A History of Western Art: From Prehistory to the Twentieth Century
Abrams Books for Young Readers (2007)
Reviewed by Maya Landers (age 10) for Reader Views (2/08)
When I first opened “A History of Western Art” by Antony Mason, I was amazed at the excellent picture quality and the wide scope of artists and art movements that are covered. Each two-page spread displays a different subject, making each time period easy to understand. The timeframe of the art being discussed is listed at the top of the page, easily enabling the reader to understand which artist or art movement is being explored. The page layout is easy to understand, with insets and callouts that expand on the illustrations. The reproductions were finely rendered, with close-ups of some parts of the artwork and the more detailed parts of the paintings or architecture pointed out with insets. Photographs illustrate the actual works as well as illustrations of the artists.
The content of the book was extensive; the works–including painting, sculpture, and photography–range from prehistoric cave art to the 20th Century. The detailed index allows the reader to easily locate a specific artist or time period.
Many art terms were defined so even a beginning art student (such as my self) could easily understand ideas that never made sense before. For instance, on pages 112-113, the art movement Surrealism is defined: “Surrealism means ‘above realism’” It suggested that the subconscious mind, “not rational thought,” held the key to the truth about the real world.” This section features the well-known Spanish artist Salvador Dali and shows his famous painting The Persistence of Memory.
I have visited the Salvador Dali museum and seen many of Dali’s paintings. I thought that the paragraph describing him was accurate and to-the-point, showing him as he really was, or at least appeared to be–an artist who took Surrealism much farther than a simple painting. In addition, the photographs of his works were very good quality. Although there was not very large section of the page covering Dali–after all, there are other Surrealists who are also worth mentioning–the book covered as much as possible in such a small amount of space.
I would recommend “A History of Western Art” to friends, especially if they are interested more in getting an overview of large art movements rather than detailed information about one artist in particular.