I have to admit that I’m struggling with this – indeed, in more ways than one because it’s not only a thick, heavy tome, but a paperback, which means that it doesn’t support itself and, if you want it to stay in one piece long enough to make use of it, you have to give it a lot of support.
I’m also struggling because so far I’ve failed to see the point of it. The idea seems sound at first: a survey of developments in art from 1860 to the present day, listing key events, artists, artworks and exhibitions in a chronological context that, I assume, is intended to show how art develops in relation to the events which are its background or to which it, itself, forms the background. It’s a noble aim and getting a “group of international art critics, journalists and curators” to contribute must have seemed like a sure-fire recipe for success. The alternative would, of course, be a strange mash-up that lacks an overall sense of cohesion; to continue the culinary metaphor: a dog’s dinner.
I think the format has a lot to do with the problem. If you have to wrestle a book into submission just to turn the pages, you’re never going to feel well disposed towards it and this is not a book that in any case makes you feel welcome at first glance. There are too many short pieces and too few illustrations – 250 in nearly 800 pages really isn’t a lot – and the type is small enough to appear indigestible. Make it about 10 inches square instead of 8, increase the type size and put a hardcover on it so that it sits comfortably in the lap and I think this could have been a wonderful source of serendipitous ideas and information to dip into of a winter evening. As it is, and I’m sorry to have to say this, it hurts the knees, wrists, eyes and brain, coming across as a rather Gradgrindian rehearsal of facts: And now, girl number forty, you know what the history of art is.