• What Are You Looking At?

  • The Surprising, Shocking, and Sometimes Strange Story of 150 Years of Modern Art
  • By: Will Gompertz
  • Narrated by: Matthew Waterson
  • Length: 13 hrs and 59 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: Arts & Entertainment, Art
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (73 ratings)
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Publisher's Summary

For skeptics, art lovers, and the millions of us who visit art galleries every year - and are confused - What Are You Looking At? by former director of London's Tate Gallery Will Gompertz is a wonderfully lively, accessible narrative history of modern art, from Impressionism to the present day.

What is modern art? Who started it? Why do we either love it or loathe it? And why is it such big money? Join BBC Arts Editor Will Gompertz on a dazzling tour that will change the way you look at modern art forever. From Monet's water lilies to Van Gogh's sunflowers, from Warhol's soup cans to Hirst's pickled shark, hear the stories behind the masterpieces, meet the artists as they really were, and discover the real point of modern art.

You will learn: not all conceptual art is bollocks; Picasso is king (but Cezanne is better); Pollock is no drip; Dali painted with his moustache; a urinal changed the course of art; why your five-year-old really couldn't do it. Refreshing, irreverent, and always straightforward, What Are You Looking At? cuts through the pretentious art speak and asks all the basic questions that you were too afraid to ask. Your next trip to the art gallery is going to be a little less intimidating and a lot more interesting.

©2012 Will Gompertz (P)2019 Tantor

What listeners say about What Are You Looking At?

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Outstanding History of Modern Art

Don't be fooled by the fluffy publisher's description on the audible page - this is a first-rate history of visual art from about 1850 to 2000, told in a relaxed, open-minded manner.

Yes, you'll need to make a list of works and visit the internet if you're not already familiar with the canon. But Gompertz makes it worth your while.

Wish there were books like this about all of world art!

8 people found this helpful

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Great review of modern art

This book was so much fun to listen to. Opened up a whole new world for me (modern art). Will say, you will need to look up the pieces as you listen (which can be challenging at times) but well worth it in my opinion!

1 person found this helpful

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Excellent book ... Excellent narration!

My wife and I listened to a large portion of the book while on a road trip recently and we both looked at each other and commented on how much we were learning. The author weaves together anecdotes that tell the story of the development of modern art. Not finished with it yet, but I am already coming away with an enriched appreciation for modern art. As anyone who has listened to audible books knows, the narrator can make or break an otherwise excellent book. I would place Waterson at the very top of my list of great narrators.

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A simply wonderful book with a serious flaw

I enjoyed this book immensely. Having visited the temples of modern art the authors mentions such as MoMA, the Pompidou and Tate Modern many times, I have often been bemused by the work on display - sometimes enjoying it greatly, sometimes being left cold - but often at a loss to grasp what's going on. Gompertz's book is a clearly written and intelligent survey of art from Manet to Banksy, describing the nature of trends and individual artists is a well-organized fashion. I learned a lot.

The flaw is that the book refers to so many artists and their work but, being an audiobook, we have no way to see them. It is, after all, a book about visual art. I mostly listen to audiobooks while driving. There is little chance I will remember all the details to look up when I get to a computer. If I happen to be listening to it on my laptop I can stop the narration and open a search engine but that can be tedious.

The Kindle edition is inexpensive. I bought it hoping it would have illustrations. No luck. There are a tiny number of B&W pictures. Ideally, there would be a copiously illustrated print edition. However, that might run into copyright problems.

The book leave a nagging question. The author lucidly discusses the context and meaning of scores of works. However, the meanings are often opaque even to an interested museum-goer. One of the difficulties of modern and contemporary art is that the viewer frequently needs a syllabus to begin to appreciate it. I am interested in art but I am not among the elect. The concluding chapter suggests that in the last few decades money and artistic quality have become equivalent. That is a premise most of us can easily reject.