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Why Your Five-Year-Old Could Not Have Done That: Modern Art Explained

3.34  ·  Rating details ·  650 ratings  ·  91 reviews
Come on, you know you've thought it--while viewing a masterpiece of abstract art, you mutter, "A kid could do that." Here Susie Hodge, author of How to Survive Modern Art, explains why the best examples of modern art are actually the result of sophisticated thought and serious talent. From Marcel Duchamp's notorious Fountain and the scribbles of Cy Twombly to Mark Rothko's ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published September 25th 2012 by Prestel Publishing (first published 2012)
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Why I Could Not Have Written This - PG / R rated review

I enjoy visiting art exhibitions, but I do so in an experiential, rather than an intellectual, way. I wander the galleries, looking, feeling, and listening, but without much knowing. (I long to touch as well, especially sculpture.)

Classical, representational art often seems relatively easy to understand: a Venetian merchant, with age etched on his face, wealth displayed in the richly textured and decorated fabrics, and a view of St Mark’s gl
Hal Johnson
Jan 15, 2015 rated it did not like it
“The painting seems to be the type of random arrangement that a five-year-old might come up with. However, it emerged from the mind of an intellectual” (p64); this is only the most annoying of innumerable nearly identical statements in this book that confuse what an artist produces and what an artist claims to be producing.

“So although this work might initially appear to be a childish scrawl, it actually conveys the preoccupations of the time” (p71), Hodge writes, actually citing the artist’s s
Justin Evans
May 03, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays, history-etc
I was visiting the Guggenheim in Venice over the Christmas break; on holidays I tend to make over-emotional decisions about all kinds of things, so it makes sense that at that wonderful building I wanted to buy a book. I chose this one, because it was cheap, and promised easy reading.

So Hodge had to do literally nothing to keep me on team Modernist. I like modern and postmodern art; I have some grasp of what 20th century artists were/are trying to do. The book is nicely laid out: nice reproduct
Katheryn Thompson
I bought this book in the Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow, as an art-lover who has always been sceptical about modern art. And I'm glad that I did.

'Why your five year old could not have done that' includes 100 pieces of modern art, with brief information about the artist and the artwork, including the artist's influences and motivation. While the book did not persuade me that a five year old could not have created most of the pieces of art, I loved the title nonetheless, and it did persuade me
Anna C
Mar 22, 2016 rated it did not like it
Or to be more accurate with the title:

"Alright, your five-year-old could indeed have done this, but they couldn't have done it while thinking about capitalism."

Facile, un-nuanced, redundant, overtly reliant on the intentional fallacy, and likely to confirm a skeptic's belief that children could do it all.

Jul 23, 2015 rated it did not like it
The problem with this book is that often the answer why your 5 year could not have done that, is contradicted by the fact that they could have, and this is something that the author readily acknowledges. I think the point trying to be made is that the art represents something more than what is immediately obvious (or is supposed to) and that is what makes it art. However, if your fall back explanation is that the art in question has several layers and represents a backlash to consumerism with wi ...more
People say you can't stumble over new discoveries online the way you can find them in an actual bookstore or library, but I stumbled across this book while trying to find a different book in my library's online system, and I'm glad I did. I learned about some of my favorite artists (Claes Oldenburg, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Louise Bourgeois) and some ones I had never heard of (Pipilotti Rist's Massachusetts Chandelier is great).

Also, I love that there's an entire chapter on tantrums.
Jun 25, 2019 rated it liked it
I like modern art but this book doesn’t do it any favours, the tone is kind of pompous mentioning lots of isms with out ever explaining them. The answer to why a 5 year old couldn’t have done this is mostly because a 5 year old didn’t do it.
Natty S
May 24, 2021 rated it it was ok
Lazy, jargon-ridden, and so far up its own ass it reeks of bullshit (sometimes literally! -- though I liked the canned shit piece). At the end of the day art, including modern art, is a language and what I had hoped with this book was to get an introduction to the grammar and vocabulary or even just a translation of modern art. But nope. Hodges basically marries a superficial twentieth-century art survey (complete with all the untranslated jargon like "Fauvism" and "postminimalism") with a whiny ...more
this book has been on my shelf for the past 5 years. i have finally finished it - yay me! interesting read. half of me is like, 'oooh cool insight i would not have been able to get by myself,' and the other half of me is like, 'man art is so much bs. seriously how does one art????' ...more
Maxime Ouellet-payeur
Feb 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: art
I don't always understand modern art. This book helps ...more
Have always struggled to fully understand contemporary art, can confidently say I still don’t 😂 Was great to read about the history and the meanings of all the pieces along with the artists behind them. However, I still believe aesthetically some pieces are just madness💥
Leo Robertson
Apr 07, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Oops forgot to rate this...

This is an excellent light introduction to about a century's worth of art.

The title and concept I suspect were something invented by the publisher and not the author herself. There is a bubble beneath each piece of artwork explaining how a five year-old might have dreamt up the art pictured-- something the reader could do for themselves-- then going on to explain why it means more, something that the body of the text already did. I stopped reading these patronising lit
Jun 07, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Hodge’s writing and analysis: 4.5 stars
The ‘Why Your Five Year Old Could Not Have Done That’ question and answer she replies on every. single. page: 1 star

This book is great for people with an interest and respect for modern artists; Hodge is clearly a brilliant art writer, shown where she analyses the pieces. It’s something that would be really helpful to art students or fans of art that want to know more about these well-known pieces. However, her passion and talent is wasted on each paragraph
May 17, 2020 rated it it was ok
A very good replacement for a museum visit during pandemic. The reading experience is a bit like going through a gallery, watching the exhibits, and reading little clumps of text with commentary available in some museums. I really missed it under the lock down! I really enjoyed seeing the exhibits!

I can imagine this is also a decent coffee table book. Really a handy album in an (almost) pocket format. The prints are of good quality, and you can always read a single page without context and still
Aug 20, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: art-theory, 3-stars
Now before I begin this review properly and I appreciate there has already been a lot of waffle, I should state that I do study art history at university, although mainly the pre-19th stuff and therefore my critic of this book could be coming from a slightly different place they the majority of people buying this book (or not as I really don't know who brought this book).

Lets start with the bad:

Firstly the layout of the book makes it very simple and easy to understand, all the pages have a stric
Clearly inspired by the refrain heard in modern art galleries the world over, Why Your Five-Year-Old Could Not Have Done That: Modern Art Explained is a great idea that doesn't quite meet its potential. As a primer on modern art, the book is ideal: it discusses major modern artworks with references to the artist's life, cultural influences and motivations, as well as the period in which each artwork was created. As a study of why a five-year-old couldn't create or replicate certain works, the bo ...more
tom bomp
Jan 09, 2017 marked it as to-read
I've not actually read this but I've flicked through it a few times. it purports to be a defence of modern art by showing how seemingly simple art pieces could not have been produced by a child but it utterly fails at this. every piece of art has a section answering the question "could a child have done this" and for like half she's like "yeah of course they could but it wouldn't be with the same intentions as the artist" which is hilarious to me in how unconvincing it is. for the other half its ...more
Suzanne Arcand
Aug 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: art
This book is worth 3,5 stars.

It might not be a well written book. The comments are rather trivial and don't necessarely help us understand mordern art. For some artwork, I came to the conclusion that it was trash. So why did I gave it so many stars? Because of the illustrations. It gives me a good retrospective of modern art and I discovered artists that I didn't know.

For someone who is already very knowledgeable about modern art, it's probably worthless but, for someone like me who is a diletta
Stephen Scabora
Jul 12, 2017 rated it did not like it
The catchy platitude on the cover promises to explain "Why your five year old could not have done that". Now we just need someone to explain why a five year old could not have written the pages within.

Hodge's attempted explanations are shallow and dry. If you are a skeptic of modern art, her commentary will only further dissuade you. If you are a proponent, you will roll your eyes. The concept seemed intriguing but the excitement was short-lived.
Apr 10, 2020 rated it did not like it
As someone fairly interested in modern art, this book made me less interested in it so I can only imagine what someone who was even less interested in art thought. The title was fun and witty but explaining why a five year old could not have done EVERY piece actually had the opposite effect than the book intended; it made the pieces seem less artistic by pointing out how simple the technique was. Also, calling Navajo culture primitive is just offensive.
Jun 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
As an atlas of meaningful works represented well with suggestions to other important works, 5 stars.

As to the title and commentary, 2 stars.
Jul 15, 2018 rated it it was ok
An attempted defence of the current reigning artistic paradigm: low-skill, high-concept, contemptuous of past, audience, and self; identitarian. Call it anaesthetic conceptualism. It is also a nice illustrated catalogue of some recent objects that have managed to piss various people off. 150 years ago, we direly needed people to make art larger, to stand against the Academic approach of Nice Hard Mimesis Only. The problem is that since the 50s many artists replaced that shallow spectacle of mere ...more
Mark Linsey
Jul 31, 2020 rated it it was ok
Fun idea for a book. Gets an extra star for working well as a conversation starter.

Ultimately, there are too many works covered here and not nearly enough depth on each one, to the point that the book doesn't deliver on its premise at all. Each work is covered over just two pages. Once you leave room for a photo of the work and info boxes on related works, materials, etc, you're down to just a paragraph or two of analysis on what these (often very abstract, often very controversial) works actual
Jack Rowe
Dec 26, 2021 rated it it was ok
Shelves: politics-theory
I really like a lot of modern art. There are so many works from recent years that interrogate societal and personal values with really interesting and unconventional techniques that I think a lot of people find alienating, and anything that can help to make these more accessible is really great. This, however, is why I found this book so disappointing - serving as a hybrid of a textual exhibition and a persuasive piece concerning the value of modern art, Hodge's prose unfortunately does not prov ...more
Yaya Arai
Jan 18, 2022 rated it it was amazing
I thought this book would be great especially if you have gone to MOMA and it made you feel like it was waste of time, money and your effort, shaking your head at value of collections.
It's true that this book title is ambitious, as I felt that some of the works could have done by five-year-olds if we don't consider their implications and social influences. The term "art" is broad and aesthetic subjective, also the age of artist irrelevant to art appreciation. Having said all that, I felt the wr
Jan 20, 2022 rated it it was ok
I like modern art - in fact, I generally prefer works of the 20th and 21st centuries to most things older. This book makes a weak case for its virtues - largely relying on the creator's intent. This pretty much gives a free pass to mediocre, ugly and reckless content so long as a sufficiently robust premise is proferred, and sufficient resources are given to marketing.
The thing is, great works by Picasso, Klee, Magritte, Dali, Freud, Doig and the like demonstate extraordinary technical skill. I
Aug 03, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Ok, if you completely ignore the premise of Why Your Five-Year-Old...., it's actually a very interesting overview of 20th century art. The book chooses 100 different works by 100 different artists and gives background on the related person, work, and influence. I learned about many artists who were new to me and have been enjoying myself looking up other of their works online.
HOWEVER, I 100% agree with every other review that says the author completely destroys her own argument with every entry
Christina Turner
Oct 14, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2020
No joke, this book is abysmal. It's nonsense like this that blocks most people from true art appreciation and art world involvement (which, I guess is the point. We conflate exclusivity and value.)

I found myself convinced by the end of this book that we (as a society, or perhaps I, channelling my inner conceptual artist/troll) really ought to buy top notch supplies and supports, cover a warehouse space, and let some 5 year olds have at it. The average 5 year old would have a psyche uncluttered
May 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'll be frank with you: this book has been my toilet reading for the past few months. I got through a couple of artists (4 pages) a day on most days. And I bloody loved it. Getting just a bit of art into my day, some ideas, a bit of background, has been amazing. Or you could have it as your coffee table book. Getting through it in one go probably isn't going to work out for you, it's quite fragmentary. It's surprisingly serious though. I maybe would have expected a little bit of humour from it, ...more
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