Philip M. Isaacson, A Short Walk Around the Pyramids & Through the World of Art (Knopf 1993)
I don’t do much re-reading of old favourites. Maybe I should. I first read this when it was new, with an eye to possibly publishing an excerpt in the School Magazine. (We had reviewed and excerpted Philip M Isaacson’s marvellous first book, Round Buildings, Square Buildings, & Buildings that Wiggle Like a Fish.) I picked it up again today because Penny had taken it to read to Mollie in the nursing home, and reported that it had been a great success – not just for the photographs of the pyramids, but also for the actual reading-aloud, at least of the first few pages.
It’s a minor miracle of a book. The author is an art critic, writing a general introduction to art for young readers, and he manages to do it without a whiff of the pedagogical. Hayao Myazaki’s motto, ‘Get lost along with us,’ seem to apply. We go from the Egyptian pyramids, by way of the Parthenon and African traditional art, to Jacques Lipchitz, Alexander Calder, painters including Vermeer, Monet and Gauguin, and then on to photography, industrial design, urban design, all at a leisurely stroll. It’s not a lesson, but a lively conversation, with at least colour illustrations. The imagined reader / interlocutor may be a child, but I can’t see any upper age limit on those who might enjoy it.
One question: If the Step Pyramid, which dates from a little more than 4600 years ago, is ‘among the oldest works of art in the world’, what does that say about the rock paintings in Australia and elsewhere that are closer to 30 000 years old?