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« True Art School Tales | Main | Elsewhere »

October 15, 2003

Authorship Redux

Friedrich --

I'm looking through a wonderful little art book that's a recent fave of mine, Ronald Pisano's The Tile Club (buyable here and, at a discount, here), about the Aesthetic Movement in America. This was an art trend in the mid-to-late 1800s -- an era of art clubs and art schools; the Tile Club was one among many. But a classy one: among its members were Winslow Homer, William Merritt Chase, John H. Twachtman, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and Stanford White. I love this Victorianism-encounters-Japan, arts-and-craftsy period in the American visual arts -- here's a posting I did about one of the era's giants, the largely forgotten John La Farge.

As I flip around inside the book, my mind's awash in this and that: how much I love the era and its arts despite the fact that it's so banally easy to love, and despite the sneers of the edgy and academic crowd (what do they have against what's accessible, tasteful and relaxed?); how pleased I am that the arts of this era have shown such staying power despite being largely overlooked by the academic art crowd (take that, snobs!); how sadly rare it is in America for popular taste and the fine-arts world to find a rhythm together; how we ought to celebrate -- and god knows cherish and enjoy -- such moments as the Aesthetic movement, early jazz, '30s movies, etc. And, hey, why isn't more effort being made to see what's there to learn from these periods?

My delighted mind's also enjoying reflections about what a multimedia, hypertext-y marvel a good art book is. One small package delivers photos, graphics, reproductions, book design; texts (often multiple texts); indexes, footnotes, tables of contents -- multiple media, all of them pointing back and forth at each other and also leading you out of the book and into further books as well as the world. How can people not be dazzled and amazed by all this browse-y fabulosity? It's the Web before there was the Web, it's a sensory extravaganza to match anything Hollywood produces with the most advanced technology ...

And I realize that some little shred of my mind's still dwelling on my posting from a few days ago about authorship (here). Gloating, perhaps, but where's the harm?

So I thought I'd indulge my rantin' self once again, and pause to run through this particular book's credits. And forgive me if I seem like a boring monomaniac, which I probably am. Anyway, in terms of the lavishness of its production, "The Tile Club" is quite a modest art book, so it should be a fair example of how these things work.

Let's first remember that, as far as librarians and booksellers are concerned, this is "The Tile Club" by Ronald G. Pisano. And many cheers and hosannas for Ronald G. Pisano, who did a terrific job. But why not make a quick list of some of the other people whose good work went into the creation of this book too?

  • A couple of other writers wrote essays that are also included in the book.
  • It's an art book -- so let's be sure to include all the artists (more than 30) whose work is included. Without them, after all, there'd be no book.
  • And, y'know, someone had to do all that photography. Photographing works of art is a craft in itself, as anyone who's tried can testify. I count almost as many photographers as there are images in the book -- over a hundred.
  • The book is a first-rate piece of book design: Judith Hudson deserves credit for this.
  • Usually there's an editor at the publishing house who guides and holds these projects together in an almost movie-director-like way. Elaine Stainton did the honors here.
  • The publisher (Harry Abrams) who committed to the project and the museum (Stony Brook) that sponsored the exhibition the book accompanied certainly deserve more than a nod. And many staff members (researchers, copy editors, etc) at both places no doubt played helpful roles.
  • In his acknolwedgments, Pisano thanks 26 collectors and dealers for their assistance, as well as 61 scholars.
  • Bibliographies serve many wonderful functions, one of which is as a way for an author to thank the people whose work he's building on. Pisano includes about 20 names in his "selected bibliography."
  • Where'd the money for the book come from? Nothing much can happen without financial sponsorship, god knows. Pisano lists four outfits who, in addition to the book's publisher, made the project possible.
  • Who knows how many uncredited friends and family members kicked in time and brainpower? "More than a few" would probably be a safe guess.

"The Tile Club" by Ronald G. Pisano? A little art book that's about a hundred pages long, yet even a quick inspection reveals that close to 200 people played substantial roles in its creation. So hats off to Ronald Pisano -- as well as to the many other "authors" of this gorgeous production.



posted by Michael at October 15, 2003


So what did the Tile Club get up to, exactly? Was it one of those late-19th, early-20th attempts to create crossover between fine and decorative arts? When I was doing my posting on Picasso and Cubism I was interested to note how much of an issue that was for the "other" cubists--i.e., not Picasso or Braque. And it was a big deal in France's art establishment of this same era (there was considerable fear that France's luxury goods market--probably its leading industry, even today--was failing to keep its world-leading position.)

Anyway, I'd love to know more.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on October 15, 2003 11:48 PM

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