A Little History of Art

This refreshing look at the meaning of art (336 pages) was published in April of 2022 by Yale University Press. The book takes you to the art world. David read A Little History of Art and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if he didn't recommend it.

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A Little History of Art

Charlotte Mullins

Buckle up, buttercup. You’re about to take a romp through about 100,000 years of art, and it’s a thrilling ride. You’ll travel the world — Peru, Australia, the Niger Valley, and beyond — and meet well-known artists like Pablo Picasso and Frida Kahlo, along with forgotten creators with comparable impact.

Your guide through this visual world is Charlotte Mullins, art critic, writer, and broadcaster. She’s very good at translating all of her knowledge into engaging prose for a general audience in a voice that’s simultaneously authoritative and warm. Imagine the engaging, unconventional history teacher you wish you’d had, and you’ll come close. She makes art and history exciting, accessible, and — most effectively — relevant to life right now.

The story of art unfolds through forty short chapters, each beginning with a vignette of what was happening in the world at the time. Context is everything, and Mullins vividly describes artists making art in their time. This supports two crucial ideas: artists are making art everywhere (right now!), and art is about people. Sure, it’s maybe made from paint or paper, stone or wood, etched into a wall or splashed onto a canvas, but really, it’s about people: sorrow, joy, family, foes, events of the day.

If you’ve ever felt lost or overwhelmed in a museum — or wondered what other people see in a painting or sculpture that you’re somehow missing — this book is a gentle, practical guide to understanding the work in front of you. And, perhaps, the world surrounding the artist when the muse whispered in their ear.

The end of life at Bonampak must have been swift. The paintings are dated 791 CE but a quarter of the hieroglyphs remain unfinished, suggesting work suddenly halted. It seems as if the next war didn’t go their way and the site was abandoned, covered by rainforest for over one thousand years until it was rediscovered in 1946. — Charlotte Mullins

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