The Story of Art

Art is another of those areas, like music, that I don't know much about. And naturally my favoured method of learning is to go off and read a book...

(As a side note, it's taken me a long time to realise that this method is not necessarily the most effective for everyone. My elder daughter learns best by watching documentaries; my husband through listening to podcasts; my younger daughter by researching on-line. I can push fascinating books at all of them but the chances of them actually flipping through them are minimal. Weirdos!)

So I decided to Learn About Art and this massive tome (first published in 1950, last updated in 1989) seemed like the perfect starting point. It was originally intended for younger readers -- teenagers at a guess -- and though it has many, many, MANY pages, there are loads of illustrations and the text is not too dense. I think I remember art students at my school lugging this around back in the 1980s. It has taken me many weeks to wade through this history, a chapter at a time, and I'm not sure how much of it I will retain long-term. There is a heavy emphasis on Western art and particularly painting, but hey, you can't cover everything and since my ignorance is pretty much total, it was just as well to chip away at one area.

E. H. Gombrich succeeds in laying out a fairly coherent narrative trail by framing each era of art as an attempt to solve the problems thrown up by the one before, which was an interesting, and to me, novel way to look at it. And best of all, now that I've finally finished it, I feel incredibly virtuous!


  1. I read this at school. It was our Year 12 Art textbook and very readable. I don't think it was ever meant to be read cover to cover - anyway, we didn't have to. We read the buts we needed. It's very useful when an art student asks me about something, because he covers just about everything. I remember my first visit to the National Gallery in London, when I finally saw paintings I'd only ever seen in Gombrich, and oh, I was so excited! I remember amusing a security guard when I gasped, "Oh, my God, it's Constable's Haywain!"

  2. I would excited to see Constable's Haywain, too, for obvious reasons (though I'm not sure if our family is really related - but surely we must be distantly connected!)

    I'm sure you're right about it not being intended to be consumed from cover to cover, but I am a thorough person. And it was worth it, I think!