art history/artists, Indiana-Gary, Memoir, Non-Fiction

#636 Andy Warhol and the Can that Sold the World by Gary Indiana

 Andy Warhol and the Can that Sold the World by Gary Indiana Andy Warhol and the Can that Sold the World by Gary Indiana

Andy Warhol is the man the art world associates with Pop Art. He painted the Campbell’s soup cans and soon brought the idea of assembly line artwork back into society’s view. Why did Andy paint the soup cans?

Andy grew up poor. His family was an immigrant family. One of the things that Andy and his family ate, all the time, were sandwiches and Campbell’s soup. Andy often got to pick the flavor of soup as he was doted on by his mother.

Andy went to school. He became a commercial artist. No one in the commercial art world in New York minded that Andy was gay, but due to the time, Andy still had to hide a bit who he was. At one point Andy painted his soup cans, by hand, at first. He hated that soup; it reminded him of his poor times.

Andy’s soup cans revolutionized the way people look at art and why they make it. Andy didn’t want deep analysis into his artwork. He just wanted to make it for the heck of it. Andy ultimately could never get away from the soup cans, even though his body of work branched out to include other art mediums and even film.

What I liked

Andy Warhol was an interesting, albeit, weird, guy. At the time, an artist had to have some guts to paint a Campbell’s soup can and call it an original artwork. Andy had those guts. Andy had the guts to be weird and non-conformist during a time when it wasn’t exactly celebrated. There is something about Andy that is relatable and reassuring. I liked reading about him. I had no idea about his struggles with poverty growing up, but it makes sense.

What I didn’t like

Andy’s story is great and all, but this book was written in such a manner as to render the content bland. I’m sure Gary is a great guy, but this book was written like a series of boring art essays that a person would find in some boring art criticism magazine. It was all very well researched and put into a logical order, but it’s not exciting. It’s not entertaining. It’s informative, yes, but entertaining…no.


I would like to find out more about Andy.

Weigh In

Do you think you would have to guts to paint a soup can and call it art?

Do you think people who grew up in poverty and were later well-to-do always try to get away from their pasts?

art history/artists, Memoir, Nelson-Cletus, Non-Fiction, Parfrey-Adam, social commentary

#614 Citizen Keane by Cletus Nelson and Adam Parfrey

Citizen Keane by Cletus Nelson and Adam Parfrey Citizen Keane by Cletus Nelson and Adam Parfrey

Once upon a time, way back in the 1960s, Walter Keane was known as the man who painted the big-eyed waifs, but in turns out, he wasn’t really that man. It was in fact a woman, his wife, Margaret, who had painted the big-eyed children and Walter had perpetuated a lie. Margaret had been painting them the whole time, but the story did not come out until after the two had divorced.

Both Walter and Margaret were married before they met. They both divorced and later married to each other. They were both artists, or so it was thought. Walter Keane became a sensation. He wasn’t a classy artist; he was an artist for the masses. He sold posters and postcards and cheaper versions of his art for the every-day person to be able to afford. Despite the fact that Walter may or may not have actually been an artist he was definitely a promoter.

Walter lived large on the wealth of Margaret’s paintings, but Margaret became dissatisfied and asked for a separation. She recounts that she was too scared to say anything about the paintings actually being hers. The arrangement went on for some time after the marriage ended, but Margaret finally found the courage to say that the paintings were hers. Walter could never show up to paint something to prove that he could paint the big-eyed girls as well. He later became something of an alcoholic and ended up losing his third marriage as well.

Margaret enjoyed a renewal of interest in her art in her sixties and ended up being quite content, even if that wasn’t always the case.

What I liked

This story is so interesting. I’m glad it’s a book and it’s also a movie, which I have not seen yet. Artists, or scam artists, have made claims to the artwork of others to get personal gain. It’s happened all throughout history. People have taken credit for the work of others because the work was good and the other person knew they could get away with it.

While the story is a bit sad, because it’s obvious that Margaret was emotionally abused to an extent, it’s also a good story to tell because people need to know things like this happen. Why on Earth would you allow another person to take credit for your work? Well, if you’re terrified of that person, you might just let them do whatever the Hell they want just to keep them off your case. It’s called mental abuse. It happens to people and other people should know that it does happen to other people so they don’t feel alone if it happens to them.

What I didn’t like

Walter doesn’t sound like a nice guy. I’m sure he had his good points, as in he was a wonderful promoter and I’m sure he loved his family, but he did a lot of crappy stuff to people he supposedly loved. Look here, if you love someone, you’re not supposed to do crappy things to them like this. You’re not supposed to steal their dreams and take credit for their work or threaten them to keep quiet.


This was a very interesting story.

Weigh In

Has someone ever taken credit for your work, but you felt compelled to stay quiet about it?

Do you think Walter ever felt bad about what he did?

art history/artists, History, Non-Fiction

#421 Brunelleschi’s Dome by Ross King

Brunelleschi's Dome by Ross KingBrunelleschi’s Dome by Ross King

I know most of you have no idea who Filippo Brunelleschi was. You have no idea what accomplishments he had. You have no idea how important he is to the world of architecture and even your football and basketball games.

So what makes Filippo so special? Well, Filippo designed and oversaw the creation of the very large dome of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, Italy. Most of us haven’t been to Italy. I know I haven’t, so I’ve never gotten to see Filippo’s work in person. Here is the thing about the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral…the dome that sits atop it was the largest dome created, EVER, at the time period. In fact, it had been hundred of years, since the Pantheon was built, that anyone had even attempted to build a dome anywhere near as large. Domes were a fairly new-fangled idea in the world of architecture. Sure, there were instances of one or two here or there, but no one had really been able to make it work very well. Filippo did it.

This book is about how he did it and the process. This took over sixteen years. Most of the time when we think about a building being built, we’re thinking about six months to a year. We’re not thinking multiple years. Construction back in the day was very difficult. Filippo had to compete for the chance to even design this thing. The city councilors didn’t just call Filippo up and say, “Hey Baby, I got a job for you,” he had to design a model, a scale model, of the dome and how it would work. He was competing against several other men.

You may be thinking, “How did Filippo learn to do any of this,” well, he was a gold smith. A gold smith isn’t exactly who you would choose to design your house, unless you wanted a house made of gold, but this was a different era. People often branched out into other areas. The term “Renaissance man” is technically before the age of Filippo, but the term would apply to him. Men like Filippo weren’t satisfied with being just a sculptor or just a gold smith, they wanted to be other things as well.

Filippo’s design was favored by the committee, but Lorenzo Ghiberti was also in favor with the committee. The two men would compete against each other for the next sixteen years and dually oversee the construction of not only the dome, but other projects for the city of Florence.

The dome took monumental amounts of materials. There were bricks, marble, wood and workers involved. The workers came from all around. They weren’t allowed to leave the scaffolding for lunch. Part of me is really curious about how they used the bathroom hundreds of feet in the air. As the years progressed, the dome went up. What is unique about Filippo’s dome is that it did not use centering, a technique to support the dome until its completion, and also that it’s actually more like two domes. There is sort of an inner dome and an outer dome. The inner dome is what made it possible for Filippo’s dome to be raised without support.

This building was the life blood of Florence at the time. People were enthusiastic to see its completion. People had lived their entire lives in its shadow. I think there was a point, when the church was finished, that they didn’t know what to do with themselves. They could actually use their building for its intended purpose. Sadly, Filippo died after the completion of the dome, but before the completion of the lantern atop the dome. The lantern is that big pillared sculptured looking structure in the very middle of the dome. You can stand there. In fact, if you Google some pictures of this dome, you will see very tiny people standing at the base of the lantern. That’s how big this dome is.

What I liked

Filippo seems like an interesting guy. One of the stories in this book is particularly humorous. Apparently, Filippo knew this carpenter named Matteo. One night he decides to play a big prank on Matteo, it’s actually more like a prank of Punk’d proportions. Filippo slips Matteo a sleeping draught and he falls asleep. Filippos has Matteo transported to the house of Manetto. There they put him to bed. When he wakes up, he wakes up in Manetto’s house and everyone is calling him Manetto, even Manetto’s own brothers. Everyone is in on this except Matteo. Everyone keeps calling him Manetto. They tell him he better go to work, and it’s a job he doesn’t know how to do because he’s a carpenter. This keeps going on, until dinner. They give him another sleeping draught. They carry him back to his own house, put him in his own bed, and then move all of his stuff around. When he wakes up, the real Manetto talks to him and tells him, “Dude, I had the strangest dream. I dreamed I was a carpenter and all my stuff was moved around,” and Matteo was all like, “I know the feeling.” He didn’t actually find out about the prank until some time later. Filippo deserves his own television show. I would watch that.

I liked learning more about the history of architecture and the history of Florence. Florence used to be the “big time” as far as Italy was concerned. Rome? Maybe. Venice? Maybe. Cecily? As if. Florence? HECK YEAH! Florence was where the happenings were. Florence was where all the beautiful people lived. I actually don’t know if the Mediccis were beautiful, but they had lots of money, so I guess that counts. It’s really neat to learn more about a place. I also found it very interesting that the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore is larger than the dome of St. Peter’s in Rome. That’s impressive, because St. Peter’s is huge.

What I didn’t like

At times, the book could get a bit slow. It’s a non-fiction book. It does read like a story in many aspects, but it is kind of filled with that air a non-fiction book generally has. There are facts and figures interspersed with the story. It’s kind of like, “Filippo designed the dome and created a model using bricks. Bricks were created by getting a specific clay from a specific place and then formed into bricks by such-and-such men, and then they had to cure for two years, then they were baked in giant kilns. Those kilns could produce a million bricks during such and such time period. Then the bricks had to cool. Then the bricks had to be inspected. It’s rumored that Filippo inspected each brick himself,” and so on. Really, what we need to know for the story is, “Filippo made a model of bricks and it was rumored that he inspected each brick himself.” We don’t need to know all of that other stuff. In the larger scheme of things, I guess it’s pretty neat to know how the Florentines made bricks, but I don’t really have to know that.

Knowledge is good though. So it may not be on par with The Hunger Games as far as readability, but it’s still good stuff.


Ashton Kutcher and Filippo should meet up and hold a punking contest.

Brunelleschi’s dome, Brunelleschi’s Dome by Ross King, buildings of italy, dome in florence, filippo brunelleschi, history of santa maria del fiore, italian art history, ross king, santa maria del fiore, santa maria del fiore dome
art history/artists, History, King-Ross, Non-Fiction

art history/artists, Davis-Deborah, Memoir, Non-Fiction, social commentary

#169 Strapless by Deborah Davis


I like books about artists whether they be biographies or fictional accounts of their lives. This is a biography that happens to be fairly captivating. The reason this biography is so captivating is because of the scandal the artists created. That artist’s name was John Singer Sargent.

Most of you are not familiar with art history. Art used to be the box office that we worship today. Art was the thing. There was no other thing. It was only art. In Paris, once a year, there was something called the Salon. That wasn’t its official name, but it is referred to as just the Salon. The Salon was a huge social event. Thousands of artists submitted works and thousands got it, but not nearly as many as submitted. The Salon was huge. People planned what they were going to wear to the Salon for the next year as soon as they got home from this year. The greatest ambition of most struggling European artists of the day, primarily French artists, was to be accepted into the Salon exhibition.

John Singer Sargent was born in Europe. There are some sources that will say he was born in Philadelphia, but he was actually born in Europe. He made that whole Philadelphia thing up to be more appealing. John’s parents were Americans. His mother got the traveling bug and John was born in Europe along with a couple of sisters. John studied art under one Carolus-Duran, a great artist in his own right. John was very devoted to his artwork. He spent his days at Carolus-Duran’s art school, afternoon’s at another art class, and evenings at yet another art class. His work would soon be rewarded.

He was accepted into the Salon. His painting was all the rage. In a few more years he got a permanent entry into the Salon. He could pretty much paint whatever he wanted and it would be displayed. John was looking for a magnum opus. He wanted something that would set him on the radar of the art world. He chose Madame Gautreau as his subject.

Amelie Gautreau was also an American. She was born outside of New Orleans. Her family was very wealthy. Her mother was widowed at a fairly young age. Her mother, Virginie, was determined to see Amelie succeed as a Parisian beauty. So Virginie uprooted the young Amelie to go to Paris. Amelie turned out to be everything that Virginie expected ane more.

John Singer Sargent was drawn into the allure of Amelie just like the whole of Paris was. Amelie was the woman to emulate when one wanted to be the most beautiful and sensual. Her make up was always perfect. Her skin tone looked like she had never set food in the sun. Her hair was beautiful. Her clothing was beautiful. Every woman in Paris wanted to be Amelie.

It took John a while, but he finally got Amelie to agree to sit for him. He painted a magnificent painting. It was beautiful. He titled it Madame X. Amelie was rumored to be Madame X. A wealthy doctor in Paris, Pozzi, was rumored to have a mistress, actually more than one, but one was called Madame X. It wasn’t exactly a secret that the two had something going on.

John thought this painted was going to sky-rocket him in the world of art. It is a very amazing painting, but this was the 1800s. There was always a scandal. There were things back then that were way more scandalous than they are today. Some of the things people threw fits about are downright stupid, but hey, whatever.

The painting depicted one strap of Amelie’s beautiful, but simple, dress falling off of her shoulder. That was the outrage. Did Amelie put that strap there? Was she undressing? Was she redressing? Was her cleavage going to fall out her dress? It was so immodest. Instead of the praise both Amelie and John expected they got a wave of criticism.

Amelie was so embarrassed. Before this point she had been the woman everyone talked about, in a good way. Now she was the woman everyone talked about in a bad way. Her popularity faded because of the painting. She died the lone member left alive in her family and a recluse.

John on the other hand grew in popularity. There were a few years after the Salon display of Madame X that were slow for John, but more and more people wanted their portraits painted by him. In fact, several presidents of the United States had their portraits painted by John. There have been less than fifty presidents in the United States. That is a big honor. He also painted the Vanderbilts, yes, the same people who built their massive house in North Carolina. John died something of a star.

After his death and some years on, the notorious painting developed this life all its own. People wanted to see it. Everybody talked about it. Today if Madame X was for sale, it would sell for tens of millions of dollars, maybe more.

What I liked: This really was a great biography. Deborah was able to make it very interesting. It wasn’t dry at all. She followed each person through their lives, then to their meeting point, and then their parting ways. It really was fascinating.

I really liked reading about Sargent. He was such a talented artist. I also liked how Deborah didn’t try to smear Sargent’s reputation like other biographers might have. Many years after a person has died, as long as they were famous, there will always try to be people trying to pass of wild accusations of that person in a new biography.

What I didn’t like: There should have been way more pictures in this book. There were quite a few to start with, but after I finished the book, I went to the official John Singer Sargent website. There a person can look at pretty much every artwork that Sargent created. There are forty image pages of artwork. Forty. What is in the book is nowhere near what exists.

This is a wonderful biography. If you like art and artist histories at all, you should read this biography.