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Shape of Content (C.E.Norton Lectures) [Hardcover]

Ben Shahn
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

Dec 1957 C.E.Norton Lectures
A modern painter discusses meaning and form in contemporary painting and offers advice to aspiring artists.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 130 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (Dec 1957)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674805658
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674805651
  • Product Dimensions: 22.9 x 16 x 2.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,011,007 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


In this brilliant book, which brings the many talents of Ben Shahn... into one crisp, clear, unified, astounding career, the primary focus is the exploration and explanation of the relationship between Shahn's paintings and photographs... The first half of the book consists of four exquisitely written essays by Kao, Katzman, and Webster, beautifuly illustrated with superb reproductions of Shahn's photographs and related materials, including detailed notes. The second half is an exhibition catalog with a wealth of quality reproductions of his paintings and photographs. -- J. Natal "Choice"

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Timeless 25 Oct 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This essay written decades ago is as relevant today as it was in the fifties. If you are wanting an overview into visual culture then this really does the job - by a master.
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Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
45 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent collection of essays on art by an artist. 3 Jun 1997
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Based on a series of six lectures given by Shahn at Harvard University in the 1950's, this collection gives an overview of Shahn's ideas and opinions on such topics as the education of artists, the creative process, the nonconformity of artists, and appraisals of various modern art movements and artists. Shahn is a surprisingly gifted writer. His arguments are clearly reasoned and his tone is that of an art historian or philosopher. At the same time, the book is an intimate look at Shahn the artist. It is illustrated with numerous pen and ink sketches by Shahn
29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the few truly great primary sources on Modern Art 24 Feb 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Ben Shan's "The Shape of Content" in many ways truly defines the thinking of artists in a time that might be considered the height of modern american painting and art. It is an enormously human and genuine dialogue on art of the fifties. Few books so clearly establish how and why one becomes an artist. It is written with soul, intelligence, and great humanism while totally avoiding the sophistry of the critics and journalists writing about art at that time in American society. A great book!
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Creative Process 18 July 2002
By Phoebe Wray - Published on Amazon.com
This book is one of the clearest explanations of the creative process of an artist available anywhere. Shahn speaks of painting, of course, but his lucid, interesting text, his ideas and explorations, apply to artists in any field. Highly recommended.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Found this in college, still love it at age 42 8 April 2014
By victoria b larson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is the best part in my opinion, and a part of my manifesto: Shahn's "capsule recommendation for a course of education".

"Attend a university if you possibly can. There is no content of knowledge that is not pertinent to the work you will want to do. But before you attend a university work at something for a while. Do anything. Get a job in a potato field; or work as a grease-monkey in an auto repair shop. But if you do work in a field do not fail to observe the look and the feel of earth and of all things that you handle — yes, even potatoes! Or, in the auto shop, the smell of oil and grease and burning rubber. Paint of course, but if you have to lay aside painting for a time, continue to draw. Listen well to all conversations and be instructed by them and take all seriousness seriously. Never look down upon anything or anyone as not worthy of notice. In college or out of college, read. And form opinions! Read Sophocles and Euripides and Dante and Proust. Read everything that you can find about art except the reviews. Read the Bible; read Hume; read Pogo. Read all kinds of poetry and know many poets and many artists. Go to and art school, or two, or three, or take art courses at night if necessary. And paint and paint and draw and draw. Know all that you can, both curricular and noncurricular — mathematics and physics and economics,logic and particularly history. Know at least two languages besides your own, but anyway, know French. Look at pictures and more pictures. Look at every kind of visual symbol, every kind of emblem; do not spurn signboards of furniture drawings of this style of art or that style of art. Do not be afraid to like paintings honestly or to dislike them honestly, but if you do dislike them retain an open mind. Do not dismiss any school of art, not the Pre-Raphaelites nor the Hudson River School nor the German Genre painters. Talk and talk and sit at cafés, and listen to everything, to Brahms, to Brubeck, to the Italian hour on the radio. Listen to preachers in small town churches and in big city churches. Listen to politicians in New England town meetings and to rabble-rousers in Alabama. Even draw them. And remember that you are trying to learn to think what you want to think, that you are trying to co-ordinate mind and hand and eye. Go to all sorts of museums and galleries and to the studios of artists. Go to Paris and Madrid and Rome and Ravenna and Padua. Stand alone in Sainte Chapelle, in the Sistine Chapel, in the Church of the Carmine in Florence. Draw and draw and paint and learn to work in many media; try lithography and aquatint and silk-screen. Know all that you can about art, and by all means have opinions. Never be afraid to become embroiled in art of life or politics; never be afraid to learn to draw or paint better than you already do; and never be afraid to undertake any kind of art at all, however exalted or however common, but do it with distinction."
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Shape of Content 5 Feb 2009
By Rae A. Welch - Published on Amazon.com
"The Shape of Content" should be required reading for any serious artist, no matter what the venue. I bought and read this when it first came out and have passed on a few copies over the years. Ben Shahn clearly defines what is necessary for the development of anyone planning a career in the arts.
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