Jo Mortimer

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Five Art Must-Reads

The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life - Twyla Tharp (2003).  Tharp is a dancer and choreographer who believes nothing gets done unless you move. The Egg is a great example of marrying body and mind, physically solving an intellectual problem. Assume the fetal position for as long as you like, then extend a leg and wiggle your foot. Eventually, you have to do something 'expansive', she says. Marvellous.


Letters to Theo - Vincent Van Gogh (1992: Penguin Classics). Spanning eighteen years, these carefully considered, detailed and exploratory letters to his brother show us not only that the written word was part of his painterly process, but that Van Gogh was fully engaged with the world, even in times of crisis. He was not the best at human relationships, which perhaps made his writing all the greater.

The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form - Kenneth Clark (1972). Clark, who also brought us Civilization studies and celebrates the nude form in this remarkable book. Given the context of the 1950s, his descriptions are almost provocative. He concludes that the difference between naked and nude is one of form: 'Balanced, prosperous and confident' as opposed to 'huddled and defensive'. A sumptuous read.

The Shock of the New: Art and the Century of Change - Robert Hughes (1980). A 100-year history of modern art with over 200 photographs. He shines clear light on a subject that is often deemed incomprehensible. It's a fantastic book; you will find that you've understood complex ideas without having to go for a lie-down. Thank you Mr Hughes. (Also a BBC TV series.)

On Photography - Susan Sontag (1973). If you're looking for a cheery history of photography, this isn't the book for you. Here, Sontag deals with the fine line between art and reality, as well as delving into the moral and aesthetic issues that accompany the rise of the photograph. Often described as 'groundbreaking', you can't argue with that assessment. You'll see your relationship with the world a little differently after charging through this extraordinary volume of essays.

(Photo: Detail from Monet's Tempête sur les Côtes de Belle-Île,1886)


HumanitiesJo Mortimer