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What is Painting?

Julian Bell


A significantly revised edition of Julian Bell’s 1999 book, taking a fresh, focused look at the situation of painting in contemporary culture


At the turn of the twenty-first century, many felt sceptical or confused about painting’s on-going cultural relevance. In this context, Julian Bell’s What is Painting? provided an accessible and inspired account of artistic thinking and practice, and of the complexities then facing artists and their audiences. Eighteen years on, the situation is partly reversed. Painting has proved too resilient a practice to be marginalized any longer. Yet is there any sense of forward momentum for the art? Interrogating the factors that have changed our ideas of painting over the past two centuries, Bell addresses relations between figuration and abstraction and between narrative and non-narrative painting, as well as the waning of conceptual art’s dominance and the proliferation of experiments with the physical limits of painting. He also clarifies general concepts such as ‘expression’ and ‘representation’.

Fully revised to provide a fresh look at the situation of painting, this new edition maintains the objective of lucid, historically informative explanation that earned the original edition its status as a text of lasting value. The book provides a general reader’s introduction to theories of painting that is not only reliable, but also stimulating and amusing to read.

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'Bold and brilliant ... a modern intellectual classic'
Jonathan Jones

'Brilliant, concise and above all original ... The joy of looking – essentially wordless, as Julian Bell says – here finds a true parallel in the pleasure of reading'
Laura Cumming

'A work of refreshing originality'
Sir Ernst Gombrich

'A very good book'
Andrew Marr

'A worthwhile analysis of the creative process and [is] well-argued and thoroughly illustrated'
Art Book Review

'Bell’s examination of what defines, links and changes the act of painting raises live questions … fascinating'
Michael Prodger, New Statesman

'Don’t miss What is Painting? by Julian Bell, a man who both paints and writes exceptionally well'

'An extended and scholarly look at how painting came into being … don’t miss What is Painting by Julian Bell, a man who both paints and writes exceptionally well'

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Product Information

Book Details

Format: Hardback

Edition Type: Second edition

Size: 22.9 x 15.2 cm

Extent: 224 pp

Illustrations: 170

Publication date: 5 October 2017

ISBN: 9780500239735

Contents List

1. Images and Marks • 2. Sight and Knowledge • 3. Form and Time • 4. Expression • 5. The Arts and Art • 6. Representation

About the Author

Julian Bell is a well-known painter and author. His books include Bonnard and What is Painting?, both published by Thames & Hudson.