On one level, Art: A New History is a basic history of western art. Its content includes the usual examples of major art works and artists. The chronological organization and periodization also follows traditional lines from antiquity, medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, classicism and Romanticism of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to modern art of the twentieth century. It is amply illustrated with good quality color photographs.
There are some differences that exist between this book and most art history textbooks. Author Paul Johnson presents a more personal and idiosyncratic view of the history of western art. His ideas are interesting and challenging, and in this sense, do provoke the reader to think about art and the history of western art in different ways.
With this approach, however, the presentation of material raises certain problems. The most important one is that the author provides no footnotes, no bibliography or sources for further reading. Therefore, it is impossible to follow up on or check the source or accuracy of his ideas and statements. In the absence of this essential documentation, the reader is put in the position of taking Paul Johnson’s opinions on faith.
An additional problem is that the title of the book is misleading in some respects. Although the title is simply Art, in fact, the book focuses almost exclusively on art produced in the western, primarily European, world. This Eurocentric view only tangentially considers the great artistic creativity of other cultures, those of Asia, India, the Middle East, Africa, and the Americas. A truly “new” art history needs to embrace and integrate these equally vital artistic traditions.