Art writing

Something occurred to me t’other day, as I was plowing through Mary Roach’s non-fiction book “Spook.”

There is much clever and entertaining non-fiction out there, in a variety of fields. There is clever and entertaining science writing, from such soft stuff as Roach’s up through heights of Sagan and Gould and Dawkins. There is clever and entertaining nature writing by the score and the scad, from birds and birding to interesting stuff in the lawn to gardening–lord, the gardening!–and discussions of My Life Among The (insert species here.) There is clever and entertaining travel writing, adventure writing, and historical writing (I am still fond of “How the Irish Saved Civilization” and I’ve read most of his others as well, although the Irish one was probably the best) and religious writing and I assume sports writing, although I’ve never wandered down that aisle.

Where is the clever and entertaining ART writing?

When I go to the art books, generally I find lots of oversized stuff with pictures by one particular artist or period (understandably, of course) and a bunch of how-to-draw-manga manuals, and maybe a copy of “Artist Beware!” and some pamphlets full of Art Nouveau dingbats, and ten copies of “The Artist’s Way” and “Daily Affirmations for People Who Want To Be Artists But Are More In Love With The Artiness Of It All Than The Bit With The Paint.”* When I look for a book-book, I find a copy of “Rape of the Masters.”

And that’s it.

Damnit, where are our clever and entertaining non-fiction writers? Is Sister Wendy the closest thing we’ve got? (Is she even still alive?) Do they exist, and I’m just missing them? Do people feel you can’t write about what’s basically a visual experience? Is the only writing in art art criticism? Hell, for that matter, are there readable art critics? I have tended to avoid art criticism because it’s generally people I don’t know talking about art I haven’t seen, but am I missing somebody good–you know, somebody funny and humane and using a vocabulary for those of us who still wouldn’t swear to knowing what post-modernism is?

My parents did a column briefly for a little art magazine that was deeply readable art criticism, and I found it quite entertaining (they did one review of a show where the gallery was closed, so my mother had to sit on my stepfather’s shoulders and peer through the windows to comment on the art. It was short on content, for obvious reasons, but long on entertainment value.) Where is the stuff like that?

Anybody know any? Or should I be throwing down on Yet Another Far Too Ambitious Side Project and trying to write one from my position of near-total ignorance? (Hey, it worked for Mary Roach…) Does the world really need me trying to understand Dali, after all?

Links to examples of anything in this line much appreciated.

*You know this book has to exist, although possibly under a different title.

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