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What Are You Looking At?: The Surprising, Shocking, and Sometimes Strange Story of 150 Years of Modern Art

4.2  ·  Rating details ·  2,513 Ratings  ·  265 Reviews
For skeptics, art lovers, and the millions of us who visit art galleries every year—and are confused—What Are You Looking At? by former director of London’s Tate Gallery Will Gompertz is a wonderfully lively, accessible narrative history of Modern Art, from Impressionism to the present day.

What is modern art? Who started it? Why do we either love it or loathe it? And why
Hardcover, 464 pages
Published October 25th 2012 by Dutton (first published September 6th 2012)
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Feb 24, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Dutch title of the book is very different and had actually drawn me more towards the book then the English version: Dat kan mijn kleine zusje ook - Waarom moderne kunst kunst is hinting to the common view that much of modern, especially conceptual, art is a scam, something anyone could make or perform. Since I have had great trouble seeing the art in monocolored canvasses, pointless performances of dancing anorexics flinging about with dead animals, poo sculptures and many of the abstract fu ...more
Viviane Crystal
Oct 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Here is a comprehensive, readable book for those ranging from art lovers who those looking at modern art and thinking, "I don't have a clue to what this is!"

Beginning with a short overview of how art as investment increases for both living and dead artists, the author begins with the story of how Marcel Duchamp rocked the art world with his "Fountain," a urinal turned upside down with some drilled holes. The point? What do you see? The artist would say to keep looking and then the layers of mea
Macoco G.M.
Jan 07, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Si sois profanos en el arte como yo, os recomiendo este libro. Ameno y divertido, te da una visión general del arte contemporáneo.
Leo Robertson
Feb 21, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great light introduction to modern art. Compact and delivered with humour.

A bit like a hundred or so pamphlets that you'd pick up at a museum, all weaved together. Given this ambition, don't expect too much depth: it's clearly aimed at laymen like myself who want to give their jaw the capacity to drop a few mm more during their next art gallery visit.

On a different note: tell me these aren't art!
Nov 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
The author, Will Gompertz, is the BBC Arts editor and former director of London’s Tate Gallery. He takes us on a tour of modern art that is chronologically arranged, but focused on the question of what constitutes “art” and how that idea has unfolded over time.

He includes a lot of fascinating gossip and background about the artists of the “modern” period, and very informative vignettes about how they influenced one another. The competitive Picasso, in particular, responded to the achievements of
Aug 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: art
Огляд мистецьких рухів від імпресіоністів до пост-постмодернізму чи як там назвати наші дні. Про базові імена нічого нового не вичитала, себто особливо несподіваного чи глибокого аналізу там нема, але якщо потрібен сумлінний дуже базовий огляд, то це цілком воно. Щоб читач не нудьгував, приправлено жартами штибу "Nowadays the word 'genius' is bandied around like a joint at a 1970s rock festival" і мнемоніками на кшталт "У кубізмі немає кубів, навпаки: кубізм визнає двовимірну природу полотна й к ...more
Petruccio Hambasket IV
Basically a "Modern Art For Dummies" (like me). Entirely unpretentious in tone and form; I learned very much from this easy reading book. On the back cover it says that Gompertz is the world's first self proclaimed "art-history stand-up comedian". After reading that I thought that maybe this book would be too digressive, structurally disjointed, and perhaps even unlearned: which all seemed unappealing to me at the time, since I was looking to find a more comprehensive survey. My fears were extin ...more
Peter Mcloughlin
I really enjoy modern art and I enjoyed this book. It makes sense of the many movements and styles developed it the arts since the mid nineteenth century. I like that the author wrote in an easy style that was free of pretension that can characterize some art history. This book makes modern art more easily understood and appreciated. I have more to say about each movement in my status updates but in general I really liked this book.
Sarthak Pranit
Oct 26, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, societal
I am an art novice. And, trust me, even that is an overstatement.

Being educated since birth in the sciences as an Indian kid you often lose touch with that side of yours which could possibly be beyond equations. And the slowly murdering bitch that time is, I just let go a desire to even appreciate or bother myself with the question 'Is this art?'.

After moving to Amsterdam, my inquisitiveness about art remained superficial despite having all of Europe's art at disposal to look at, contemplate, t
Rupert Denton
Dec 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is the book I've been waiting for. I have spent the last few years trying to self-educate on art and art history, secreted away in art-gallery bookstores poring over coffee table books, artists' biographies and compendiums on modern and contemporary art. I've been three valiant attempts at Gombrich's momentous work, The Story of Art, but Gompertz' book has been my breakthrough.

He commands an extraordinary scope and breadth of knowledge beginning with the Impressionists and ending c. 2008 (w
May 15, 2017 rated it liked it
So many pieces of artwork are referenced in this book that I need to read it with Google to look them up. It would have been great if copies of them were included in the book.
Jun 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have visited wonderful museums of modern art. And if I was asked what I would change in my life if I could, I would definetely choose reading this book BEFORE going to MoMA and Stedelijk.
Feb 09, 2014 marked it as on-hold  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, art, museums, 2014
Atrt is quite possibly one of the most subjective topics there is. It affects, inspired, and disgusts equally and differently for everyone involved. But until the mid-1800's there were some generally accepted rules that artists followed - but since then that idea has been shot down utterly and completely by modern and contemporary art but not before completely offending and confusing the entire world.

The trouble started for the Impressionists when they fell foul of Paris's all-powerful and stu
Jan 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
i cannot really express how much i enjoyed, and valued, this book. although i expect i was a leg up having been an art major i don't think he was anticipating my knowledge, the author describes almost every work and pictures are provided for many so it never felt like i ought-to-know a work.

in addition even as someone with an arts background i felt this book did a good job of showing you the flow from one period to another, and best of all when they overlapped which was always something i strug
the gift
well it is not necessarily five, this fits it on favoritenonfiction, but as general, intelligent, not hermetic, not specialist, introduction to art history of the modern era. so the appreciation is on the same level as intro philosophical texts: this makes you want to read on, want to see the works. and of course, there are the limitations of the media. two-dimensional visual art mostly, in small plates, small images, some art more recent being conceptual, performance, multimedia, sculpture, but ...more
Dec 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
ah hell, i wrote up a very nice synop and gr ate it. but a fine fine look at modern art as gompertz is funny, can write clearly and tie things together well, things being friendships, money, critics, movements, philosophies, styles, . if you need one book of art history of last 150 years, this would be a great addition.
btw some people really really hate gompertz and dis him like he's the worst boogie man ever to have had an opinion about art. not sure why some hate his guts so much, but i reall
Jun 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Didáctico y entretenido, las letras y las imágenes fluyen rápidamente frente a uno. Ojo, luego de leer este libro, difícilmente se vuelve a ver el arte e inclusive objetos y espacios cotidianos de la misma manera. Realmente llega a la psique para instalarse ahí.
Feb 06, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm really glad I read this book. It is slow at times, but it is fulfilling.
Jan 26, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: arte
Muy entretenido para entender un poco aquello que promete en el título
Oct 17, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Книга написана цікаво і зовсім нестандартно, не так, як підручники. Автор дуже цікаво подає історію сучасного мистецтва, переплітаючи її із всім, що було пов'язане - політика та історія, мода, архітектура і т.д.
В автора хороший гумор і немає фанатичної нав'язливості спеціаліста. В міру інформації, читати зовсім не нудно "чайнику"
Раджу почитати для саморозвитку.
Alice Malahova
May 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you do not know nothing about the art except names and some pictures of Van Gogh and Picasso, this book will give you a lot of simple, interesting and structured information about the art, its’ creators, and its’ meaning. Strongly recommend this book to everyone + it’s good present for any person.
Mar 07, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recorrido de 150 años de historia del arte narrados con un estilo muy ameno, estableciendo relaciones entre obras del pasado y del presente. Los artistas son presentados con entusiasmo y cariño, que se transmite al lector. Una buena manera de aprender sobre el tema.
Honza Marcinek
Feb 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Konečně mi někdo vysvětlil moderní umění, před kterým jsem občas nechápavě stál v galeriích a přemýšlel, co se tím básník, tedy umělec, snažil říct. Do detailu sepsaná kniha, která vám pomůže přijít modernímu umění na kloub a vysvětlit, na co se to vlastně díváme (takže název knihy je přesný). A já se teď těším, až navštívím nějakou další výstavu a budu moc studovat umělecká díla novým pohledem.
Jan 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excellent introduction for the fan of modern art who doesn’t know enough about it to understand why.
Библия о "измах" искусства XX века.
Muy buen libro para principiantes en el arte moderno. Yo he aprendido muchas cosas que no sabía y me he quedado con ganas de aprender más de algunos artistas modernos.
Nov 09, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: art, non-fiction
The author is an art-world version of Alton Brown: very knowledgeable but incredibly irritating. I certainly have a better understanding of the progression of art through the twentieth century and today, but I cringed a lot to get here. I came out of this with more respect for Duchamp, who is the only one after the Picasso era who seems to have had truly original ideas. Plus he sounds like the the only one of these artists I'd want to hang out with.
Feb 14, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: art
As far as I'm concerned, this started out much better than it ended. That goes for this book and for art movements of the last 100 years.

I found it interesting his explanation of how Degas differed from the other impressionists. He did not work rapidly, he preferred the studio to plein air, and while the others were focused on ever-changing light, his focus was on the illusion of movement. He also was an outstanding draftsman, which the others were not.

I knew that about this time, art dealers be
Maksym Valevatiy
Oct 15, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Головний герой гарної книги з'являється таким чином:
"В половине двенадцатого с северо-запада, со стороны деревни Чмаровки, в Старгород вошел молодой человек лет двадцати восьми. За ним бежал беспризорный."
Приблизно так починається перша глава - з того, як Марсель Дюшан під час прогулянки Нью Йорком вигадав свій "Фонтан". Дюшан - найбільш згадувана особа у всій книзі. Сезан та Пікасо заздрять.
Я гадаю, що сучасному буму нон-фікшн ми завдячуємо, зокрема, сторітелінгу. Автори активно розповідають і
Aug 10, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: art
Among the many good - and not-so-good - books one reads, there's the occasional outstanding one. One like this.
Without getting too lyrical, the writer is able to give meaning to artistic movements of the past 100 years, an association I last heard my teacher aesthetics making in times when aesthetics teachers are not particularly a point of reference. But nothing less has been achieved.

I happened to be on holiday in Oslo at the time I finished the book.
If anything is to be seen in Oslo, it's mod
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“Art is always to an extent about trying to create order out of chaos.” 5 likes
“Henri Rousseau was a simple, poorly educated man with an air of innocent naïveté. The Montmartre crowd gave him the nickname “Le Douanier,” meaning “customs officer,” referring to his job as a tax collector.” 2 likes
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