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

3.81 of 5 stars 3.81  ·  rating details  ·  10,142 ratings  ·  70 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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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
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
At the Tate Gallery in Liverpool last Friday I achieved a rare treble - on display there was a monochrome black canvas by Reinhardt I think, a white canvas by some other goon and - yes - an Yves Klein "International Klein Blue" monochrome! I prostrated myself before these mighty works, glad to be alive at such a moment of high culture.
That night I had a dream. There was a giant bonfire and I was happily slinging many modernist masterpieces onto it, singing a rude song called "Jackson Pollock w...more
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
Mar 12, 2008 Andrea rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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
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
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
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
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
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.
Deirdre Smith
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
Aug 05, 2007 Dan rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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.
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".
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.
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.
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.

Educated, loving, pithy and aggressive description of aspects of the history of Modern Art. Great read.
Great, apart from his assertion that the last true work of political art was Picasso's Guernica.
Martin Fox
The Shock ofthe New is about just that: since Duchamp, 'art' has been trying to do just the one thing, shock us. Not all Art, of course, but this has been the leading trend, and the best-earning artists mostly seem to conform to this fashion, Hirst on top.

This book takes a distanced view of the topic; it does not go as far as to condemn this craze (and no more than a long-lasting craze it is), but, read carefully, gets close to that. Cynicism, on the other hand, is not easily perceived by thos...more
Moira Downey
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
Modern Art was pretty much a mystery to me until I read this book for my Fine Art degree. I love the way Hughes writes, and the way he makes art seem like such a vital expression of the times the artists lived in.

Hughes does not look at things chronologically but instead in terms of themes, although that's a simplistic way of viewing the lens through which he studies the art of this century.

I particularly enjoyed his chapter The View From the Edge, where he begins with Van Gogh and Munch and e...more
"fischl's work...smells of unwashed dog, barbecue lighter fluid, and sperm"...

...robert hughes at his best with colorfully descriptive prose. originally a bbc documentary, hughes tackles the rise and fall of modernism with absolute joy and admiration for some artists, encouraging you to sit next to him and smile agreeingly, all while setting fire to the stilts that prop up the late/post modernists. it ends with enjoyably sharp criticism of the gluttonous condition of art schools, recycled rhetor...more
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.
The book provides a good and well written introduction to modern art: paintings, design, architecture, etc.

The many pictures visualize the theories of the author and familiarize the reader with modern art, even if the latter has no rich history of visiting musea of modern art.

Hughes identifies a selection of broad themes. Some are dealt with in a chronological order. Each topic is associated with a selection of representative artists: impact of technology on society, art and politics (fascism, c...more
Sep 26, 2012 Kathleen rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: artists
Shelves: art, biography, 2012
Robert Hughes died, so I got this book from the library. I didn't know or love Hughes, so this is just about the book, not his illustrious career as an intellectual. Wow! I love this. It's an art history of the 20th century. Hughes loves the beginning -- Impressionism -- and hates the end -- big $$$ for little art. I wish I'd copied quotes; every sentence has layers: art underpinned by history and philosophy -- not to mention Hughes' often funny and always deep-seated opinions. I'd love to see t...more
I think this book is excellent. Obviously, there are limits to what one can learn given the extremely broad scope of the book--i.e., "modern art," which, for Hughes, goes back as far as the late Impressionists--so there's more on grand themes and trends than there is on detailed analysis of any given work. So I don't get as much as I'd like of an education in how to look at paintings. But, as I say, I think that's more a limitation of the scope of the work than any fault of Hughes's. As a relati...more
A heavy - literally and figuratively - book about twentieth century art. Hughes guides the reader through modernism and grapples with the question of whether or not art can influence society. His voice is insightful, witty, and confident. The book is divided into eight chapters (which each correspond to installments in a BBC series that predates the book) that more or less focus on the various twentieth century "movements" (though Hughes seems to balk at the idea of a strict separation along the...more
Jul 29, 2010 h rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to h by: Gigi
Shelves: 2010, library, art
Lavish and comprehensive look at a century of Western art. Hughes is entertaining and erudite to the teeth. Every page is perfect. I've learned more about art from this one book than I think I could have done by years of study. My sincere thanks to Gina for the recommendation.

"If you ask where is the Picasso of England or the Ezra Pound of France, there is only one probable answer: still in the trenches." (59)

"But one of the greatest modern architects, Le Corbusier, thought otherwise. He called...more
Paul Hebron
Great guide through modern art by Robert Hughes, with lots of nice pictures (which might sound stupid but how often can you look at a glossy, properly coloured print of a great painting?). The book makes a good companion to the tv series, but isn't really a substitute as the series is good stuff. Hughes is a good writer; he doesn't sound like he speaks from authority, but from somewhere deeply contemplative. Will definitely be grabbing a few more art books, and certainly more of Hughes' writings...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.” 30 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.” 20 likes
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