Art historian Wilson (The Hidden Language of Symbols) expertly analyzes 50 artworks that “suggest different approaches to the creation process” and illustrate “how varied the making and meaning of art itself can be.” Traversing the Bronze Age to the 21st century, Wilson dissects influences both personal and historical—for example, Rogier van der Weyden’s 15th-century The Descent from the Cross reveals the artist’s “aim... to achieve new and even greater heights of realism” and reflects the centrality of religion in 15th-century Europe. Elsewhere, Wilson’s fine-grained focus on technique reveals how French artist Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun used “diagonal accents through light and shadow” to keep such works as Self-portrait in a Straw Hat (1782) from appearing “too static,” while Johannes Vermeer’s Woman Holding a Balance (1664) manipulates proportion, compositional harmony, and symbolism to dazzle viewers with its near-photographic realism and communicate a subtle religious message. Juxtaposing the famous with the lesser-known and the Western with the Eastern (Vincent van Gogh’s 1889 Starry Night sits alongside Iranian artist Shirin Neshat’s 1994 photograph Rebellious Silence), Wilson expertly illuminates technical details without losing sight of art’s visceral pleasures. Enriched by lush color reproductions on every page, it’s an excellent resource for those looking to make the most out of their next trip to the museum. (Dec.)
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