With celebrity come privileges. I have to wonder how many publishers would be interested in a book like Still Looking: Essays on American Art if its author were not famous like John Updike. He was, however, having studied painting at the Ruskin School of Art before he became a famous writer. I am happy he had the background and the eminence because I enjoyed the book very much.
Like many books of essays by literary figures, Updike's collection of pieces spans several decades. Reporting on art exhibits that he visited, he described what he liked and did not, often including biographical profiles of artists and explaining their significance in art movements. From early in the book I enjoyed learning that he liked many of the same artists that I do. Feeling akin to Updike, I read essay after essay, even about artists I had not considered. I also enjoyed how beautifully the book is illustrated. Would writers with less influence have been able to get the publisher to acquire rights to so many works of art?
Still Looking includes an introduction to American art and 18 essays. Only the final piece, three pages on Andy Warhol, seems insubstantial. Most run 10 to 20 pages and include a dozen or more color images of major works discussed. My favorites were essays on American landscape painters, James McNeill Whistler, Childe Hassam, and Edward Hopper.
You do not have to like Updike novels to enjoy his essays. I have now reserved Just Looking, an earlier collection about European art.
Updike, John. Still Looking: Essays on American Art. Alfred A. Knopf, 2005. 222p ISBN 9781400044184.