For thousands of art lovers both amateur and professional, aesthetic life began with Janson, as H.W. Janson's History of Art is often called. In the first edition, published in 1962, Janson spoke to that perennial reader he gently called "the troubled layman." His opening paragraph revealed his sympathy: "Why is this supposed to be art?" he quoted rhetorically. "How often have we heard this question asked--or asked it ourselves, perhaps--in front of one of the strange, disquieting works that we are likely to find nowadays in the museum or art exhibition." Keeping that curious, questioning perspective in mind, he wrote a history of art from cave painting to Picasso that was singularly welcoming, illuminating, and exciting.
After H.W. Janson died, in 1982, his son, Anthony F. Janson, took over the daunting task of revising his father's book. Janson the elder would be thrilled with the beauty of this fifth edition, which tips the scales at more than seven pounds. Thanks to advances in printing, it teems with reproductions--736 in color and 500 black-and-white--that would have been far too costly 35 years ago. At an even 1,000 pages, it is an inch thicker than its 572-page progenitor.
Sojourning through this book, a reader is offered every amenity for a comfortable trip. Because Janson never assumes knowledge on the part of the reader, a recent immigrant from Mars could comprehend Western art from this text. The only assumption the Jansons have made is that with a little guidance everyone can come to understand the artifacts that centuries of architecture, sculpture, design, and painting have deposited in our paths. Countless readers have proven the Jansons right--and found their lives enriched in the process.