Book Review: What Are You Looking At?

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“The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living” by Damien Hirst (1991); Tiger shark, glass, steel, 5% formaldehyde solution.

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709 GOM

It is hard to find an art expert who is willing to speak in plain language without being condescending, but Will Gompertz, the BBC Art editor and former director of the Tate, has written a book that is both enlightening and funny about many of art history’s most well-known works. And he doesn’t make you feel stupid.

To quote Gompertz:

“My ambition has been to write a fact-filled and lively book; it is not intended as an academic work. There are no footnotes or lengthy lists of sources. In my opinion, the best place to start when it comes to appreciating and enjoying modern and contemporary art is not to decide whether it’s any good or not, but to understand how it evolved from Leonardo’s classicism to today’s pickled sharks and unmade beds.”

“Everything you need to know to get a handle on the basics can be found in this story of modern art covering over 150 years in which art helped change the world and the world helped change art. I hope this book will make you next trip to a modern art gallery slightly less intimidating and a little more interesting.”

Some things you will learn:

“Picasso is a genius (but Cézanne might be better). Jackson Pollock is no drip. Cubism has no cubes. A urinal changed the course of art. And why your five-year-old really couldn’t do it.”

No pretentious art-speak here. Trust me on this one. After reading this your next visit to a museum will likely be less intimidating and way more interesting.