During the last few months, I have been voraciously reading this brick of a book. Despite the size, it is fairly approachable with a minimum amount of esoteric terms and a reasonable amount of pictures of carefully selected art pieces.
As a novice of Art with a capital A, I have to say this introductory book is quite informative and well organized. Flipping through the pages, we will encounter different ages and styles and traditions that are intimately intertwined with their social contexts. This socio-historical view of telling the story of art has proven to me, a history buff, helpful in that it walks me through once again the history of Europe, frequently reminding me of the joy of reading history. In addition, when digging into the works of a particular artist who is more or less one of the representatives of a specific tradition, we will sometimes find a brief profile of the artist, along with his masterpieces organized in a chronological order. These short accounts of the artist offer a lens through which we get to know the artist intimately as a person with his own set of flaws and quirks, allowing us to see his works in a different light, on a more personal level.
Before reading this book, I have always believed the raison detre of Art is to inspire awe for beauty, or the sublime. But now I subscribe to Gombrich’s idea regarding the purpose of art, or the pursuit of artists:
“[M]en and women, that is, who are favored by the wonderful gift of balancing shapes and colors till they are ‘right’, and rarer still, who possess that integrity of character which never rests content with half-solutions, but is ready to forgo all lazy effects, all superficial success for the toil and agony of sincere work.”