Book Review: David's Sling

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Book Review: David's Sling

by Victoria C. Gardner Coates

Genre:

Culture and History

About the Book:

Millions have admired the great works of art in museums around the world but relatively few know why they were commissioned, what was happening in the culture that produced them, and what they were meant to achieve. Even scholars who have worked on these objects for decades often miss the big picture as these objects have been traditionally studied in isolation.

David’s Sling places into context ten canonical works of art executed to commemorate the successes of free societies that exerted political and economic influence far beyond what might have been expected of them.

Artworks include:

  • The Parthenon
  • Brutus’s Mask
  • St. Mark’s Basilica
  • Michelangelo’s David
  • Rembrandt’s Night Watch
  • David’s Marat
  • The Elgin Marbles
  • Bierstadt’s Rocky Mountains
  • Monet’s Water Lilies
  • Picasso’s Guernica

The goal of this book is to integrate the pursuits of creative excellence and human freedom.  The artworks selected in this book have either inspired or been inspired by free systems of government in the Western tradition.

Each chapter provides a bit of political history, and bit of art history with an aspect of storytelling to create a narrative around each key work of art and the free system that inspired it. 

Favorite Quote:

Freedom is the sure possession of those alone
who have the courage to defend it.
– Pericles

Why I liked this book:

I was once asked, “why do you like museums” by my uninterested hairstylist during a session in her chair.  She had me as a captive audience to her rant on how “boring” they were, not to mention that I was in a precarious seat trying to not offend and get my locks lopped off.   

I approached the subject delicately as I asked her why she visited if it wasn’t her preference and she stated, “it’s a great piece of art, on the bucket list, you have to see the Mona Lisa in Paris or Birth of Venus at the Uffizi”.

Museums – I find that they are often a polarizing activity when traveling with others. Inevitably one person will want to go to a museum, the other tags along taking their turn at doing the other person’s activity.  The interested party will read every single placard next to a piece of art.  The other person is usually strolling through hurrying the other one along jumping from painting to painting.  

Regardless, it seems that museums are now a walk-through experience. Several studies have found that the average time a person looks at a piece of art is under 30 seconds.

And yet, the thirty second glance does not reveal the story, the conflict, and the messages of the painting.   

I started out my 2019 book club with David’s Sling which is actually a re-read for me.  I found this book last year and it resonated with how I like to travel diving deeper into topics and understanding the “why” whether it be a monument, tradition or piece of artwork.  

The author of David’s Sling uses primary sources for the factual elements but introduces some storytelling to create human stories that will not only make each artwork more memorable, but also an interesting read.

I have seen a majority of these artworks and armed with this knowledge, I feel like I can understand so much more about the art.  I highly recommend reading the designated chapter if you are going to see any of these pieces of art – it’s like a personal tour guide bringing the art to life.

Not to worry.. my hair was not lopped off. I explained to my hairdresser my methodology on museum going. I lookup five pieces of art from the museum and do some research on them before I go.  My internet searches may yield an interesting story about the artist, the political context, a nefarious art heist or something secret hidden in the painting.

Whatever the information is, it gives context to the why I am spending my time looking at it, why the artwork was important to the culture it came out of, and makes the experience of that piece of art so much more interesting.   There might be 100 pieces of artwork I look at that day, in 30 second increments, but I will spend a good deal of time more on those particular five, as I know more of its secrets.

If nothing else, it’s like an Easter Egg hunt for my not as interested travel companion to find the art in the museum.  Baby steps! 

Inspired to visit the read David's Sling?

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