The Short Story of Art: A Pocket Guide to Key Movements, Works, Themes and Techniques

Image of The Short Story of Art: A Pocket Guide to Key Movements, Works, Themes, & Techniques (Art History Introduction, A Guide to Art)
Release Date: 
May 1, 2017
Laurence King Publishing
Reviewed by: 

“inviting and engaging . . . a well-presented lure into the potentially overwhelming world of art history.”

The Short Story of Art: A Pocket Guide to Key Movements, Works, Themes and Techniques in Art is a brief glimpse at a handful of the more well-known phases of artistic evolution. The word story in the title is a bit of a misnomer, there being no narrative to speak of. A more descriptive word would be history, which is exactly what is delivered: a short guide to the history of art.

Susie Hodge has culled through hundreds of art movements to highlight and present 36 that illustrate transitions of art, its ideas, representations, characteristics, and production from Prehistoric times up to the dynamic shifts of the 1960s and ’70s. As complex as art history is, this book is a welcome, succinct introduction to some classic Western masters.

Organization was a priority in this project, and it is obvious that a lot of planning went into how best to communicate an extensive body of knowledge in as clear and concise a manner as possible. The introduction alludes to how seriously this topic was taken and how earnestly the book seeks to educate. It astutely identifies how complicated art history can be explaining that, “some form of art has been made by nearly all societies. It is not neat and ordered. It overlaps and changes, cross-influences and reacts. It is never made in a vacuum, which is what can make it so confusing at times.”

Each section of the book is defined quite clearly. Movements: “are names given to certain styles of art that are made at particular times by artists who share such things as artistic ideals, styles and methods or approaches.” The Works: covers, “some of the most innovative and groundbreaking works of art ever made.” Themes: “messages about life, society or human nature, and are usually implied rather than explicitly stated.” And Techniques: an explanation of the development of tools and methods artists have employed over the centuries from charcoal drawing to etching to the lost-wax method of sculpting.

Reading the book in regular fashion from cover to cover is, or course, an option. But an alternative is to follow one thread or concept from section to section. Selecting, for instance, from The Works section Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer, the reader learns the material (oil on canvas), the date (1665), the size (17 1/2 x 15 1/2 in.), the current location (Mauritshius, The Hague, The Netherlands), other key works by the same artist (View of Delft, The Lacemaker, The Art of Painting), and interesting snippets about the work of art and the painter. (The blue turban was made from crushed semi-precious lapis lazuli stone. Vermeer died at the age of 43 with only 36 works attributed as his own.)

Seeking to know more, the reader can then follow the impeccably organized cross-references at the bottom of each page. One could potentially be led back to the Dutch Golden Age (1585–1702) in the Movements section to see Vermeer listed among Rembrandt, Frans Hals, and Harmen Steenwyck in an era when wealthy merchants scrambled to acquire paintings of all sorts from still lifes to landscapes in order to flaunt their economic status. Or one could jump forward to the Portraiture Theme, or to the Oil on Canvas or Chiaroscuro Techniques. Easy navigation allows the reader to follow a train of thought or an area of interest without getting lost.

More than likely, the reader will be sparked by the surface information presented here and will want to move on to more in-depth sources. And this is exactly the purpose of this inviting and engaging project. It is a well-presented lure into the potentially overwhelming world of art history.