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The Painted Word

3.8  ·  Rating Details ·  4,512 Ratings  ·  190 Reviews
From the fuliginous flatness of the fifties to the pop op minimal sixties, right on through the now-you-see-it-now-you-don't seventies, Tom Wolfe debunks the great American myth of modern art in an incandescent, hilarious and devastating blast. "The Painted Word" is scandalous!
Hardcover, 128 pages
Published January 1st 1975 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Glenn Russell
Aug 30, 2015 Glenn Russell rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Jack the Dripper, the king of Abstract Expressionism, an art movement author Tom Wolfe didn't hold in high regard

You will be hard-pressed to find a more lively, wittier book on the phenomenon of modern art than Tom Wolfe’s “The Painted Word,” a 100-page romp through the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s where the author jabs his sharp satirical needle with signature debunking flare into Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, Op Art, Minimalism and Conceptual Art. And that’s ‘Painted Word’ as in Wolfe’s epiphany
Sep 07, 2012 Jeff rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Wolfe’s basic premise here is that Art critics/theorists single-handedly devolved modern art and made a gorilla like Jackson Pollack’s paintings worth millions. Ugh!! You see, unlike say a book or movie, art doesn’t need the common man’s approval in order to be “good”, “worthy”, or popular.

When I lived in New York, I liked to take dates (including the future Mrs. Jeff) to the Modern Museum of Art. I would bone up on modern art with this book, so I could dazzle my dates with shallow insight, and
Jul 05, 2007 Cheri rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: art-related
Wonderful little witty book about a specific moment in art history. I'm normally not a great Tom Wolfe fan, but the book does ring true, even though it does simplify things greatly.

If one likes the art that Wolfe takes apart, you might find yourself inclined to dislike the book without giving what he's saying enough consideration. He makes some absolutely valid points and more importantly, he hints at a broader trend - the rift between the public viewer and the insular art world. Here, I think
Feb 15, 2010 Jenna rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'll need to hear other perspectives before I can decide whether I'm wholly convinced by Wolfe's argument. His main argument is that Modern Art sucks because it is fueled more by Art Theory than by the spirit of Art itself. He directs most of his satirical ammunition at the time period from Abstract Expressionism onward, arguing that during this epoch the Artists unwittingly became adjuncts of the Art Theorists, rather than the other way around (the way it should be).

Wolfe also tries to better d
Feb 16, 2014 Herb rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Wolfe's argument in this short, entertaining, and completely wrong-headed polemic is based on the idea that the non-representational art of the last 100 or so years is a hoax because it can only be appreciated by those who have learned and agree with various abstract theories.

Wolfe is much more supportive of various flavors of representational art of the same period and the preceding centuries because he thinks this art can be appreciated without depending on theories.

The basic fallacy of this
John Orman
Jan 15, 2013 John Orman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am writing a much longer and more detailed review than usual because I plan to attend a local book club's upcoming meeting to discuss this nonfiction book.

Tom Wolfe's small but potent book charts the course of Modern Art. The stylistic writing is as witty and provocative as Wolfe's earlier book "Radical Chic."

The genesis of the book's title stems from a revelation that Wolfe obtained from an art exhibit's 1974 review in the New York Times. The critic had basically stated that to view art witho
David Gross
Liked it lots, but I always feel a little gypped when a publisher puffs up what amounts to a magazine feature’s worth of words with a big font, generous line-spacing and margins, and some illustrations, to make it just big enough to put legible text on the spine so they can sell it as a book.
Wolfe does have a zounds-slap-lightning way with phrases! I liked these: "the Uptown Museum-Gallery Complex," and, referring to deKooning and Pollack: "furious swipes of brush on canvas, ... splatters of unchained id."
You have to appreciate Wolfe for his bluster and charming if irritating and irascible ability to simplify everything to the level of the five-year-old, which is about the age of his persona as an essay writer, esp. circa 1974, when he wrote this. Nevertheless I was inspired to rea
Kevin Tole
May 09, 2013 Kevin Tole rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Tom Wolfe rips the pish out of art critics using their own chosen weapon - the word.
This was probably about round 6 of a 12 rounder between painting and theory. Up to this pont Theory had been winning every round and it looked like painting was going to have to throw in the towel and abandon the title. Wolfe stepped into Painting's corner and this round was a decisive winner.
Nobody seems to know what the final outcome of the Championship bout was..... but Painting is still alive and going from
Oct 30, 2011 Sara rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a very interesting read - Tom Wolfe talks about how modern art moved away from being a visual experience and started to be a reaction of what the critics were saying and it all culminated with conceptual art (I happen to like conceptual art, but I agree that it is less "artistic" in the classic sense of the word). Among the many artists he grills, Wolfe practically skewers Jackson Pollock and says that his art was a mere creation at the request of what the galleries wanted and that lead ...more
May 14, 2013 Kate rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Tom Wolfe has mastered the art of being shocked and horrified at the mundane and obvious. This book has the character of a child that has discovered some new situation and, misconstruing it, lets forth a torrent of outrage without insight. His assault on 'theory' only demonstrates the necessity of substance to fill out style.
Mark Taylor
Mar 20, 2016 Mark Taylor rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Tom Wolfe takes on the art world! Tom Wolfe critiques the leading theories in contemporary art! Tom Wolfe tells you all about the different stages of being an artist, from the Boho Dance to the Consummation which ensures critical success! Tom Wolfe takes on the mysteries of abstract art! You can imagine him, can’t you, in his pristine white suit, squinting close at an abstract canvas up on the wall of some Seventh Avenue gallery uptown, one of those galleries that doesn’t want to look like they’ ...more
Jan 28, 2008 James rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in art or writing
Recommended to James by: random find in bookstore
If your interest is writing or art, you’ll enjoy The Painted Word by Tom Wolf. If you like both, then this irreverent, little book will make you laugh, nod in agreement, or cry out in protest. You definitely won’t be bored. This is Wolf at the top of his game and you’ll find yourself constantly reading passages aloud to anyone within earshot.

First published in 1975, Wolf decomposes modern art movements in a way that is both enlightening and entertaining. His clever style provides the reader wit
Jan 02, 2017 JabJo rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this when I was very young, in my late teens. I thought it was terrific. It was witty, critical, satirical, and poked a lot of fun at the community of artists, collectors, dealers and fashionable rich people with terrible tastes. It was a quick and dirty easy read.

At that time, my idea of 'good' art ended at about 1930. Now, years later, as I see how art has developed over time, yes, we still have the superficial trendies and of course the overblown world of art as investment. But the art
Jan 23, 2009 Mary rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Painted Word is primarily a book about the rise of modern art—and art theory. (It also feels as if it’s a little bit about Tom Wolfe, too, but then, what book of his doesn’t feel that way?) Still, it’s an engaging read, filled with Wolfe’s studied observations and dripping with a detached bemusement toward the twisted subculture of art. Fortunately, The Painted Word is also filled with fascinating character sketches of the artists themselves. One of the most compelling—and oft repeated—argum ...more
Петър Стойков
Какво, мамка му, стана?

Какво се случи с изобразителното изкуство през последния век? Кога красивите тела на класическите скулптури и ренесансовите художници изчезнаха от картините и бяха заместени първо с изкривени, уродливи чудовища, а после с безсмислени абстракции? Кога "картина", състояща се от една червена линия на син фон придоби цена от $60 млн.?

Ако, като мен, си задавате тия въпроси, Том Улф има отговор на тях, само не знам дали ще ви хареса. С огромна вещина и познаване на дълбините и
Nov 07, 2009 Forrest rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: artists
Damn! Goodreads ate my review.... crapola.

This is a cynical and insightful description of some of the forces behind 'success' in art, mostly centered in mid-last-century. It was recommended to me by two friends who are both professional artists. One is a sculptor and my mentor, and the other a painter. In my subjective view, they should both be rich and famous, or at least a lot richer and a lot more famous. How is it that folks with mastery of their media never attain the absurd success of Jack
Kathe Umlauf
Jul 16, 2015 Kathe Umlauf rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Clear, concise writing and thinking about why much contemporary art has become the vast wasteland that it is. Why is empty, meaningless, talentless art esteemed in certain galleries? There is a war of wills and philosophical posturing taking place in a culture that has lost it's philosophical moorings. Because contemporary values and morals have been influenced by the existentialism and relativism of the 1960's meaningfulness has become scattered and diminished, and art follows. Because a firm v ...more
Jun 11, 2007 Norman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A highly entertaining critique of the modern art world. It reads casual --like a conversation you'd have with an old, cranky (yet rather wise) New Yorker on a Sunday stroll through the villages, through Union Square and up Fifth avenue all the way to the Met. Lots of belly-laugh material along the way...but, it's ultimately quite sad and disturbing that art standards went off-the-radar in such an absurd manner and to such a great degree-- that such a book as this could written (and true to reali ...more
I'm never sure what to think about "The Painted Word"...or about Wolfe. Is it hilarious? Absolutely. Does he make some wonderfully cynical points as a social satirist? Yes. He always does. But just as with "Bauhaus To Our House", I just find that in the end, there's less than meets the eye. Had "Painted Word" been a novel...things would be different. There's wonderful material here for a comic novel about the art world and art criticism. But as a quasi-history...hmmm. No. Wolfe manages to attack ...more
Apr 01, 2013 Nadine rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I haven't read Tom Wolfe in quite awhile, and I forgot how razor sharp his prose could be. This particular book takes on the modern art world. Mr. Wolfe is not a fan of that world, but he describes how art theory started driving art creation in the twentieth century.

He did get me thinking, and feeling somewhat relieved. I've been to MoMA several times for specific exhibits, but sometimes left just shaking my head and thinking it was me. As usual, Mr. Wolfe attacks pretentiousness will full front
Aug 28, 2011 Dfordoom rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, art
A glorious hatchet job on modernist art. Wolfe's main point is that most schools of modernist art cannot be appreciated unless you first understand the theory behind them, which makes the art itself pretty much irrelevant. It's all about the theory. Wolfe is delightfully vicious and highly entertaining.
Even at 99 quick reading pages, this one felt a little over-boiled to me. It's for serious modern art/art theory aficionados to judge whether it's the brilliant satire that many professional reviewers say it is. Found it mildly amusing myself. But then, I'm a total Neanderthal...
its a short read and hands down the best words ever written about art.
Jul 08, 2014 Kaethe rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, art
Tom Wolfe waxes snarky about Modern Art. He hates everything, but he's funny about it.
Gwen Burrow
Apr 19, 2011 Gwen Burrow rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Satire at its yummiest.
Oct 19, 2016 Cy rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: art
I would have enjoyed the entertainment value of this book more had it not been based on bollocks.

In essence, Wolfe argues that abstract art can only be enjoyed by those who are familiar with its theoretical underpinnings, so really it’s an art world hoax. As pointed out in other reviews on this page, this idea is based on a fallacy – Wolfe ignores that the representational art he prefers is also dependent on theories (which he has passively absorbed and so mistakenly thinks of as the natural or
Kiely Marie
Nov 20, 2016 Kiely Marie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: art-books
A really interesting look at the creation of Modern Art in America; sometimes a bit too clever and flippant for my liking, though.
Maxwell Foley
In my experience pursuing art as one half of my double major, I have primarily developed an increasing appreciation for the depth of human hypocrisy. For starters, Marxist theory is regularly thrown at us in order to validate the artistic principles at work in the modern gallery, and yet it is nakedly obvious at least to me that the mere existence of a category of "fine art" which operates on certain principles one must learn in school is one that primarily serves to create class distinctions.

Susan Skelly
Jan 14, 2017 Susan Skelly rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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Wolfe was educated at Washington and Lee Universities and also at Yale, where he received a PhD in American studies.

Tom Wolfe spent his early days as a Washington Post beat reporter, where his free-association, onomatopoetic style would later become the trademark of New Journalism. In books such as The Electric Koolaid Acid Test, The Right Stuff, and The Bonfire of the Vanities, Wolfe delves into
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“First you do everything possible to make sure your world is antibourgeois, that it defies bourgeois tastes, that it mystifies the mob, the public, that it outdistances the insensible middle-class multitudes by light-years of subtlety and intellect—and then, having succeeded admirably, you ask with a sense of See-what-I-mean? outrage: look, they don’t even buy our products! (Usually referred to as “quality art.”)” 4 likes
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