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The Painted Word

3.8 of 5 stars 3.80  ·  rating details  ·  3,609 ratings  ·  151 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

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Paperback, 112 pages
Published October 5th 1999 by Bantam (first published 1975)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jeff
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
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Cheri
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
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John Orman
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
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Jenna
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
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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.
Herb
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
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Elizabeth
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
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Kevin Tole
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
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Sara
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
James
Feb 11, 2008 James rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
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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
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Forrest
Nov 10, 2009 Forrest rated it 4 of 5 stars
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
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Mary
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
Norman
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
Nadine
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
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Mishehu
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...
Kathe Umlauf
Clear, concise writing and thinking about why much contemporary art has become the vast wasteland that it is. Why is empty, stupid, talentless art esteemed in certain galleries? There is a war of wills and philosophical posturing taking place in a culture that has lost is way. Because values and morals have become scattered and diminished, art follows, and has become the playground of those who can bully posture the most convincingly. Where there is money, there are those that would scheme to ge ...more
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
Kay
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.
Dfordoom
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.
Ryan
an amusing dissection of the movement of art theory, art criticism, and art movements in the 20th century and the movement of visual art from a visual medium to an altogether theory-based literary one. Disheartening, but at the very least amusing in it's interpretation of the absolute silly-ness of what constitutes the "Word" as Wolfe describes it; the scripture-esque theories and reductions of everything from the past which is to be negated.
At least illuminated the pettiness of what makes art c
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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
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Shane Saxon
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
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Noelle
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
Spencer
its a short read and hands down the best words ever written about art.
Gwen Burrow
Satire at its yummiest.
Andrea Cardinal
Irreverent re-read from undergrad. the beautiful theories. i actually do love the theories, but ultimately, he is right. the silent majority needs a referent, and i 100% back that, too.

"the classic case of the artist hopelessly stuck between the Boho Dance and the Consummation"
his description of how to reconcile the bourgeois art consumers with the bohemian artist politics is still relevant, and still no better achieved. unless you count democratic or craft forms of art, which again, I 100% bac
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Kenneth
An exceedingly funny satire of modern art.

The Painted Word coins the spirit of the whole enterprise.

Hype. The inside scoop displayed with canny wit. Blah.

Years later the spectacle of modern art is reaching absurd proportions.

A red square that passes for a profound conceptual scheme. A toilet signed by yours truly.

The illusion is in the concept bolstered by the eager plentitude of slavish art critics who yearn for the inner circle of opinion. Blah. Blah. Blah.

Words upon words upon words to keep
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Luc
Wolfe charts and satirizes the great American myth of modern art from the Fifties to the Seventies, yes. Le beau monde, Cultureburg, ie. Art is New York, ala Paris, viva la liberte! In keeping with an illustration of art critics' theories, Wolfe paints a naive albeit poignant portrait of art in America in its heyday, before the fall and the psycho corporate media agenda. Had I knew then what I know now, I might have seen through glazes and read the true colour of this work. We have no idea the s ...more
DoctorM
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
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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.”)” 0 likes
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