Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, "Mermaid", 1913
This book benefits greatly from Ernst Gombrich's encyclopedic familiarity with the stuff in art museums and the literature of art history -- something notably lacking from the last two books I read, written by a neuro-scientist (Eric Kandel), and a sociologist (Georg Simmel).
But his actual experience as a viewer is more problematic than that of the two art enthusiasts mentioned above.
When he looks at "primitive" art, he sees the Classical elements that it lacks, but doesn't seem to relate to whatever else it might have to offer.
What would he have said about the above piece ? That it has the same primitive structure as carvings done by untrained Eskimos ?
In his concluding paragraph, he tells us that he still believes that "there are standards by which to judge quality", but I'm doubting he can offer any astute judgments or insights in either Classical or non-classical genres. I certainly found nothing like that in this book.
And he doesn't seem to realize that those who like 'primitive' art, don't necessarily prefer it to the High Renaissance or the Baroque. Above, for example, is the cover of a book by one such writer.
He should never have been tasked with introducing the history of art to undergraduate college students, much less a historiography of western European interest in what he defiantly insists on calling 'primitive' art.
But what he can offer is a view inside his corner of the academic artworld - the German tradition of European art history that continues to validate the dominant narrative of modern and contemporary art.
Regrading that narrative, I don't share Gombrich's disparagement of the last hundred years of avant garde art -- but I do enjoy vigorously argued dissident views. (I would only disparage the last 50)