World series

19th November 2004 at 00:00
John Reeve looks at titles that cover cultures around the globe

Body Art series for 13 to 15-year-olds

Hair Decoration

By Paul Dowswell

Tattooing

By Paul Mason

Heinemann, pound;11.99 each

World Art and Culture series for key stage 34

African

By Jane Bingham

Japanese

By Kamini Khanduri

Raintree, pound;12.99 each

Directions in Art series for 13 to 15-year-olds:

Sculpture

By Jillian Powell

Painting

By Richard Stemp

Digital Media

By Beryl Graham

Heinemann, pound;11.99 hardback each, pound;7.99 paperback

Yesterday's buzz words on the art and cultural studies circuit turn up pretty soon as the book of the conference, the reader and then the GCSE art series. The Body Art series is certainly more fun than many tomes. These titles will engage the most turned off and hard-bitten teenagers, especially if they're aspiring to be a goth, yakuza gangster, All Black or Jon Bon Jovi clone. All tastes are catered for here, including a rather scary photo of Posh and Becks as ultimate fashion victims.

The underlying philosophy is a serious one - we can all look pretty peculiar, whatever culture we think we're part of, and however traditional or trendy we may be. The material includes tattooing in prehistoric Mexico, the Alps, Siberia, Scythia, the Arctic, the Celts, Maoris and bikers, and every hairstyle imaginable.

The pictures are well chosen and big enough for prompting class discussion.

The texts will work with reluctant readers and are clear and well glossed.

Other titles deal with body painting and piercing, and the whole set could support work on identity, pattern and decoration, street culture and self-portraiture at GCSE or below.

Visiting other cultures has never been easier or more enjoyable in museums, the school library, online or via the travel agent's brochure. It is, of course, easy to be superficial and to see only what you already know. The World Art and Culture series is an attractive addition to the genre and avoids being the equivalent of a budget package tour. The books manage a judicious mix of the expected - Great Waves and Benin bronzes - and the fresh - contemporary objects such as Tutsi baskets and Ghanaian fantasy coffins. It's encouraging to see publishers and authors focusing on specific objects, even reproducing a raku bowl life-size, and building up the text from the object rather than illustrating general art history with the usual picture library favourites.

It's good to see an artist such as Sharaku, the brilliant chronicler of kabuki, given his due here, and also exquisite screens, such as the one of irises by Ogata Korin. The notes are helpful and the text well paced.

We hear about Van Gogh and Bernard Leach inspired by Japan, Picasso and Constantin Brancusi liberated by African art. Other titles deal with India and Mexico. You could visit the British Museum armed with this series and have a taste of four cultures almost side by side.

The Directions in Art series is good value for librarians and art teachers at all stages. The books are resilient hardbacks suitable for GCSE, but useful for younger students. Presentation is clear and the choice of artists is refreshing: you expect Hockney and Hodgkin, Holzer and Hirst, Basquiat and Freud, but there are less familiar names such as Roshini Kempadoo. Paula Rego is seen partly in the context of her residency at the National Gallery; sculptor Sokari Douglas Camp has researched in the British Museum with results that can be seen in the Sainsbury Africa galleries there.

The judicious quotes, crisp text and focus on the individual work rather than windy generalities - these all show the influence of the gallery educator, in this case Richard Stemp of Tate. This series can inform visits to sculpture parks and public sculpture - whether in Trafalgar Square, Gateshead or Birmingham - to the Tate or British Museum, to websites or the increasing number of travelling exhibitions that are part of the "Renaissance in the Regions" initiative. Other titles in the series cover textiles, photography and print-making.

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