Customer Review

15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Very uneven, 9 Dec 2012
This review is from: What Are You Looking At?: 150 Years of Modern Art in the Blink of an Eye (Hardcover)
I'm afraid I thought this was going to be much more entertaining than it was. I know a bit about modern art and art history in general, which helped to fill in the gaps where this book is of necessity sketchy. It's very hard to fit 150 years of art appreciation into about four hundred pages, so some things have to go, but I am not sure on what basis Gompertz picked what he included and what he left out. it seems a very personal journey through the history of art, and what interests Gompertz does not always interest me. I found the whole tone of the work uneven, and some sections downright stodgy. The blurb gives the impression that this is a lively and humorous romp through art history. Gompertz himself admits in the introduction to imagining discussions between painters in various sections to 'liven things up'. I was, frankly, disappointed, in that they did not seem particularly lively and the whole section with the Impressionists in the cafe was as dull as ditchwater. If you're going to imagine a conversation between ground breaking artists, at least give it some welly.

The main problem with this book is that Gompertz talks about a lot of art work, but gives us pictures of few of them. Some of the pictures are badly reproduced black and white photos, which in a book about art is inexcusable in my opinion. The colour illustrations were few and far between and larded together in two small sections rather than inserted into the chapters they are relevant to. I struggle to understand too why valuable colour plate space was given to illustrating what a colour wheel is, rather than showing us the actual art works.

I enjoyed Gompertz's enthusiasm for his subject but this book was perhaps not the best way to showcase it, in my opinion.
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Tracked by 1 customer

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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 26 Nov 2013 21:58:27 GMT
JJA Kiefte says:
Seeing that we have long since left the stone age behind us and in almost every household a PC/i-Pad can be found, the scarcity of pictures (or the fact that some are monochrome) can hardly be a reason to award this book just two stars. For the general reader with only a basic knowledge of modern art this may serve as an excellent introduction.

In reply to an earlier post on 27 Nov 2013 07:07:23 GMT
It isn't a basic introduction to modern art. It is a cherry picked, individual take on art movements that Gompertz is interested in, which I point out in my review. If you wish to read a basic introduction to modern art, there are plenty more books on the market which will serve you much better. This is much more like the OUP Short Introduction Series in which writers and critics give their personal slant on a particular subject, which is fine, if that's what you want, not so much if you're looking for something more general and inclusive.

Also, If I am paying for a book about art which talks in detail about art works, I expect not to have to do my own research about the artworks mentioned in order to get the full benefit from the book in question. If we take your argument to its logical extension it probably would have been better to scrap the illustrations altogether and bring the price of the book down, making it more accessible. I could look up pictures on the internet, I could go to the art gallery and look at the original too, should I so desire, and in some cases, with the paintings he talks about, I have. That does not excuse a book on art having poor quality, badly chosen artwork in it.

I gave it two stars, not just for the lack of art work, and their awful positioning within the book, but because I did not find it particularly interesting either, and nor did I like the fictional chatter between artists that is in the book. Nor did I truly understand why he talks about some major movements and artworks and left out others.

In reply to an earlier post on 27 Nov 2013 15:33:33 GMT
Last edited by the author on 27 Nov 2013 15:46:24 GMT
JJA Kiefte says:
Had you read the preface before buying the book, which I did, you would have know what you'd get. After mentioning two excellent art books, Gompertz proceeds to say that "My aim is not to compete with such learned tomes (...) but to offer something different: a personal, anecdotal and informative book (...)." He also clearly indicates that the book is not intended as an academic work, that limitiations of space prevent the inclusion of quite a few artists, that he has taken to flights of fancy (with imagined bits of conversation) and that he has added no footnotes. When he states all this so clearly, I think it is rather unfair to criticise the book for something it obviously and intentionally isn't.
The black an white pics aren't so bad, are they? You can't see Duchamp's pissoir well enough? Or Marcel Breuer's chair? Or the Bauhaus building? What would colour have added? Would it have been better if the colour plates had been in the middle of the book instead of at two-thirds? Doesn't that rather look like nitpicking for the sake of nitpicking?

In reply to an earlier post on 28 Nov 2013 07:20:52 GMT
We are going to have to agree to disagree here.

I didn't like the book. Amazon allows you to post your own, personal reviews. This is mine.

Nothing you have said has changed my opinion. What you have done is told me that you don't like the way I buy books and nor do you like the way I read books. That basically says that if I were only you instead of me, I would like the book a lot more. Maybe you're right, but I'm not you and I'm absolutely happy with what I've written and the rating I've given the book.

Re the colour prints. Art works are visual pieces. They demand to be looked at, and looked at critically. They were created in a specific way for a specific reason. It would be best, of course, to see them in situ, where they were intended to be viewed. Second best is good quality colour plates in art books. Buildings which are architecturally designed are created with different materials, patinas, etc for a reason. Black and white pictures do not always do them justice. A chair, for example, will have been made in a particular type of material and treated in a particular way for a reason. If I cannot see this material properly I cannot appreciate it as the artist intended, and for argument's sake, it might as well be a picture of a chair from Ikea.

As for nit picking. Are you not nit picking for the sake of nit picking with your persistent need to 'prove' that my opinion of this work is wrong? Can you not accept that we are two people who disagree on something, and that it's ok? One two star review for a book which has already been out for a long time, by a member of the public is hardly going to make a difference to Gompertz' sale figures.

In reply to an earlier post on 28 Nov 2013 15:26:15 GMT
Last edited by the author on 28 Nov 2013 16:20:33 GMT
JJA Kiefte says:
Hello,

I wasn't out to change your opinion, far from it. The fact you don't like the book is obvious and fine with me. What I find a bit odd is that you criticise the author for intentions he made very clear in his preface (which you could have read via Amazon preview, or in the flesh in any bookshop, museum, or indeed library, worth its salt; even here in Holland the book is readily available, in English and in Dutch, in museums and most bookshops). I have Roy Strong's book on British art, which, by its nature, doesn't include Continental or Oriental art. It would be distinctly rum if I were to criticise the book for not discussing French impressionism. If you knew this, why did you buy it?

In most cases colour photographs would not have served any useful purpose. Breuer's chair is chrome and black leather, Malevitch's Black Square is just that against a white background, the Dessau Bauhaus building is greyish and white, Duchamp's urinal is white porcelain with black paint.... True, the paintings might have benefited from colour (and, granted, it would have been nicer), but it's not their colour schemes that are under discussion, but their subject matter and/or their composition. Where colour is important, there are the off-centre colour plates.

But cheer up, Will just sent me an email that I can stop bothering you, his pay check had just arrived and a third home, this time in Biarritz, is becoming a realistic prospect ;-)

In reply to an earlier post on 28 Nov 2013 16:33:04 GMT
Good to know!
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Location: Leicester, UK

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