November 29, 2007

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Art: A World History, by Buchholz et al. (2007, Abrams, 512 pages)
Reviewed by Lisa Parsons lparsons@hippopress.com

This one’s a small brick of a book, suitable for carrying to Starbucks or a park bench.

Like the 30,000 Years, it’s organized chronologically and begins with stone-age sculptures and cave paintings. It seems to have a much smaller proportion of non-European art than that book, though.

The pictures are small; the image of Hieronymus Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights,” for instance, is so small it’s hard to make out its all-important details; one portion is shown enlarged but the effect is still lacking. You can see the same painting in 30,000 Years much more distinctly. This is a book you need to concentrate on — to imagine the paintings bigger, on a wall.

Winslow Homer is absent. He’s present in the 30,000 Years. On the other hand, Nam June Paik, a “Korean musician [who] was among the most versatile artists and pioneers of the international art scene after 1960,” is here, and not in the 30,000 Years. (So much for the non-European thing.) So here’s to reading many sources.

This book could use a glossary; for instance, the text refers to “Fauvism,” and to find out what that meant I had to refer to the index, then go to a page where it is briefly defined within the text (and still I’m not told where the word came from. Was there perhaps a Mr. Fauv? Does Fauv mean something in French?) (Post-Google note: Yes; it means “wild beasts” in French, if Wiki be believed.) Another small bother: it only gives dimensions in centimeters, not good old American units.

Each page is densely packed with material, as befits such a small book with such a large mission. You’ll need to take a moment to orient yourself to its layout. Once you’ve done that, you’ll find a lot to absorb.

This book would work great as a recap and reminder of what you’ve learned in depth elsewhere. Excellent for brushing up. Retails for $13.57 at Amazon. B+Lisa Parsons