Books

Book Review: If You See Something, Say Something: A Writer Looks at Art

 Longtime SMU professor Willard Spiegelman offers art and architecture criticism from a distance in this collection.

After calling Dallas home for more than 45 years, Willard Spiegelman has moved north to split his time between New York and Connecticut. To mark the occasion, the writer and longtime SMU professor has released his latest book, If You See Something, Say Something: A Writer Looks at Art, a collection of essays on art and architecture he published in the Wall Street Journal beginning in the late 1980s. Much of the volume is understandably given over to writing about North Texas, such as considered responses to the opening of I.M. Pei’s Meyerson Symphony Center, Renzo Piano’s Nasher Sculpture Center, and Tadao Ando’s Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. It offers an opportunity to step back into the mindset that accompanied Dallas’ remarkable succession of new cultural institutions. But Spiegelman is at his best when he has space to zoom in close and consider single masterworks. In Andrea Mantegna’s Dead Christ, he sees “the cold permanence of death”; Peter Paul Rubens’ St. Sebastian reminds us that “like flesh, paint is material.” As he notes in his introduction, writing criticism is about looking carefully so readers can learn to look more carefully on their own. Spiegelman’s writing certainly rises to meet his ambition.

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