Dr Mark Stocker’s launch speech for Me, According to the History of Art


Me, According to the History of Art was launched in Auckland on 29 October 2020 by Dr Mark Stocker.

Tēnā koutou katoa! As the person who claims chief responsibility as bedmaker of the bedrock of serious scholarship on which this book is based (I quote the publisher’s blurb), I have a vested interest in saying it’s seriously good. Buy it or else! But I’m also saying this because I really believe it. With Me, According to the History of Art, a great title by the way, I believe that Dick Frizzell has hit on something special and genuinely original. In writing about the art from cavepersons to Colin McCahon that over the past 60 years has engaged, moved and influenced him — and combining this with his illustrated variations on the masterpieces of these masters (and the very occasional mistress) — a unique product results: a fusion of art, history of art, art appreciation and Frizzell’s unique discipline of artobiography. It would be a dangerous book to put on the NCEA level three reading list, but any student taking Scholarship Art History worth their salt should read it and learn from it. I hope you appreciate the distinction.

Yet the book has its weaknesses. I pounced on the surprisingly mediocre Matisse and Chagall illustrations, but then I found the explanation. Their estates, controlled by foreigners — what do you expect? — only permitted boring, straightforward reproductions, as opposed to all the others which Frizzell has so brilliantly enhanced. One or two passages did however make me laugh out loud, for instance the caption to Frizzell after Manet’s Olympia: ‘Young Manet winds up the establishment. Very exciting stuff. Everybody saw it when it was exhibited at the 1865 Paris Salon: Courbet, Cézanne, Monet — even the teenage Gauguin got a look at it. And 85-year-old Ingres too, apparently. He died not long after as a result.’ I sent this to the gorgeous and brilliant medievalist Dr Alexandra Gajewski, reviews editor of the revered Burlington Magazine, which I contribute to fairly regularly, most recently on Peter Simpson’s magnum opus on Colin McCahon. Alexandra’s response? ‘Very funny. We need a reviewer who can manage’. I also sent a link to the book to a Polish intellectual friend, who has just brought out a massive edited book on the writings of John Stuart Mill. Zbigniew’s response? ‘I say YES. Someone came up with an excellent idea, just like the Incas that created images that can be seen from above’.

I am saying this not to boost Dick Frizzell’s flailing self-confidence, nor even as a corrective to his profound humility, but to make you aware that here in Aotearoa New Zealand, other than on the rugby field, we just don’t know how good we are. Wouldn’t it be a great idea to have an exhibition of the illustrations to this book in their entirety? Employees of museums or public art galleries present here (I fear not many), please take note. Finally, an exhortation: art historians, curators, friends, Romans and Countrypersons, read Me, According to the History of Art; look, laugh and learn! Ngā mihi nui ki a koutou katoa.