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The Shock of the New

3.71  ·  Rating details ·  30,995 ratings  ·  130 reviews
A beautifully illustrated hundred-year history of modern art, from cubism to pop and avant-garde. More than 250 color photos.
Paperback, 444 pages
Published April 1st 2004 by Thames & Hudson (first published November 1st 1980)
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Average rating 3.71  · 
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 ·  30,995 ratings  ·  130 reviews

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Paul Bryant
Oct 04, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Again today I was lost in admiration of this history-with-attitude of 20th century art. I think it’s the best single art book I’ve read. It’s stuffed full of ideas and sentences that refresh like a splash of seaspray. Viewing Paris from the Eiffel Tower in 1889 was “one of the pivots in human consciousness”. The phonograph was “the most radical extension of cultural memory since the photograph”. Cezanne “takes you backstage”. In cubist paintings the world was “a twitching skin of nuances”. “Mach ...more
Roy Lotz
May 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: artsy-fartsy
My favorite story about modern art comes from my friend. I’ll let her tell it:
So I was in the Museum of Modern Art one day, you know, walking around and stuff. I walked in one room and I saw this thing on the wall, and it looked really weird. So I bent down and started to look at it. There was this other visitor, who started looking at it too. Then all of the sudden the wall opened and a man walked out. Me and the other visitor looked at each other and laughed. It was a doorknob.

I love this sto
Apr 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: art
The first few episodes of this – I watched this, by the way, but will need to get hold of the book now – are nearly entirely a rip off of Walter Benjamin’s work, particularly his Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. The modern has been so dominated by machines and the question of how machines relate to humans is an open question that continues to haunt our nightmares. The Matrix movies are a particularly interesting example of this. But the history of this nightmare is much older than that ...more
Oct 30, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: art
I bought this book after a trip to the Museum of Modern Art in New York. I left the museum confused and annoyed by Modern art. I could not find anything to explain Modern art. Nothing that wasn't complete unreadable, unwatchable or incomprehensible. Then I picked up this book. I read about 30 pages in the book store and couldn't put it down. Robert Hughes' prose flows, clear and crisp. I like that he could explain an artist's work in a way that lets you know he doesn't like it, but is open to yo ...more
Aug 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Most of the other reviews say it all - this weighty and expensive book was the main text of my college class on Modern Art but but boy was it worth it. Hughes is such a succinct, perceptive historian and critic - he takes complicated topics and doesn't simply examine then, but unpacks and illuminates. Probably best seen in conjunction with the original BBC series, you will almost certainly learn something you didn't know, find something you weren't aware you loved, finally be able to put your fi ...more
Leo H
Jan 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A brilliant book to finish off my challenge for this year, Hughes has a way of explaining complex cultural issues that just sticks with me and makes so much sense. He does though have a tendency to use phrases and turns of phrase in French or Italian or Latin and just expect readers to know them, I had to use Google Translate, and they still often made absolutely no sense at all. Oh, and it's quite obvious when he doesn't personally like an artist, as his analysis tends towards the "I suppose th ...more
Jul 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Hughes' opinionated and politically charged biography of modern art and its dialogue with a culture in turmoil is always on the side of the radical against the status quo. He is harshly critical of the academy and establishment, and of regressive regimes, movements and critiques. He hates oppression, elitism, and frivolous self-indulgence, which is his general opinion of postmodernism.

The Shock of the New was a hugely important part of my education, helping me to become conversant in the movemen
Mark Desrosiers
Aug 26, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: art
Hughes possesses all the essential traits of a brilliant art critic: he's not a snob, he's perceptive about the difference between shyte and wank, he's enthusiastic about playfulness and populism, and he's willing to admit he's wrong (in this book, it's Philip Guston). The fact that his career was centered upon TIME Magazine is a testament to his sense of populist principle, and evidence that there really are no other brilliant art critics out there. (I had my hopes for Dave Hickey way back when ...more
Mar 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people who think they don't like modern art
Recommended to Andrea by: modern art class
Great text about the history of modern art, from the influence of the impressionists forward. It is fun to read, and does a good job of correlating the history of a given time to the ideology of a movement in art. If you think you don't like modern art, read this book!
Jun 17, 2019 rated it liked it
A hyper-competent but slogging look at the last century or so of modern and postmodern art. Similar in complexity and scope to a 300 level undergrad Art History course.
Stuart Woolf
Mar 13, 2016 rated it liked it
This book was okay. I didn't know much about modern art before reading it and am not sure I learned what I wanted to learn: I suppose I was looking for a more singular / less disjointed narrative, and one that spent less time on the obvious. (The relationship between early modern art and machinery, or the manifestos of various movements, are not as interesting to me as, say, the artists themselves and why their ideas were influential - while others were not.)

Hughes makes the case that art and th
Fraser Kinnear
Apr 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: art, culture, history
This was an epic read for me. I saw Hughes give an interview on Charlie Rose and kept his book in mind until I ran across it at my favorite book store in LA.

I've read a few art history books before, and this one stands out. Artists and movements flush together as Hughes never takes a break. What this torrent of information provides is an incredible sense of interconnectedness across art, as well as a clever narrative ploy to always keep me engaged. Few artists are treated with more than a page o
Aug 05, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in art
Robert Hughes does an excellent job at connecting several political movements, wars, and philosophical theories to several modern art movements. The book flows naturally through the major art movements of the the 20th century. Hughes ultimately attributes all modern art to the construction of the Eiffel Tower. A must read for modern art enthusiasts.
Aug 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
I was introduced to this book by my Art History professor. For anyone who has ever looked at modern art and said 'I don't get it', this book is for you. Hughes explains the cultural, political and societal factors that caused the modern art movement and why it matters.
Deirdre Smith
Jul 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
A wonderful, and relatively brief history of European and American Modernism. As Hughes admits in the Introduction, the scope of his narrative is limited. Originally conceived of as a BBC documentary, he mostly sticks to names you know. However, he brings an attention and a reverence to each that creates a vivid impression of these artists' individual and collective contributions to the movement. Rather than monolithic, this history and its figures are very consciously human in scale.

Where in hi
Sep 10, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: art
the best introduction to modern art i know of. down-to-earth, witty and opinionated writing that manages to survey the main currents of modernism without the dumbing-down that surveys often resort to.
Jun 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Hughes is a great writer! He makes art history enjoyable and undestandable...I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in modern art movements and their origins.
Nov 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ideas
If you can pair this with the DVD of the 1980s PBS show, do it. You will soon be hearing Hughes' voice with every cranky insight.
Jun 08, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: australian, art
Great, apart from his assertion that the last true work of political art was Picasso's Guernica.
Sep 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing

Educated, loving, pithy and aggressive description of aspects of the history of Modern Art. Great read.
May 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: art-history
Wonderfully opinionated! Even if you can't always agree with Hughes, his writing pulses with energy and the ability to make you see the world differently.
Mike Clarke
Jul 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Gratia artis: anyone who was commissioned to write an eight hour TV series about the evolution of modernism with accompanying book and refers to artists suckled by “television...the nipple of electronic kitsch” wins the Mercury Prize for biting the hand that, hands down. Thus Robert Hughes’s breezy, clever and occasionally explosively funny tie-in sets the pace, and it’s exhilarating.

Ever been frightened by modern art? You needn’t be, for here in eight BBC episodes and with a book that was no d
Vanessa Ellermann
Jul 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I studied music at an arts boarding school for high schoolers. My roommate was a visual arts major. She had this book for one of her classes. I don't know how I got around to reading her book that she needed for class. I was busy with my own classes music, but this book captivated me. In college, some friends (show attended the school across the street from the one I attended) used this book in their art history class. I remember having dinner out with them while they studied from this book and ...more
Very academic, if your into that sort of thing. There is so much great information about art in this book and I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about the iconic pieces described. Also, there are some beautiful pictures, printed on glossy thick paper that is a pleasure to feel turning the pages. However, not all of the art that is discussed (for entire pages) is pictured. About half of it requires a Google to see the image. The art jargon also gets a bit tedious at times (most of the time.)
Michael Norwitz
Feb 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Robert Hughes' history of modern art from its inception to the modern day (well, of 1980). Hughes is articulate, historically minded, analytic, and humorous. I'd consider it essential reading for anyone wanting an introduction to the form. I wish it had more color plates, although it's already a massive tome and to show prints of every work discussed would make it unweildable.
Interactive Direct
Apr 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
one of the most important books on art history ever written. A life changing book for artists and those interested in art history. Art in context might be a better title. All art lives in the context of its times, read this book for a better understanding how art can be radical once and old hat years later.

just read it.
Sep 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Extreme focus on Western Art. But for someone who never took an Art History in class, this is a wonderful framing book.

It also introduced me to my favorite painting that I never knew about, until I read this book.

Anas Sabbar
Sep 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful All-rounder on the history of art, artistic movements and all-round quirky bastards with substantial say in the history of the world; and who have been Riddikulus'ed out of the collective memory.
TV series hosted by the author himself:
Ray Dunsmore
Dec 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A quite interesting dissection and explanation of the varying, often-warring factions that made up the modern art movement from the late 1800s to the 1980s. Excellent context to an often obtuse and obscure artform.
McLean Barbieri
Dec 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
If you want to read one book about 20th century art, then this is the one. Hughes is an impressive scholar and great art history writer. This is the starting point and it will lead you so many wonderful places.
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Robert Studley Forrest Hughes, AO was an Australian art critic, writer and television documentary maker who has resided in New York since 1970. He was educated at St Ignatius' College, Riverview before going on to study arts and then architecture at the University of Sydney. At university, Hughes associated with the Sydney "Push" – a group of artists, writers, intellectuals and drinkers. Among the ...more

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    Pulitzer Prize–winning literary critic Michiko Kakutani, the former chief book critic of The New York Times, is the author of the newly...
53 likes · 16 comments
“The basic project of art is always to make the world whole and comprehensible, to restore it to us in all its glory and its occasional nastiness, not through argument but through feeling, and then to close the gap between you and everything that is not you, and in this way pass from feeling to meaning. It's not something that committees can do. It's not a task achieved by groups or by movements. It's done by individuals, each person mediating in some way between a sense of history and an experience of the world.” 53 likes
“What has our culture lost in 1980 that the avant-garde had in 1890? Ebullience, idealism, confidence, the belief that there was plenty of territory to explore, and above all the sense that art, in the most disinterested and noble way, could find the necessary metaphors by which a radically changing culture could be explained to its inhabitants.” 39 likes
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