica looked at themselves through their art are fascinating. I missed the television experience, which might explain why I was slightly disappointed in the book (I really just wanted more).

  29. 5 out of 5

    Dawn Rupert

    This is a beautiful book with many lovely photos of ancient people, gods and architecture. The book is divided into two parts. The first part is about the body image as seen in ancient cultures through their art, particularly their statues and paintings. Part 2 deals with religious faith and the portrayal of the gods. Some faiths would consider images of god idolatry. I loved the book but felt the narrative could have been deeper. It was a very fast read.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Alaina Sloo

    This is more of a companion to Mary Beard’s Civilizations tv series, so it’s a little too episodic to be a satisfying read. Just when you’re starting to get into something she’s shown you, she moves on to a new subject, But it’s a wonderful taste of a really interesting approach to reconsidering art in religion throughout history. I’m glad I read it and now I think I’ll have to watch the tv series to get a little more depth.

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