Experiencing Art and Architecture : Lessons on Looking book cover
1st Edition

Experiencing Art and Architecture
Lessons on Looking

  • Available for pre-order. Item will ship after February 10, 2022
ISBN 9780367441067
February 10, 2022 Forthcoming by Routledge
272 Pages 31 Color & 64 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

In this book, Sanda Iliescu brings aesthetics back into the conversation, exploring the subject through compelling examinations of lived experiences of works of art and architecture.

Iliescu examines the ways we look deeply at art and how to bring more meaning to our experience, forming in-depth discussions often overlooked. Focusing on the concept of the figure-ground problem, she challenges this foundational Gestalt principle’s presumed hierarchies and probes its complexity and nuance, showing how a new and more dynamic understanding can enrich our multisensory experiences of art, architecture, and the world around us. Featuring extensive images throughout, it discusses artworks by Rembrandt, Matisse, Eva Hesse, Louise Nevelson, Helen Frankenthaler, and David Hammons; the architecture of Zaha Hadid, Weiss/Manfredi, Latz+Partner, and Peter Zumthor; and non-Western works such as a thirteenth century Chinese vase, the dry garden at Ryoanji, and Hasegawa Tōhaku’s Pine Trees.

Personal and engaging, this book is for a wide audience of those practicing, studying or with an interest in the creative fields, from beginners to seasoned professionals.

Table of Contents

Foreword by Paul Barolsky


  1. Play
  2. Architecture
  3. Emptiness
  4. The Space Between
  5. Fields
  6. Mistakes
  7. Transparency
  8. The Past
  9. Abundance

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Sanda Iliescu teaches art and architecture at the University of Virginia. Educated as an architect, she is a practicing artist who has exhibited her paintings, drawings, and collages in the United States and Europe. She has received numerous awards, among them the Rome Prize. 


Just as you cannot tell someone how to fall in love—so the author of this wise, deeply felt, and beautifully written book tells us—you cannot tell people how to look at art. Yet artist, architect, and educator Sanda Iliescu shows us by the example of her penetrating and empathetic way of looking at forms a place to begin. The nine essays in this book will leave the reader feeling both more alert to visual experience and more alive.

Joan Ockman, University of Pennsylvania and Visiting Professor, Yale University.

I have appreciated Sanda Iliescu’s writings for years, yet the subtlety and kaleidoscopic abundance of the ideas she explores in her current book surprised me. Whether she is writing about a child’s sandcastle, a bird´s nest, a Chinese vase, or masterpieces of art and architecture, she develops profound ideas about the way artists and architects work, and she mediates essential but hidden meanings in the realm of artistic creativity. This book is a joy to read.

Juhani Pallasmaa, architect, writer, professor emeritus

In a brilliant book, full of wisdom, I have just read the most beautiful and insightful description of what real design is. Not the usual junk about creation, but that of trial, failure, and evolution, seen in the efforts of a delighted and stubborn boy refashioning sandcastles despite their erasure by waves. This book is not only about looking; it’s about seeing clearly.

WG Clark, University of Virginia, USA

Artfully descriptive, eminently insightful, and refreshingly accessible, this collection of essays about art, architecture, and design is a most important addition to the literature in the field. The focus on a human scaled response to individual works and the rewards of looking closely are themes that move in profound ways through these essays. Iliescu’s inimitable ability to draw connections between one’s encounters with the world and works of art and design and the construction of meaning that unfolds, yields a feeling of discovery that is at once, wonderous and affirming.

Thomas Berding, Michigan State University, USA

This is a thoroughly original book. It is the book I wish I had been assigned in my first art or architecture class, yet one I will return to again and again. Avoiding the traditional introductory survey approach, Iliescu presents a series of idiosyncratic essays exploring singular works of art and architecture in depth. She matches touching personal anecdotes with rigorous critical analysis. She draws her reader along with gentle questions, while giving permission to skip ahead or circle back through these delightful essays. She asks us to look carefully, and to forge our own connections between seemingly disparate, poetic case studies. Ranging from Rembrandt and Tōhaku to Helen Frankenthaler and David Hammons, and from Bramante to Jefferson to Latz + Partner, Iliescu’s carefully curated examples help us understand formal strategies while always placing them in larger historic and social contexts. Over the course of the book, Iliescu turns her reader into an active participant, co-creating the experience of looking at, and making, art and architecture.

Kim Tanzer, FAIA, architect and Distinguished Professor, ACSA