During my last semester in college, I took a course on the history of modern art. I loved it; what I learned has increased the pleasure I have gotten ever since from visiting museums and art galleries. When I took that course, however, I never imagined that more than three decades later I would write a book that would provide a very different analysis of the art of the twentieth century.
I still have the textbook from my college course, George Heard Hamilton's excellent Painting and Sculpture in Europe, 1880–1940. It began with a clear statement of the problem to be explored, which I dutifully underlined:
In the half-century between 1886, the date of the last Impressionist exhibition, and the beginning of the Second World War, a change took place in the theory and practice of art which was as radical and momentous as any that had occurred in human history. It was based on the belief that works of art need not imitate or represent natural objects and events.
The book's cover illustrated what Hamilton called the “watershed between the old pictorial world and the new,” Picasso's jarring painting of 1907, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon.
Hamilton's book, and the professor's lectures, provided a detailed narrative of the shift from an art that represented the natural world to one that recorded the artist's ideas and emotions.