Home Entertainment Clear Thought, Vivid Narrative – Gombrich’s “The Story of Art”

Clear Thought, Vivid Narrative – Gombrich’s “The Story of Art”

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Clear Thought, Vivid Narrative – Gombrich’s “The Story of Art”
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【Art Bookshelf】

 Author: Cao Yiqiang (Professor, School of Arts and Humanities, China Academy of Art)

As a classic book, “Story of Art” has been translated into more than 30 languages ​​and spread around the world for decades. Its English, French, German, Spanish and other versions have sold nearly 7 million copies. And this best-selling miracle stems from the book’s clear thinking and vivid narrative.

The sole purpose of Gombrich’s writing this book is to open the eyes of readers, to see masterpieces of art with fresh eyes, and to realize the intention and process of their creation. We know that there is an irreplaceable nature between word description and image representation, which also affects art appreciation. Whether it is aesthetic definitions such as truth, goodness, and beauty, or stylistic concepts such as abstraction and figuration, or technical jargon such as line, light and shade, and block surface, they are useless to talk about specific works, and they cannot describe the mystery of the work at all. Art has its own vivid and subtle visual effects, and focusing on these effects is an artistic adventure that is more difficult and more rewarding than talking about it. At the same time, throwing aside the barriers of jargon can leave a broader space for both the author and the reader to focus on important works, to understand the way the artist sees and expresses the world, and to experience the various technical challenges he faces.

“The Story of Art”

Gombrich, translated by Fan Jingzhong

2008 Guangxi Fine Arts Publishing House

The famous saying at the beginning of this book: “There is no capitalized art, only artists.” This sentence points out the narrative purpose of the book: the kinetic energy of art development is not abstract concepts, but artists and their creative intentions. It is this change in function and intent that gave rise to different forms of architecture, painting and sculpture, a thread that runs through Western art from ancient Egypt to the 20th century. The differences between different eras and even between artists are not due to differences in technical standards, but due to changes in ideas and intentions. Thus, this book is far from a story of progress in artistic technique, but subtly ascribes it to ever-changing concepts and intentions, thereby explaining the emergence of new works.

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The Story of Art

by Gombrich

1950 Felton Press

In writing this book, the author adopts the visual principle of either telling about the work he has seen with his own eyes or about the work that can be shown in the book. This makes its focus naturally focus on the classic masterpieces of the West. All non-Western arts mentioned in the book, such as Chinese painting, African sculpture, etc., serve to illustrate the concept of the book by comparison. This approach, on the surface, is easily mistaken for “Eurocentrism”. But careful readers will find that, in fact, on the contrary, it contains the profound meaning of world art. The author points out this meaning in the preface written for the Chinese translation of Fan Jingzhong and Yang Chengkai. Eastern and Western regions are separated, but they have never hindered the mutual contact and reference of Eastern and Western cultures and arts. Looking at the history of Western art will undoubtedly help Chinese readers to better understand their own art from the differences between China and the West and their mutual influence, and the same is true for Westerners. Gombrich worked hard to learn Chinese when he was young, but he soon discovered that a European who wants to appreciate the exquisiteness of Chinese painting and calligraphy has to spend a lifetime of energy. The absence of non-Western art in “The Story of Art” is precisely out of his awe for these arts. In fact, no art history can embrace global art, and no art historian can. The apparent limitations of “The Story of Art” make it clearer.

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Another miracle of this book is to break down the barriers between popular reading and academic writing. The book was originally written by teenagers, but the author emphasizes that there is no reason to lower the standard of academic thinking. Interested readers can read it in comparison with its academic monograph “Art and Illusion”, and it is not difficult to find the mutual theoretical relationship between the two. “The Story of Art” is clear, profound, vivid, witty, and interlocking, with a natural transition from one artist to another, echoing back and forth, in one go, written in the tradition of Homeric epics and Platonic dialogues . Gong’s talent in this area has long been revealed in his debut novel “A Little History of the World“. These two popular readings are diptychs, they serve as a backdrop to each other, they illuminate each other, and they eloquently lead us into the vivid past, present and future where history and art are intertwined. The quality they share is vivid visuality.

We might as well draw some examples from similar books for comparison. Taking the description of El Greco as an example, the popular American textbook “World Art History” says this: The figure in the picture “is sitting on an armchair… The chair is inclined, which is the front and side of the figure. Diagonal planes were introduced to enhance the space around the figures. However, this was combined with a sequential pattern of linear curves, each leading to the head, a series of drop-shaped rings to create harmonious lines. The patterned leather background completes the design, so even the accompanying settings become an integral part of the scheme.” And “Story of Art” talks about the painter, starting with how Tintoretto broke through the traditional model of precise sketching , depicting religious themes in a new way, turned to El Greco: “The Byzantine images of saints that were commonplace in his homeland, majestic, blunt, far removed from natural images… Tintoretto’s Far from surprising him, art found it fascinating… He longed for this gripping new way of depicting miracle stories. After a stint in Venice, he settled in remote Toledo, where he could avoid critics The need for accurate sketching. In Spain at the time, the concept of medieval art still lingered, which explains why El Greco’s art surpassed even in its daring contempt for natural shapes and colors, and in its dramatic dramatic images. Tintoretto…”

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This description is neither the most exciting part of Gong’s book, nor can it be cited in its entirety due to the limited space of this article. But even so, it can be regarded as a typical example to show the basic characteristics of this book: while easily outlining the characteristics of specific works, it also brings out the atmosphere of the whole era. It is these characteristics that have made this book world-famous, leading generations to explore the fascinating wonders of art.

“Guangming Daily” (May 08, 2022 11th edition)

[
责编:曾震宇 ]

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