The Meaning of Art is Special Collections’ Featured Book for August 2014


In honor of August being Art Appreciation Month, The Meaning of Art by Herbert Read is our featured book for this month.

One of the greatest art critics in Britain to specialize in abstract art of the early and mid-20th century, Herbert Read won a number of medals for bravery during World War I. His experiences in this conflict, including the death of his brother, turned him into an anarchist and lifelong pacifist. He held a range of posts within the art world: curator at the Victoria & Albert Museum; professor of fine arts at Edinburgh University, and editor of the scholarly Burlington Magazine. He was a prolific writer on different types of art, including painting sculpture, stained glass and ceramics. His most famous book is probably The Meaning of Art (1931), which was followed by Art Now: an Introduction to the Theory of Modern Painting and Sculpture (1933) and Art and Industry (1934).

Since its first appearance in 1931, Read’s The Meaning of Art and its introduction to the understanding of art has established itself as a classic of its kind. In this volume, he endeavors to provide a basis for the appreciation of pictures and sculptures by defining the elements which go to their making. He persuades the reader to consider such fundamental terms as ‘beauty,’ ‘harmony’ and ‘pattern’ so as to make sure that the reader uses these words with precision in their judgements. Read also examines the complicated mental processes involved in the contemplation of works of art.

Sir Herbert Read (1893-1968)
Sir Herbert Read (1893-1968)

A large part of this book is devoted to a compact survey of the world’s art, from primitive cave drawings to Jackson Pollock, an exposition designed to show the persistence of certain principles and aspirations throughout the history of art, and to summarize the essence of such movements as Gothic, Baroque, Impressionism, Expressionism, Surrealism, and Tachism. Readers who follow this progressive and concise analysis will find it a valuable and stimulating guide to the visual arts.

Jean Renoir Writing. By Pierre Auguste Renoir (1841-1919). Basil Barlow Collecition

The Meaning of Art is part of the The William Klenz Library and Music Collection. To see this book, come to Special Collections, located on the second floor of the Bartle Library off of the North Reading Room.