Let’s talk about modern art! 

Sure, modern and contemporary artworks are not always comfortable, might be disturbing or obscure, above all they escape classification. It’s much easier to deal with traditional art, where everything is clear, mediums easy to recognize and styles in chronological order. This believe is partly due to lack of proper artistic education but also to many prejudices and perpetuating stereotypes.

Susie Hodge in ‘Why Your Five Year Old Could Not Have Done That. Modern Art Explained’ (published by Thames & Hudson) tries to fight with the prejudices and speaks about modern and contemporary art in an intelligible way. The author provides us not only with a very informative description of the artists’ approach but also locates the artworks in wider context. The book is organized into 5 chapters and examines in total around 100 pieces, each work is analysed in six identical categories (explained in a guide to symbols). The system is clear and good in implementing the same way of thinking across all examples (which will hopefully result in changing the approach to modern art in general as readers will be able to use the criteria in relation to any other artwork). The title belongs to a series we already reviewed one of the books from - ‘Why it does not have to be in focus’.

The main aim is to explain why particular work could not have been created by a five-year-old child – as we read in the introduction: “Although some of the featured artworks might be easily copied, none could have been devised by a five-year-old child.” I believe some examples are better like for example – Lucio Fontana’s piece featured on the cover (which is btw really good!), Malevich’s ‘White on white’ or ‘On and Off’ by Martin Creed. Others are less convincing – it's obvious for instance than a child will not copy any of Magritte’s or Munch’s or Kiefer’s paintings. But even if some choices might sound controversial, all selected artworks present satisfactory numerous faces of modern and contemporary art, across most iconic works, typical artists and all disciplines.

I've heard lately an interesting remark concerning TV series – that nowadays we often prefer to watch a good one to see a movie. We still expect good quality but prefer the shorter form of the TV series, which responds better to the way we live. I believe this comparison is apt in regards to art books, too. We have more and more titles, including “Why Your Five…”, that offer insightful and captivating texts organised into various categories and examining art in shorter forms rather than long essays. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t watch feature films or read regular books but this choice will be perfect if we truly want to learn more about art but our time or attention (or both) are currently limited. Susie Hodge’s book is a good starting point to address the issues we have with understanding modern art and opens a valuable discussion about the way we approach it. 


Why Your Five Year Old Could Not Have Done That. Modern Art Explained, Susie Hodge, Thames & Hudson