Book review: ….isms Understanding Art by Stephen Little

This is another book I picked up in my local library as it seemed to be a much smaller, more manageable guide to all the different art movements than ‘Art the full story’.   The book itself is a smaller size and is only 159 pages long but still has some useful sections within it but is very much an introductory guide and does not cover anything in great detail.

The introduction is a particularly useful section for me as it talks about what an ‘ism’ is and what it is not. I didn’t realise until reading this section there were different types of ism: those which describe a trend within visual arts, those which describe a broader cultural trend, those which the artists define and those which are applied retrospectively.

As I had been looking at some work by Carl Andre I decided to focus on the section of the book entitled ‘Minimalism’.  Minimalism was used as a term by artists themselves in the 1960s to describe art that was highly simplified and austere.  It was influenced by abstract expressionist paintings like the work by Mark Rothko.  Minimalist sculpture often uses simple industrial materials like bricks, pipes etc and are composed of multiple uniform elements.  Key artists along with Andre are Eva Hesse, Sol Lewitt, Robert Rauchensberg and Robert Morris.  Minimalists use basic shapes like square tiles to envoke emotional responses, almost like the 3D version of abstract expressionism:


In summary, this was a useful little book to pick up from the library and it has made me think about how we define what ‘ism’ art falls under.  It has also got me questioning, what the point of all these labels are?  Does an artist set out by saying ‘ I am an abstract impressionist’, I highly doubt it, certainly in my case not.  I don’t feel like I have yet found my personal style and am still in the experimental stage of trying lots of new ideas out.



Little, S. …isms: Understanding Art (2004) London iqon.