Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Story of Art

Book: The Story of Art by Sir E. H. Gombrich

Description: "The Story of Art", one of the best-known and best-loved books on art ever written, has been a world bestseller for over half a century. Professor Gombrich's clear and engaging text combines with hundreds of full-colour illustrations to trace the history of art in an unfolding narrative, from primitive cave paintings to controversial art works of the present day. (From

My Thoughts: The Story of Art was very informative and interesting without overwhelming the reader with artists or vocabulary or dates.  It was also extremely effective at showing how art evolved in a way that can be understood, how one style led to another led to another, and especially how all art can be understood if you think about what the artist was trying to achieve. Yes, it may not be 'realistic', but the artist may not have wanted to do that, it may have gotten in the way of what he wanted to do (for instance in the Middle Ages the goal of artists was to teach and be informative with their art, not to mimic nature). I really, really love how Sir Gombrich takes each movement individually and explains their aims without seeming to judge them. He made some really great points about how what we see and expect when we look at art today isn't what was seen and expected when the art was created--this book very much widened my perspective on why art was created the way it was. It was very thoughtfully written, almost like a philosophy of the study of art in some parts. Sir Gombrich clearly loves art. He knows how to 'read' it (something that very much has to be learned) and is good at explaining it.

Sir Gombrich is all about making people think about art and enjoy it--but not just enjoy it because it's beautiful or because it's skillfully done, but also to learn about the story behind a piece, to think about why it was created and how that influences how it was made--and definitely not to go see art and pretend to enjoy it because it's the 'cultured' thing to do. He wants to create people who really do enjoy and understand art.

My one objection to The Story of Art is its western perspective. Sir Gombrich admits this bias early on, and gives what I think are valid reasons for it--but his first chapter, on "primitive art," shows this bias again. His idea about why their art is so what I would call 'abstract' were compelling, logical, and understandable, but also condescending (hopefully unintentionally).

I would definitely recommend this book. especially to anyone who wants to learn about art history without being bombarded by terms and especially dates.  Very understandably written, and very interesting.  I would recommend the full-sized version, though, rather than the pocket version that I bought (flipping back and forth between the pictures and the text was annoying, even if the size really was great for traveling).  

No comments:

Post a Comment