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Don't Rely Solely on Gombrich
on November 19, 2007
Having already been exposed to art history and criticism, I felt at times that this book was overly simplistic. (It was originally written for "young people" after all...) What was harder for me to appreciate were the frequent passages in which Gombrich gives vent to his own personal opinions (gushing on about Rubens for instance.) He makes a token effort to be objective but his Eurocentric bias toward the superiority of Classically-inspired Renaissance art is clear.
However, as an introduction to Art History and Art Appreciation, you could do a lot worse. Gombrich is easy to read, he states himself clearly, he presents the history of art (in Europe) as a steady evolution of ideas, rather than a compartmentalized series of Eras & Styles as so many academic textbooks do. He selected illustrations that most effectively elucidate his point. Useful as his book is, it would be a mistake to treat him as a final authority on the subject. _The Story of Art_ is merely an INTRODUCTION to art. Once Dr. Gombrich has opened the door for you, you should leave him behind and continue your explorations on your own, or at least with a different guide. Form your own opinions; that's part of the experience of art.
About the Pocket Edition specifically: The text is in the front (printed on very thin "Bible" paper) and the illustrations are in the back. Phaidon has provided two built-in ribbon bookmarks so you can keep your place in both sections. It's an interesting solution for making the book smaller. I can vouch for the fact that it's easy to carry around, since I took it with me on two trips while reading it, but the arrangement does have its drawbacks. Having to flip back & forth to look at the pictures as they are referred to in the text, and having to hold two places simultaneously while reading means that you have to use both hands. I like to read while I eat (yeah, I'm one of THOSE people) but found it was impossible with this edition. If portability and price are your top concerns, then this is the edition to get. Otherwise, shell out the extra $$ for the full-sized version.