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Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars [Hardcover]

Camille Paglia
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Book Description

Oct. 16 2012

WIth full-color illustrations throughout

From the best-selling author of Sexual Personae and Break, Blow, Burn and one of our most acclaimed cultural critics, here is an enthralling journey through Western art’s defining moments, from the ancient Egyptian tomb of Queen Nefertari to George Lucas’s volcano planet duel in Revenge of the Sith.

America’s premier intellectual provocateur returns to the subject that brought her fame, the great themes of Western art. Passionately argued, brilliantly written, and filled with Paglia’s trademark audacity, Glittering Images takes us on a tour through more than two dozen seminal images, some famous and some obscure or unknown—paintings, sculptures, architectural styles, performance pieces, and digital art that have defined and transformed our visual world. She combines close analysis with background information that situates each artist and image within its historical context—from the stone idols of the Cyclades to an elegant French rococo interior to Jackson Pollock’s abstract Green Silver to Renée Cox’s daring performance piece Chillin’ with Liberty. And in a stunning conclusion, she declares that the avant-garde tradition is dead and that digital pioneer George Lucas is the world’s greatest living artist. Written with energy, erudition, and wit, Glittering Images is destined to change the way we think about our high-tech visual environment.

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“Daring…. Beautifully written and rich in details…. A unique mixture of political candor, professional critique, gossipy details, and the author’s trademark inflammatory ideas…. Supports her assertion that the definition of art is already changed. It begs the question, ‘Has anyone else in the art world noticed?’…. Extols the value and enduring legacy of Star Wars as it stands at the forefront of a new definition—a new era—in fine art.” —iFanGirlBlog

“[Paglia is] an art-for-art's-sake worshiper of art and literature whose close readings, influenced by Walter Pater and Sigmund Freud, are pyrotechnic and passionate.... Particularly pleasing are Paglia's sketches on Donatello's still-shocking 15th century sculpture of Mary Magdalene as a starved ascetic, and on Titian's voluptuously sensual ‘Venus With a Mirror’ (c. 1555), two nearly diametrically opposed works that Paglia makes speak to each other by noting curiously androgynous elements in both figures…. The relentlessly austere Caspar David Friedrich's ‘The Sea of Ice’ (1823-24) juxtaposed in surprising fashion by the following image, Manet's 1879 ‘At the Cafe,’ a subtle study of ordinary Paris street life. The paintings, as well as the artists and their eras, thereby achieve a collage-like mutual illumination.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Paglia's scintillating prose, acute analysis and perceptive assessments of five millennia of art history make her tour a joy to take, to argue about and to learn from…. A perceptive and enthusiastic guide on this journey to see and experience fully works of art from ancient Egypt to today.”
—Shelf Awareness
“It is her prose, jargon-free, muscular, and fearlessly opinionated, that ought to grab readers of any age. Once pulled into the Grand Foyer for her tour through the centuries, the reader is in complete thrall to the masterpieces on view. Paglia opens with an essay about the murals of Nefertari's tomb in Egypt's Valley of the Queens, and right out of the gate—make that grave—her interdisciplinary command of history, archaeology, and even cinema is evident…. [Paglia has] an honesty and enthusiasm that, when wedded to a profound intellect, one can't put a price on.”
The Barnes & Noble Review

“The book's subtitle—‘A Journey Through Art From Egypt to Star Wars’—highlights Ms. Paglia's impressive range and famously eclectic tastes. . . . Ms. Paglia chooses well, from works both celebrated and obscure. She is especially good at the difficult trick of providing context for the newcomer to art history without being tedious for a more experienced reader. She is no dreary docent. . . . She is also adept at helping readers to see the radical original impulse in now familiar art forms.”
The Wall Street Journal

“A magisterial, poetically composed, and masterly study of 29 great works of Western art. . . . Paglia writes rhapsodically of art's power . . . [she is] one of the most erudite public intellectuals in America.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer

“The ever-provocative Paglia returns with a survey of Western art, captured in 24 essays that move from Egyptian tombs to Titian’s Venus with a Mirror to Eleanor Antin’s conceptual art project 100 Boots. The provocative part? In the end, she proclaims that the avant-garde is dead and that George Lucas is our greatest living artist. This will get the smart folks talking.”
—Library Journal

“[A] highly reflective and imaginative history of images in Western art. . . . Paglia writes with energetic lucidity, and her entries on the Laocoön and Donatello’s Mary Magdalene are standouts in this absorbing volume. Both a valuable cultural critique and an elucidating history, Paglia’s latest would suit the general reader, as well as those looking for an alternative approach to contemporary ways of seeing.”
Publishers Weekly
“Critic/provocateur Paglia applies to the visual arts the same close scrutiny she lavished on poetry in Break, Blow, Burn (2005). . . . An intelligently detailed examination of 29 works of art, ranging from a tomb painting of Egyptian Queen Nefertari to George Lucas’ film Revenge of the Sith. . . . The author cogently locates individual pieces within a cultural continuum and eloquently spotlights the artistic qualities that make them unique. . . . Paglia gives a vivid sense of the sweep and scope of art history. The author loves pop art (Warhol’s Marilyn Diptych), but sections on Eleanor Antin’s 100 Boots and Walter De Maria’s Lightning Field display a surprising fondness for conceptualism and minimalism as well. African-American artists get their due in essays on John Wesley Hardrick’s sensitive portrait, Xenia Goodloe, and Renee Cox’s witty Chillin’ with Liberty. . . . Paglia is a wonderful popularizer of art history and art appreciation.”
Kirkus Reviews
“Paglia, an ardent and often controversial defender of the arts and creative freedom, argued for the value of poetry in Break, Blow, Burn (2005). She now presents an equally commanding case for reclaiming the visual arts as a necessary and nurturing cultural force in a time of alarmingly diminished support for arts education. Given our ‘screen’ habit, we are awash in a ‘sea of images,’ mostly commercial in origin, that threatens to drown our ability to focus and think critically. The best way to regain our visual acuity, Paglia believes, is to focus on paintings, sculpture, and the decorative arts within art’s rich continuum. So this interdisciplinary firebrand and die-hard populist showcases 29 outstanding works, each representative of a certain style or period, beginning with a tomb painting of Queen Nefertari and working up to Andy Warhol’s portraits of Marilyn Monroe. Paglia’s succinct, lively, and illuminating essays combine aesthetics and social considerations ad she recalibrates our perception of, say, Renaissance artist Donatello’s ‘harsh and imposing’ depiction of Mary Magdalene, or Jamaican performance artist Renee Cox’s Chillin’ with Liberty. The book’s climax is Paglia’s bound-to-be-inflammatory assertion that filmmaker George Lucas is ‘the world’s greatest artist.’ Paglia’s bold and rigorous, handsomely illustrated and welcoming art iconography will accomplish her mission to provoke, enlighten, and inspire..”
Booklist, starred review

About the Author

Camille Paglia is University Professor of Humanities and Media Studies at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. She is the author of Break, Blow, Burn; Sexual Personae; Sex, Art, and American Culture; and Vamps & Tramps. She has also written The Birds, a study of Alfred Hitchcock.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Vsual Art Maverick Dec 16 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
True to form Paglia gives the finger to much of the historically great
names in the history of visual art. Some of her choices are insightful and
the writing at times brilliant i.e. cycladic figurine (page 11) and Donatello's Mary Magdalene (page 43). One gets the feeling she is trying to live up to her reputation as a maverick, especially with her grand finale.
George Lucas, the greatest artist of our time ? and his masterpiece...?
Revenge of the Sith. If this is where technology leads us God help future
dwellers in this cold, robotic, souless world.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well written, disappointing selection Dec 15 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book offers a review of western art from Egyptian tomb painting of 1200 BC to George Lucas, Revenge of the Sith, 2005. Twenty-eight works of art are discussed in separate chapters. The format is a reproduction of the art-piece followed by about four pages of discussion. The author writes extremely well, but the selection of art pieces was, for me, very disappointing. Twelve out of the 28 pieces chosen were completed after 1900, and the 20th century was the century of ugly art. Art that may send a message but not art with which to live. Imaginative realism is still alive and well. Robert Bateman in Canada, James Gurney in the US, and almost any issue of the International Artist magazine would provide examples of beautiful contemporary art with which one could live with delight.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars June 27 2014
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I usually know I will like before I order.
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Paglio's writing glitters with insights. Her book connects visual arts with social history, artistic techniques, and trends from Egyptian art to digital animation. She often includes a psychological explanation of the personality and character of the artist. It's the sort of book I want to absorb so I read slowly and thoughtfully (not usual for me) and happily I am not quite finished yet!
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75 of 77 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A nice, idiosyncratic handbook on the visual arts Oct. 16 2012
By James - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The first thing to be said about Camille Paglia's latest is that the hardcover edition is beautifully produced, printed on high-quality glossy pages, including vibrant full-color reproductions of the artworks she has chosen to discuss. Assuming there is a forthcoming paperback edition, there is a great chance the publisher will choose black-and-white versions - I would highly recommend going for this edition. The heavy pages fall easily open for the reader, and the book has a nice weight to it. The simple, striking cover evokes both Egypt and the desert planet of Tatooine in the Star Wars universe.

Paglia's stated aim here is to provide a kind of handbook for the educated everyday reader who is thirsty for more knowledge of the great sweep of Western art. Paglia has selected twenty-nine exemplary works for consideration, beginning in ancient Egypt and taking us right up to George Lucas's Revenge of the Sith. Paglia's great strength as a public intellectual has always been that she sees no distinction between high and low art, and this allows her to seriously consider a filmmaker like Lucas, in her view the dominant major artist of the last three decades. Her deliberate, carefully crafted prose (she spent five years on this volume) is reminiscent of the glittering words of Oscar Wilde, a lush, highly visual style. Paglia takes her pedagogical mission seriously, and her writing is designed to draw curious the reader into an ecstatic state of contemplation regarding the great works.

This book is not a definitive, all-encompassing survey of art history. Paglia has chosen a small number of works, some canonical, and some of them highly idiosyncratic selections. The Idols of the Cyclades, the Laocoon, The Book of Kells, Titian's Venus With A Mirror, Caspar David Friedrich's The Sea of Ice, Pollock's Green Silver, Antin's 100 Boots, Renee Cox's Chillin' with Liberty - these are a few examples of Paglia's range here.

If you have found yourself infuriated by Paglia in the past (I do not count myself in this group), I recommend taking a second look at her and her work. We should treasure a serious, deeply erudite intellectual who takes the time to speak to the general public. In our distracted, media-saturated times, we need her pugnaciousness, as well as her call to contemplation.
28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "We Must Relearn How to See" Oct. 28 2012
By Gary Griffiths - Published on
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"Modern life is a sea of images" begins Camille Paglia's arresting "Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars," an ambitious collection of essays through the author's selection of Western art's defining moments. A daunting task indeed; capturing the majesty and impact of three millennia of art in a single thin volume is akin to conveying to a landlocked Kansas farmer the vast power and fury and expanse of the oceans in a single tea cup. Yet Paglia succeeds, contrary to the title, not so much on the strength of images themselves as in the authority and dominion of her soaring prose. Organized in a series of twenty-nine thought-provoking essays spanning human culture from the tomb paintings of Queen Nefertari ("ghosts carved out of time"), the author marches through time and styles and multiple visual medias to a surprising closing, declaring George Lucas "the greatest artist of our time:"

Paglia, always controversial, the classic fierce liberal, perhaps last of a dying breed of progressive thinkers who can separate politics from culture and ideology from anthropology. Here is a practical and principled firebrand whose views were cast in 1960's rebellion; beliefs of free speech and anti-establishment - an individualist who looks with distain at the contradictions of today's elite academic progressives who passively embrace the bloated, autocratic bureaucracies that Paglia and her peers fought so valiantly to dissolve. This background is important, for the author makes a passionate case for public funding of visual arts with a logic and pragmatism not typically associated with this community. Paglia harshly criticizes the art world's disingenuous knee-jerk defense of "third-rate" works like Andres Serrano's controversial "Piss Christ" that undid decades of progress of The National Endowment For the Arts. Likewise, she is justifiably critical of conservative/evangelical sins against culture; "provincial philistines when it comes to the visual arts." Yet, this avowed atheist earnestly defends religion, recognizing the importance of religion on civilization but also on art, and therefore the need to study the world's religions. "Sneering at religion," she observes, "is juvenile, symptomatic of a stunted imagination."

The selected works and accompanying essays represent an eclectic mix, from well known works like Warhol's pop icon "Marilyn Diptych," Jackson Pollock's frenetic "Shooting Stars" or Jacques-Louis David's macabre "The Death of Marat," to much less obvious choices: Elenor Antin's "100 Boots," Donatello's haunting "Mary Magdalene," or George Grosz's biting satire in "Life Makes You Happy." In the former category and worthy of special note is Picasso's menacing "Les Demoiselles of d'Avignon, described by some as "the most important painting of the twentieth century." This has always been one of my favorite paintings, and when in New York, I always try to make it a priority to visit MoMA to see it. But having read Paglia's essay "Heaven and Hell" which accompanies "Demoiselles," I'll never see this overpowering canvas the same way. While volumes have been written analyzing Picasso's sexually charged imagery, in a scant four pages Paglia captures new dimensions of horror and brilliance between the pigments; "whores are meat on the rack."

As an engineer by training and an entrepreneur/businessman by practice, I am wholly unqualified as an art critic. But while Camille Paglia and I may be on opposite sides of the political spectrum, we would find common ground in the unequivocal importance of visual arts in our collective human culture, and in the need to reintroduce art and art history in our schools, K-12 through university. Paglia has targeted "a general audience for whom art is not a daily presence" - a goal she meets brilliantly: provoking, illuminating, and inspiring - challenging the reader to extend beyond the gray monotony ruts of life and the garish video imagery of our slavishly digital culture. "Glittering Images" is an uncommon book that not only deserves to be recommended, but to be purchased for friends and especially for children who all too often are missing this important element in their education. Bravo, Camille - I am in awe.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Eye is Drawn to "Glittering Images" Feb. 27 2013
By GirlScoutDad - Published on
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Surveying 5,000 years of Western art, in 188 pages, selecting 29 images. Well, that is quite a challenge. But Paglia, through her keen eye and breadth of scholarship succeeds admirably and the result is a visual and intellectual joyride. The captivating images chosen for discussion invoke powerful themes of love, sex, power, death, dehumanization, affluence, poverty, piety, nature, and the afterlife. The mind is enriched and awareness is changed and enhanced through intelligent contemplation of these powerful works. I love art history essays; they're such an admixture of topics from technique, to aesthetics, to the history and politics of the era, to philosophical issues such as our place and purpose in the universe. All these themes are pithily and wittily discussed by Paglia. In her essay titled "The Race", on the bronze sculpture of the Charioteer of Delphi of 475 B.C., she observes with perspicacity, "The Greeks defined existence as a struggle or contest (agon) that tested and built character. To strive to be the best was a moral duty. Life was a perpetual game or race, with little hope of rest."

The introductory essay might be the keenest part of the entire book. Paglia asserts that great art creates dynamic, "glittering" images that draw the viewer in and captivate him or her. For thousands of years of western art, sculpture and painting -- through action, color, and composition -- dominated the world of art, but these media are now out-competed - in a nearly Darwinian sense - by even more dynamic, glittering computer-enhanced graphics and big-screen cinematography. Indeed, as Paglia proceeds chronologically through her survey of western art, the most recent painting selected for an essay was painted in 1930, over eight decades in the past (true, a Jackson Pollock work from 1949 is chosen, but Pollock's "painting the air" technique of splashing and throwing paint at the canvas is essentially a different genre from applying paint directly onto the canvas). As contemporary minds are drawn to enhanced, dynamically moving images, will future generations even be able to stay still long enough to seriously look at traditional paintings and sculpture? Probably not, implies Paglia, and that is unfortunate. I see this in my children. If Paglia's hunch about the future of art is correct, then it's not unreasonable to be concerned not only about the survival of traditional visual art, but about other western cultural and artistic treasures as well. As we train our brains to "surf the net" and digest information no longer than a blog post or a tweet, will future generations read Shakespeare, Aristotle, or a biography of Winston Churchill, for example?
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Antidote Nov. 7 2012
By J. B. Powers - Published on
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For those seeking healing and inspiration during these trying times -- Camille delivers. Her erudition, wisdom and felicity of style are unmatched. Each choice and her brief, lapidary comments made me wonder if she could top this work with the next one. And she does. The physical quality of this stroll through the canon of Western art leaves nothing to be desired. The choices include the familiar as well as the bizarre. This woman, as does every successful teacher, clearly loves her subject.
The introductory essay is her passionate testimony to the importance of art appreciation in our over-stimulated, unreflective present. Her comments on each beautiful object describe the context, the artist's life, and then proceed to pointing out the delicate details which her practiced eye has gleaned and which this reviewer had blown right past. The conclusion of each interpretive passage is a deep thought which provides lingering insight.
This book provides the consolation of philosophy and the refuge of history in an alluring package.
39 of 53 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Paglia As Icarus, Flying Too Low Oct. 20 2012
By The Wingchair Critic - Published on
Camille Paglia's 'Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars' (2012) is her follow-up to 'Break, Blow, Burn: Camille Paglia Reads Forty-three of the World's Best Poems' (2006), the author's disastrous (and unnecessary) attempt to introduce and explain literary poetry to the general public.

'Glittering Images,' which is also intended for the same broad audience, addresses the visual arts, and is a more solid effort all around: the introduction alone is worth the price of the book, as it presents Paglia at her erudite, vibrant and perceptive best.

However, Paglia writes that "the artworks in this book were chosen to avoid overlap" with those presented in her first book, 'Sexual Personae: Art & Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson' (1990), which means that examples of "Stone Age, Egyptian, and Greek sculpture, as well as Renaissance, Romantic, Pre-Raphaelite, and Symbolist painting" are foolishly not included.

Thus, it's ironic that, visually, the mere twenty-nine works included are rather dull and uninteresting to look at, much less contemplated in silence in the manner Paglia recommends.

Earth tones predominate in plate after plate (Paglia notes that Mondrian hates green; Palgia seems to dislike it too), so that when the reader arrives at Monet's colorful, if still muted, 'Irises' on page 97, the painting comes as something of a shock to the senses: 'Irises' is certainly the only conventionally attractive painting found in the book, though the broad public still associates 'art' with what is 'pretty,' even 'decorative.'

'Glittering Images' starts off powerfully with Paglia tackling examples of Egyptian, Cycladic, Greek, and Roman art. The fairly brief accompanying essays are packed with information; each underscores the broad scope of Paglia's learning as well as her understanding of history, and places the work in question in a solid and readily understandable context.

But the book drops off almost immediately with plate 6, the Ninth century mosaic of Saint John Chrysostom from the Hagia Sophia Museum in Turkey.

The obvious problem of 'Glittering Images' is the selection of images included; for the volume to genuinely succeed, Paglia has to convince the reader why the images selected deserved to be included, and in this she fails in the majority of the essays (most of which are still of some interest in themselves).

It appears as though Paglia did not want to include works of art with which the public might be overly familiar; but if this is so, why are Picasso's 'Les Demoiselles d' Avignon' and Warhol's 'Marilyn Diptych' here?

Though there are no works by, for example, Giotto, Bruegel, Bosch, Durer, Gainsborough, Blake, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Turner, de Chirico, Matisse, Whistler, Munch, Schiele, or the Fauve school, Paglia includes Tamara de Lempicka's 'Portrait of Doctor Boucard'?

Rather hilariously, the entire 19th century is represented in just three works.

Does Bronzino's lackluster 'Portrait of Andrea Doria as Neptune' (1530) really belong in a survey of Western art which sums up its subject in twenty nine works?

Why didn't Paglia press for an even fifty plates and thus make 'Glittering Images' genuinely comprehensive, or at least more so?

Though any reader familiar with Paglia's tastes will understand why she included Renee Cox's 'Chillin with Liberty,' once again Paglia fails to make the case for its inclusion, and the rambling accompanying essay about performance art (which includes "Stelarc" being suspended "by eighteen flesh hooks over a New York street" and later having "a human ear surgically attached to the inside of his left arm") doesn't assist her cause.

Sadly, the last essay, 'Red River,' is devoted to 'Star Wars' creator George Lucas and the climatic scene from his 'Revenge of the Sith' (2005). Again, while Paglia might be able to convince her audience that Lucas is "the greatest artist of our time," especially due to his technological breakthroughs in filmmaking, her essay simply does not. Though the idea is daring and the essay interesting, it ultimately concludes the book on a flat, even sour, note.

Paglia is an amazing intellectual talent, one far too talented to be wasting time on tepid, half-hearted efforts like this and 'Break, Blow, Burn.'

Over the decades, Paglia has publicly excoriated Germaine Greer and Susan Sontag for failing to live up to their early potential as writers and as feminist writers, but the exactly same thing has become true of Paglia. Has she noticed the rather hard and ugly irony of this, regardless of the fact that she teaches full time? Paglia made fun of superfluous late Sontag novels like 'The Volcano Lover' (1992), but surely 'Break, Blow, Burn' is its equivalent.

Long after loudly announcing that Volume II of 'Sexual Personae,' which would address the 20th century, would make the combined book "the longest ever written by a woman," Paglia finally admitted the second volume had been mysteriously cancelled, even though she had intimated that it was already written and in the process of being edited for publication. Admirers of her work, who waited faithfully for the second volume for years, deserve a fuller explanation.

What Paglia can bring to the world is the brilliance of the flawed but still highly impressive 'Sexual Personae' and its cancelled preface, the scathing 'Junk Bonds and Corporate Raiders: Academe In the Hour of the Wolf' (1991), and 'No Law in the Arena' from 'Vamps & Tramps' (1994). Paglia hasn't written comprehensively about the 21st century since it has arrived: opportunities for her insight are everywhere (as we see in the present book's preface). In a lighter vein, even Paglia's witty columns would be welcomed in collected form.

The final verdict on 'Glittering Images' can be deduced by a simple test: is the potential reader or buyer, while casually flipping through it, seduced and intrigued by what he or she sees? The answer is plain: No, he is not, not even slightly, and thus 'Glittering Images' fails on the most fundamental level.
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