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The Curious Curator's Book Blog

Contemporary art curator. Student. Book addict. Art lover. Geek. Dreamer. Curious about everything. Check out my website http://thecuriouscurator.com/

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The Art of Life by Sabin Howard and Traci L. Slatton

The Art of Life - Sabin Howard, Traci L. Slatton

Written by a husband (artist) and wife (writer) team, this book is like a love letter to figurative sculpture. It’s a deeply personal and subjective view of a specific art form that the authors obviously love and, in the husband’s case, dedicated his life to. It follows a line of stories and inspiration through a number of figurative sculptors in Western cultural history, but mostly it focuses on artist Sabin Howard, his life, influences and art. The examples of artists are drawn from a personal connection that either or both the authors had with the work. Traci Slatton also speaks of her husband, the artist, as the spiritual successor to the likes of Canova, Michelangelo, Bernini and Rodin. It’s always tricky when you’re writing about someone so close to you, and it shows in the book in such sweeping phrases as this one: “His [Sabin Howard’s] decades of labor and dedication show in his glorious Apollo, which is the finest standing male nude since Michelangelo’s David”.

Maybe because the writing is so personal, I had a hard time truly connecting with it. What I didn’t like was when the author resorted to making assumptions about historical figures that were coloured by her own subjective point of view, such as appreciating but being uneasy with the nudity in Donatello’s David, finding it provocative and wondering what the artist’s relationship with his model was. This interpretation might be true - we have no way of knowing for sure - but she describes it, among other things, as “reeking of pederasty”, which is a rather bold statement. Or, shortly after, when describing Michelangelo’s David: “This seventeen-foot sculpture ushered in what art historians call the High Renaissance, or, when they’re being really pretentious, the Cinquecento”. Moreover, when it comes to Giambologna’s Mercury, she says “Everyone knows this sculpture because it’s associated with the FTD floral delivery service!” I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about (I’m guessing it’s an American cultural thing). Or about the fallout of figurative art’s popularity: “Three-dimensional modern art devolved into silly doodads, ugly tchotchkes, and trivial balloon toys”. These types of expressions hindered the writing, in my opinion.

On a more positive note, it was interesting to read about the artist’s process, the sculptures are, in general, beautiful, and the photographs illustrate the narrative very well. Sabin Howard is a gifted figurative sculptor. But this book just wasn’t for me. 


Note: I got this book for review purposes through NetGalley.