This book is designed for people who enjoy art museums but might feel baffled or nonplussed by all the Christian iconography and symbols. New Yorker and author Stephen Auth takes the reader on a tour of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, identifying major themes that can be found in most any art museum in the western hemisphere.
A former Wall Street executive, Auth tells the reader that he’s mostly self-taught. Perhaps for that reason, his book is quite readable and engaging, ideal for the rest of us who love art but aren’t experts.
Auth points to what his subtitle says: that the scope of western painting and sculpture (among other media) may be seen as so many attempts of human beings’ search for God.
He begins the tour in ancient Egypt, showing how artists viewed "Men as Gods," and then moves to his next chapter looking at ancient Greece where the artists attempted to show "God as Men."
Then comes the European Middle Ages, which Auth refers to as "You Are God, I Am Not," telling his readers that this is the most popular part of the Met Museum. (See the excerpt accompanying this review.) Here, he explores Byzantine art through its themes that include the adoration of Christ in heaven and the art of icon painting.
Most time periods are introduced — including through recent artists such as Mark Rothko and Salvador Dali — and always with full-color art reproductions. This is one of the gifts of this book: the art is reproduced gorgeously, as if the reader might pause to contemplate its qualities and meditate on its themes.
The book’s content is definitely Christian, as for instance, when Dali’s "Crucifixion" (1954) is introduced and the author comments: "Its image of pure love, the love of the Cross, seems the perfect antidote to the dark themes of the 1800s and 1900s, the spiritual chaos that we’ve spent the past hour slogging through." Nevertheless, there is much here for anyone with an interest in western art to see and ponder.