Reading List: Mary K. Brantl

Dr. Mary K. Brantl is an art historian focused on modern art and mid-century developments in photography and an associate professor of art history at St. Edward’s University in Austin. Her degrees include BAs in religion and studio art, MAs in history of religion and art history, and a PhD in art history. While teaching in and developing the art history department at St. Edward’s, she is also carrying out her own research on immigrant photographers.

 

Curationism: How Curating Took Over the Art World and Everything Else by David Balzer

In an era when everything from our grocery store shelves to our Facebook page is “curated,” Balzer invites the general reader to explore the history and realities of contemporary art curation. He takes on star curators, the influence of the Internet, and the unholy power of the dollar in making, breaking, and shaping art. Curationism is a worthwhile and witty romp that, while likely both amusing and frustrating, will leave the reader with valuable insights into the art world of today and its possible future.

 

The Language of Landscape by Ann Whiston Spirn

Spirn, a landscape architect, photographer, MIT professor, and prolific author (including books on Dorothea Lange and her recent The Eye is a Door), here explores a language embracing nature but also humankind’s markmaking within it. Beautifully written, in the book Spirn considers diverse ways that language has been used (Jefferson to Wright, community garden to politically driven wall building) and the—by times unintended—rhetorical and environmental impacts of that subjective discourse.

 

Group f.64: Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, and the Community of Artists who Revolutionized American Photography by Mary Street Alinder

The early 1930s movement Group f.64’s members were drawn together by a commitment to the unique nature of photography as a medium. Their name referenced the small lens aperture that provided gloriously sharp, detailed, straight photographs. Alinder, Adams’ assistant in the late years of his life, argues that Group f.64 represents a pivotal moment both in the history of photography and for many of its participants. If not altogether successful, she does provide an overdue reminder of the significance of this chapter of modernist photography’s self-definition.

 

Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong by James W. Loewen

A follow-up to his Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, Loewen takes us on a road trip across the country exploring the too often dubious validity of historical commemoration (e.g., the historical markers along our roads of which, reportedly, no state has more than Texas and commemorative place names). So we progress from Mt. McKinley (the “silliest” name) to Amherst, Massachusetts (named after a smallpox-infecting Indian slayer) and from Pittsburg, Texas, with its claim to successful pre-Wright-brothers flight to an endless number of Civil War markers (so timely given the current debates surrounding public Confederacy markers). While the individual rewritten histories make splendid reading, the text also offers a valuable reminder of history’s construction and ownership.

 

Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life by William Deresiewicz

Deresiewicz, himself a former Yale professor, takes on the most prestigious, ivy-covered universities while sharply questioning their guidance of the younger generation, their values, and methods. Along the way he offers a fervent case for the liberal arts so under attack in the current job-driven educational debates and at the same time argues that the most “elite” education may be far from the best.

 

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry: A Novel by Rachel Joyce

Newly retired and all too ordinary, Harold walks out of his house, stale marriage, and small village one morning to mail a letter to former colleague Queenie now in hospice care some 600 miles away. Sending a message that she should wait for him, he begins to walk north through England to her bedside. Along the way he casts aside belongings, gains a following, and inspires both head-shaking and hope. But by the end of this remarkable pilgrimage, neither Harold nor the many people he meets along the way (including readers) are quite the same.

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