See the Story book club makes art out of discussion

Written by Adam Vorobok, Reference Librarian, Main Library

As you approach Gallery 229 from the spiraling marble staircases, you can hear the delightful chatter echoing off of the white walls, spreading infectious joy and excitement for the on-coming conversation.

Nobody is distracted by the famous paintings hanging on the walls. Picasso’s "Still Life of Glass and Lemons" cries for attention; its frenzied jumble of lines unheeded. Chagall’s dreamy "Red Rooster" with its floating man, serenading donkey, and giant red rooster rests inconspicuously in the corner. 

Nobody in the room hates art; in fact, they are in love with it. But the captivating power of these pieces is muted into the background because something equally exciting and, dare I say, artistic is going on: there is an intimate and lively book discussion.

I learned about the Picasso and Chagall paintings through one of Cincinnati’s best-kept secrets: the See the Story book club. This partnership between the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, opens a new window and the Cincinnati Art Museum, opens a new window started in 2004 as the From Author to Artist book club and then changed into See the Story in 2009. For the last three years, it has become one of my favorite parts of my job. 

The concept is simple: the club gathers bi-monthly for a thirty-minute book discussion followed by a thirty-minute docent-led tour. The novels selected can be either fiction or nonfiction but frequently focus on a painter’s life, an art movement, or the inner workings of the art scene. Each book is paired with art already within the collection or from the excellent special exhibits curated by the museum. 

Book highlights include Dara Horn’s The World to Come , opens a new windowand Anthony Marra’s The Tsar of Love and Techno, opens a new window. Both are well-written, fast-paced historical stories with potent plot twists and ponderous philosophies that had everybody eagerly sharing their favorite moments.

Recent exhibit highlights include Dressed to Kill: Japanese Arms & Armor, a stunning collection of beautiful swords, armor, helmets, and battle prints; Van Gogh: Into the Undergrowth, a journey through the forest interior and Van Gogh’s influences and inspirations; and the jaw-dropping Terracotta Army that came last year. 

The success of the book club spawns from the people involved and their active participation on these memorable Saturday afternoons. They create an inviting and friendly atmosphere where anyone from the most seasoned attendee or first-timer can add their poignant comment or shrewd observation with casual ease. 

Being extremely versed in art history is not required. I studied creative writing in college and, subsequently, could not take an art history course for credit. Now, I am attaining that knowledge for free, surrounded by passionate people who make an art out of conversation, reading, and learning. This is as much of a masterpiece as the paintings and sculptures found throughout the museum.

Do you like art? Literature? Meeting new people and having intelligent conversations? Then invite yourself to See the Story which meets in Gallery 229 of the Cincinnati Art Museum in Eden Park. Meetings happen on the third Saturday of every other month.

Did you know you can access the Cincinnati Art Museum's special exhibitions for free by checking out a Discovery Pass, opens a new window from the Library? Discovery Pass allows you to get out and discover many of Cincinnati's renowned cultural and recreational institutions. Reserve yours here, opens a new window

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