“What do we expect or want from books about ancient archaeological sites?” asks Margaret Randall in chapter six of Artists in My Life (New Village Press, 2022). She goes on to muse about publications that are variously “of an elegance that far outweighs content” and others that are “superficial tourist propaganda,” or else “something so complex that I would have to be a specialist to crack the code.” Randall frames these shortcomings as a way of introducing The Lines (Yale University Art Gallery, 2014) by Edward Ranney and Lucy Lippard, which reflects upon the Nazca Lines, famous and mysterious “geoglyphs” of unknown origin that appeared in Southern Peru and Chile some 2000 years ago — an archeological text that she holds in high esteem, and one of 12 signposts in her lifelong journey through the arts.
In the spirit of Randall’s inquiry, I might ask: What do we expect or want from a book of art writing? Certainly, there are publications dedicated to high-quality image replication, others devoted to rehashing of an already venerated canon, and many that remain hopelessly mired in academic conventions that obscure rather than clarify the reader’s relationship with art. But Randall’s approach is different. She uses the truest compass possible when wayfinding in art: her own lived experience.
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Image: Mary Jane Elizabeth Colter, the Watchtower, Grand Canyon, detail view looking up at the Watchtower ceiling (photo by Margaret Randall)