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The Shape of Content (Charles Eliot Norton Lectures 1956-1957) (The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures) Paperback – January 31, 1992

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Editorial Reviews

Review

The book is the clearest, most forceful statement on art by an artist of our time that I have read. (Frank Getletin New Republic)

To find a lucid painter speaking lucidly of art is a thrilling discovery...[He traces] the formation of painting from idea to completion, both generally and specifically with a clarity of thought and a precise use of language which should be a very archetypal model for all critics and painters alike. (Virginia Quarterly Review)

A remarkably interesting book, which puts the reader in rewarding contact with a questing mind and a humane spirit. (The Atlantic)

Mr. Shahn "sets forth his views on both the practice and the purposes of art with a clarity, cogency, and incisiveness that any professional writer might envy, and he manages to interweave with this a good deal of interesting material about his own development as an artist, as well as a running summary of his opinions on contemporary painting in general...the book is highly controversial...also highly stimulating. (New Yorker)

In this brilliant book, which brings the many talents of Ben Shahn…into one crisp, clear, unified, astounding career, the primary focus is the exploration and explanation of the relationship between Shahn's paintings and photographs…The first half of the book consists of four exquisitely written essays by Kao, Katzman, and Webster, beautifuly illustrated with superb reproductions of Shahn's photographs and related materials, including detailed notes. The second half is an exhibition catalog with a wealth of quality reproductions of his paintings and photographs. (J. Natal Choice)
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Product Details

  • Series: The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures (Book 2002)
  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; 9th edition (1985)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674805704
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674805705
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #472,353 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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45 of 45 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 2, 1997
Format: Paperback
Based on a series of six lectures given by Shahn at Harvard University in the 1950's, this collection gives an overview of Shahn's ideas and opinions on such topics as the education of artists, the creative process, the nonconformity of artists, and appraisals of various modern art movements and artists. Shahn is a surprisingly gifted writer. His arguments are clearly reasoned and his tone is that of an art historian or philosopher. At the same time, the book is an intimate look at Shahn the artist. It is illustrated with numerous pen and ink sketches by Shahn
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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 24, 1998
Format: Paperback
Ben Shan's "The Shape of Content" in many ways truly defines the thinking of artists in a time that might be considered the height of modern american painting and art. It is an enormously human and genuine dialogue on art of the fifties. Few books so clearly establish how and why one becomes an artist. It is written with soul, intelligence, and great humanism while totally avoiding the sophistry of the critics and journalists writing about art at that time in American society. A great book!
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Phoebe Wray on July 18, 2002
Format: Paperback
This book is one of the clearest explanations of the creative process of an artist available anywhere. Shahn speaks of painting, of course, but his lucid, interesting text, his ideas and explorations, apply to artists in any field. Highly recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By victoria b larson on April 8, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is the best part in my opinion, and a part of my manifesto: Shahn's "capsule recommendation for a course of education".

"Attend a university if you possibly can. There is no content of knowledge that is not pertinent to the work you will want to do. But before you attend a university work at something for a while. Do anything. Get a job in a potato field; or work as a grease-monkey in an auto repair shop. But if you do work in a field do not fail to observe the look and the feel of earth and of all things that you handle — yes, even potatoes! Or, in the auto shop, the smell of oil and grease and burning rubber. Paint of course, but if you have to lay aside painting for a time, continue to draw. Listen well to all conversations and be instructed by them and take all seriousness seriously. Never look down upon anything or anyone as not worthy of notice. In college or out of college, read. And form opinions! Read Sophocles and Euripides and Dante and Proust. Read everything that you can find about art except the reviews. Read the Bible; read Hume; read Pogo. Read all kinds of poetry and know many poets and many artists. Go to and art school, or two, or three, or take art courses at night if necessary. And paint and paint and draw and draw. Know all that you can, both curricular and noncurricular — mathematics and physics and economics,logic and particularly history. Know at least two languages besides your own, but anyway, know French. Look at pictures and more pictures. Look at every kind of visual symbol, every kind of emblem; do not spurn signboards of furniture drawings of this style of art or that style of art. Do not be afraid to like paintings honestly or to dislike them honestly, but if you do dislike them retain an open mind.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Rae A. Welch on February 5, 2009
Format: Paperback
"The Shape of Content" should be required reading for any serious artist, no matter what the venue. I bought and read this when it first came out and have passed on a few copies over the years. Ben Shahn clearly defines what is necessary for the development of anyone planning a career in the arts.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Jane Mess on January 18, 2008
Format: Paperback
What's good about this book is that it defines art and discusses what it should be. Shahn says art is conventional and noncomformist, and it should be objective and subjective. The definition of art is the key point I found useful. I did, however, think that he could've kept it a little shorter. He digresses a lot. It's still a quick read (131pgs). I recommend this book to artists, whether writer, painter, etc., who are having trouble finding subject matter to depict or are unsure about what appeals to audiences.
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