Art of the Miniature: Beyond the Dollhouses of Your Yesteryear
Oct 30, 2002
Pros: Beautiful art, sophisticated presentation of oft-derided medium/pass-time
Cons: Not for beginners, author problems, said 'beautiful art' needs larger photography
The Bottom Line: Overly ambitious book manages to succeed in introducing the reader to a more sophisticated level of 'dollhouses,' presented in a jumbled yet inspiring fashion.
The Van-Gogh-inspired cozy bedroom on the cover of 'The Art of the Miniature: Small Worlds and How to Make Them' makes for an inviting book, and further browsing reveals 128 glossy pages, almost all with fascinating photographs. An alluring buy.
For reasons I initially couldn't quite put my finger on, I found myself flipping through this half-text half-photograph volume repeatedly. Part of this was because the 'small worlds' -- truly elaborate miniature scenes from galleries rather than toystores -- demanded and deserved close scrutiny. Literally. This would be a fabulously successful art book if the photographs of the dioramas were full-page with minimal, technical commentary.
The other need to re-read was thanks to Jane Freeman, author of 'The Art of the Miniature,' acclaimed miniaturist, very mediocre and self-involved author. Aiming for instruction and display of a serious undertaking is simply too ambitious a project for a 128-page book; the beginner will glean very little thanks to a paucity of instruction crossed with a very distracting mish-mash of examples. A frequent distraction is Freeman's references to parts of the works that can't be seen in the actual photographs. A frequent irritation is Freeman's beliefs being paramount: do not use figurines because she and artists W, I, Y, X and Z do not, because it is Better.
There are some mild jolts in the photographs, along with a plethora of good ideas. The good ideas are often hidden; which see the urge to re-read/look closely at the photographs. The 'jolts' are amusements: things you would not have imagined on your own for a dollhouse that are suddenly obvious materials, and the odd flaws in the representative 'small worlds.' Freeman draws a lot of conclusions, but it may be safer to draw your own. A heaping of grosgrain ribbon in a scene would look quite different if I did not have grosgrain ribbon periodically tying down my hair or stitched into my sweater -- lesson -- if an object is going to be overly familiar to anybody, disguise it. Large plastic objects stick out in miniature, just as they would in real life.
Further fussing: Freeman is limited in trades, so to speak. She often mentions sending things to be made by a carpenter, she can't do metalwork, and so on, and her work would be greatly enhanced by expanding -- well, anyway, it looks as though a MFA does not guarantee wide skill. I found myself wishing my shop teacher had not been a raging paedophiliac pervert (hello, Barry Waller of Nepean, Ontario) so I might have learned something in the plastics section of the course. Almost any trade or craft will greatly enhance the ability to create 'miniature worlds,' expanding as it will your choice of materials.
Despite all the fussing, I can't fault 'The Art of the Miniature' too much. Nice as larger pictures with multiple angles would be, I am grateful it is not a wildly overpriced coffee table book. It's remarkably inspirational; after paging through, all manner of household miscellany seems to offer itself up for adaptation. If you buy the book, buy shampoo with a plain but attractive cap: you will want to glue in some fake foliage and turn it into a plant pot...
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