Book Review: Shock of the New
This week I read Robert Hughes' The Shock of the New and here's what I think...
To be honest, I was unfamiliar with Hughes. I had heard his name before but didn't know what he had contributed to the art world. Turns out he was the art critic for Time magazine from 1980-2001. He wrote a few books with The Shock of the New (1980) being his most popular and the book has a companion documentary series on the BBC.
He's a big deal, and I'm embarrassed I didn't check out his work earlier.
I really enjoyed this book! I think the author explained modern art in a very approachable way. He explains art through art movements and in context. I'm very familiar with art history so there weren't any major discoveries for me. However, for someone new to modern art this book would be amazing for them to hold onto as a reference. I do think this book is best as a reference book. While the stories are interconnected and there is flow to the writing, the book does quickly run through various artists and movements. I listened to the book and found reading big chunks of it in one sitting to be a bit overwhelming and a bit of a list. I needed frequent brakes to revisit the illustrations and names mentioned in each section.
I found the companion video series on youtube and watched a little bit of it. The videos feel dated (c.1980) but well produced and written. I've added it to my watchlist and will definitely revisit and review them when I have time.
As mentioned, I listened to this book and because of that, I didn't always see the illustrations he was referring to. As with most printed books, the text in this book includes plate numbers that direct you to a different page where all the illustrations are printed. While I totally understand why that's necessary for printed books, It would have been helpful if the artwork being discussed was on the same page as the text about the piece.
This book is best for...
If you're unfamiliar with modern art or walk through the contemporary art sections of the museum with a big question mark then this is your book.
This book would be awesome for an art history class. The context and interconnectedness of the artworks mentioned make it much more engaging than a chronological art history textbook.
OR, it would be fun to have a book club that breaks this book down into smaller chunks. The members of the group could read a chapter, watch an episode of the video series, then look at pieces in their local museum. When they get back together they'd have tons to discuss. hmmm maybe that'll be a challenge I take on myself!