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The first time she made a pizza from scratch, art historian Nancy 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 we can refine analytical tools we already possess to understand and enjoy even the most unfamiliar paintings and sculptures.
How is a painting like a pizza? Both depend on visual balance for much of their overall appeal and, though both can be judged by a set of established standards, pizzas and paintings must ultimately be evaluated in terms of individual taste. By using such commonsense examples and making unexpected connections, this book helps even the most skeptical viewers feel comfortable around contemporary art and see aspects of it they would otherwise miss. Heller discusses how nontraditional works of art are made—and thus how to talk about their composition and formal elements. She also considers why such art is made and what it "means."
At the same time, Heller reassures those of us who have felt uncomfortable around avant-garde art that we don't have to like all—or even any—of it. Yet, if we can relax, we can use the aesthetic awareness developed in everyday life to analyze almost any painting, sculpture, or installation. Heller also gives concise answers to the eight questions she is most frequently asked about contemporary art—from how to tell when an abstract painting is right side up to which works of art belong in a museum.
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.
"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
1. EXACTLY WHAT IS "ABSTRACT" ACTS? 13
2. WHY IS A PAINTING LIKE A PIZZA? 21
3. MAKING AETHETIC 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) ABSRTACT ART 133
9. COMMONSENSE ANSWERS TO SOME OF THE QUESTIONS MOST OFTEN ASKED ABOUT MODERN ART 149
SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER READING 184