The Pennsylvania State University
Cover for the book A Brief History of the Artist from God to Picasso

A Brief History of the Artist from God to Picasso

Paul Barolsky
  • Copyright: 2010
  • Dimensions: 6 x 9
  • Page Count: 168 pages
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-271-03675-5
  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-271-03676-2
“In this brilliant, wide-ranging essay, Barolsky examines the historical idea of the artist, arguing convincingly, for example, that we should view Homer as an early art historian and that Dante played a crucial role in shaping the modern view of the artist.”
“Paul Barolsky, our best art writer, is a miraculously economical stylist with a happily reliable sense of humor. God was sometimes a failed artist, he argues, much like Picasso. Moving very quickly, with reference to Homer, Ovid, Dante, Vasari, Balzac, and some detective novels, his book tells the history of European visual culture. Vladimir Nabokov could hardly have done better.”
“Paul Barolsky’s new book is marvelous, a treasure. It is an imaginative history—of fact, fiction, and fable—brilliantly related by a historian of the imagination.”
“This is a rich intellectual journey, made all the richer by the extent and range of writers Barolsky is able to include in his account.”
“Barolsky’s composition is a fluent example that the art of less is more.”
“Barolsky reveals the ubiquity of fictive and imaginative writing present in the history of art. His elegant narratives serve to remind us of the admonishment we only think we heed: Don't believe everything you read!”
“As Barolsky acknowledges, the book represents “a synthesis of a lifetime of thinking about the idea of the artist.””

In A Brief History of the Artist from God to Picasso, Paul Barolsky explores the ways in which fiction shapes history and history informs fiction. It is a playful book about artistic obsession, about art history as both tragedy and farce, and about the heroic and the mock-heroic. The book demonstrates that the modern idea of the artist has deep roots in the image of the epic poet, from Homer to Ovid to Dante. Barolsky’s major claim is that the history of the artist is inseparable from historical fiction about the artist and that fiction is essential to the reality of the artist’s imagination.

Paul Barolsky is Commonwealth Professor of the History of Art at the University of Virginia. He is the author of numerous books, including the Penn State Press titles The Faun in the Garden: Michelangelo and the Poetic Origins of Italian Renaissance Art (1994), Giotto's Father and the Family of Vasari’s "Lives" (1992), and Why Mona Lisa Smiles and Other Tales by Vasari (1991).




The Art of God from the Beginning of the World till the End of Time

Homer, Hephaistos, and the Poetic Origins of Art History

Ovid’s Protean Epic and Artistic Personae

Dante and the Modern Cult of the Artist

Vasari and the Quixotic Painter

Leonardo, Vasari, and the Historical Imagination

Vasari and the Autobiography of Michelangelo

Balzac and the Fable of Failure in Modern Art

Myths and Mysteries of Modern Art

Towards a Mock-Heroic History of Art

The Metamorphoses of Picasso


Bibliographical Note

Selected Bibliography


Other Ways to Acquire

Buy from
Buy from an Independent Bookstore
Buy from Powell's Books
Buy from Barnes and
Get the Kobo Edition
Get the Kindle Edition
Get the iBook Edition

Also of Interest

Also of interest book cover

The Delight of Art

Giorgio Vasari and the Traditions of Humanist Discourse