978-0-7126-6442-4 / 9780712664424

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About the book:

It's one of the oldest conundrums in art history: which is the greater art, painting or sculpture? As James Hall points out in his highly controversial cultural history, The World as Sculpture, learned opinion from the Renaissance onward has invariably come down in favour of painting. Tracing a 500-year tradition of prejudice against sculpture, Hall argues that the three-dimensional art has been persistently downgraded since the emergence of the figure of the artist-gentleman in the Renaissance. From Leonardo da Vinci, and even Michelangelo, onward, sculpture came to be seen as an unseemly labour, which slavishly followed the ancients, lacking in colour, poetry or even spontaneity.

According to Hall, first the 15th century and then the Romantics and Victorians rejected the chisel in favour of the brush. The World as Sculpture pivots on Hall's argument that over the last century this divide between painting and sculpture and denigration of the latter has been shattered. Modernism's embrace of the figure of the artist as worker has created an unprecedented shift in the perception of sculpture, to the extent that it is now the primary form of artistic expression used by today's most celebrated artists, such as Tracy Emin, Rachel Whiteread and Damien Hirst. Three-dimensional art in the round has decisively called the bluff of the contained and safely framed perspective of painting, leading to what Hall sees as an ongoing revolution in the visual arts.

Hall's argument is bold and deeply controversial. Many will not recognise his view of Renaissance painting and sculpture. The book is surprisingly thin on its exploration of figures such as Giacometti, Moore and Caro, and the illustrations are meagre and rather disappointing. Nevertheless, The World as Sculpture is a great piece of polemical art history, which attempts to reinstate sculpture as the primary form of artistic expression. It deserves to cause a critical commotion. --Jerry Brotton

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