front cover of The Look of Reading
The Look of Reading
Book, Painting, Text
Garrett Stewart
University of Chicago Press, 2006

We take for granted that words can describe pictures, but we don’t often consider that the reverse is also true: pictures can depict words, as well as the people reading them. In The Look of Reading, Garrett Stewart explores centuries of painted images of reading, arguing that they collectively constitute an overlooked genre in the history of art. 

A stunning array of artists—including Rembrandt, Picasso, Cassatt, and Caravaggio, among many others—have worked in this genre during the past five hundred years. With innovative interpretations of their work, ranging from Bellini’s open Bibles to Bacon’s mangled newsprint, Stewart examines the give-and-take between reading matter depicted in painting and the “look of reading” on the portrayed face. He then traces this kind of interaction from the sixteenth century, when pictured reading generally illustrated people reading holy scriptures, to later periods, when secular painting started to represent the inwardness and absorption associated especially with novel reading. Ultimately, Stewart shows how the subject fell out of such paintings altogether in the late twentieth century, replaced by words, scrawls, and blurs that put the viewer in the place of the reader. 

Lavishly illustrated with the paintings it discusses, The Look of Reading charts the life and death of an entire genre. Essential reading for art historians and literary theorists alike, it will become the definitive study of this overlooked aspect of the relationship between images and words.


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Word Embodied
The Jeweled Pagoda Mandalas in Japanese Buddhist Art
Halle O’Neal
Harvard University Press, 2018

In this study of the Japanese jeweled pagoda mandalas, Halle O’Neal reveals the entangled realms of sacred body, beauty, and salvation. Much of the previous scholarship on these paintings concentrates on formal analysis and iconographic study of their narrative vignettes. This has marginalized the intriguing interplay of text and image at their heart, precluding a holistic understanding of the mandalas and diluting their full import in Buddhist visual culture. Word Embodied offers an alternative methodology, developing interdisciplinary insights into the social, religious, and artistic implications of this provocative entwining of word and image.

O’Neal unpacks the paintings’ revolutionary use of text as picture to show how this visual conflation mirrors important conceptual indivisibilities in medieval Japan. The textual pagoda projects the complex constellation of relics, reliquaries, scripture, and body in religious doctrine, practice, and art. Word Embodied also expands our thinking about the demands of viewing, recasting the audience as active producers of meaning and offering a novel perspective on disciplinary discussions of word and image that often presuppose an ontological divide between them. This examination of the jeweled pagoda mandalas, therefore, recovers crucial dynamics underlying Japanese Buddhist art, including invisibility, performative viewing, and the spectacular visualizations of embodiment.


front cover of Writing in Space, 1973–2019
Writing in Space, 1973–2019
Lorraine O'Grady
Duke University Press, 2020
Writing in Space, 1973-2019 gathers the writings of conceptual artist Lorraine O'Grady, who for over forty years has investigated the complicated relationship between text and image. A firsthand account of O'Grady's wide-ranging practice, this volume contains statements, scripts, and previously unpublished notes charting the development of her performance work and conceptual photography; her art and music criticism that appeared in the Village Voice and Artforum; critical and theoretical essays on art and culture, including her classic "Olympia's Maid"; and interviews in which O'Grady maps, expands, and complicates the intellectual terrain of her work. She examines issues ranging from black female subjectivity to diaspora and race and representation in contemporary art, exploring both their personal and their institutional implications. O'Grady's writings—introduced in this collection by critic and curator Aruna D'Souza—offer a unique window into her artistic and intellectual evolution while consistently plumbing the political possibilities of art.

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