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The Painted Word (1975)

by Tom Wolfe

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Serie informal (Anagrama) (30)

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9461822,426 (3.63)28
The author derails the great American myth of modern art in a scathing, witty, uncompromising critique of American art from the 1950s through the 1970s. Reprint. NYT.

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English (17)  Japanese (1)  All languages (18)
Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
Highly enjoyable critique of the origin and content (Flatness!!) of Abstract Expressionism and other Modern Art schools. No more trouble to read than a lengthy essay. ( )
  lelandleslie | Feb 24, 2024 |
No doubt a tremendous influence on the painting styles of the 43rd President of the United States. ( )
  fiveheads | Feb 12, 2022 |
I listened to the audiobook and found the narrator's tone of voice and frequent pauses a bit annoying.

Wolfe is basically saying that Modern Art is much ado about nothing, and he backs up his opinion (circa 1975 anyway) with a scathing analysis of various critics and movements. The thesis is that it all revolves around a very small number of people--just a few thousand in the whole world--who decide what is or is not art mainly for their own amusement, and that modern art is not comparable to literature or music in having a true mass audience that creates demand. In modern art, Wolfe is saying that the same people create the demand AND consume the art. I'm not sure how much I care. Even though the book is short (the audio book is barely over two hours), the fact that Wolfe invests any time in it at all perhaps shows that he took the subject more seriously than it deserved. This is occasionally amusing and a bit informative, but that's all. ( )
  datrappert | Feb 2, 2020 |
Wolfe's argument in this short, entertaining, and completely wrong-headed polemic is based on the idea that the non-representational art of the last 100 or so years is a hoax because it can only be appreciated by those who have learned and agree with various abstract theories.

Wolfe is much more supportive of various flavors of representational art of the same period and the preceding centuries because he thinks this art can be appreciated without depending on theories.

The basic fallacy of this argument is that Wolfe doesn't admit (or perhaps he is really unaware) that the "realistic" nature of the art works he champions is no less dependent on a variety of theories that have either been absorbed into modern Western culture but are by no means universal throughout the world (like perspective and other 3-D modeling techniques) and/or are no longer central to the culture most of us live in and must be learned in art history classes (like the iconography of saints, etc).

The book is, as I mentioned earlier, entertaining. Wolfe is almost always fun to read. But that doesn't mean that he knows a lot about his subject here. ( )
  hrebml | Sep 5, 2019 |
If you abjure the chic and dream of a realist approach to art this may be your book. Written by novelist and essayist Tom Wolfe, this is an extended essay on the current state of art (circa 1975). In it he extends his social critique into the world of art with not surprising results. Those results are both witty and amusing. More importantly they are thought-provoking while raising the skeptical bar for art criticism.

Modern art has morphed into postmodernism and beyond since this book was written, but his commentary has not lost its bite. Moreover, there may be good modern art, but there certainly is a lot of bad modern art to sort through before you find it. This short introduction is one good place to find out where and how to look for it. ( )
  jwhenderson | May 9, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Wolfe, TomAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hauser, SonjaTranslatormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wolfe, TomIllustratormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
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People don't read the morning newspaper Marshall McLuhan once said, they slip into it like a warm bath.
In short: frankly, these days, without a theory to go with it, I can't see a painting. (p.4)
All these years, in short, I had assumed that in art, if nowhere else, seeing is believing. Well -- how short sighted! Now at last, on April 28 1974, I could see. I had gotten it backward all along. Not "seeing is believing," you ninny, but "believing is seeing," for Modern Art has become completely literary: the paintings and other works exist only to illustrate the text. (p.4-5)
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The author derails the great American myth of modern art in a scathing, witty, uncompromising critique of American art from the 1950s through the 1970s. Reprint. NYT.

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