About Pictures

14 April 2010

About Pictures
by Terry Fenton
Published by Hagios Press
Review by Andréa Ledding
$20.95 ISBN 978-0-9783440-9-2

About Pictures is just that –a perfect companion for students, collectors, art-lovers, or gallery-aficionados. Reading at the 2009 Saskatchewan Book Awards from this nominated book, Fenton said “It’s about pictures, it’s got pictures, it’s short, and it’s only $20.” All selling-points, but the book covers an impressive range of material in a short span, comprising brief essays interspersed with over 30 beautiful glossy images. Fenton’s portable soft cover edition is a witty companion and tour guide of the art world, drawing from careful research and personal philosophy combined with years of education and experience as gallery director, curator, and critic. It’s a must-have for everyone who likes art, wishes to know more about it, or wants to “brush up” on the basics.

Fenton believes in the value of a good question, using them generously before providing answers, while sharing professed favourite works of art. He explains of his title that artist Henri Matisse used the word “pictures” in his quote “Above all, pictures are illusions.”, and Matisse also described art as “something like a good armchair, providing relaxation from physical fatigue” – a likely goal of Fenton’s in creating this book, a work of art in itself.

A series of short essays and overviews leads the reader through the fundamentals of art, art history, and art appreciation. Readable in one sitting, picked through according to subject, or used as reference, the tone is always conversational, inviting, and engaging.

The author discusses various mediums, including both still and motion-photography. “Pictures captured by camera carry such a prosaic story of truth, it’s been suggested that photography isn’t an art medium at all. It is.” He goes on to define art as something which evokes “an aesthetic response in other human beings”, although he qualifies that. Balance is required – sheer response can lead towards “a form of barbarism”. Fenton’s definite views are gently well-informed, but never over-bearing, good-naturedly allowing the reader to consider their own positions, and frequently quoting the artists themselves.

Fenton also examines the North American mindset towards art, quoting Henry James in 1884 who notes the European Protestant mindset – “Puritans came to the Americas to escape from art and they’re still running” – and even today, many “North Americans still tend to identify the Arts with either sin or frivolity. Some artists rise to the bait, and make art simply to provoke the Puritans.”

Ever thoughtful, Fenton’s book concludes with useful “do’s and don’ts” for the collector and viewer, and a list of recommended books, viewings, and websites. About Pictures has something for everyone: like a gallery, exhibit, or any good work of art, the viewer is encouraged to browse, linger, consider.

Fenton is based in the Canadian West, including four years as director of Saskatoon’s Mendel Art Gallery as well as other major galleries in Alberta. This is his sixth book.


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