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Patterns of Intention: On the Historical Explanation of Pictures [Paperback]

Michael Baxandall
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Sept. 10 1987
An enquiry into the historical understanding of pictures - something sought not only by art historians but by anyone who looks at a picture in the knowledge that it is old or comes out of a culture different from their own.

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars where art thou interpretation Oct. 20 2000
Format:Paperback
This book is so conspicuosly intelligent, and its exercises in criticism so involving, that it is a great pleasure to read. Baxandall begins by developing a scheme for the explanation of concrete historical objects in general.
He takes the Forth bridge in Scotland. Baxandall, more than it makes it beautiful, he shows you that it really is beautiful. But wait, there's more. He takes Picasso's Kahweiler and shows it to you as beautiful, and damn well you believe it.
Baxandall shows us how to interpret art.
But he claims modesty: he is a historian, he says, and is only offering one method of many to think about pictures. I think this is the only place where he has gone wrong. After going through his method of understanding art, you will know there are no others. All the other ones are wrong. Baxandall is right.
If you want to be someone who talks about art intelligently, buy this book and you will be able to talk of art in the only way you should
Was this review helpful to you?
3.0 out of 5 stars Lovely Textbook March 23 2000
By H. K. A
Format:Paperback
This book is a genuinely informative and at times engrossing view into the making and understanding of pictures. However, it reads (not surprisingly) like a textbook; it is brilliant and thought-provoking in some parts but dryly monotonous in others. (The bridge-building bit stands out as particularly tedious.) The points Baxandall makes via this tediousness are no less brilliant, but their lustre is lost beneath layers of dull, yawn-worthy prose. Baxandall's stylistic shortcomings should not scare away anyone with a passionate interest in the study of Art and its interpretation. But for the layman in search of a clear and down-to-earth discussion of how to look at pictures, this is probably a book to avoid.
Was this review helpful to you?
5.0 out of 5 stars Elegant explication of art historical issues Aug. 7 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Through three well-chosen case studies, Baxandall examines the question of artistic intention: how the constraints of the culture, the artistic medium, and the intended use of a work of art shape the process of its creation. Particularly penetrating is his "excursus on influence", in which he argues that participants in an artistic tradition shape and change how their predecessors are understood. This is an ingenious and satisfying book: I read it twice for two different college classes, and expect to read it again and continue to profit from it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Companion to any book on Counterfactuals July 26 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I was led to this book in reading P. Tetlock's book on Counterfactuals. Tetlock builds upon the ideas outlined in Plausible Worlds by G. Hawthorn. Plausible Worlds uses the concepts and framework oultined in Patterns of Intention. I'll never look at a painting nor major architectural structure the same way again. Thanks to this book.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
44 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Elegant explication of art historical issues Aug. 7 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Through three well-chosen case studies, Baxandall examines the question of artistic intention: how the constraints of the culture, the artistic medium, and the intended use of a work of art shape the process of its creation. Particularly penetrating is his "excursus on influence", in which he argues that participants in an artistic tradition shape and change how their predecessors are understood. This is an ingenious and satisfying book: I read it twice for two different college classes, and expect to read it again and continue to profit from it.
23 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars where art thou interpretation Oct. 20 2000
By Jose Berlin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book is so conspicuosly intelligent, and its exercises in criticism so involving, that it is a great pleasure to read. Baxandall begins by developing a scheme for the explanation of concrete historical objects in general.
He takes the Forth bridge in Scotland. Baxandall, more than it makes it beautiful, he shows you that it really is beautiful. But wait, there's more. He takes Picasso's Kahweiler and shows it to you as beautiful, and damn well you believe it.
Baxandall shows us how to interpret art.
But he claims modesty: he is a historian, he says, and is only offering one method of many to think about pictures. I think this is the only place where he has gone wrong. After going through his method of understanding art, you will know there are no others. All the other ones are wrong. Baxandall is right.
If you want to be someone who talks about art intelligently, buy this book and you will be able to talk of art in the only way you should
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book on art criticism and the language of art June 8 2014
By W - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
how often do you feel uneasy when people say that art is subjective? This desire to be able to express human feeling and intuition towards art could possibly be satisfied through this book. Michael Baxandall approached art criticism within the rational and historical convention without neglecting human empathy towards art making. He successfully made parallelism between our understanding of art and the effects it produced to the audience. Though this essay do not impose any formula and strategy to define and describe art, it was able to best help us to articulate what we called 'subjective' quality of art to another human being.
8 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lovely Textbook March 23 2000
By H. K. A - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book is a genuinely informative and at times engrossing view into the making and understanding of pictures. However, it reads (not surprisingly) like a textbook; it is brilliant and thought-provoking in some parts but dryly monotonous in others. (The bridge-building bit stands out as particularly tedious.) The points Baxandall makes via this tediousness are no less brilliant, but their lustre is lost beneath layers of dull, yawn-worthy prose. Baxandall's stylistic shortcomings should not scare away anyone with a passionate interest in the study of Art and its interpretation. But for the layman in search of a clear and down-to-earth discussion of how to look at pictures, this is probably a book to avoid.
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