Art of Tarot by Liz Dean, cards illustrated by Emma Garner

Review by Lee Bursten 


Today I decided to ignore my stack of decks waiting to be reviewed, and instead write about a deck that I like, just because I like it.


With all of the wonderfully deep decks which have been appearing lately, which focus on a particular theme or culture or style of artwork, and which are pictorially and symbolically rich and nuanced (the Tarot of Prague and the Golden Tarot come to mind), itís easy to forget that there is another category of decks out there which usually end up gathering dust on collectorsí shelves, neglected in favor of more exciting decks.  Iím referring to decks like the Art of Tarot, which is sold in a deck/book set and is geared towards beginners.  Many readers probably stay away from decks like this because they find the unillustrated pip cards (Ace through ten) of the Minor Arcana and the lack of complex imagery in the Majors combine to result in a deck which is uninteresting, they feel, to read with.


However, itís important to point out that the Tarot de Marseilles, which was the ďstandardĒ deck before and during the 18th and 19th centuries when occult writers started to pay attention to the Tarot, is similarly simple and straightforward in its imagery and contains unillustrated pips.  Many of the early occult writers used the Tarot de Marseilles exclusively as they wrote the works upon which our current Tarot traditions are based.  And, of course, many people, particularly in Europe, continue to read with these decks and in fact prefer them to the Rider-Waite-Smith (R-W-S) deck and its descendants.  Most importantly, the things which in my opinion are the truly important elements in a Tarot deck and which, in fact, make it Tarot are all present in the Tarot de Marseilles and its kindred decks.


In any event, I find the Art of Tarot deck to be a warm and comforting presence.  Emma Garner has created unassuming, charming pictures which avoid the seriousness and pomposity which many decks fall victim to.  The medium is watercolor, and often areas of printed text are collaged into the pictures.  The Majors are clearly titled and numbered, and astrological assignations appear as well (which sometimes differ from the Golden Dawn standard).  I like the framing device.  There is actually no frame or border to the pictures, except for a bar at the top and bottom containing the names, numbers and astrological symbols.


The pleasant, naif style and simplicity of imagery can be seen in the High Priestess, who appears with only three symbols.  She stands between black and white pillars, and the holds an open book with one hand and a pomegranate with the other.


For the most part the pictures adhere to conventional Marseilles imagery, although sometimes elements from Golden-Dawn-inspired decks are used.  In the Moon, the traditional elements are put to good effect.  The moon looks as if itís been collaged from some old print, and the stems of the flowers are cut out from printed text.


Although Death (see top) and the Devil retain their traditional titles, the authors have chosen to soften their impact by abandoning the traditional imagery.  Death shows a woman examining a tree in full bloom, while behind her a dead tree stands outlined in the setting sun.  The Devil shows a woman dressed in red, with the proverbial angel on one shoulder and devil on the other.  Presumably she has already succumbed to the temptations of the devil, since sheís dressed in red.  I feel that the changes from the traditional imagery are appropriate in a deck which is obviously trying to create a comforting presence.


Despite the mostly traditional imagery, Garner has managed to work in several interesting touches.  I particularly liked the Hanged Man, who hangs by one foot from a tree branch.  The leafy branch curls around him in a circular motion as if protecting him and creates a visual connection to the World card.


The Minor cards are color-coded by their backgrounds.  Pentacles are a warm golden yellow, Cups are peach, Wands are beige, and Swords are purple.  The suit titles will be familiar to those who work with more modern decks, but I would have preferred more authentically traditional titles, such as Coins for Pentacles and Batons for Wands.


The Court cards tend to be less individualized than in R-W-S-type decks, but they still contain some interesting touches, such as the Queen of Swords who holds her hand up in greeting or warning.


The numbered or pip cards are very attractive, the suit symbols laid out in interesting patterns against a square of darker color set against the aforementioned background color.


The cards come nicely packaged in a blue ribbon.  A real silk scarf is included, dark blue with yellow suit symbols printed on it.  The plastic well which holds the cards and book has a velour feel.  The small book is hardcover, 64 pages long, with color pictures of all the cards.  Five spreads are given, then upright and reversed meanings.  These meanings are admirably succinct.  Itís my belief that many potential Tarot enthusiasts are scared off by the excessive amounts of information which beckon to them from the bookstore shelves, and many may get depressed when they pick up one of those books and see pages and pages of description for each card.  For beginners, Iím entirely in favor of simple and short meanings for the cards.  Later on, they can delve more deeply, but I truly believe that for some people, short and clear explanations such as are contained in this book are more appropriate as an introduction.  The meanings given for the pip cards mostly follow the R-W-S standard, but of course thereís nothing stopping you from using meanings from another source or developing your own.


This deck isnít going to set the world on fire, but there are times when a simple, comforting deck is exactly whatís called for.  I find myself turning often to this one.  And it wonít break the bank.  As of this writing, the best price for this deck/book set is at Barnes & Noble, which has this set under their own imprint.  Liz Dean has also written a larger companion book, Mystery of the Tarot, which uses this deck for illustrations, but I havenít read it. 


Art of Tarot by Liz Dean; cards illustrated by Emma Garner

Publisher: MetroBooks

ISBN #: 1-58663-753-3


Lee Bursten has been studying the Tarot for 25 years. He is the author of a new tarot deck which will be published by Lo Scarabeo in 2004 or 2005. He owns over 170 Tarot and oracle decks and over 50 books on esoteric subjects including the Tarot, playing cards and astrology, and has written over 70 Tarot deck reviews for Tarot Passages.  He is available for professional e-mail readings at Aeclectic Tarot.


Review © 2003 Lee Bursten
Page © 2003 Diane Wilkes