Posted in Reviews

The Art of Looking Up by Catherine McCormack

The Art of Looking Up by Catherine McCormack – ⭐⭐⭐⭐
First: points for the deeply clever name. Also, the deeply clever everything-else.

Recommended: yes!
For an interesting look at civilizations around the world past and present, for an interesting subset of art that can fuel your travel plans, for art and/or history buffs

From the floating women and lotus flowers of the Senso-ji Temple in Japan, to the religious iconography that adorns places of worship from Vienna to Istanbul, all the way to bold displays like the Chihuly glass flora suspended from the lobby of the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas: this book takes you on a tour of the extraordinary artworks that demand an alternative viewpoint. History of art expert Catherine McCormack guides you through the stories behind the artworks – their conception, execution, and the artists that visualized them. In many cases, these artworks also make bold but controlled political, religious or cultural statements, revealing much about the society and times in which they were created. Divided by these social themes into four sections – Religion, Culture, Power and Politics – and pictured from various viewpoints in glorious color photography, tour the astounding ceilings of many remarkable locations around the world.

The whole reason I wanted to read this is because I am constantly looking up (figuratively and literally) and I tend to notice interesting things and then think to myself, “I bet so many people never look up at see this interesting thing.” This is a whole book written by someone who likely does the same thing, but can blend that passing curiosity with detailed historical and artistic notes with a writing style that anyone can enjoy and get a laugh out of.

The art is stunning, that’s easy to note. But the truly impressive aspect is the deep dive into so many aspects of the art: the process of creation; the historical, religious, political, and cultural significance; the story behind its creation. I learned a lot of humanizing bits of history here. I was impressed with the writing style, as each introduction to a new piece started off with a story that pulled me in and made me invested in every detail of the art.

That’s not to overlook the quality of the photos within though. They are truly stunning, and this would be a great book to have a copy of just to flip through on any day for a boost of beauty. My absolute favorite within – that I’m kicking myself for missing when I traveled there a year ago – was the Royal Palace in Brussels, Belgium, that has a ceiling and chandelier made of of scarab beetle wings. It sounds bizarre, and it looks COMPLETELY UNBELIEVABLE.


The only thing bringing this down from 5 stars were the references and terms that were unexplained, typically relating to specific artistic or architectural techniques. Maybe I’m not the intended audience here, but just be ready if you aren’t already somewhat educated in these terms that there will be moments in the description that leave you kind of glazed and unsure. Still, this is definitely a worthy read for anyone with even passing interest in art or culture. Check out this article the Smithsonian did on McCormack’s book to get an idea of what you can expect. 🙂

Thanks to NetGalley and White Lion Publishing for a free copy in exchange for an honest review.


Reader, traveler, photographer, and always looking to learn!

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