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The Shape of Time: Remarks on the History of Things

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  219 ratings  ·  15 reviews
Arising from the study of art history, this book presents a radically new approach to the problem of historical change. George Kubler draws upon new insights in fields such as anthropology and linguistics and replaces the notion of style with the idea of a linked succession of works distributed in time as recognizably early and late versions of the same action. The result ...more
Paperback, 148 pages
Published September 10th 1962 by Yale University Press
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Jul 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I was first introduced to this book my freshman year of college, in 2002. It was so difficult for me to read that I didn't get through it for a few years. Eventually, I revisited it, and I'm so glad that I did. The Shape of Time changed that way I saw art. It helped me understand that ideas in art flow from one artist to the next, and that these ideas have a life span of their own. The beginning stage of an idea, or as Kubler calls it, form, develops quickly and unpredictably. The form is poorly ...more
Jun 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This book (like "Prints and Visual Communication" and "Understanding Media")provides insights into the very nuanced techniques of the human creation. It's a great antidote to the disembodied internet world we live in now!
Jan 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
A laborious read that does not really have a conclusion. But full of great concepts.

“Without change there is no history, without regularity there is no time.”

“In the absence of society and instinct, existence would float as if unbound by gravitation in a world without friction from precedent, without the attraction of example, and without the channeled pathways of tradition.”

“It is in the nature of being that no event ever repeats, but it is in the nature of thought that we understand events onl
Jeff Friederichsen
Feb 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
An art historian, a sociologist and an archaeologist walk into a bar…

…and this is the book they would write, an analysis and theory of the origins and lifespans of humanity's output of objects both utilitarian and aesthetic. A fascinating topic, discussed in a somewhat circular but self-reinforcing manner. Kubler's arguments and theories, although not quantifiable due to the extremely subjective nature of their topic, seem innovative and modern more than 50 years later. I read this as a layman w
Dave Peticolas
May 10, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A curious book about the unfolding of history, in particular the history of made objects, especially art, but touching also on the relationship between artists and artisans and their place in a historical series. The author argues against the use of analogies between an artistic movement and a lifetime, i.e., the "birth", "growth", and "senescence" of some movement such as Impressionism. Instead, the history of a physical form should be understood as the development of the internal logic of the ...more
Katherine McCarthy
While this book offers many interesting positions and ruminations on time and style, it is continuously crippled by backwards thinking and a false understanding of PreColumbian history. Although Kubler has experience writing history in these areas, this publication reveals a misunderstanding of interactions between Europeans and indigenous people. His insistence on the death of indigenous art after the European invasion demonstrates a lack of understanding on the persistence of style and traditi ...more
Apr 22, 2019 rated it liked it
I love the IDEA of this. And I love the execution of maybe ... half of what's actually written? It's a short book, but it could have been shorter - and maybe would have been better for that too.

There's a lot of sharp, good, important ways of thinking about art history (if that's what we're calling it) but there's also so many mastubatory sentences that sound very intellectual but are essentially just dumb metaphors that perpetuate the stupid problems that still exist in art historical circles t
Mar 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: grad
a good book with lots of very interesting and relevant ideas considering the place of objects in history and the ideas of art objects divorced from their makers. sort of blew my mind but also i know i'll be thinking about Kubler's theories for a while.
R.K. Cowles
Jan 05, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
3 1/4 stars
Sep 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Revisit after two years. Kubler is a scholar influenced by several disciplines. So new inspirations for me since now I have a bit understanding of archaeological theories besides art historical ones.
Mar 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
While reading this I went from being totally confused to discovering great insights into the study of art and culture. I sometimes felt the terminology the author used and some of his observances may have changed in the 50 years since the book was originally published. Well, sure.
If I had to read this all over again, I would probably read the conclusion first. It is an excellent summation of his position and the fluidity of art, style and culture. In my own case, it would have better prepared me
Sasu Kakir
Very academic; not an easy read - yet I enjoyed regular epiphanies through its high level/long perspective analysis of artistic and cultural endeavour and production. In the end, I compared it to exercise: grunting and sweating and counting down the reps/minutes/kms during, but high immediately after (occasionally during), followed by lasting health benefits.
Mar 01, 2009 rated it liked it
Dry as a bone. Could have been boiled down to about 5 pages. But those would have been really good pages.
Jun 24, 2008 rated it liked it
It was OK. A good read to brush up on methodology.
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