The Story of Art


It’s still just March and I still have knob & tube wiring.

My boots, they don’t leak, and my basement don’t flood.

We’re at the 100th year anniversary of International Women’s Day and the bastards are telling us we’ve already won.

These non-sequitors are a sampling of my putrid mood and how I try to see the pros and the cons but oh the pros are hard, so very hard. That is why today I’ve decided to discuss art.

I bought a membership to the Art Gallery of Ontario in January. I promised myself I’d go once a month; I’d sit for ten minutes by the side of a master and let my eyes slide inside the canvas while a gentle security guard keeps me company. It’s March. I haven’t made it to the Gallery yet.

So I grabbed a book off my shelf. The Story of Art by Sir E. H. Gombrich, pocket edition. I want to ride the streetcar with this lovely volume upon my lap, the two floating green silk ribbons marking text and plates: The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, c.1475; Dance at the Moulin de la Galette, 1876, Renoir.

There are 1,045 pages of art study, including 500 colour plates, and many streetcars to ride. But the ribbons are getting on my nerves; too much work to manipulate them, to slide them into the correct page, flipping back and forth twixt text and image. And do I need my reading glasses for this font size? Bloody hell! Damn, (as I look out the window), it’s snowing again.

I calm down, settle deeper and straighter in my seat, and start at the very beginning: Sir Gombrich’s preface. There’s a photograph of him in his library, looks to be around 1940. He’s in a suit, glancing warmly over his shoulder at me; in the background is his desk scattered with hefty tomes. Not a screen, cord, or machine in sight.

Further off there is another desk. Many more books and this time there is a window, a window looking onto something decidedly not winter.

Sir Gombrich dedicated this book to “those who feel in need of some first orientation in a strange and fascinating field.”

“As a tailpiece to each chapter I have chosen a characteristic representation of the artist’s life and world from the period concerned.”

He wrote the book for teenagers but decided his plain style appeals to all “who seek art in their lives.”

I am among his all.

The book was published in 1950, a decade before my birth. Since then, there have been sixteen new editions. He wrote fresh notes for each preface. I quickly fell in love with his stories about the stories of art–just in these prefaces alone–and then, suddenly, in the preface to the 2006 pocket edition, he died.

“As the reader may know, The Story of Art is the most famous and best-selling introduction to art ever written…this is the first new edition to be published since the death of its author in 2001.”

My heart is a little bit broken.


About Nor

I'm a creative non-fiction writer, with a special interest in memoirs and obituaries--life stories, local histories with flesh & blood anecdotal details. I'm also beginning to create podcasts of people's stories and expanding their audiences. I'm a diarist, an editor, and a political activist. I live in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and spend days tapping keys or staining my fingers in ink.
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