Why a Painting Is Like a Pizza: A Guide to Understanding and Enjoying Modern Art

Nancy G. Heller

Published by Princeton University Press, 2002
ISBN 10: 0691090513 / ISBN 13: 9780691090511
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Synopsis:

The first time she made a pizza from scratch, art historian Nancy Heller made the observation that led her to write this entertaining guide to contemporary art. Comparing modern art not only to pizzas but also to traditional and children's art, Heller shows us how we can refine analytical tools we already possess to understand and enjoy even the most unfamiliar paintings and sculptures.


How is a painting like a pizza? Both depend on visual balance for much of their overall appeal and, though both can be judged by a set of established standards, pizzas and paintings must ultimately be evaluated in terms of individual taste. By using such commonsense examples and making unexpected connections, this book helps even the most skeptical viewers feel comfortable around contemporary art and see aspects of it they would otherwise miss. Heller discusses how nontraditional works of art are made--and thus how to talk about their composition and formal elements. She also considers why such art is made and what it "means."


At the same time, Heller reassures those of us who have felt uncomfortable around avant-garde art that we don't have to like all--or even any--of it. Yet, if we can relax, we can use the aesthetic awareness developed in everyday life to analyze almost any painting, sculpture, or installation. Heller also gives concise answers to the eight questions she is most frequently asked about contemporary art--from how to tell when an abstract painting is right side up to which works of art belong in a museum.


This book is for anyone who agrees with art critic Clement Greenberg that "All profoundly original art looks ugly at first." It's also for anyone who disagrees. It is for anyone who wants to get more out of a museum or gallery visit and would like to be able to say something more than just "yes" or "no" when asked if they like an artist's work.


From the Inside Flap:

"Nearly a century after the Armory Show, avant-garde art remains misunderstood by mainstream America. In a practical, industrious country where the fine arts have never been deeply rooted, abstract and conceptual artists are still too often dismissed as silly, untalented, or immoral, with art galleries portrayed as snobbish and greedy. This worsening cultural crisis affects private and public funding, discourages promising new voices, and threatens America's creative future.

Nancy G. Heller's wonderful book arrives in the nick of time. Destined to be a classic of public education, it is lucid, engaging, and ingenious, leading the reader through the difficulties and strategies of avant-garde art. Intended for the general audience, the book is also must reading for teachers throughout the humanities, which have become distracted by jargon and ideology. Heller is an inspiring role model for university scholars, who must recover and renew their central mission of teaching."--Camille Paglia, University Professor and Professor of Humanities, University of the Art

"This delightful, down-to-earth guide demystifies the act of looking at modern and contemporary art with clarity and humor, drawing upon a diverse and wide-ranging array of artworks, which are abundantly reproduced. It will definitely appeal to novice viewers perplexed by the enigmas of earthworks and the splatters, scrapes, and splashes of non-traditional art, and it just may convince a few skeptics to look for beauty in unexpected places. Why a Painting is Like a Pizza is an ideal book for beginners because Nancy Heller leads us through the basics of analyzing the elements of any work of art while sharing tales of her own, often humorous, peregrinations to museums and galleries. She is an ideal companion---full of fun, facts, genuine enthusiasm, and a healthy respect for viewers abilities and their personal responses."--Bay Hallowell, Coordinator of Special Projects, Youth, and Family Programs, Philadelphia Museum of Art

"Nancy Heller has wrought a minor miracle. She has written a book about art that is of interest to both the layperson and the professional. Why a Painting Is Like a Pizza is informative and highly entertaining. By exploring the context within which art is made and exhibited, and by probing the criteria for evaluating it, Heller has constructed a useful framework for looking at art meaningfully. Without belittling artists and their work, she has demystified the artistic process. Through her pragmatic, everyday analogies she helps us see that all art is an act of communication and that the visitor's response--whatever it might be--is valid."--Susan S. Badder, Curator of Education, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

"Reading Why a Painting is Like a Pizza: A Guide to Understanding and Enjoying Modern Art is like having a personal guide at your side as you make your way through unfamiliar territory. We feel that we are in a gallery, engaged in an engrossing conversation with somebody who knows a great deal about modern art, but does not pretend to know all the answers, or even believe that answers are always available. While we hear Nancy Heller's highly intelligent and often very witty voice throughout the entire book, we also hear our own, for the author seems to know what we are thinking, wondering, and even resisting before we have been able to put our questions and doubts into words.

Nancy Heller presents the contemporary art world as it is, daring to bring up works that may raise eyebrows. She accepts our confusion and bewilderment as valid, and is always able to explain the challenges that some contemporary artists throw at us. She introduces important ideas in non-threatening, easily palatable ways, always defining new terms immediately, and never allowing us to fall into the abyss of art jargon. Background information is clear and to the point; illustrations are well described and always support the text.

While openly acknowledging that some contemporary art may seem outrageous, the author welcomes the opportunity to consider its message. In fact, she suggests that life would be far less interesting without art works that jar us from time to time. Showing equal respect for artist, museum, and viewer, she helps us understand all sides of the art world. As we reach the end of the book, we know we have been in the hands of a good guide who has helped us take real pleasure in looking at modern art and has given us courage to strike out on our own and make judgments for ourselves.

Why a Painting is Like a Pizza: A Guide to Understanding and Enjoying Modern Art will be a great help to teachers, museum guides, parents, and art-interested people of all stripes who are looking for ways to explain modern art to themselves, family, students, and friends."--Linda Andre, Program Specialist for Teacher Services, The Sylvia Friedberg Nachlas Endowed Chair in Museum Education, Department of Education & Interpretation, The Baltimore Museum of Art

"So much writing on modern art is dessicated intellectualism, jargon laden, and marinated in theory. Here, instead, we have a simple and clear presentation, truly accessible to students, general readers, and museum beginners."--A. Richard Turner, author of Inventing Leonardo

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Title: Why a Painting Is Like a Pizza: A Guide to ...
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication Date: 2002
Book Condition: Good
Edition: illustrated edition.

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