Top positive review
54 people found this helpful
on May 17, 2003
Marilyn Stokstad has put together a real masterpiece of art history with her book, Art History. In collaboration with Bradford Collins, and with contributed chapters from Stephen Addiss, Chu-tsing Li, Marylin Rhie and Christopher Roy, this large volume published by noted art publishers Henry N. Abrams, Inc. is deserving of pride of place on any art bookshelf.
The scope of this work is as broad as is the expanse of human history. Indeed, the first chapter begins with a survey of prehistoric art and prehistory. Spanning all the ancient cultures, there are chapters devoted to the art of the ancient Near East, Egypt, the Aegean, Etruscan and Roman art, Christian, Jewish and Byzantine art, Islamic art, the art of India, China, Japan, the Americas and Africa. And from there, it gets complicated!
This book tackles all the issues of art: philosophical considerations (the relationship between art and reality, and the meaning and importance of beauty in art), focus on artists in general and in particular, society's relationship to art, including the role of the patron, the importance of museums, and an investigation that goes behind the phrase, 'I know what I like.'
'Art history, in contrast to art criticism, combines the formal analysis of works of art--concentrating mainly on the visual elements in the work of art--with the study of the works' broad historical context. Art historians draw on biography to learn about artists' lives, social history to understand the economic and political forces shaping artists, their patrons, and their public, and the history of ideas to gain an understanding of the intellectual currents influencing artists' work.'
In addition to presenting a history of art, Stokstad and her contributors also present an introduction to various aspects of art appreciation, without with art history loses much meaning. Each chapter has an explanation of the techniques that were developed and important during the time under examination (for instance, lost wax casting, glassamking and Egyptian faience, Japanese woodblock technique, and Islamic carpet making, among many others, are illustrated in detail to enhance the knowledge and appreciation of the finished art works). Each chapter and time period also has a section entitled Elements of Architecture, which include discussion on elements from pyramids to skyscrapers and much in between.
The text is clear and concise, carefully explaining technical terms when they are used, and then using them sparingly. Every page is a visual feast, with full colour plates of photographs of paintings, sculpture, artists, locations, or architectural examples in great form, as Henry N. Abrams, Inc. publishers are famous for doing. There are literally thousands of illustrations, as there are often many per page; almost no page is without one, and the book is nearly 1200 pages long.
As an aid for those who will use this book for more scholarly purposes, there is an extensive bibliography in the back, in three classifications of listings -- general surveys and art history references, a selected list of art history journals, and then a chapter-specific directory of further reading for each art topic/period. Additionally, it has after the bibliography as Website Directory of Museums, which includes museums in every state in the United States and most major museums around the world. The index includes listings by artist, period, topic, and particular works of art.
This book has been intended to be useful as a text for a course in art appreciation, but also designed to be a joy to read for the casual reader who might not want an academically rigourous presentation. As Stokstad says in her preface, the intention was make this book itself a work of art, and in that task she has succeeded admirably.