My sister is an artist. Me, I’m pretty much mystified by art. But she and I hang out a lot and so I’m always observing when we’re together to see if I can catch on to her arty ways – her different perceptions and interpretations of the things we encounter. She says things like, “Look at that color!” and I turn my head this way and that and feel sort of left out.
So when I happen upon a book that purports to expound on the nature of art and the artist, I’m usually taken in – what can I find out about this mysterious tribe and their craft?
When I find a good book about art, I share it with my sister and then we compare notes. Sometimes we even travel together to view the piece in question and see what we think. It’s interesting and I always feel I’ve learned something important.
So I recommend “The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family’s Century of Art and Loss” by Edmund de Waal. It’s the story of artists and their art and, as you surely know by now, you don’t need to know anything about it to really get this book.
In this case, the art in question is netsuke, miniature Japanese ivory carvings. (See? We’ve already learned something!) The author, a British potter whose work has been exhibited at museums including the Victoria and Albert, tells the history of his Jewish relatives, the wealthy and influential Ephrussi family, through stories about the collection he inherited.
It not only illuminates what artists think about and how they see the world, it’s also a very cool mystery about the Holocaust and its impact on this influential family. I’m definitely not going to spoil it by saying even one more thing!
I usually like to let the authors do the writing in my reviews. They’re the experts! But I had a hard time pulling out an example of why I recommend this book. De Waal’s subjects – and also his writing – are rarefied and recondite.
But here goes:
“I want to find how these nonchalant Parisians, Charles and his lover, handled Japanese things. What was it like to have something so alien in your hands for the first time, to pick up a box or a cup – or a netsuke – and shift it around, finding its
weight and balance, running a fingertip along the raised decoration… There must be a literature on touch somewhere, I think; someone must have recorded in a diary or letter the fugitive moment of what they felt when they picked one up. There must be a trace of their hands somewhere.”
That’s how De Waal thinks and what he’s searching for throughout this book. I definitely want to go along.