The Sight of Death


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An Experiment in Art Writing

T. J. Clark

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Why do we find ourselves returning to certain pictures time and again? What is it we are looking for? How does our understanding of an image change over time? In his latest book T. J. Clark addresses these questions—and many more—in ways that steer art writing into new territory.

In early 2000 two extraordinary paintings by Poussin hung in the Getty Museum in a single room, Landscape with a Man Killed by a Snake (National Gallery, London) and the Getty's own Landscape with a Calm. Clark found himself returning to the gallery to look at these paintings morning after morning, and almost involuntarily he began to record his shifting responses in a notebook. The result is a riveting analysis of the two landscapes and their different views of life and death, but more, a chronicle of an investigation into the very nature of visual complexity. Clark’s meditations—sometimes directly personal, sometimes speaking to the wider politics of our present image-world—track the experience of viewing art through all its real-life twists and turns.

T. J. Clark is George C. and Helen N. Pardee Chair at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of several books including the highly influential volume, The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the Art of Manet and his Followers.

"What holds the reader is a vivid immersion in the author's process of discovery. His blend of thinking and noticing grips us as details are revealed in the room's ever-shifting light. . . . Numerous color plates, first of the paintings in full, then of enlarged details, train our new eyes."—Nina C. Ayoub, Chronicle of Higher Education

". . . as compelling as a thriller...Clark shows that this [book] really is the merest doorway to what is ultimately a truly sublime mystery."—John McEwan, The Tablet

"Provocative, insightful and . . . useful."—Edward J. Sozanski, Philadelphia Inquirer

"The Sight of Death is a delight for the level of the writing, the quality of the observation, and the attention it lavishes on looking—an activity most of us take for granted."—The Bloomsbury Review

"The Sight of Death is a tour de force of looking. . . . Clark helps us see why it is so rewarding, indeed even necessary, to go back again and again to look at the same painting. He puts into words, better than anyone else I have read, why paintings can never be completely fixed in memory, but rather appear different each time we go back and see them again. . . . A deeply personal and passionate book about art, art history, and politics."—Donna Gustafson, Commonweal

"Clark remains, as he has always been, an imaginative and challenging writer whose thought . . . demands serious and rigorous attention. There is no question that he renders these two painting by Poussin extraordinarily vivid and rich, prompting something akin to the intense pleasure and excitement, sudden ideas and insights that can be produced by immersion in the galleries of a first-rate museum. He is his own best example of an author who changes the way we look at a given picture via his or her exquisite immanent analysis."—James A. van Dyke, Oxford Art Journal
ISBN: 9780300117264
Publication Date: September 1, 2006
192 pages, 210 x 150
17 b/w + 33 color illus.
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Episodes from a History of Modernism

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Edited by Yukio Lippit; With contributions by Louise Alliso

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