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Amber Paulen

The Story of Art by E.H. Gombrich

E.H. Gombrich

The Story of Art

Last night I finished The Story of Art by E.H. Gombrich. I began reading The Story of Art seven months ago, before a trip to Florence. The book is dense and should be dipped into, set down again, dipped into again. A more appropriate title might be, A Journey through Art, not only because finishing and absorbing its contents feels like an accomplishment, but because when I flip through the illustrations I feel as if I’m remembering a beautiful city by its postcards.

The Story of Art is the history of art, from cave paintings to relatively contemporary. E.H. Gombrich opens his introduction with these lines:

There really is no such thing as Art. There are only artists.

And he continues through 500 pages (in the pocket edition) with this clear and confident voice. His writing is such that I imagine him not having any trouble condensing such a wide subject into these hundreds of pages. He is never boring. And when he writes of an artist he admires, I can see him beaming behind the pages; writing about art, thinking about art, must have given him great joy. It was extremely impressive to read how he made his connections between certain periods, his explanations of how answers led to more questions that keeps the story of art in motion.

Another reason for the book’s brilliance, is that E.H. Gombrich is never preachy. He never tells you what to think about an artist or painting in question, but instead beacons his readers to draw close to a canvas, or even the reproductions, to see a painting with your own eyes. Every new artist feels like a personal discovery, so I can take the map Gombrich has sketched out for me to trek on to more discoveries.

Here are two posts I inspired by my reading: Sfumato and Art/Selling Out.


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