on 27 April 2014
I bought this because I was genuinely interested in being convinced, having just viewed Matisse' "Snail" at the Tate. In the introduction she makes the perfectly sensible point that following the invention of photography, artists felt freed to be more imaginative and less realist. I thought I might be treated to some sensible debate and actually learn something. But no. It turns out that even if your five year old could have done "it" what "it" would have lacked is the unique insight or intention the artist brought to it, or the artist's fame, and fortunately we have Susie Hodge to tell us that. Here she is on Matisse .. "this ..often elicits comments that a young child could have done it. Indeed, many primary school teachers use it as a basis for an art project. Matisse made it when he was 84, but by that time he was renowned for his revolutionary and expressive art" So that's that. Here she is on Gerhard Richter "The loops and swirls on this grey canvas are simple enough for a child to create as an exercise, but when Richter produced it he was already established as a skilful painter" Buy this for 100 pictures, don't buy it hoping for any insight into what makes modern art anything more than a case of the "emperor's new clothes".
It took me awhile to get around to reviewing this product because I mainly chose this product as I am one of those people who go to a modern art gallery and say 'but a five year old could have done that!' Modern Art has always been something I feel I should appreciate but never quite understood why, so my hope was this book would make me understand and love modern art as much as I do other types of art.
Now before I begin this review properly and I appreciate there has already been a lot of waffle, I should state that I do study art history at university, although mainly the pre-19th stuff and therefore my critic of this book could be coming from a slightly different place they the majority of people buying this book (or not as I really don't know who brought this book).
Lets start with the bad:
Firstly the layout of the book makes it very simple and easy to understand, all the pages have a strict layout with boxes for certain information such as the techniques box for example. Now while this was useful and certainly made the information more accessible, after a time I found the different boxes interrupted my reading flow. Secondly and this could have just been my personal pet peeve, but I got really annoyed with the formulaic way Susie Hodge would constantly refer to 'why a child', now I understand the whole book is aimed on saying why children couldn't have done that but did I need this repeated on every page! Amazingly I have a good enough memory to remember the premise of the book that I am reading.
Secondly I found the book offered very little artistic debate, instead it briefly skimmed over the key points about each art work and the artists and never went into any full depth as to why the artist choose to depict the concept of the inner self through the 'drip' technique using Pollock's One: Number 31 as an example.
Now onto the positives!
I did find that Hodge covered all the major art movements and key pieces in the last 200 years with works as recent as Damien Hirst's Spinning Wheels. Also on another positive note this book was easy to understand and the pictures of the artworks were of a good size so that you could actually see what was being discussed which I liked cause, well, it is an art book so the art is sort of a big deal :).
Personally I liked this book and it would certainly be perfect to read if you just wanted to find out something about modern art or even just to flick through while trying to kill 30 minutes as each page can be taken as a stand-alone article. Whether it truly answered my questions about modern art is a different matter, I felt like a lot was explained by saying the artists thought about what they did before they did, your child wouldn't have done that!
Overall a good introduction to modern art for people who know nothing about modern art, and as a book it has certainly left me intrigued enough that I am going to buy some more books on modern art, which will hopefully, more fully explain my doubts about the concepts of modern art.
Coming hot on the heels of Will Gompertz's What Are You Looking At?: 150 Years of Modern Art in the Blink of an Eye, Susie Hodge attempts a similar brief: to convince the uninitiated of the value of `Modern Art'.
One suspects that anyone buying these books is ready to be convinced, but the division of this book into themes makes that job much harder. I know curators of modern art exhibitions find chronology boring and obvious, but lack of chronology does present a bar to understanding. A knowledge of how different `schools' of art have developed and reacted makes the underlying motivations and intentions much more explicable. This is something the Gompertz book achieves admirably. Whether it will convince that an inverted urinal represents a revolutionary act, or an attempt to present new clothes to the Emperor, at least you will understand how to make a more informed judgement.
But where this book does score highly is in the number and quality of the illustrations. In contrast to the Gompertz, which lacks reproductions of many of the artworks it discusses, Susie Hodge's book is awash with good quality colour plates. Hodge also has interesting observations to make on why philistinism should be resisted. In that respect, it makes a useful companion to `What Are You Looking At?'.
If you're looking to dip your toe into the sometimes murky waters of modern art, I would suggest buying both: Gompertz for the chronology, Hodge for the visual feast.
Also recommended: Ernst Gombrich: The Story of Art &Art and Illusion: v. 6: A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation
I was really interested in the idea of this book and it's a good one.
To try and explain modern art through looking at famous (I presume, some I recognise, some not) pieces and explain what the artist was doing and why your five year old couldn't have done it.
Trouble is, every piece features a section which starts "A child could have...", leading you to the feeling that in many cases a child really COULD have done it, but still.
The point of what the artist had in mind is a bit fuzzy too as it seems many artists were either asking "What is art?" or deliberately vague in what pieces are about. Indeed, in some cases, the 'common' interpretation is challenged by the artist.
To this book's credit it tries to explain the worth of the pieces, but I'm no clearer really than I was before, so I come away a little disappointed that this book didn't achieve its lofty ambitions.
Maybe it'll make more sense to you?
I have always thought that Modern Art was a load of "Pollocks", just there as something for ill-educated rich to spend their ridiculous salaries on - created by "artists" with little or no actual drawing or painting skills. A major part of my enthusiasm for the more classical forms of art, is that the skill of the artists can take my breath away - the paintings and sculptures are created by people who have skills that I can't even begin to emulate.
And although there appears to be a misprint in the title of the book - surely this should read "Why Your Five Year Old Could Easily Have Done That: Modern Art Explained", the text states (in pretty much every example) that a child of five could have created the item.
The only apparent difference is that the five year old was not "asking the viewer to reconsider their preconceptions about every day objects", or "incorporate subtle implications", or "reconsider the function of objects"...
So here we have random assemblages of a variety of materials, all capable of being put together by a five year old child - and the only difference is that the artist is making us think.
Actually, I am capable of (reasonably) coherent thought on my own... and looking at some of the art work by the children in my family - I am also able to contemplate the relationships between everyday objects, or reach into my subconscious, or re-evaluate my place in the universe...
I don't need an unskilled "artist" to do this for me.
So - excellent book, reconfirming my (no doubt) philistine tendencies... now where was that book on Caravaggio?
This is a great little book, skitting around modern art, rushing hither and thither. Contemporary art is not so much about making something beautiful as provoking a reaction and making you think. This book does exactly that. The reaction may vary between agreement and angry disagreement, but will never be neutral or bland.
Susan Hodge seems to have collected an armful of facts with an ambition to introduce people to contemporary art. They are shoe horned in with breathless enthusiasm, with one morsel following swiftly on to the next.
This could have been a large explanatory tome that would have discouraged many. The structure adopted makes it masterfully concise. 100 art pieces are reproduced with high quality graphics. These are grouped into 6 thematic chapters such as 'Expressions/scribbles' and 'Provocation/tantrums'. The work appears as the focus of a two page spread which also includes a brief explanation of the artist and the work. Assorted trivia are grouped around this, colour coded as technique/context/location/incidental information/similar works.
The range included is extensive and varied and in addition to the above does of course explain why a child couldn't have produced the work. In fact in most cases there is a grudging admission that a child could have produced the work, or certainly might have produced something very similar. The difference often appears in the artist's own explanation of the work and its context. We are for instance invited to note that Flavin's ''Monument' for V. Tatlin' (which consists of several vertically arranged fluorescent tubes) contrasts Tatlin's use of advanced and complex technologies in spiral structure design on a vast scale with the simple and linear art work. Now if anyone could look at the tubes and deduce that from them I'd be astonished; clearly the art work itself doesn't stand alone and only becomes understandable with explanation. It's that added complexity that a child couldn't produce, the knights move link between one item and another. Enthusiasts for modern art will relish these novel links and the flights of ideas that flow. Others will think that if you can't see the message in the work, if it doesn't speak directly, then it is indeed nothing more than a childlike and childish work.
In the end then the book is unlikely to convert skeptics en mass; the arguments will be filtered through the lens of your own pre-conception.
The brief facts presented boldy and without explanation can be apparently contradictory and somewhat confusing. For instance in discussing Warhol's work we learn that, 'Pop Art developed.... in opposition to Abstract Expressionism', but on the next page we find that Eva Hess's work displays, 'Evidence of Pop Art, Abstract Expression....'. Eh? Does that mean she produced a contradictory body of work, were the two in fact not after all opposed, did Hesse manage some clever reconciliation of the two, and if so then how did that work?
The book then contains some incomplete explanations if not contradictions and is unlikely to convince those that think all modern art could made by children that they are mistaken. However, it is a thought provoking romp through a range of art, with both well produced reproductions and great factual density that is likely to appeal to the budding enthusiast, and whilst lacking in depth explanation may add interesting details for the expert.
Finally, and perhaps irreverently, it's two page by two page layout and staccato facts make it a great book for browsing intermittently; a sure fire winner as a loo book!
on 29 June 2014
Probably the most pretentious book I've ever set my eyes upon. Not only does book contain a series of pieces that a five year old could create (and for some, a 1 year old). It lists the reasons behind why a five year old couldn't create that piece, for instance for the piece of "art" on the front cover it says that if a five year old made a slash on a canvas they wouldn't be doing it in order to evoke feelings of life lost, infinity and hollowness. They wouldn't do it for the same reason as the artist. This is where the book is true. It highlights that, indeed, a five year old wouldn't lean some lightbulbs against a wall, leave their bed messy or cut a slash into a canvas for the same reason as the artist; to make a lot of money from the bourgeois clique that can waste time looking at some of the worst art in history.
on 11 April 2014
I am a massive advocate of Modern Art, but I do have a beef with the flouncy language often used to talk about it. Based on the title, I was expecting this book to be written in approachable, easy to understand language that would be appropriate for me, or my 12 year-old nephew. As it was, the writing style was a turn off for me and only added fuel to me nephews "all Modern Art is rubbish" fire. An opportunity missed.
Susie Hodge's hilarious satire on the pretensions and self-deluding clique of modern art adopts the endlessly effective method of speaking in the voice of the target; by thoroughly adopting the mannerisms and speech patterns of the subject, then over-emphasising the ridiculousness of their viewpoint and highlighting the ludicrous nature of their stance, the subversion is all the more effective.
The structure of the book is highly repetitive; show a piece of modern art, point out that creation of the actual physical object itself would in most cases be well within the capabilities of the average 5 year old, and then quote with a brilliantly deadpan dryness the pompous drivel that has been attached to that object to invest it with 'significance' and 'artistic value'.
At times the satire is so realistic that you could almost suspect that Hodge is genuinely taken in; her mask never slips completely, although at times the prose verges on teetering over into sheer exagerrated ridiculousness and a hint of the grin behind the mask shines through.
The passage in the introduction where she suggests that the invention of photography freed the artist from any responsibility to depict the world in any figurative sense is quite brilliant, and reminiscent of the equally ludicrous claim that the invention of the synthesiser would free the musician from ever needing to learn to play any other musical instrument. Some of the descriptions of particular individual works are equally devastating - the suggestion that the surrealist lobster telephone is a metaphor for sex, for example, or the extended riff on why The Lights Going On And Off is deeply meaningful. There is a constant thread of real sadness apparent in the text as well, particularly when highlighting the manner in which those few artists who do accidentally reveal some genuine technical ability have to conceal and obscure their talent to gain acceptance.
If you've ever scratched your head at the latest Turner Prize entrants, or wanted to know who could possibly pretend that there is artistic significance and merit in a pile of sweets or an unmade bed or a pickled bisected shark, or just stood in sheer bafflement in the Tate Modern wondering where the art is, this the book for you. The cold eyed cynical marketing of talent-free rubbish masquerading as art, and the accompanying substitution of vague holistic pyschobabble for exposition and analysis, will never be made more apparent than in this slim, stiletto-sharp volume.
on 26 April 2013
I bought this book as a present, then thought it looked so interesting that I decided to keep it for myself. What a mistake! First of all, the title is completely misleading: time and again Susie Hodge tell us that well, actually, a five-year-old could have done this - but he or she would have been doing it for the wrong reasons or in the wrong context. (Does that make it less interesting? Discuss.) The book is full of broad, vague statements (`These elements force viewers to experience various feelings of infinity, enclosure, perhaps childhood memories or even a sense of floating or other-worldliness') and reads at times as if it had been written for a five-year-old. At others, it assumes an encyclopaedic knowledge of the history of art: Suprematism, for example, is first mentioned on page 107 but not defined for another 30 pages. I can't imagine a less convincing apologia for modern art: the abiding impression is of a group of navel-gazers so obsessed with what art is or isn't that few of them get round to producing anything worth looking at.