Professor's Picks: Three favorite books from the mind of an art historian
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Lisa DeBoer, professor of multiple art history and theory classes, is renowned at Westmont for her eloquence of speech and philosophical and historical sensibility. As an avid reader, she engages with contemporary literature as well as texts of the past:
1. “The Invention of Art” by philosopher Larry Shiner. This book explores the events between the 1700s and 1900s that led us to think about art the way we do today. Shiner argues that what we think of as art today is, in fact, an invention.
What DeBoer enjoys about this book is the way Shiner tracks what he dubs “resistance movements,” and they way they shaped how we consider “art” today. What she finds particularly intriguing is the way many people (particularly Christians) are more interested in resistance movements (Arts & Crafts movement, Bow House movement, etc.) than the general leanings of the public culture during certain times in history.
In a sense, the entire book is a commentary on what people focus on in history—the “resistance movements,” that push the world in a certain direction and challenges the leanings of the multitude.
It gives an enlightening perspective on how we think of art today and gives historical precedence to certain events. It is a heavy, intellectual read, but relatable to those interested history, art or simply learning more about the world.
2. “Arcadia” by Tom Stoppard. This famous play takes place in two times at once — both in 1810 and the present day. On an academic level DeBoer enjoys “Arcadia” because it conveys the shift from Neoclassicism to Romanticism. A philosophical and existential read, it remains historically and artistically intriguing on many levels.
But it can be confusing and muddled, because the play rapidly alternates between different historical moments. Seeing it as a play helps a reader to understand it. The text is wonderfully rich and complex and new gems are revealed with each reading. It has some wonderful, deep and morally poignant thoughts. It is brilliant, funny and profound. Basically, just read it.
3. “The Girl in Hyacinth Blue” by Susan Vreeland. Her final recommendation is a book that she enjoys as an exciting, fun read. Vreeland invents a painting by Vermeer, and documents its cascading journey through owners and situations from the twentieth century back to its origin. “The Girl in Hyacinth Blue” came out around the same time as Tracy Chevalier’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” which DeBoer regards with a high level of disgust. DeBoer stated that reading Chevelier’s novel offended her historical sensibilities.
However though popular literature, “The Girl in Hyacinth Blue” remains historically and artistically true and engaging. According to DeBoer, Vreeland is successful in reinterpreting the past while remaining sensitive and true to it. It is neither a boring textbook nor what DeBoer refers to as “romantic dreck.” It is an incredibly engaging and fun read, and synchronously educational and historically honest.