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. I have it on Audible and within a very short time, also bought it in paperback (to flick through) and for Kindle (for the links and notes facility). Gompertz, who I knew only as a film and theatre critic (who was 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.
Update: I’ve read and re-read this book, or listened actually letting the information seep in while I do practical things, and it’s beginning to stick. I recognise names and references, associations and movements. It’s become an invaluable staple.
Gompertz, W. (2012) What Are You Looking At? 150 years of modern art in the blink of an eye. Penguin Random House.