My background is as someone who likes art, enjoys looking at paintings (although I have no great love for Poussin), and has no formal knowledge of art. I wouldn't know how to start analysing a painting, in the way that I would know how to analyse a piece of music for instance. And this book is all about analysis, so on the face of it there's no way that I could enjoy this book, but it's just amazing.
Clark was awarded a Getty scholarship for the first six months of 2000. He spent those months in the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, at the J. Paul Getty Museum - the home of Calm, and, on loan from the National Gallery, London, Snake. Day after day he viewed the paintings in all kinds of light, and at different times of day, and recorded his impressions.
And it's these impressions along with his later conclusions that make up the book. The book itself is beautifully illustrated, and my initial impression was that it was a fascinating read - rather like having someone knowledgeable with you in a gallery pointing out all the things you wouldn't normally notice. As I read further it started to affect the way I looked at art - I suddenly started to notice things in the paintings myself, which were then subsequently discussed in later chapters - great, for someone who would describe themselves as not knowledgeable about art, to be able to pick up on what would previously have gone by unobserved.
With my head full of The sight of death this afternoon, I took the dogs for a walk, and had a "looking and seeing" experience. The fields are brown, they appear barren - nothing will grow here again, then I caught a glimpse of a tiny green shoot poking through. Once I'd seen that and started looking for green shoots I could see them everywhere, like a desert suddenly coming into bloom. It was astonishing, an annual miracle, that somehow I'd always managed to miss, that moment when you see, in Dylan Thomas' words "The force that through the green fuse drives the flower."