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Art: Over 2,500 Works vs. The Art Museum
on November 25, 2013
Art: Over 2,500 Works vs. The Art Museum
I purchased both "Art: Over 2,500 Works from Cave to Contemporary" (hereby referred to as "Art") from DK Publishing and "The Art Museum" from Phaidon Press, and found them to be very different books. In summary, if you are looking for a reference book, get "Art;" if you are looking for a visual guide, get "The Art Museum." If you are just looking for a single art book, get "Art."
If you drop "Art" at 7lbs., you won't necessarily bend the corners of the cover, and you can kind of awkwardly carry the book in your arms or in your lap. With "The Art Museum" at 18lbs., you will most certainly bend the corners of the cover if you do drop it, and you will need to read this book on a large, clear surface.
The paper of the pages of "Art" almost feel twice as thick of "The Art Museum," with "Art" having more of a glossy finish, while "The Art Museum" is more of a matte finish. This makes the pictures of "The Art Museum" a little easier to look at, at the cost of durability. Because the weight of the paper in "Art," this seems a much more hardy book. With "The Art Museum," I have to be extremely careful that I do not tear or crease the pages as I leaf through the book.
Hands-down, "The Art Museum" has done a much better job in reproducing the original colors of the artworks. "Art's" pictures, when comparing the same paintings, seem washed-out and under-saturated. And as written by other reviewers, without a doubt, the pictures in "Art" are far too small to be of any real aesthetic use. The large format of "The Art Museum" allows pictures to be seen in far more detail than in "Art," as "The Art Museum's pictures are generally four times as large as those found in "Art." But there is at least one place where you can see even higher resolution pictures without visiting the museum: The Internet (see Conclusion, below).
CONTENT & LAYOUT
"Art" is a better book for the layman, as specific techniques of artists and interesting points of a piece of art are highlighted and described visually, while "The Art Museum" assumes that you already know these things, or describes them only in text. For example, in Hans Holbein the Younger's "The Ambassadors," "The Art Museum" tells you that it uses anamorphosis, without telling you what anamorphosis is; "Art" describes the technique. Additionally, "Art" uses callouts to point to a place of interest in a work of art, rather than in plain text as found in, "The Art Museum."
"Art" does several other things well that "The Art Museum" does not. "Art" has a timeline describing each period of history, so you can see when the Baroque period lined with the Qing Dynasty, giving you a more global view of art. "Art" also breaks down each period into genres and sub-genres, like Baroque on the left margins, and Dutch Baroque or French Baroque on the right margins.
"The Art Museum" lays out each genre of art into rooms like a museum, and generally, the historical description of the genre is superior of what is found in "Art." However, the font used by "The Art Museum" bothers me quite a bit, as sometimes there seems to be not enough space after a period, so it looks like a run-on sentence. If you're just looking to browse, "The Art Museum" may be fine; if you're looking to see how each period coincides with the others and understand how the genres and sub-genres are classified, "Art" is superior.
Neither book does a super great job of selecting the masterpieces of every artist, as they do tend to miss some obvious choices, as stated in other reviews. I am more disappointed in "The Art Museum," because with being "unrestricted by the constraints of physical space," I am appalled when I see masterpieces and artists in "Art" that are not included in "The Art Museum," as the latter is billed to be more comprehensive. This is where "The Art Museum" fails me the most. For example:
1) In "The Art Museum," Johannes Vermeer's masterpiece, "Girl with a Pearl Earring," is not even mentioned, while it is in "Art."
2) In "The Art Museum," there is no mention of Frans Hals, where he is described in "Art."
3) In "Art," not a single one of Claude Monet's landscape "Water Lilies" are shown or mentioned, which I found extremely odd, but will give "Art" more of a pass because it is one-fourth the volume of "The Art Museum," and "Art" does have "The Water Lilly Pond."
Both books are heavy on Western art, light on most anything else. "Art" has about six pages devoted to Chinese art. "The Art Museum" has twenty pages but also include Japanese and Korean art. It should be noted that Chinese art history spans roughly 4,000 years, and only gets about 1-2% coverage in either book.
Neither "Art: Over 2,500 Works from Cave to Contemporary" nor "The Art Museum" are bad books. Both will work fine on your coffee table. "The Art Museum," with its massive size, will be more impressive, though "Art" is a more useful piece of work. If you want something pretty, get "The Art Museum." If you want something utilitarian, get "Art." This is assuming that the price doesn't matter to you.
If you do get "Art," the recommendation is to have a tablet (Windows 8, iPad) close by, so that you can look up the pictures in finer detail on Bing Images or Google Images, which, in many cases, will be at a higher quality than in a published book.
In conclusion, I've found that the best art book in the world is still, without a doubt, Wikipedia.