The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books Image
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The Bulletin
of the Center for Children's Books:

True Blue
Each month we offer a focus on a particular author or artist. Sometimes we use this space to discuss a rising new talent or an established star, but we also like to celebrate those who now live on only in the rich legacy of their books.. See the archive for focus pieces from previous months.

Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan

Art books for young people are an interesting genre, prone to their own pitfalls (telling readers how art should make them feel, veering either to the side of condescension or overestimation). During the last decade, however, one authorial team has set a standard for accessible and provocative nonfiction about art with books that stimulate curiosity as well as providing information. Now no literary gallery can be complete without titles from Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan.

"What you say after you say, 'I like it!' or, 'I don't like it!' is what this book is all about," they say at the beginning of their first book, The Painter's Eye: Learning to Look at Contemporary American Art. They then proceed to give readers a vocabulary for that additional commentary and to help them assess how art provokes those responses. Commentary by artists, poems about featured works of art, and reproductions of significant works, repeated for close examination, balance out explanations of texture, shape, line, and color.

Their other "Eye" books, The Sculptor's Eye: Looking at Contemporary American Art and The American Eye: Eleven Artists of the Twentieth Century, continue their focus on the traditions of American art. The former echoes many of the explorations of The Painter's Eye but takes then, necessarily, to a new dimension. As in The Painter's Eye, there's a blend of the abstract and the representational, both deftly examined in terms that young readers will easily grasp. The American Eye takes them in a new, more biographical direction, wherein they bring their freshness and originality to a treatment of eleven artists "whose careers could be viewed from beginning to end in order to see how life and art reflect each other and how both could be understood in response to the American experience." Subjects include standards such as Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock, and Edward Hopper and also other, less obvious contributors to our view of American art: Isamu Naguchi, Thomas Hart Benton, Romare Bearden, Eva Hesse, and others.

In their two most recent books, they've combined approaches, employing a tighter focus well suited to the inviting yet sophisticated picture-book format. Both Chuck Close: Up Close and Frank O. Gehry: Outside In examine living artists, drawing on Greenberg and Jordan's own interviews with their subjects as well as on secondary material. You'd think that Chuck Close's monumental portraits would be difficult to convey within a mere square foot of trim size, but the book does a splendid job of providing distance views and closeups that allow viewers to see the components as well as the overall effect of the art. As Elizabeth Bush points out in her upcoming review of Frank Gehry in October's Bulletin, most kids have probably never heard of the innovative architect, but images of VW bugs on chairs (to prove that his cardboard chairs were sturdy enough for use) and buildings chaped like binoculars (for Chiat/Day in Los Angeles) will pique their interest. The authors provide text worthy of the images, too, giving kids an idea of what design can be about, and maybe even enticing a few into visits to Gehry's Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.

All the volumes assist such enticements by including lists of museums and other places where readers might view works of the featured artists; bibliographies and glossaries also appear with frequency. The additional matter is useful, but the provocation of thought, encouragement of curiosity, and exploration of what all kinds of art can mean and do are the real contributions of this team's oeuvre. These books are truly state of the art.

--Deborah Stevenson, Associate Editor


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This page was last updated on September 1, 2000.