What are you looking at? by Will Gompertz

img_2801Subtitled 150 years of modern art in the blink of an eye, this is not for the purists but it is for me. So much so that I have all three versions – audio, kindle, and paperback; one to listen to while mooching around, one for its search, links, and notes facilities, and one to flick through when neither of the others will do. I have the kind of memory that places something on a page – bottom left, middling-ish on the right, that sort of thing. I can do it with ebooks so long as the font stays the same size or the pages/percentages become mussed up by expanding images; paperbacks are far more reliably fixed.

For someone like me, doing a degree in art but having neither background nor interest in art history (actually, history of any sort if I’m being honest), this book is perfect. Gompertz, a name I knew only as a film and theatre critic and a man not inclined to be pompous or obfuscating about it, writes with a refreshing lack of reverence for the art history schtick that so turns me off; and while he claims not to be entirely accurate (because he’s expressing opinions just like everyone else) his humorous gallop through the basics of modern art is just what I needed. Suddenly, names mean more to me, the reasons behind the almost limitless movements make sense to me (at least insofar as they make actual sense at all), and the politics and machinations of the (overwhelmingly) male makers of the art makes sense to me. With Gompertz to hand, I can tackle some of the less welcoming tomes because I have a touchstone. Of all the art books I’ve bought, this (and Henry Moore’s sheep sketchbook with no writing in it at all) is my absolute art-undergrad life-saving favourite. Did I say it was a good read? It’s a good read, a very good read.

Gompertz, W. 2016. What are you looking at? 150 years of modern art in the blink of an eye. Penguin, Random House.

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