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The Shock of the New: The Hundred-Year History of Modern Art, Its Rise, Its Dazzling Achievement, Its Fall

3.73  ·  Rating Details ·  20,793 Ratings  ·  98 Reviews
In the splendid tradition of Kenneth Clark's Civilisation and Jacob Bronowski's The Ascent of Man, here is a magnificent account -- authoritative, lively, richly and beautifully illustrated -- of the hundred-year history of modern art. Written by one of the most widely read and respected art critics of our time as an outgrowth and expansion of his major eight-part BBC Time ...more
Hardcover, 423 pages
Published February 12th 1981 by Alfred A. Knopf (first published November 1st 1980)
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Paul Bryant
Oct 04, 2007 Paul Bryant rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Again today I was lost in admiration of this history-with-attitude of 20th century art. I think it’s the best single art book I’ve read. It’s stuffed full of ideas and sentences that refresh like a splash of seaspray. Viewing Paris from the Eiffel Tower in 1889 was “one of the pivots in human consciousness”. The phonograph was “the most radical extension of cultural memory since the photograph”. Cezanne “takes you backstage”. In cubist paintings the world was “a twitching skin of nuances”. “Mach ...more
Roy Lotz
May 11, 2014 Roy Lotz rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: artsy-fartsy
My favorite story about modern art comes from my girlfriend. I’ll let her tell it:
So I was in the Museum of Modern Art one day, you know, walking around and stuff. I walked in one room and I saw this thing on the wall, and it looked really weird. So I bent down and started to look at it. There was this other visitor, who started looking at it too. Then all of the sudden the wall opened and a man walked out. Me and the other visitor looked at each other and laughed. It was a doorknob.

I love this
...more
Misercord
Oct 30, 2009 Misercord rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: art
I bought this book after a trip to the Museum of Modern Art in New York. I left the museum confused and annoyed by Modern art. I could not find anything to explain Modern art. Nothing that wasn't complete unreadable, unwatchable or incomprehensible. Then I picked up this book. I read about 30 pages in the book store and couldn't put it down. Robert Hughes' prose flows, clear and crisp. I like that he could explain an artist's work in a way that lets you know he doesn't like it, but is open to yo ...more
Trevor
Apr 14, 2013 Trevor rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: art
The first few episodes of this – I watched this, by the way, but will need to get hold of the book now – are nearly entirely a rip off of Walter Benjamin’s work, particularly his Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. The modern has been so dominated by machines and the question of how machines relate to humans is an open question that continues to haunt our nightmares. The Matrix movies are a particularly interesting example of this. But the history of this nightmare is much older than that ...more
Shawn
Aug 24, 2009 Shawn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Most of the other reviews say it all - this weighty and expensive book was the main text of my college class on Modern Art but but boy was it worth it. Hughes is such a succinct, perceptive historian and critic - he takes complicated topics and doesn't simply examine then, but unpacks and illuminates. Probably best seen in conjunction with the original BBC series, you will almost certainly learn something you didn't know, find something you weren't aware you loved, finally be able to put your fi ...more
Zanna
Jul 30, 2013 Zanna rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: art, history, politics
Hughes' opinionated and politically charged biography of modern art and its dialogue with a culture in turmoil is always on the side of the radical against the status quo. He is harshly critical of the academy and establishment, and of regressive regimes, movements and critiques. He hates oppression, elitism, and frivolous self-indulgence, which is his general opinion of postmodernism.

The Shock of the New was a hugely important part of my education, helping me to become conversant in the movemen
...more
Mark Desrosiers
Aug 26, 2007 Mark Desrosiers rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: art
Hughes possesses all the essential traits of a brilliant art critic: he's not a snob, he's perceptive about the difference between shyte and wank, he's enthusiastic about playfulness and populism, and he's willing to admit he's wrong (in this book, it's Philip Guston). The fact that his career was centered upon TIME Magazine is a testament to his sense of populist principle, and evidence that there really are no other brilliant art critics out there. (I had my hopes for Dave Hickey way back when ...more
Andrea
Mar 12, 2008 Andrea rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who think they don't like modern art
Recommended to Andrea by: modern art class
Great text about the history of modern art, from the influence of the impressionists forward. It is fun to read, and does a good job of correlating the history of a given time to the ideology of a movement in art. If you think you don't like modern art, read this book!
Fraser Kinnear
Apr 11, 2013 Fraser Kinnear rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, culture, art
This was an epic read for me. I saw Hughes give an interview on Charlie Rose and kept his book in mind until I ran across it at my favorite book store in LA.

I've read a few art history books before, and this one stands out. Artists and movements flush together as Hughes never takes a break. What this torrent of information provides is an incredible sense of interconnectedness across art, as well as a clever narrative ploy to always keep me engaged. Few artists are treated with more than a page o
...more
Dan
Aug 05, 2007 Dan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in art
Robert Hughes does an excellent job at connecting several political movements, wars, and philosophical theories to several modern art movements. The book flows naturally through the major art movements of the the 20th century. Hughes ultimately attributes all modern art to the construction of the Eiffel Tower. A must read for modern art enthusiasts.
Steve
Aug 06, 2011 Steve rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was introduced to this book by my Art History professor. For anyone who has ever looked at modern art and said 'I don't get it', this book is for you. Hughes explains the cultural, political and societal factors that caused the modern art movement and why it matters.
E. Journey
Jun 09, 2015 E. Journey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to E. by: Rich
I read this book at least a dozen years ago and have since revisited passages in it many times. Hughes is a highly opinionated, but very thoughtful critic whose mastery of prose is at the level of G.K. Chesterton. A rather rare gift nowadays.

Hughes' critique of art is well worth the time it takes to wade through the nearly 450 pages of this book (and my old copy looks like it's 9x12 inches in size). But don't worry. It does have lots of reproductions to illustrate his judgement.

And that judgeme
...more
Stuart Woolf
This book was okay. I didn't know much about modern art before reading it and am not sure I learned what I wanted to learn: I suppose I was looking for a more singular / less disjointed narrative, and one that spent less time on the obvious. (The relationship between early modern art and machinery, or the manifestos of various movements, are not as interesting to me as, say, the artists themselves and why their ideas were influential - while others were not.)

Hughes makes the case that art and th
...more
Deirdre Smith
Jul 18, 2011 Deirdre Smith rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A wonderful, and relatively brief history of European and American Modernism. As Hughes admits in the Introduction, the scope of his narrative is limited. Originally conceived of as a BBC documentary, he mostly sticks to names you know. However, he brings an attention and a reverence to each that creates a vivid impression of these artists' individual and collective contributions to the movement. Rather than monolithic, this history and its figures are very consciously human in scale.

Where in hi
...more
Kaveri
Sep 10, 2007 Kaveri rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: art
the best introduction to modern art i know of. down-to-earth, witty and opinionated writing that manages to survey the main currents of modernism without the dumbing-down that surveys often resort to.
Terry
Dec 09, 2007 Terry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This book was my textbook for an art history course and I loved loved loved both the text and the course. This book is almost as exhausTING as it is exhausTIVE, but worth it if you're at all interested in "modern art".
David
Sep 19, 2012 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition


Educated, loving, pithy and aggressive description of aspects of the history of Modern Art. Great read.
G.G.
May 27, 2014 G.G. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-art
Wonderfully opinionated! Even if you can't always agree with Hughes, his writing pulses with energy and the ability to make you see the world differently.
Nikolas
Great, apart from his assertion that the last true work of political art was Picasso's Guernica.
Jonette
Jun 01, 2008 Jonette rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Hughes is a great writer! He makes art history enjoyable and undestandable...I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in modern art movements and their origins.
Orin
Nov 25, 2008 Orin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ideas
If you can pair this with the DVD of the 1980s PBS show, do it. You will soon be hearing Hughes' voice with every cranky insight.
Michael Norwitz
Feb 04, 2017 Michael Norwitz rated it it was amazing
Robert Hughes' history of modern art from its inception to the modern day (well, of 1980). Hughes is articulate, historically minded, analytic, and humorous. I'd consider it essential reading for anyone wanting an introduction to the form. I wish it had more color plates, although it's already a massive tome and to show prints of every work discussed would make it unweildable.
Esra
Mar 17, 2017 Esra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: illustrated
great reference book for western modern art, a pity it is not talking much about the Japanese, Chinese or in general world art scene
Idyll
May 11, 2016 Idyll rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ongoing-reading
I have been reading this book slowly over two months, like a sloth mulching on leaves, and alternating each chapter with the corresponding episode in the TV series. Sometimes I was so tuckered out after the double dose that I didn't want to have anything to do with art or politics or science for sometime. "No, the Large Hadron Collider does not look like a kaleidoscope, and I really don't care about supersymmetry or what we are made of. Leave me alone! I just want to go under a cold shower".

The
...more
Jeremy
Apr 15, 2014 Jeremy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sociological
A thoroughly engaging overview of SOME aspects of modern art. Hughes is erudite, opinionated and a bit crotchety, qualities that made him an excellent critic and observer. He also makes the wise choice of organizing each chapter around a thematic rather than chronological concern, showing linkages and influences between groups of artists that would get easily ignored in a more strictly linear narrative. Most importantly though, he finds ways of making the most cliched of modern works/styles enga ...more
Paula
Jan 07, 2017 Paula rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I’m reading and re-reading –I go so slowly forward, but I do not mind because each time I look over the words and pictures the delight of spending time with this book grows incommensurably. I am captivated by Hughes' writing style that contours astounding art imagery interspersed in time through various dimensions of our life: technology, political landscape, nature, music. This is one of the books that I must keep on the shelf labeled 'deeply loved'!
“As the most visible sign of the Future, the
...more
Moira Downey
Jun 15, 2012 Moira Downey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a fun primer on modern art from roughly 1880 through 1980. That said, it's a fairly introductory survey, taking generally no more than a few paragraphs to linger on any individual artist (though several are revisited from chapter to chapter). I enjoyed that the chapters treated thematically arranged subjects, rather than simply running through a chronological discussion of major works and movements from the last 100 years. Several points of interest for me included his look at German dad ...more
Alison
Oct 28, 2013 Alison rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: art-and-design
Of all the art that this book introduced me to, I most enjoyed:

Paul Cezanne's Mont Ste-Victoire, 1906
Robert Delaunay's Homage to Bleriot, 1914
Giacomo Balla's Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash, 1912
John Heartfield's Adolf the superman, 1932
Raoul Hausmann's The spirit of our time, 1921
Pablo Picasso's Guernica, 1937 (at last something I had seen before reading this book)
George's Seurat's A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, 1884-6
Claude Monet's Two Haystacks, 1891
Claude Monet's Rouen Cat
...more
Mark Noack
Nov 10, 2014 Mark Noack rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: art
It is difficult to rate this book only three stars, as when he is writing about art, Hughes is fascinating & perceptive; but this book is loaded with specious tangental ideology, speculation, errors, & apparently, unintentional irony. Just one example: Hughes writes, on Merit Oppenheim's 'Luncheon in Fur,' that it is the"most intense and abrupt image of Lesbian sex in the history of art." A handful of pages later he writes:"but Surrealism was only interested in one kind of sexual freedom ...more
Bryan Capitulo
Dec 29, 2016 Bryan Capitulo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
For years, I had often criticized and ridiculed those audiences who would immerse themselves in the forms of Modern Art. Whenever I would visit a Museum of Modern Art, it was difficult for me to rationalize these awkward creations - some of which I thought could be replicated by a child - and would often leave the place more so frustrated than inspired. Wanting to understand the medium, I looked to my art and literature professor and she recommended this book to me. It was an incredibly enlighte ...more
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Robert Studley Forrest Hughes, AO was an Australian art critic, writer and television documentary maker who has resided in New York since 1970. He was educated at St Ignatius' College, Riverview before going on to study arts and then architecture at the University of Sydney. At university, Hughes associated with the Sydney "Push" – a group of artists, writers, intellectuals and drinkers. Among the ...more
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“The basic project of art is always to make the world whole and comprehensible, to restore it to us in all its glory and its occasional nastiness, not through argument but through feeling, and then to close the gap between you and everything that is not you, and in this way pass from feeling to meaning. It's not something that committees can do. It's not a task achieved by groups or by movements. It's done by individuals, each person mediating in some way between a sense of history and an experience of the world.” 43 likes
“What has our culture lost in 1980 that the avant-garde had in 1890? Ebullience, idealism, confidence, the belief that there was plenty of territory to explore, and above all the sense that art, in the most disinterested and noble way, could find the necessary metaphors by which a radically changing culture could be explained to its inhabitants.” 32 likes
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