Book review – The art of understanding art

Writing about the books I read is probably the weakest part of my Foundations blog and one that should be a quick win to improve upon. I read a lot, I learn a lot from my reading and now I’m going to write about what I learn too.

This book was recommended to me by Rob Townsend when I asked on the OCA L1 Facebook group for suggestions of something to spend a book voucher on. It’s taught me a lot of stuff that I never dreamed existed, or was important, before – an actual context for art. Where it fits in life, how it came to have that place, a way to understand it a bit better. There’s some very interesting information about art in the Orient contrasted to the Western equivalent.

So what did I learn? Well, that in the west we have been long obsessed over the end-product of art without respecting the process of planning and making the art. Our final art products are regarded as sacrosanct, untouchable, whereas Oriental works often acquire appreciative and respectful annotations over their life. I learned that every piece of art has a medium, a message and a marketplace, and that its “value” can rise or fall on aspects that are coincidental rather than integral to it, such as who owned it, or what happened to it at some point in its history. I learned that art can enlighten, and that often the subject matter of a work simply acts as a “welcome mat” to draw the viewer in to its other qualities.

I was surprised by how much this made me think about my photography. I enjoy working with found/shared/public domain images and it’s nice to think that my work is a respectful way of honouring the original, even though I’m not best placed to make that call. It also made me think about the content and the meaning of my photographs – that it is ok to have an accessible “hook” in there, but for it to work as art there has to be something else too.

It’s something of an understated book. I didn’t realise quite how good it was until I had to abandon my next read a couple of chapters in because it just didn’t measure up. My rough notes are attached in the link below.

Moss, H. (2015) The art of understanding art: A new perspective. United Kingdom: Profile Books.

(Moss, 2015)


The art of understanding art a new perspective Moss


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