Book review: Art the Whole Story Edited by Stephen Farthing.

When I started this course, this was the first library book I picked up and it really is an immense book. It is over 560 pages of colour photographs spanning art history from prehistoric times to the modern day written and displayed in a very accessible way.  I think everyone from the complete novice to professional artist would find something of use in this book.  As I just have it out on loan from the library, I sadly have to return it but it is one I am going to add to my wishlist to purchase in the future.

Honestly, this book is just too big to write a full review and so as I’ve been reading another book about Picasso I thought I’d take a detailed look at pages 434-435 which covers Picasso’s Guernica painted in 1937.

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Guernica is one of those famous paintings that I think most people have heard of and could probably recognise but what this book does is start to analyse components of the painting through looking at key focal points.  Guernica is just one of hundreds of works of art the book does this for.

The book starts by giving a little background on the painting, how the painting was commissioned by the Spanish republic for exhibition in the Paris World’s Fair but Picasso actually painted it as an attack on Spain’s fascist government.  The painting has since become a universal symbol of the atrocity of war.  The lack of colour in the painting is particularly a powerful sense of the destruction of war, this alongside the violent imagery help to portray Picasso’s outrage at the war.  The images themselves are nightmarish and full of anguish with distorted figures like the extended necks of the suffering women.

What this book then does is pick out 5-6 key focal points for each painting.  In the case of Guernica the key points the book considers are: the Minotaur, the light bulb, the terrified figure, sword and flowers and the central horse.  Of course there is far more to talk about with this painting than just these 6 elements but the book is a overview not a comprehensive analysis.

Although this book is an overview of the different movements and not a detailed analysis of any of the works covered I think it will be invaluable throughout the course and for future reference.


Farthing, S. (2010). Art. 1st ed. London: Thames & Hudson.