The Art of Looking Sideways is a primer in visual intelligence, an exploration of the workings of the eye, the hand, the brain and the imagination. It is an inexhaustible mine of anecdotes, quotations, images, curious facts and useless information, oddities, serious science, jokes and memories, all concerned with the interplay between the verbal and the visual, and the limitless resources of the human mind. Loosely arranged in 72 chapters, all this material is presented in a wonderfully inventive series of pages that are themselves masterly demonstrations of the expressive use of type, space, colour and imagery.
This book does not set out to teach lessons, but it is full of wisdom and insight collected from all over the world. Describing himself as a visual jackdaw, master designer Alan Fletcher has distilled a lifetime of experience and reflection into a brilliantly witty and inimitable exploration of such subjects as perception, colour, pattern, proportion, paradox, illusion, language, alphabets, words, letters, ideas, creativity, culture, style, aesthetics and value.
Back in my younger, reckless days I came across this book whilst in the pub, Louise the barmaid and all round good egg was reading it in between serving pints, which is precisely when I started reading it. As with many art books it comes at a hefty price but looked really good, especially after a couple of pints.
The price is somewhat justified for the 1068 pages admittedly and the author is a name of some repute in the art world, the problem with any art though is how you think of it. If I like this book then I could be accused of pretentious but to not like it would see me accused of ‘not getting it’, such is the world of art, so it is lucky that I am squarely unconvinced that it is either too overblown or impenetrable to anyone other than an art student.
As far as coffee table books go, this is a great one to have, as long as your table can cope with something weighty that is…there is a wealth of varied styles, techniques and facts contained therein to keep anybody amused for a while, as well as an explosive riot of colour and technique to catch the eye. It’s easy to see why people would become enamoured with the book.
I don’t think however, that it is as clever at it likes to think it is, or people like to claim, looking sideways equates to imagination, using your brain, taking an interest in everything and living life. It’s no great revelation and there isn’t much that this book will teach the reader who already does this.
Overall, there is enough in the book to amuse the reader for a brief while yet some of it comes across as quite clichéd, which I would expect from the art world, perhaps this book is one for somebody who takes more of an interest in art than the casual peruser. It’s worth a flip through for the nice visuals if you come across it in a bookstore or library though.
On a personal level, advertising and marketing, two strong themes in the book, are wasted on me as I’m not particularly materialistic and am mostly cynical about that sort of thing. This book is one that will probably split opinion and I changed my mind at various times but overall there isn’t enough substance or surprise to justify its purchase, just think of all the pints I could have had instead.