In terms of school subjects, Art History was most certainly my first love. Of all the subjects I was lucky enough to be introduced to, Art History was the only class I was truly excited to attend. And although I never expected it, I fell head over heels for Early Modernism. Modern art (or if it should even be called art) has always been up for debate. It’s also one of those things that has a tendency to mystify people… not everyone really knows what it’s all about.
In Why Your Five Year Old Could Not Have Done That, Susie Hodge chooses a number of prominent modern artworks. She gives a brief description of the artist and the context of the piece, then goes on to explain why no child could have created that artwork.
It’s the kind of book that’s supposed to convince modern art’s skeptics of its value and complexity. I can’t say that I was overly impressed by this book.
I just didn’t find it convincing. For each piece, she seems to echo the same sentiment: Sure! In terms of skill, a five year old might be able to do this! But then it wouldn’t be a wonderfully clever commentary on society, would it?
There were moments where she does admit that even in terms of skill, a five year old would not be able to create the artwork. Unfortunately, these moments are the book’s most convincing… which I rather think is hardly the point.
And sure, I get it. Context is important. But it’s not everything. And context isn’t the only reason why some of the chosen artworks are so well known.
Basically, it was a nice book. She wasn’t necessarily wrong about anything. I just don’t think it achieved its purpose. I find it hard to believe that anyone who truly believed that the majority of modern art is child’s play would be otherwise convinced by this book.
In my opinion, Will Gompertz’ What Are You Looking At? is much more successful and is hands-down what I would recommend to anyone who is hoping to get some insight into the world of modern art. Sure, it’s a little simplistic at times, but it’s meant to be an introduction… and it does that darn well.
Will Gompertz does a phenomenal job introducing people to the key players and philosophies that made modern art. He covers the bigger movements, the more famous artists, and some significant artworks. He does so in an interesting, humorous and convincing manner. Most importantly, all of his explanations are well-written and clear.
Admittedly, I do wish that there had been more pictures of the artworks. Directed at those who are unlikely to know the artworks by name, I would’ve thought that they’d be a nice touch.
That being said, I think this book would make a phenomenal introduction to modern art for those of you who have always been interested, but never known where to start.