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How Do We Look: The Body, the Divine, and the Question of Civilization
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How Do We Look: The Body, the Divine, and the Question of Civilization

3.60  ·  Rating details ·  251 ratings  ·  54 reviews
Conceived as a gorgeously illustrated accompaniment to “How Do We Look” and “The Eye of Faith,” the famed Civilisations shows on PBS, renowned classicist Mary Beard has created this elegant volume on how we have looked at art. Focusing in Part I on the Olmec heads of early Mesoamerica, the colossal statues of the pharaoh Amenhotep III, and the nudes of classical Greece, Be ...more
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published September 4th 2018 by Liveright (first published September 2nd 2018)
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Margaret Sankey
Jun 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
A beautiful and witty art survey, about one of my favorite subjects--people and how they represent themselves. What does it mean politically and socially to be painted "warts and all," or as a hundred foot tall, bare-chested incarnation of Ra? Beard carefully chooses pieces from around the world, setting them in context and revealing how they illustrate the culture's sense of self, power, gender and imagination.
Oct 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
How Do We Look offers the reader a question well worth exploring: how do humans use art to explain how they think and feel about themselves. This is a question stolen directly from an Intro to Art syllabus, but it is a question worth asking because human imagination is arguably the most powerful force in the known universe. It can literally impact the physical world as humans create visions based upon their experiences and perceptions and imaginings, and Beard takes her reader through the centur ...more
Lily Green
Aug 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very informative and easy to read prose! This would be a fantastic addition to a 100 level art history class.
Akemi G.
Nov 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
The premise of this book is intriguing. Art history often focuses on the artists, and sometimes their models, but seldom the viewers. However, as commissioners of the artwork, as art dealers, and as consumers, viewers determine the value of art and influence the creative processes with their preferences. It's especially interesting in portrait art; how we see ourselves, and even more importantly, how we wish to be seen--the cultural ideal--is manifested in the art.

However, the book fails to dig
Sep 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
I really like Mary Beard and her perspective on human civilization through her expertise in antiquity. This book focuses on the question of who are we when we are looking at art, not only how do we see art, but how does art reflect our gaze. Using numerous examples of ancient figurative art from the Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, Olmec, and Chinese she tries to find the role of the viewer. Next she turns to the religious structures from multiple major religions to explore where the gods are in the a ...more
Tessy Consentino
Oct 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating read on art and sculpture and how people from long ago memorialized themselves and others.
Oct 02, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: adult, non-fiction
This was accessible and interesting, which are two things I wouldn't often say about art history.
Oct 29, 2018 rated it did not like it
Sumptuously produced, it was an easy read in one sitting on a rainy afternoon.

Mary Beard is a classicist of the highest order, yet this book was, for me, a prime example of overreaching. Her credentials as an art historian or critic are clearly lacking. Her statements are often pedestrian, and her ignorance of religion and art beyond Christianity and Judaism shallow.
Nov 02, 2018 rated it liked it
I read it. It happened.
Oct 23, 2018 rated it liked it
This is a companion book to a TV series (well 2 episodes of said series), so it is a short and somewhat shallow introduction to the topics it covers. The illustrations were very integral to this book, which I appreciated. Unlike most books, I was able to see a picture of each and every piece the author mentioned (saving me the time of looking them up online). I wish it had been more in-depth, hence the lower rating, because I would like to learn more about many of the conclusions drawn. The end ...more
Nov 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
tl;dr: This is an informative, brief read that gives us some insights into art and the relationship we have had with it over time.

I was a little surprised to see Olmec art in the book as it is typically the Aztecs, Mayans and Incans that get the burn in most books, but each of the art selections underscores a point Beard likes to make in each chapter. In this book, we are treated to writing on a number of notables artworks.

The Olmec heads get to kickstart the book. As we know very little about t
Nov 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
You look fine Mary. Why do you ask?

Oh, How Do We Look is the title of the book. Sorry, at first glance it looked like Mary Beard was the title.

By the way, are you the same Mary Beard who presents episodes of Timeline - World History Documentaries? You are! I just finished Caligula With Mary Beard on Youtube. Love your work. Really enjoy your wit and knowledge. OK. I'll take this book home with me and see how I like it.

So I did and I quite enjoyed the read. Mary Beard single-handedly pulled my no
Sep 28, 2018 rated it it was ok
This book is, to the best of my knowledge, a companion to the new rendition of "Civilizations" that aired on PBS a few months ago. If you have not watched the new series, I highly recommend it. Among others, this book primarily explores how we look at figures from a western bias, as well as how faith has influenced how we interpret and understand images.
As a teacher of art history, I found the series "Civilizations" extremely useful and engaging for both myself and my students. That being said
Nov 10, 2018 rated it liked it
Mary Beard is not as well known in America as she is in Great Britain I dare say, but this down to earth Cambridge professor has entertained, and educated me via Youtube. She delves into ancient civilizations and makes their world part of our own with her intelligent and witty tutorials.
How Do We Look is a book that explores how we as modern people, look at ancient art. The first half of the book deals with the human body in art, the second part tries to decode the very complex world of relig
In sum: "So much depends on who is looking, from ancient master or ancient slave to eighteenth-century connoisseur or twenty-first-century tourist. And so much depends on the context in which they look, whether ancient cemetery or temple, English stately home or modern museum. I am not sure that it is ever possible entirely to recreate the views of those who first saw classical art, and I am not sure that it is the be all and end all of our understanding anyway (the changing ways these objects h ...more
Aug 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
I guess I was expecting a different read or maybe different format of this book.

This is basically research based on sculptures and art through centuries to show how human interpreted and had looked at art.
Different cultures and different traditions would show a person in a different way.
And depending on who was looking at the statues, they would see something different in the art.

The sculptures and art varied and were changing through centuries.
F.ex. the Greek statues often showed a man naked
Luis Cuesta
Sep 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I received this book as a Goodreads Giveaway. To star I wold say that Mary Beards book is a joy to read, too short for certain and packed with lessons quickly absorbed.Thebook is filled with historical details and Beard’s ideas about the images of gods are fascinating, especially with regard to the Ajanta Cave drawings in India, which force viewers to actively interpret their complexity, searching for truth and faith in the darkness. Even more thought-provoking is the Islamic use of calligraphy, ...more
Kimberly Schlarman
Oct 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very basic introduction to how we have looked at and engaged with art objects throughout the centuries.

This is a very quick read with short chapters focused on a specific place, object, or topic. Unfortunately, it is very Western-centric although Beard says she tried not be. Even when she discusses Olmec statues or Ajanta Buddhist cave art, she devotes a lot of time to how Western archaeologists and art historians viewed these works.

Despite this, I love how Beard approaches art history--with a
Dawn Rupert
Oct 15, 2018 rated it liked it
This is a beautiful book with many lovely photos of ancient people, gods and architecture. The book is divided into two parts. The first part is about the body image as seen in ancient cultures through their art, particularly their statues and paintings. Part 2 deals with religious faith and the portrayal of the gods. Some faiths would consider images of god idolatry. I loved the book but felt the narrative could have been deeper. It was a very fast read.

Alaina Sloo
Nov 19, 2018 rated it liked it
This is more of a companion to Mary Beard’s Civilizations tv series, so it’s a little too episodic to be a satisfying read. Just when you’re starting to get into something she’s shown you, she moves on to a new subject, But it’s a wonderful taste of a really interesting approach to reconsidering art in religion throughout history. I’m glad I read it and now I think I’ll have to watch the tv series to get a little more depth.
Aug 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
I greatly appreciate Mary Beard's writing, and this book is no exception. A light, enjoyable read containing art, history, and the context the art would have been seen in/what it would have meant to contemporary viewers. Fascinating food for thought!

I received a digital ARC from the publisher via Edelweiss+.
Sep 07, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: giveaway
While it was a good book and I did enjoy what was written and the art work covered. I was left with a feeling that something was missing. Since it is meant to accompany the "Civilizations" shows, maybe that was what was missing. Overall good, but somehow lacking.
Oct 16, 2018 rated it liked it
Much more approachable than I expected. I enjoyed the information, but I’m not sure I came away with any particularly profound new ideas. She did raise some good questions that I think will stick with me.
Nov 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very interesting, especially for an anthropology major like me! The pictures were sometimes in very strange places in the book, like an image would be referenced and the image itself would be 3 pages back.
Sep 16, 2018 rated it liked it
A good basic read on how we look at art. Reflects the importance of historical context, religion, and even historical perceptions on the role human form in deciphering and understanding art, especially of ancient civilizations. Great for those looking for an intro to looking at ancient art.
Dec 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
I am beginn68ng to believe the quote , "there is no such thing as art, only artists". A fascinating look at art, from ancient to 1600s. It seems we've been asking the same questions, having the same discussions for thousands of years. I know know the definition of iconoclast.
Oct 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
The author presented an interesting way of thinking about art history and archeological interpretation. However, this book might not be as meaningful for someone who doesn’t already have some familiarity with the cultures and art movements discussed as only basic backgrounds are provided.
Nov 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A very short book with many photos. I do not think it is correctly titled. More than half the book concerns religious art. The section on “ how we look” is relatively short. I guess that comment assumes that “look” means “appear.” The title could also refer to how we view art.
Nov 22, 2018 rated it liked it
I picked this up in my local library. It was a quick read that I mostly enjoyed, but realize I can't recall the main theses afterwards.
Norman Smith
Nov 26, 2018 rated it liked it
I expected more meat on the bones.
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Winifred Mary Beard (born 1 January 1955) is Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge and is a fellow of Newnham College. She is the Classics editor of the Times Literary Supplement, and author of the blog "A Don's Life", which appears on The Times as a regular column. Her frequent media appearances and sometimes controversial public statements have led to her being described as "Brita