Why a Painting Is Like a Pizza: A Guide to Understanding and Enjoying Modern Art

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Overview

"The first time she made a pizza from scratch, Nancy G. Heller made the observation that led her to write this entertaining guide to contemporary art. Comparing modern art not only to pizzas but also to traditional and children's art, Heller shows us how to use the analytical tools developed in everyday life to understand and enjoy almost any painting, sculpture, or installation." This book is for anyone who agrees with art critic Clement Greenberg that "all profoundly original art looks ugly at first." It's also for anyone who disagrees. It is for anyone who wants to get more out of a museum or gallery visit and would like to be able to say something more than just "yes" or "no" when asked if they like an artist's work.
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Editorial Reviews

KLIATT
The catchy title of this book may entice students to pick it up, but it is the accessible writing and intriguing topics within that will keep them interested. Heller takes a topic that is consistently perplexing—how does one understand modern art?—and nails it. This book is not a survey of modern art, though it is beautifully illustrated with works by such 20th-century luminaries as Picasso, Pollock, Smithson, Duchamp, and Lichtenstein as well as more recent efforts by artists such as Deborah Butterfield, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Richard Serra, and the now-famous Chris Ofili, whose work caused much controversy in the Brooklyn Museum's 1999 "Sensation" exhibition. What the book does exceedingly well is touch on important topics in the understanding of any artistic enterprise—questions of value, censorship, personal taste, and aesthetic decisions. Heller's aim is to educate the reader so that all art, even the most abstract and avant-garde, can be better understood and appreciated. By looking back at the well-known masterpieces of such universally accepted artists as Leonardo and Michaelangelo, as well as at paintings by Monet, Van Gogh, Matisse, Rembrandt, and the Ming Dynasty master Xu Wei, Heller makes compelling connections and interpretations that elevate the reader's comfort level and understanding of modern art. The book is enhanced by highly informative notes and a comprehensive index as well as a concise but invaluable suggested reading list. Of interest to students of art and modern culture in general, this book is highly recommended to anyone who is interested in achieving a broader and deeper understanding of modern art. KLIATT Codes: SA*—Exceptional book, recommended for seniorhigh school students, advanced students, and adults. 2002, Princeton Univ. Press, 192p. illus. bibliog. index.,
— Rhonda Cooper
Library Journal
In this evocatively titled book, Heller (art history, Univ. of the Arts, Philadelphia) simplifies the complexities of modern avant-garde art, making it palatable and accessible to an uninformed audience. She demonstrates that all art is made up of similar aesthetic elements and that modern art can be approached in the same way as traditional or representational art-a controversial premise that understates the importance of history, politics, and culture as they have influenced our understanding of art. Heller uses formal elements such as color, balance, and texture to address personal taste and its relation to art, arguing that we can compare the visual balance of a painting to pizzas, polo shirts, and mini-blinds. In her attempt to make the book accessible, she at times writes awkwardly, shifting between a vernacular and an academic voice. But though she oversimplifies, her argument will offer baffled museum and gallery visitors a way to appreciate otherwise difficult work. Recommended for large public libraries.-Krista Ivy, California State Univ., San Bernardino Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Schubert's Vienna
This book gives real pleasure and offers a genuine learning experience. Right from the beginning, the author engages the reader with the thought that something that seems so incomprehensible to so many (abstract art) can be understood in the same terms as something as concrete, unthreatening, and comprehensible as a pizza.
Philadelphia Inquirer
Heller organizes a large body of material coherently. She clearly explains concepts that might otherwise seem novel or complex. She allows space for the critics of the avant-garde. . . . Taken as a whole, Heller's analysis is directed more to creating openness to avant-garde art than to an appreciation or understanding of it. She is not a proselytizer.
— Gresham Riley
St Petersburg Times - Gino Vivinetto
Nancy G. Heller is a godsend for the average Joe who wants to understand modern art. . . . Heller's funny, accessible book is filled with terrific color pictures for us to look at and get an idea about our individual aesthetic preferences. . . . There's no dour intellectual jargon and gobbleygook here, just plain talk for plain folks who dig art and want to know why.
Philadelphia Inquirer - Gresham Riley
Heller organizes a large body of material coherently. She clearly explains concepts that might otherwise seem novel or complex. She allows space for the critics of the avant-garde. . . . Taken as a whole, Heller's analysis is directed more to creating openness to avant-garde art than to an appreciation or understanding of it. She is not a proselytizer.
The Wilson Quarterly - Alix Ohlin
Heller wants to persuade the bewildered that the emperor of contemporary art does in fact have clothes—confusing and abstract clothes, but clothes nonetheless. She realizes that people dislike contemporary art because it makes them feel stupid, so she shies away from the conceptual in favor of formal aspects that everyone can appreciate . . . with jargon-free charm.
editor of "Schubert's Vienna mond Erickson

This book gives real pleasure and offers a genuine learning experience. Right from the beginning, the author engages the reader with the thought that something that seems so incomprehensible to so many (abstract art) can be understood in the same terms as something as concrete, unthreatening, and comprehensible as a pizza.
From the Publisher
"This book gives real pleasure and offers a genuine learning experience. Right from the beginning, the author engages the reader with the thought that something that seems so incomprehensible to so many (abstract art) can be understood in the same terms as something as concrete, unthreatening, and comprehensible as a pizza."—Raymond Erickson, editor of Schubert's Vienna

"Nancy G. Heller is a godsend for the average Joe who wants to understand modern art. . . . Heller's funny, accessible book is filled with terrific color pictures for us to look at and get an idea about our individual aesthetic preferences. . . . There's no dour intellectual jargon and gobbleygook here, just plain talk for plain folks who dig art and want to know why."—Gino Vivinetto, St Petersburg Times

"Heller organizes a large body of material coherently. She clearly explains concepts that might otherwise seem novel or complex. She allows space for the critics of the avant-garde. . . . Taken as a whole, Heller's analysis is directed more to creating openness to avant-garde art than to an appreciation or understanding of it. She is not a proselytizer."—Gresham Riley, Philadelphia Inquirer

"In this evocatively titled book, Heller simplifies the complexities of modern avant-garde art, making it palatable and accessible to an uninformed audience. . . . [H]er argument will offer baffled museum and gallery visitors a way to appreciate otherwise difficult work."—Library Journal

"Heller wants to persuade the bewildered that the emperor of contemporary art does in fact have clothes—confusing and abstract clothes, but clothes nonetheless. She realizes that people dislike contemporary art because it makes them feel stupid, so she shies away from the conceptual in favor of formal aspects that everyone can appreciate . . . with jargon-free charm."—Alix Ohlin, The Wilson Quarterly

"Heller realizes that a painting is not like a pizza. She also knows, however, that this and the other homely analogies that pepper her introduction to modern art are entirely appropriate for an audience of curious and suspicious neophytes venturing into difficult terrain. . . . The emphasis on difficult and controversial works, which are compared to more traditional works, to each other, and to common things, introduces various ways of interpreting and evaluating art in the context of specific examples. . . . [S]hort, pithy, and intelligent."—Choice

St Petersburg Times
Nancy G. Heller is a godsend for the average Joe who wants to understand modern art. . . . Heller's funny, accessible book is filled with terrific color pictures for us to look at and get an idea about our individual aesthetic preferences. . . . There's no dour intellectual jargon and gobbleygook here, just plain talk for plain folks who dig art and want to know why.
— Gino Vivinetto
Choice
Heller realizes that a painting is not like a pizza. She also knows, however, that this and the other homely analogies that pepper her introduction to modern art are entirely appropriate for an audience of curious and suspicious neophytes venturing into difficult terrain. . . . The emphasis on difficult and controversial works, which are compared to more traditional works, to each other, and to common things, introduces various ways of interpreting and evaluating art in the context of specific examples. . . . [S]hort, pithy, and intelligent.
The Wilson Quarterly
Heller wants to persuade the bewildered that the emperor of contemporary art does in fact have clothes—confusing and abstract clothes, but clothes nonetheless. She realizes that people dislike contemporary art because it makes them feel stupid, so she shies away from the conceptual in favor of formal aspects that everyone can appreciate . . . with jargon-free charm.
— Alix Ohlin
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691090511
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 9/23/2002
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 5.92 (w) x 9.86 (h) x 0.88 (d)

Table of Contents

Preface 6
Introduction 9
1 Exactly What Is "Abstract" Art? 13
2 Why Is a Painting Like a Pizza? 21
3 Making Aesthetic Decisions in Art and in Daily Life 35
4 Paintings That People Love to Hate 65
5 Bending - and Breaking - the Rules 83
6 New Materials, New Rules 101
7 Art Invades Life, and Vice Versa 115
8 The Emotional Impact of (Some) Abstract Art 133
9 Commonsense Answers to Some of the Questions Most Often Asked about Modern Art 149
Notes 173
Acknowledgments 182
Suggestions for Further Reading 184
Index 186
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