History of Modern Art

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9780131840690: History of Modern Art

For undergraduate course in Modern Art, Origins of Modernism, Art Since 1945, Contemporary Art and other courses focusing on art in the 20th century. Long considered the survey of modern art, this engrossing and liberally illustrated text traces the development of trends and influences in painting, sculpture, photography and architecture from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day. Retaining its comprehensive nature and chronological approach, it now comes thoroughly reworked by Michael Bird, an experienced art history editor and writer, with refreshing new analyses, a considerably expanded picture program, and a more absorbing and unified narrative.

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From the Back Cover:

Comprehensive, authoritative, and insightful, Arnason's History of Modern Art remains the definitive source of information on the art of the modern era from Modernism's mid-nineteenth-century European beginnings to today's divergent art trends.

Now full color throughout, this Fifth Edition has been completely redesigned to make it even more elegant and easy-to-use. New headings, subheadings, and. a glossary have been added to help the reader navigate the material and quickly identify areas of interest. The entire text has been carefully edited for greater clarity, narrative coherence, and scholarly currency. Of particular interest is Chapter 27, now entitled "Resistance and Resolution" (known as the "Epilogue" in the previous edition), which has been completely rewritten by art historian Peter Kalb to consider the latest' scholarship and emerging trends in contemporary art.

The late H.H. Arnason was a distinguished art historian, educator, and museum administrator who for many years was Vice President for Art Administration of the Solomon Guggenheim Museum in New York. He . began his professional life in academe, teaching at Northwestern University, University of Chicago, and University of Hawaii. From 1947 to 1961, Arnason was Professor and Chairman of the Department of Art at the University of Minnesota.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

At the start of the twenty-first century, the term "modern art" already has something of a venerable ring to it. It has joined other capacious art historical categories, such as "Renaissance" or "Romanticism," which, though they may usefully serve to give shape to broad contours of art history, become less clear in meaning and more open to dispute the closer you get to detailed discussion of specific works of art. The only difference between these and "modern art" is that modern art as a temporal category is still open-ended: it is, by one definition, simply the art of the present day. But it also includes the early paintings of Matisse and Malevich, Braque's Cubist collages, and the first building designs by Frank Lloyd Wright—products of a world that now feels very distant indeed, separated from us by two world wars, the atomic bomb, and the Internet. The words "modern art" have soaked up so much history that they can never again mean what they once meant (or at least, not with the same heady conviction): shockingly new, bewilderingly progressive, utterly of the present moment, unprecedented-though they still encompass that.

A Short History of History of Modern Art

Just as "modern" is a many-layered term, this book, now in its fifth edition, has a history of its own. As the term "modern art" has broadened and been reinterpreted over time, successive scholars, editors, and specialist contributors have amended and added to Harvey H. Arnason's original text, which Arnason himself fully revised some years after the book was first published in 1969. This has been a process not only of fine-tuning and updating information but also of revisiting much of Arnason's material in the context of a scholarly and educational environment that has changed significantly from the one in which he wrote. There are parallels to this process in other cultural arenas, for example in the reorganization and reinterpretation of museum and gallery displays. The core of the collection remains the same, the objects have the same indelible presence and fascination, but, juxtaposed with new acquisitions and displayed under different lighting conditions, they lead viewers to look at them in different (sometimes very different) ways.

In this sense, while this new edition of History of Modern Art contains much added material, it is still essentially Arnason's creation. This Preface offers a brief investigation into the marathon staying-power of his original endeavor, even through successive revisions have seen the book evolve over the years to take account of new directions in art and art history. After more than three decades and four new editions, Arnason's vision remains the core of this standard work of art historical reference.

The Art of Looking

Arnason was Professor and Chairman of the University of Minnesota's art department from 1947 to 1961, and he had a long association with New York's Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum as its Vice President for Art Administration. He embarked on History of Modern Art relatively late in life. The project was conceived and intended as a long-term landmark—the first book of its kind—and it drew on the experience of his distinguished career as an art historian. Two deep-rooted convictions underpin Arnason's History: first, that understanding art is a matter of fundamental importance; second, that the way to learn about art is to look for yourself. His Preface unequivocally emphasized his belief in the importance of the individual's face-to-face experience of art—a belief that, as he saw it, gave the book its rationale and its structure:

The thesis of this book, insofar as it has a thesis, is that in the study of art the only primary evidence is the work of art itself. Everything that has been said about it, even by the artist himself, may be important, but it remains secondary evidence. Everything that we can learn about the environment that produced it historically, socially, culturally is important, but again is only secondary or tertiary evidence. It is for this reason that an effort has been made to reproduce most of the works discussed. For the same reason a large part of the text is concerned with a close analysis of these works of art and with detailed descriptions of them as well. This has been done in the conviction that simple description has an effect in forcing the attention of the spectator on the painting, sculpture, or building itself. If, after studying the object, he disagrees with the commentator, all the better, In the process he has learned something about visual perception.

Encouraging his readers to look at art was Arnason's first objective. But he had a further, more challenging aim in view, which was to get people thinking about what it means to go beyond the realm of words—facts, opinions, descriptions, books (no matter how inspiring or enlightening these may be)—and experience art as a purely visual phenomenon. "The principal emphasis of this book," he wrote,

revolves around the problem of seeing modern art. It is recognized that this involves two not necessarily compatible elements: the visual and the verbal. Any work of art history and/or criticism is inevitably an attempt to translate a visual into a verbal experience. Since the mind is involved in both experiences, there are some points of contact between them. Nevertheless, the two experiences are essentially different and it must always be recognized that the words of the interpreter are at best only an approximation of the visual work of art.

Why does Arnason consider looking at modern art such an important art to master? The valuation that society places on art, and the reasons for that valuation, change with time, and here again, since History of Modern Art first appeared, shifts have occurred in our perception of why art matters.

Experience and Interpretation

The distant roots of Arnason's belief that looking at art is in itself a profoundly worthwhile activity can be traced to the liberal, secular educational ideals of the nineteenth century. These ideals presumed that exposure to the "highest" kind of cultural experiences could make people, whatever their social or ethnic background, better citizens and happier individuals.

More recent generations of scholars and writers have fiercely questioned the foundations of this outlook, but its monuments remain at the center of Western cultural life. The conviction that simply looking at paintings and sculptures, or entering a grandly beautiful building, were necessarily uplifting and "ennobling" experiences was an important factor in the nineteenth-century enthusiasm in Europe and North America for establishing public art collections and opening great private collections to the public. As a scholar working in the orbit of major American collections, Arnason was a direct heir to the tradition of promoting contact with art for the general good. These collections, and later ones founded on their model, still provide the public with their most important point of access to art.

His belief in the power of art to work its own magic in our lives marks Arnason as a man very much of his time and background. Today art has lost none of its cultural glamour, but the role of interpretation is now regarded as not merely helpful for the viewer's own experience but in certain ways essential for it. The idea of art history as a unitary field of knowledge has been replaced by the recognition of diverse art histories, each shaped by a particular interpretative approach. Likewise, the old notion of the canon—a roll-call of indisputable masterpieces that set the standard for all artistic achievement—has given way to a far more inclusive view of what constitute legitimate objects of art historical attention.

These changes have affected the ways in which art is made, viewed, presented, and taught. Textbooks locate art within contemporaneous social, historical, political, and philosophical themes. Museums, too, which at one time were regarded as palaces or temples for the display of self-evidently significant cultural treasures, now see the interpretation of these treasures as an equally important activity, recognizing that any work of art may well mean quite different things to different viewers. To take one obvious example, it is now comfortably accepted, as it would not have been in art history pre-Feminism, that Western art's long preoccupation with the naked female body, in particular the centrality the nude has enjoyed in histories of Western art, does not carry the same messages for women as for men. It is not that we look any more carefully or subtly at art than earlier generations did, only that the range of information regarded as relevant to an understanding (or understandings) of art has been vastly extended.

This new edition, as one would expect, acknowledges interpretative standpoints more openly and, inevitably, more self-consciously that did Arnason's original text. This will be especially evident to the reader in the substantially revised and expanded chapters dealing with art after around 1970, a period during which critical theory and the awareness of multiple interpretations came to inform much art practice.

How Arnason would have interpreted the art of the final quarter of the twentieth century can only be guessed, but he would no doubt have applauded the emphasis on the need for art education to work on a broad front. "It is recognized," he wrote, "that a work of art or architecture cannot exist in a vacuum. It is the product of a total environment—a social and cultural system—with parallels in literature, music, and the other arts, and relations to the philosophy and science of the period." But when he wrote History of Modern Art, you quickly gather, following up these parallels was not his primary concern. The two world wars, the Russian Revolution, the rise of Nazism and the Depression era of the thirt...

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