Share this article

print logo

ART BOOKS FOR GIVING OR GETTING, FROM PICASSO, TO POP-UPS, TO THE PROVOCATIVE

By what route, devious or direct, an artist gets to his mature style is always a compelling subject. The thought is that if we know what went before the artwork -- what thoughts and ideas bore down on the artist's mind -- we will hold the key to that mysterious journey called "the creative process."

Picasso, because he gave pictorial invention so many and varied guises, has been picked to the bone when it comes to the investigation of his legendary creativity. But not quite to the bone. It is left to the resourceful Anne Baldassari in "Picasso and Photography: The Dark Mirror" (Flammarion, 256 pages, 250 illustrations, 186 in color, $55) to show how integral photography was to Picasso's thinking, from the evolution of his blue and rose periods to the formation of cubism.

The visual detective work here is amazing. Baldassari demonstrates on page after page how Picasso not only used photographic images as sources but how he absorbed and transformed the whole idea of photographic representation. This is to me a startling new angle on the old prestidigitator. Even for those who don't care to follow the author in her precise work-by-work paralleling of photo and painting, the revelation of Picasso's vast store of photographic images -- some gleaned from commercial sources, some taken by others and many shot by Picasso himself -- is endlessly fascinating.

In "The Innocent Eye: Children's Art and the Modern Artist" (Princeton University Press, 248 pages, $60), author Jonathan Fineberg does some brilliant detective work of his own. It's a commonplace that modern artists admired and emulated the work of children. But Fineberg amasses impressive evidence to show that children's art was a much more pervasive and specific influence than heretofore assumed. He diligently searches out the collections of children's art known to be held by such artists as Vasily Kandinsky and Gabriele Munter, Joan Miro, Picasso and Paul Klee. The comparisons between specific children's works and those of adult artists can be unsettling. One's idea of the essentially intellectual basis of modernism isn't spared here.

Fineberg builds whole chapters on artists whose aesthetics followed what Fineberg calls the "irreducibly irrational in man" -- Jean Dubuffet, for example. In the final chapter, "Mainstreaming Childhood," Freud is used as a wedge to establish a deep-seated relationship between recent modern art and the child's purportedly unconscious expressive means.

It's an imposing bit of work. But by book's end I began to notice just how very unchildlike these adult works really were. This may be why we still have to explain modern art to children.

Because they have no other choice, adults are always guessing how children might respond. "The Architecture Pack" by Ron Van Der Meer and Deyan Sudjic (Knopf, 3-D pop-ups, pullouts, models and text, plus audio cassette, $50) seems a pretty good guess. In the computer age pop-up books may seem like an archaic way to stimulate the imagination and educate the mind. But here the ingenious displays are all sensibly arranged so that the complex whys and wherefores of buildings can be intelligently revealed. The pop-ups range from the crude timber frame house to classical forms to technological structures of our time. Structural information is found tucked into fold-outs demonstrating the workings of anything from arches to elevators. Along the way we get architect profiles, an assemble-yourself house model and a narrative cassette.

We can thank the gods no one has thought to do a pop-up Egon Schiele book. Schiele produced his sexually charged art at the beginning of the century in Vienna, the city of Freud and other masters of inwardness. "Egon Schiele: The Leopold Collection, Vienna" by Magdalena Dabrowski and Rudolf Leopold (DuMont Buckverlag/Museum of Modern Art, 363 pages, $60, $32.50 paper) offers ample evidence to show that Schiele was Freud's perfect child. He never saw much of adulthood, dying in 1918 at age 28 of the Spanish flu, but produced enough to thoroughly scandalize Viennese audiences. This stupendous volume and the exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (through Jan. 4), for which the book serves as catalog, reaffirm that our sexually nervous culture can still deal intelligently with a serious artist with a fascination with genitalia. The authors' careful research puts the more sensational Schiele myths in perspective and gives a vivid, in-context account of the artist's brief career.

Still, it's disappointing that nobody really gets down to cases and deals with distinctions between pornography and art. Instead, we get talk about the Viennese cult of the child-woman, the femme fragile of the turn of the century, which, while interesting, doesn't help us a whit to understand how to grapple with these provocative works in a society that says that the mere appearance of adolescent sexuality -- i.e., adults pretending to be children -- in a work of art is a criminal act. While Rudolf Leopold is debating the date of a work or analyzing compositional niceties, many readers may understandably be more curious to hear his reasoned response to, say, depictions of multicolored genitals or naked pre-teens posed in revealing foreshortening.

William Hawkins was an artist whose childhood flowed effortlessly into his adulthood. "William Hawkins, Paintings" by Frank Maresca and Roger Ricco (Knopf, 128 pages, 121 color illustrations, $45) is a welcome book on this African-American artist, who, though he painted furiously all his long life, reached public notice only with the acceleration of interest in "outsider art" in the early 1980s. As practically every Hawkins painting states in bold lettering, the artist was born on July 27, 1895, in Kentucky. Hawkins was raised by his energetic grandmother, whose prosperous homestead provided him a treasure trove of objects and daily encounters with all sorts of animals, domestic and wild.

Early on he developed a voracious appetite for image-making and learned to condense a story into a few bold shapes that might represent big, looming beasts or patterns of a piece of architecture. Eventually his wildly painted narratives included everything from a "Last Supper" (with black characters) to the moon landing to his version of a Kool cigarette billboard. The Castellani Art Museum owns one of his most freewheeling inventions, "Overland Stagecoach," a crazed, spaghetti-stroked invention based on a Frederick Remington painting.

It's too bad that these excellent reproductions are not accompanied by more than an anecdotal main text. Weirdly, unannounced and tucked in the back in small print is a critical commentary by Jenifer P. Borum, a writer whose credentials are absent but who evidently thinks that Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's first name is Otto. This looks like -- and probably is -- an afterthought. A page labeled "A Note on the Source Material" acts as if the sources were given throughout the book. This lack of basic information -- biographical outline, a photo of the artist, proper author credits -- weakens the book. But oh, those pictures.