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


3.69  ·  Rating details ·  1,659 ratings  ·  263 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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Average rating 3.69  · 
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 ·  1,659 ratings  ·  263 reviews

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Jan 09, 2021 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: art
In this first and second installment of the BBC's Civilizations series, classic historian Mary Beard tackles two themes: how we all view art in very different ways, and how both religion and art itself have always grappled with the challenge of giving the divine a visual form. These are two extremely interesting perspectives. Unfortunately, this booklet does not live up to its ambition: Beard presents a succession of very short pieces in which things are discussed very superficially; this book i ...more
How Do We Look is based off Mary Beard's BBC documentary, Civilisations. That makes it slightly janky as a book but still very informative. Probably would have done better in the coffee table format but I probably would not have picked it up then and I'm happy I did.

The book centers on the experience of the consumer of ancient art through two lenses: the body and faith. Beard cautions us from thinking of art and architecture from the context of a museum and asks us to engage with it as the peopl
When the more recent Civilization was shown on PBS, they edited it a bit from the British version because we can’t have nice things in America since we elected an orange. But they edited out much Mary Beard which is so not right.

Really not right.

So if you are wondering why Mary Beard wrote a book that functions as a companion to the series, that's why. It is a look at how the viewer interacts with art. She focuses on ancient and religious art. There is some cool bits about the ancient world,
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. ...more
Dec 30, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: owned, non-fiction
An interesting look at Civilization and what this concept means
“One of its most powerful weapons has always been ‘barbarity’: we know that we are civilised by contrasting ourselves with those we deem to be uncivilised, with those who do not - or cannot be trusted to - share our values. Civilisation is a process of exclusion as well as inclusion”

“In the end, one person’s barbarity is another person’s civilisation”

Mary Beard shows in this short and beautifully illustrated book two aspects of art.
Laura Noggle
Oct 19, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2020
Renowned Cambridge classicist considers how we view art. Short and sweet.

"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 a
Mar 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very accessible, maybe even too light and brief, but still so many lovely nuggets of insight.
Sense of History
A nice but rather shallow venture into cultural history. I like her TV-work very much, but this was below my expectations. See my review in my general account: ...more
Reminds me of why I miss my University days. Mary Beard gives us enough information to spark our interest but not so much that it exhausts our appetite for the subject. We aren’t being thrust information that’s purely black and white, this means this and that is that, but being gently guided to ask questions, explore ideas and think more deeply for ourselves.

Plain speaking and very accessible, touching on a broad range for the length of the book, I hadn’t really planned to blitz through in one s
Caleb Liu
Feb 02, 2021 rated it it was ok
Shelves: library
Mary Beard is a born storyteller and some wonderful stories are told here: Hadrian visiting Egypt to see a famous "singing" statue. The Greek legend of how Boutades' daughter invented portraiture. She also looks at many famous artworks from a range of religious traditions: the Ajanta Caves, the Virgin statue of Macarena, the famous Apollo of Belvedere, Tintoretto's paintings in the Schola di san Rocco in Venice and of course the terracotta statues of the Qin emperor's tomb.

My main complaint is t

watch here

1: The first film by Simon Schama looks at the formative role art and the creative imagination have played in the forging of humanity itself.

2: Mary Beard explores images of the human body in ancient art, from Mexico and Greece to Egypt and China

3: Simon Schama explores the depiction of nature. Simon discovers that landscape painting is seldom a straightforward description of observed nature

4: Professor Mary Beard explores the controversial topic of religion and art. How, and at what
Steven Yenzer
Mar 01, 2019 rated it did not like it
Boy oh boy, I hated this book. I haven't seen Civilisations, so I can't compare this companion book to that series. But if the show is anything like How Do We Look, I will be avoiding it.

Beard's approach is to tell a historical anecdote or recount the details of a piece of art and then extrapolate vague, high-sounding proclamations from it — usually without providing any evidence for these proclamations. For example, in writing about the out-of-order scenes of the Buddha’s life depicted in the A
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
Dan Graser
Nov 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mary Beard is still the most engaging writer of the history of the ancient world to be found anywhere and this somewhat smaller work is a clear example of that. The title, "How Do We Look," works on a number of fronts in that it contrasts that simplistic question - usually asked when fishing for compliments - with the more serious questions this work asks, mainly, how have humans traditionally represented themselves and the divine, and, how do we now look back at these representations with moder ...more
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. ...more
Feb 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
I remember reading last year that there was a bit of a kerfuffle about the PBS version of the BBC's new Civilisations series--that the shows as seen in Britain had been renamed (respelled to Civilizations), chopped up, edited, and given new voice-overs (dumbed down?) to adapt them for American TV. Classicist Mary Beard, who had written and presented two of the original episodes, was nearly left on the cutting room floor entirely. This book is apparently a presentation and expansion of her episod ...more
May 04, 2019 rated it liked it
This is a lovely little book, beautifully designed, gorgeous jacket and all. Students of art will appreciate the heft of this small volume, those glossy reproductions on that heavy paper. But I know what they say about judging a book by its cover and I did just that.

Having really enjoyed this author’s magnum opus, SPQR, I went ahead and purchased this book without realizing that it is based on a television program, albeit a quality television program of the highest order. But A TELEVISION PROGRA
Aug 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think this was a four star book. I read it three month ago -- the last book I read before we moved and I temporarily gave up reading. Mary Beard is always good, but that whole period is now a blur.
Interesting take on human representation in art (history), embellished with beautiful pictures
Jan 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
When a friend mentioned this book to me I put in on my list to read. I am glad I did. I've seen Mary Beard on PBS programs and enjoyed her enthusiasm, so it was a treat to read her passion for the depiction of the body and the divine in our long history of art. The chapters were well delineated and filled with the photographic evidence of what she writes about. She gets her points across succinctly, making this a particularly easy read. My only quibble is that a few of the images are too small t ...more
Apr 27, 2021 rated it did not like it
Almost certainly better on tv. Beard unsuccessfully blends critique of civilization, reception history, short introduction.
Feb 01, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction
Reviewed for The Bibliophibian.

This volume is a slightly odd book in that the two halves aren’t really related, except by being companions to the same TV series, Civilisation. The first half looks at how the human body has been portrayed throughout history — so both what we look like and how we see ourselves — and the second half discusses portraying the divine, iconoclasm, and art history through that lens.

It’s a pretty quick read, with illustrative photos: this is a companion to a TV series, a
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
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
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.
Sep 18, 2019 rated it it was ok
Too condensed and vague. The information seems a little sloppy and weak. I definitely wanted a more complex and deep analysis on the topics discussed.
It is definitely a good place to start on religious iconography and the way it impacts our views on religion. But this book will only provide valuable information if you truly don't know (or have never thought of) these topics.
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
Rohase Piercy
I do love Mary Beard, but prefer watching her on TV to reading her articles. However having watched and enjoyed her episodes of 'Civilisations' (much more than I enjoyed Simon Schama's!) it was a pleasure to read this beautifully illustrated volume and remind myself of all the fascinating things she said! I did have a bit of a beef with the second part though, 'The Eye of Faith' - she's looking at religious art/representations of the Divine and makes several comparisons between 'idol makers' and ...more
Michael Belcher
Jun 20, 2019 rated it liked it
Beard’s effort is a wide-ranging, generalist overview filled with gorgeous photography that reads like a breezy, chatty television program. And indeed, the Civilizations series is its counterpart. This charming survey of famous sites and curiosities throughout the Western and Eastern worlds is definitely too analytically anemic for scholars, especially in the rather rote sections on Greek art (Beard has been talking about Greece for a long time, and the thinness of new discovery is beginning to ...more
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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 ...more

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  Jordan Morris is a comedy writer and podcaster whose credits include @Midnight, Unikitty! and Earth to Ned.  The sci-fi comedy Bubble is his...
17 likes · 5 comments
“One of its (civilisations) most powerful weapons has always been 'barbarity': 'we' know that 'we' are civilised by contrasting ourselves with those we deem to be uncivilised, with those who do not -or cannot be trusted to - share our values. Civilisation is a process of exclusion as well as inclusion. The boundary between 'us' and 'them' may be an internal one (for much of world history the idea of a 'civilised woman' has been a contradiction in terms), or an external one, as the word 'barbarian' suggests; it was originally a derogatory and ethnocentric ancient Greek term for foreigners you could not understand, because they spoke in an incomprehensible babble: 'bar-bar-bar ...' The inconvenient truth, of course, is that so-called 'barbarians' may be no more than those with a different view from ourselves of what it is to be civilised, and of what matters in human culture. In the end, one person's barbarity is another person's civilisation.” 2 likes
“a reminder that the body beautiful was not so very far from the body brutalised.” 0 likes
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