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Peeks and Piques!



ART TIMES June, 2005

PAINTER ANTHONY BENEDETTO, (aka Tony Bennett, singer) passed along a little book on drawing to Everett Raymond Kinstler who then, in turn, sent it along to me. The book, The Undressed Art: Why We Draw by Peter Steinhart (Alfred A. Knopf, New York 2004), enjoyed by both Benedetto and Kinstler — and now, by me — might also afford you the same amount of enjoyment that it did us. New books that come across my desk are ordinarily listed with brief comment in our “New Art Book” Column, but this one warrants some special notice — if only for the delightful sidelights with which he enlightens us along the way toward what is, after all, a well-covered subject to most artists. And precisely for these sidelights, the book should also engage artists of all stripes — as well as the simply interested layperson who picks up our publication for whatever reason prompts them to do so. In his note to me when he sent the book, Kinstler (who, if anyone, knows the art and joys of drawing) noted that Benedetto (or, if you will, Bennett) was “ecstatic” with the book. That Kinstler passed it along to me for my reaction, ought to let you know how he felt about it. Author Peter Steinhart, a naturalist and writer, comes at an overview of drawing in perhaps the most legitimate manner, namely as that of an amateur — but, an “amateur” in the best (and original) sense of that word. Already trained to scrutinize in his role as a close and precise observer of nature, his interest and immersion in the disciplined world of eye-hand coordination — i.e. draftsmanship — is less of a leap than a very small hop into what is at bottom a closely allied occupation — albeit for different motives. That he comes to what he calls “the undressed art” as a matter of love (thus, as an amateur) and not as a necessity of his profession, makes — at least for this reader — all the difference in the world for it allows for an un-pressured, unrehearsed, and ego-less exploration into what for many artists serves as the very foundation of their art careers. Steinhart’s subtitle, “Why We Draw”, then, opens up a very wide gamut of observations since, not specifically related to the business of art-making (or of science), allows for him to explore a good deal of what makes us — and the act of drawing — a peculiarly “human” activity. When we couple his approach with his long history and facility with that other distinctly human activity — namely writing (Steinhart, past editor and columnist of Audubon, is the author of four books and numerous essays that have appeared in such publications as the New York Times, Harper’s, Mother Jones and Sierra) — we are gifted with a very special book. Steinhart’s insights into not only the act and art of drawing, but also into that of the practitioner (both professional and “Sunday-afternoon artist”) — as well as the often “invisible” life model who silently poses in front of a sketch class — are humanely revealing, startlingly observant, and astutely noted — as, perhaps, only the cool, vigilant, objective eye of the scientist-cum-humanist/writer can muster. This is a book that anyone can truly enjoy. My thanks to both Benedetto and Kinstler for bringing it to my attention.

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