There are many different editions of The Story of Art, but I’m happy with my slightly scruffy twelfth-edition, which my mum received for Christmas in 1975. She passed it on to me about eight years ago, when I expressed an interest in art history. It’s taken awhile, but I’ve finally managed to read the whole book.
I can’t say that I’m now an expert, but this book has given me a well-rounded introduction to the history of art, starting with the cave paintings of the prehistoric and primitive peoples. From there we learn about Ancient Egyptian art, then travel to more adventurous art in Greece. We learn about how art was born, how it changed, when it was stifled and when it thrived. Gombrich takes the reader on an unforgettable journey through the different ages, explaining how art adapted for different purposes, how artists experimented and how other nations and generations influenced the next stage in the history of art.
My version is separated into 27 chapters, each focusing on a different movement or time period. The book covers most of the world and includes both famous and not so famous artists. We learn about different techniques and why they were used in painting, sculpture and architecture. It’s interesting to see how much of the book is dedicated to architecture, and how the changes in design came hand-in-hand with the way art changed.
There’s a lot to take in, but the writing is clear and concise. It’s perfect for a beginner like me, as there’s no “pretentious jargon”. In fact, The Story of Art is very unpretentious, aiming to train the reader to open their minds and make decisions about art based on what they learn and not what they think they should feel. Taken a chapter or two at a time, this large book is a manageable read. I found that I appreciated the artworks discussed, even if they were not all to my taste, because of the explanations for why they are considered important. Often it might be because the artist is breaking through century-old conventions, experimenting with different concepts and eventually changing the direction of art and the attitude towards it. I found a new pleasure in styles and movements that I’ve never really liked or understood, such as impressionism, cubism and surrealism. And I improved my knowledge on the cultural history of movements that I have always been more interested in, such as the Renaissance.
My edition has images, although a lot of them are in black and white. I’ve read that the more recent editions have larger, fold-out images, which would definitely be a definite bonus. This would be a perfect present for anyone who wants a basic grounding in art history. For a more in-depth history further reading is probably necessary, but The Story of Art is a great start. Gombrich’s passion for art really shines through. It’s infectious, making the reader eager to learn more and excited to get out and see the masterpieces for themselves.
If you want to brush up on your art history knowledge, click the picture below for your own copy!