Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Painted Word” as Want to Read:
The Painted Word
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Painted Word

3.80  ·  Rating Details  ·  4,134 Ratings  ·  168 Reviews

"America's nerviest journalist" (Newsweek) trains his satirical eye on Modern Art in this "masterpiece" (The Washington Post)

Wolfe's style has never been more dazzling, his wit never more keen. He addresses the scope of Modern Art, from its founding days as Abstract Expressionism through its transformations to Pop, Op, Minimal, and Conceptual. This is Tom Wolfe "at his m

Paperback, 112 pages
Published October 5th 1999 by Bantam (first published 1975)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Painted Word, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Painted Word

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Glenn Russell
Aug 30, 2015 Glenn Russell rated it it was amazing

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 whilst reading an article in the Sunday New York Times Arts & Leisure section containing these words: “Modern
Aug 31, 2015 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
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
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
Jan 07, 2016 Herb rated it did not like it
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
Apr 22, 2013 John Orman rated it really liked it
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.
Jul 18, 2007 Elizabeth rated it liked it
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
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
Feb 11, 2008 James rated it it was amazing
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
Петър Стойков
May 24, 2015 Петър Стойков rated it really liked it
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
Mark Taylor
Mar 25, 2016 Mark Taylor rated it really liked it
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
May 14, 2013 Kate rated it did not like it
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.
Kathe Umlauf
Sep 30, 2015 Kathe Umlauf rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 10, 2009 Forrest rated it really liked it
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
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
Jan 23, 2009 Mary rated it really liked it
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
Jun 11, 2007 Norman rated it really liked it
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
Apr 12, 2013 Nadine rated it liked it
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
Jun 11, 2014 Mishehu rated it liked it
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...
Procyon Lotor
Arguta spiegazione, nel consueto stile wolfiano, una sontuosa ripassatina depilatoria al rasoio, di come all'Arte (figurativa) si siano sostituiti i discorsi sulla medesima, di chi stato - soprattutto americani, anzi newyorkesi, di chi ci ha fatturato sopra, del come il pubblico sia stato brutalmente scisso in fruitori (paganti, nonch scopanti ragazzi e ragazze dell'entourage) e amateurs (al massimo comprano le riviste o i quotidiani, e anche drogandosi non li scopano mai) e di qualche modesta ...more
Aug 28, 2011 Dfordoom rated it it was amazing
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.
Stacy Cabrera
"Did I hear the word 'flat'? -- well, try to out-flat this, you young Gotham rascals! Thus was born an offshoot of Abstract Expressionism known as the Washington School. A man from Mars or Chester, PA., incidentally, would have looked at a Morris Louis painting and seen rows of rather watery-looking stripes."

The Painted Word, p. 53

Enjoyable read - quite snarky. While I do enjoy modern art exhibits at museums, I often find myself questioning the legitimacy of many-a-piece's aesthetic value (*coug
Shane Saxon
Jan 04, 2014 Shane Saxon rated it it was ok
I picked up “The Painted Word” on the recommendation of Eric Metaxes because he said it was just a “ridiculous” (and, he meant that in a good way) treatise on modern art. But, overall I was disappointed by this little book.
Tom Wolfe sets out to expose the hypocrisy and ludicrous nature of the modern art movement. Starting with what he calls the “apache dance,” the process young, rebellious artists much embrace in order to weasel their way to the top of the art world, and ending with the minimal
Jan 12, 2014 Noelle rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, 2014
This book was recommended to me by a friend after I saw Robert Ryman's work "Twin" at MoMA last fall. If you haven't yet had the pleasure of seeing this work of "art" - look it up. It is profoundly moving. Not to give anything away, but the artist basically reduced his painting style to white squares. At some point, all of his work, was JUST WHITE F*CKING SQUARES. And one of these is proudly hanging in MoMA. Technically, this work is labeled a "minimalist" work of art. I call it an "Emperor has ...more
Jul 08, 2014 Kaethe rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, art
Tom Wolfe waxes snarky about Modern Art. He hates everything, but he's funny about it.
May 11, 2008 Spencer rated it it was amazing
its a short read and hands down the best words ever written about art.
Gwen Burrow
Apr 20, 2011 Gwen Burrow rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Satire at its yummiest.
Apr 22, 2016 June rated it it was amazing
[SPOILERS] Tom Wolfe’s satire of modern art through the 70’s is the best book I have read in a long time! His cheeky tone and brilliant diction are endlessly entertaining. Perusing my way through this well-composed jewel of a book, I laughed out loud at his description of the feuding tri-Bergs (as I call them), and nodded in agreement over his disgust at the uncomfortable fact that, throughout history, the artists that ended up making their mark were essentially hand-picked favorites of an afflu ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Art and Culture: Critical Essays
  • Culture Counts: Faith and Feeling in a World Besieged
  • Air Guitar: Essays on Art and Democracy
  • Arcimboldo (Taschen Basic Art)
  • The Accidental Masterpiece: On the Art of Life and Vice Versa
  • Andy Warhol
  • Utopia Parkway: The Life and Work of Joseph Cornell
  • Vitamin D: New Perspectives in Drawing
  • The Man Who Made Vermeers: Unvarnishing the Legend of Master Forger Han van Meegeren
  • After Modern Art, 1945-2000
  • Modernism: The Lure of Heresy from Baudelaire to Beckett and Beyond
  • Culture of Complaint: The Fraying of America (American Lectures)
  • The Success and Failure of Picasso
  • The Guerrilla Girls' Bedside Companion to the History of Western Art
  • Art Forms in Nature
  • Greek Art
  • The Story of Painting
  • The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art
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
More about Tom Wolfe...

Share This Book

“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.”)” 2 likes
More quotes…