by Andrew L. Shea
Dec. 10, 2018

The Art of Looking: How to Read Modern and Contemporary Art, by Lance Esplund (Basic Books): A “how-to” primer for newcomers to modern and contemporary art, Lance Esplund’s conversational new book aims to coach its readers through the slow process and at-times-difficult experience of seeing. Esplund, an art critic for The Wall Street Journal and a frequent lecturer at a number of schools and universities, is the first to admit that much of the art he discusses is resistant and even antagonistic to this sort of basic interaction with its audience, but he nevertheless encourages readers to keep an open mind when encountering the works of artists as disparate as Manet and Marina Abramović, Klee and Robert Gober. You may disagree with some of the judgments the author makes over the course of his book, something that he readily acknowledges is a consequence of this subjective approach. But Esplund is at his best when he is able to reach to the past, and to the timeless traditions and values that all successful art shares in, to inform his own critical approach.