What is art and where did it begin? Why do we make it and why does it change? These are some of the many questions that Julian Bell considers in this new story of art for the 21st century.

From humans’ first impulses to create form out of raw materials to the most modern of gallery installations, people around the world have always been drawn to image-making. Styles and periods have come and gone, and yet intriguing links between seemingly unconnected traditions remain to be discovered. Bell, himself a painter, uses a wide range of objects – both familiar and less well known – to reveal how art is a product of our shared experience; how, like a mirror, it can reflect the human condition and our most basic cultural preoccupations. Avoiding the route taken by previous histories, Bell has carefully chosen a global perspective, setting up juxtapositions that will challenge and enlighten the reader: dancing bronze figures from southern India, Romanesque sculptures, Baroque ceilings and jewel-like Persian manuscripts are discussed side by side as extraordinary testaments to our universal creative instinct.

With an insider’s knowledge and an unerring touch, Bell draws these diverse strands into a beautifully written, lucid and compelling account. Both a perfect introduction to wider art history and a glimpse inside the artistic mind, this ground-breaking narrative will become a touchstone for a new generation of readers.

With 372 illustrations, 267 in colour