Keeping an Eye Open: Essays on Art - Julian Barnes

Starting with a story and ending with a memoir, Keeping an Eye Open (Knopf, $30) is a personal, personable, and eloquent look at art by the Man Booker Prize-winning Julian Barnes. While his point of departure may be that “a great painting compels the spectator into verbal response,” Barnes worries about the ethics of turning one art into another, even as his quotes from Flaubert and artists’ own letters and journals suggest that visual and literary arts are just different paths to the same gleaming City of Art, where real life is heightened and intensified. Readers of Barnes’s many essays and novels know him for a confirmed Francophile, and the bulk of his commentary here focuses on French painters, from Géricault and Delacroix to Manet, Bonnard, and Vuillard. Barnes is also, in the old debate between line and color, a devoted colorist; “let the colors tell the story,” he says, and revels in taking the temperature of paintings through their “cool and playful…blue-gray and gray-brown,” their “hotter…scarlet and orange and yellow” compositions. A true art aficionado, Barnes reports in an account of visiting the Phillips Collection that his “top ten…[paintings] runs to over a hundred by now.”