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Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees: Expanded Edition Paperback – Illustrated, February 2, 2009
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"Seeing is Forgetting may not be just the best biography of an artist out there but also one of the best books on contemporary art-making."--Frieze
"'Seeing Is Forgetting' and 'True to Life' are not only about the artists talking to Weschler or, through him, to each other; they're about the artists talking to themselves."--Los Angeles Times Book Review
From the Inside Flap
- Publisher : University of California Press; First Edition, Over Thirty Years of Conversations with Robert Irwin (February 2, 2009)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 336 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0520256093
- ISBN-13 : 978-0520256095
- Item Weight : 1.5 pounds
- Dimensions : 6 x 0.9 x 8 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #107,666 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Through thirty years of friendship and discussions, Weschler traces Bob Irwin's career, from buffing car dashboards in high school to creating monumental gardens and installations in his old age. The benefit of this extended coverage is that we get to see how Irwin develops in every stage of his career, often as these developments are happening. We discover how relationships, environment, the art world, and philosophy influence Irwin's evolution and how each element manifests itself in his work.
Irwin typically deals with abstract, minimalist, and formalist art which is often considered "difficult", even by open minded art viewers. In these interviews, he extensively details his mental and physical process, offering an unparalleled look at just what goes into these works. He recounts staring at a canvas for weeks, trying to decide precisely where a line should go and what impact it will have on the finished work. Even if you don't find yourself mesmerized by the next Agnes Martin you come across after reading this book, you'll at least gain an appreciation of why some people find it interesting and what might have been going through the mind of the artist when he/she created it.
Part of what this makes this biography so compelling is that Irwin is an incredibly appealing character. Most successful artists are pigeonholed as shameless self-promoters or tortured geniuses. Irwin comes across as humble, brilliant, open minded, sincere, and indefatigably dedicated to his work. He seems like an art world version of Richard Feynman; the kind of curious guy you'd love to explore ideas with over a beer. He can talk about betting the ponies and Wittgenstein. He has a soft spot for Cadillacs but doesn't mind living a frugal, almost hermetic existence. He's fascinated by both the mind and the soul.
This book isn't a page turner (though Bob is an excellent story teller). It's really best savored and carefully considered. But, if you're interested in Irwin, abstract art, art theory, the artistic process, hope to increase your art appreciation, or are just looking for an interesting biography, this is well worth a read.
Irwin is an all-encompassing artist and human being. One of those few gifted people that through sheer curiosity and intellect is able to beat categories and bridge gaps, making new, much broader connections for us. The book beautifully portrays the rare paradoxes of the work and the man himself, somehow two sides of the same coin. His work, irreducible, ascetic, intentionally limited in its vocabulary; and the man, hyper-articulate and expansive ("…this man who shuns metaphors, and yet is so gifted by them"). Author of artworks avant-garde and obscure for most; Irwin is a pleasure to read as he reasons and works through his questions (I read this book as a 29 year-old, and I have no doubt Irwin would be able to explain his work to a 9 year old), interweaving art with philosophy, science, perception and consciousness as parts of the same grand whole.
Much credit is due to its author Lawrence Weschler, who writes with enviable ease and works through Irwin's life and work narrative with astounding poetry, adding lots to an already great story. The title alone gave me chills every time I grabbed the book. So did the beautiful opening quotes at each chapter. Weschler spent 30 years of his life documenting Irwin, and has dexterously condensed the best of it in 300 pages, greatly managing quotation and commentary.
One of the book's main threads and one of the great preoccupations of Irwin is perception and attention to what's already there. Reading this book, it seemed to me these topics are today more relevant than ever, when we seem in general insatiable and fragmented. The lifelong dedication of Irwin to such questions are not only enlightening to learning artists, like it's my case, but a general reminder to exercise the simple gifts of being human.