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Title: VISUAL COMMUNICATION


1
VISUAL COMMUNICATION
AN ART HISTORY PRIMER
David Blumenkrantz CSUN 2004
2
CAVE PAINTINGS Skill in art was a precondition of
human progress. Art came before tools, writing,
and even before complex speech. Once art took a
non-bodily form, it began to survive, and became
possible to study. Communal art in the Stone
Age Painting of a bison in a cave, Altamira,
Spain. Creating cave paintings was extremely
difficult and expensive the professional artist
was supported by the tribe.
3
MEGALITHIC ART Stonehenge, constructed in three
phases in England between 3200 and 1600 BC,
epitomizes the first climax of monumental
religious art its survival testifies to the
sophistication of its architecture and masonry.
Its alignment was likely based on careful
observation of lunar cycles.
4
HIEROGLYPHICS EGYPT, 1950 BC The axis on which
Egyptian civilization revolved was the mastery of
stone-carving. If we could get inside the mind of
a literate Egyptian before 100 BC, we would find
he did not distinguish between words and art--
both were seen as a process of communicating and
clarifying.
5
HUMAN PROPORTION Egyptian artists were the first
to develop a systemized canon for the human form.
The usual purpose of Egyptian art was to
guarantee the immortality of the body, hence it
was important to render proportions
correctly. Low-relief carving in the New
Kingdom
6
PALACE ART IN THE ANCIENT NEAR EAST
The tombs of Persian kings were carved deep and
high in the rock, and were embellished with
political propaganda. Similarly, the art of the
Sumerians, Babylonians and Assyrians was also
very political, designed to impress, terrify,
warn and exult.
7
GREEK ART THE AGE OF INDIVIDUAL MASTERS Like the
Egyptians, the ancient Greeks tied their vision
of ideal beauty to what they considered the
proper proportions of the human body. Polykleitos
is credited with the derivation of a canon of
proportions-- a set of rules about body parts and
their dimensions relative to one another. In the
fifth century B.C., Greek classical sculpture
reached its zenith. This was no longer palace
art-- it was city-state art, reflecting the
individualism encouraged in a society that prided
itself on its cultural enlightenment. The
widespread introduction of bronze casting allowed
these new masters to create art that strove to
imitate the Greek ideal of beauty, the human
form. Doryphoros or spear-carrier, by
Polykleitos.
8
ANCIENT CHINA ART ON A PRODIGIOUS SCALE
In the 1970s, the excavation of the tomb of
Chinese emperor Qin uncovered thousands of
terra-cotta soldiers. Qins burial took the
principal of reproducing life in death to its
ultimate extreme. This was a burial on a scale
not attempted since the Egyptian pharaohs within
the great Pyramids of Giza. The thousands of
figures were assembled from prefabricated parts,
produced in industrial fashion in hundreds of
kilns that needed to be kept heated at
temperatures between 950 and 1,ooo degrees
Centigrade. (Qin reigned from 221-210 BC)
9
CHRISTIAN ICONOGRAPHY In polytheistic cultures
like Greece and Rome, religion and myth
intermingled freely, and artistic freedom was
encouraged. With the rise of the monotheistic
societies-- Judaism, Islam and Christianity--
devotion was focused on a single god. Icon
from St. Catherines Monastery, Sinai. Icons, an
art form developed from the fourth century in the
Orthodox church, were used in religious rituals.
10
ISLAMIC ARCHITECTURE Architecture was by far the
most important of the Islamic arts, and the
mosque was the most numerous of public buildings
in all Islamic lands. In theory mosques were
meant to be simple, modeled after Mohammeds home
in Medina, but as the Islamic Empire grew, power
brought wealth and ostentation. In time, Islam
began to export their own artistic forms to the
West.
Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem (692 AD), is the
earliest major Islamic building to survive. It
was originally covered in exquisite mosaics.
11
CHRISTIAN REALISM Medieval artists in northern
Europe strove for realism. Though still bound by
religion, artists were demonstrating more
creative individualism. They wanted to depict,
within the framework of worship, the world as it
was, and men and women as they were-- sinful,
hell-bent. The depiction of body language,
clothing, expression and architectural
perspective was important. These details told
the viewer, This is true, and its part of your
life also. Rogier van der Weyden, Beheading
of John the Baptist (c.1455-60)
12
RENAISSANCE MEN The High Renaissance came to
pass with the rise of ambitious, free-spending
popes in Rome. This period represented the climax
of Europes artistic greatness. These beautiful
paintings do exactly what they set out to do
inspire piety in the religious minded and rapture
in the aesthete. Lady with an Ermine (1490) by
Leonardo da Vinci is not his most famous, but it
may be his most perfect work.
13
MICHELANGELO Although he is perhaps best known
for his sculptures and painting, this portrait of
a boy explains why Michelangelos drawings were
the first to be treated as major works of art in
their own right.
14
THE FIRST GREAT LANDSCAPE PAINTINGS appeared in
the early 17th century. Peter Paul Rubens, one of
the greatest international artists of his time,
spent his last years indulging his passion for
nature.
15
REACHING FOR PERFECTION The Golden Century of
Dutch Art (lasting from the 1590s to the 1700s)
produced great masters such as Rembrandt van
Rijn. His portraits are characterized by his
obsession with light and shadow. To this day,
portrait artists, including photographers, refer
to Rembrandt lighting. Nicholas Ruts, a
man of little importance, bought himself
immortality when he paid Rembrandt to paint his
portrait in 1631.
16
BACK TO THE FUTURE The 18th century saw artists
starting to break away from strict traditional
form Piranesis Carceri VII (1760), from an
etched set of imaginary prisons, fascinated
visitors to Rome, and would later inspire the
Surrealists.
17
JAPANESE WOODBLOCKS Although japan was still a
century away from entering the modern world and
becoming a great military power, by the second
half of the 18th century it was absorbing
technology, including art production. Artists
studied what the Japanese called Dutch learning
which incorporated vanishing point perspective--
something the Chinese had discovered for
themselves a millennium earlier, and had decided
was unimportant. Tsujigimi, a famous beauty
of Edo, woodblock from the 1790s by Utamaro
this is what was known as a large head
portrait.
18
HOKUSAI
Old Man with Hammer and Mice by Hokusai, who
showed greater powers of draughtsmanship than any
other Japanese artist, especially in his studies
of life in the streets. This piece demonstrates
the liberal use of figure-ground relationship
favored by Japanese artists, to whom the empty
spaces were just as important as the objects
within them.
19
WATERCOLORS
Revolutionary developments in technology led to
watercolor pencils and a variety of new textures
and grades of paper. Artists would stitch
together books of this new paper, and could now
work more easily on location. In the second half
of the 18th century, a British school of
watercolorists emerged, and new medium spread
globally. The Turtle Pound, painted in the West
Indies by American Winslow Homer, who loved to
use watercolors to capture the effect of light on
water.
20
ART AS A MEDIUM OF PROTEST
Spanish artist Francisco Goya was perhaps the
first to focus his efforts exclusively on the
horrors of war. Disasters of War, a series of
prints he began in 1810, depicted the brutality
of the French occupation of Spain, in a manner
which preceded photojournalism by several
decades. The Second of May 1808 was actually
painted six years after the event, when the
French had left and it was safe to attack them.
21
THE EMERGENCE OF PHOTOGRAPHY In its infancy,
photography was considered a second-tier medium
of art. Pictorialist photographers went to great
lengths to create images that emulated the
romantic style of paintings. Many painters used
photography as a means to record images they
really wanted to paint. Some of these ended up
becoming better known for their photographs than
their paintings. Julia Margaret Cameron , 1865
22
THE FRENCH IMPRESSIONISTS Claude Monet.
Impression Sunrise, 1872.
The Impressionists started as a group of poor
young artists who banded together against the
constraints of the French art establishment. The
name impressionism was given to them
pejoratively by a critic, as their work did not
conform to the representational realism that was
the standard of the time. They advocated painting
outdoors, and studied the dramatic effects of
atmosphere and light on people and objects. When
bathed in sunlight, solids dissolve as objects
are optically reduced to facets of pure color.
The Impressionists would also duplicate the
effects of light by painting in short, choppy
strokes.
23
POSTIMPRESSIONIST PAINTING AND THE BEGINNING OF
ABSTRACTION
The precise realism inherent in photography
seemed to inspire a new boldness in artists of
other mediums. Van Goghs Starry Night (1889)
struck a note of liberation for many painters
when the conventional rules of art were scrapped.
Instead of painting what I have before me, I
pick the colors myself so as to express my inner
feelings. The French Impressionist movement had
been taken to new levels of abstraction.
24
FAUVISM Fauvism is generally regarded as the
first coherent Modernist movement. Henri Matisse
was the unlikely leader of this shock troop of
artists, painting in fervent colors and changing
sensibilities overnight. Henri Matisse.
The Woman with the Hat, 1905
25
THE TORTURED ARTIST Norwegian poster designer
Edvard Munch was neither a good draughtsman nor a
competent painter, yet he created The Scream, the
most reproduced and influential image of the 20th
century. Hovering on the verge of insanity and
plagued by alcoholism, Munch was self-obsessed,
and determined that all of his art come from
within himself. He is considered to be the
founder of Expressionism. As so often happens in
the modern age, this painting (from 1899) has
been seen so many times that it has become a
familiar cliché and lost its shock value.
26
Russian-born painter Marc Chagalls Above the
Town, 1917.
ART EXPRESSING FANTASY In an attempt to capture
the inner self, many 20th century artists looked
to the psychoanalytic writings of Sigmund Freud
and Carl Jung, who suggested that primeval forces
are at work in the unconscious reaches of the
mind. These artists used their art as an outlet
for these forces.
27
CUBISM
One of the most influential art movements of the
20th century was Cubism, begun by Pablo Picasso
and Georges Braque in 1907. They were greatly
inspired by African sculpture, and by
Impressionist painters Cezanne and Seurat. In
Cubism the subject matter is broken up, analyzed,
and reassembled in abstract form. Artists are
freed from the traditional expectation of
creating an illusion of three-dimensions in their
work.
Georges Braque, Fruit Dish, Ace of Clubs, 1913
28
BEYOND BASIC GEOMETRY Pablo Picasso was among
those who felt that the invention of photography
freed the painter to explore new means of
expression. Cubism was a backlash to the
Impressionist period in which there was more of
an emphasis on light and color.  Analytic Cubism
followed Paul Cezannes contention that
everything in nature takes its form from the the
sphere, the cone, and the cylinder. Pablo
Picasso, Woman With a Flower, 1932.
29
STRAIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY American photographer Paul
Strand argued that the medium of photography has
its own unique characteristics that should be
explored. Strand dubbed his new style Straight
Photography. Influenced by Cubism and other
modern art movements, he also used the camera to
create abstractions. He wrote that photography
was the first and only contribution . . . of
science to the arts.
30
PRIMITIVE ART
Most art history books, while providing a
decidedly Eurocentric perspective, report that
there was a growing interest in forms of
culture outside the Western and Asian traditions.
The word primitive carries negative connotations
unsophisticated, relatively simple. One
dictionary definition includes the phrase,
lacking formal or technical training.
Does this mean that everyone who makes art
without training is making primitive art? If so,
we have to ask who decides what it means to be
formally trained?
Mask from Papua New Guinea, by a tribal artist.
This style had a huge influence on Picasso and
the Cubists.
Early 20th century mask, from Equatorial Africa.
31
PRE-COLUMBIAN ART This Eurocentric term is used
to describe the vast amount of artistic
brilliance found by the Spanish during their
period of colonial expansion into Central
America. Pyramids and monuments such as the one
shown here from Yucatan, Mexico, featured
precision masonry and highly imaginative
sculpture. The artworks of the so-called
pre-Columbian cultures were integral to their
rituals and ceremonies. For this reason, much of
it was destroyed at the bequest of church
authorities.
32
NAVAJO SAND PAINTINGS THE RITUAL VALUE OF ART In
Western culture, we think of art as something to
possess we sell, exhibit, and covet works of art
as material objects. To the astonishment of
many observers, most sand paintings are
destroyed in less time than it took to make them.
Like many of the so-called primitive art forms,
for the Navajo it is the ritual--the act of
creating something for ceremonial purposes-- that
is important. To this day, sand paintings are
created by shamans, for the purpose of healing
the sick. Once the ceremony is finished, the sand
painting itself is no longer thought to be
important.
If the shaman is trained, does this mean it is
not primitive art?
33
FUTURISM THE ILLUSION OF MOTION Early
experiments with photography, such as Thomas
Eakins Man Pole Vaulting (c1884) provided an
illusion of the figure in motion through the
method of rapid multiple exposures. Marcel
Duchamp, among others artists, created the
illusion of motion by applying the visual results
of multiple-exposure photography to their
paintings.
Duchamps Nude Descending a Staircase (1912)
created such an uproar that he withdrew it from a
major exhibition.
34
CONCEPTUAL, SUBVERSIVE ART DADA The essence of
Dada was that it was against the status quo.
Duchamps ready-mades took everyday items such
as a urinal, a comb, or a bottle rack, and
declared them as art (or anti-art). Duchamp
directed attention away from the work of art as a
material object, and instead presented it as
something that was essentially an idea he
shifted the idea from making to thinking. The
Dadaists also wanted to push art off its high
pedestal parody modern arts uselessness
ridicule the high value placed on paintings and
sculptures and draw attention to the fact that
modern capitalist society had turned art into
just another set of consumer goods.
Marcel Duchamp. Fountain, 1917
35
THE MEXICAN MURALISTS ART FOR THE
PEOPLE Influenced by the masterful frescoes he
saw in Italy, Diego Rivera would return home in
1921 to create expansive political art. His
murals and other paintings often depicted
political injustice and the plight of the working
class people.
36
FRIDA KAHLOS ICONOGRAPHIC PAINTINGS Frida
Kahlos paintings were often autobiographical,
filled with symbols and icons. In this painting,
she incorporates many elements derived from
ancient Mexican mythology day and night, sun and
moon, the earth goddess Cihuacoatl. Kahlo has
been championed by feminists as one of the most
important and boldest of female artists.
The Love Embrace of the Universe, the Earth
(Mexico), Myself, Diego and Senor Xolotl, 1949
37
THE BAUHAUS The Bauhaus was a German school of
architecture, design and craftsmanship founded in
1919. Their members pioneered the notion of
complete abstraction-- the preference of form
over content which still dominates modern
architecture today. The Bauhaus was shut down by
the Nazis in 1933, who felt threatened by its
avant garde and nonconformist sensibility. Pa
ul Klee. The Tightrope Walker/Equilibrist, 1923.
38
SURREALISM
The Surrealist Movement was one of the major
forces of art between the two world wars.
Influenced by Dada and Freud, Surrealism is
mostly associated with the paintings of Salvador
Dali and Rene Magritte dream-images rendered in
a literal, highly detailed manner. The movement
itself was not however limited to painting,
encompassing literature and even photography.
Surrealists manipulate scale In Magrittes
Personal Values (1952), it is impossible for the
viewer to comprehend the dimensions of any of the
objects, because their familiar sizes have been
subverted.
39
FASHION ART Georgia OKeeffes White Flower on
Red Background (1950) provided a naturalistic
alternative to mechanistic modernism. Her
marriage to legendary photographer-dealer Alfred
Stieglitz helped OKeeffe build a reputation as
perhaps Americas best known and reviewed female
artist of the twentieth century.
40
My aim in painting has always been the most
exact transcription possible of my most intimate
impression of nature. Edward Hopper
Edward Hopper. New York Office, 1962.
EDWARD HOPPERS REPRESENATIONAL ART Against the
trendy grain of abstraction in Modern art,
painters such as Edward Hopper applied a more
traditional representation to what he perceived
as the loneliness many felt in the midst of
Americas teeming cosmopolitanism. Hoppers
imaginative skills enabled him to treat the
problem of solitary existence in unusual and
penetrating ways.
41
PHOTOGRAPHYS GOLDEN AGE
Walker Evans. Floyd Burroughs and His Daughter,
Hale County, Alabama, 1936.
More than any other photographer in the 30s and
40s, Walker Evans defined the documentary
aesthetic. Attempting to show both the beauty of
his subjects and the horror of the social
conditions they lived in, Evans, along with
Dorothea Lange and others, was part of the most
extensive photographic project ever carried out
in the United States-- the Farm Security
Administrations pictorial survey of life during
the Great Depression.
42
PROPAGANDA Every modern civilization has produced
art with propaganda value. World War II was an
especially noteworthy time for this, in Europe as
well as the United States. The End Hitlers
Last Days in the Bunker, by Russian artist
Kakruniksy, 1948.
43
NORMAN ROCKWELLS AMERICANA Over a period of
several decades, Norman Rockwell painted scenes
from everyday life. Most famous for his Saturday
Evening Post covers, Rockwell covered the entire
spectrum of American life urban and rural, rich
and poor, black and white. He painted, in his
meticulous style, just about every type of trade
or profession known. Simple, but not
unsophisticated, Rockwells work has nevertheless
been criticized as being too sentimental-- a
judgment that says more about the art
establishment in the second half of the 20th
century than it does about Rockwell his
studio-turned-museum in New York is now one of
the most popular private museums devoted to an
individual artist anywhere in the world.
44
CAN PHOTOJOURNALISM BE ART? It has been argued
that since the photographers are sent out on
assignment, photojournalism cannot truly be
considered art. Others have contended that making
images of tragedy too artistic demeans the
subject matter by drawing too much attention to
the medium. Nevertheless, there have always been
photojournalists whose work has an undeniably
artistic style about it, from Henri
Cartier-Bresson and W. Eugene Smith in past
generations, to Sebastio Salgado and James
Nachtway today.
W. Eugene Smith. Wounded, Dying Infant Found by
American Soldier in Saipan Mountains, June 1944.
45
All original art looks ugly at first. Clement
Greenberg, art critic
Willem De Kooning. Excavation, 1950.
ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM BEYOND CUBISM The
Abstract Expressionists took Modern Art closer
toward its ultimate minimalist conclusion.
Centered in a highly competitive New York art
scene, the Abstract Expressionists favored pure
geometric form over representational content
flatness as opposed to the false illusion of
depth and a fierce individualism, innovation and
originality. This was art for arts sake, which
meant that the art should be valid for its own
sake, without having to have any relation to the
visual world.
46
THE NEXT BIG THING
In the 1940s, Jackson Pollock, known as an
abstract expressionist (though he never used the
term to describe himself), perfected a style
known as action painting. Pollack would drip and
splatter paint onto a canvas using just about
every tool at his disposal  to create intricate
interlacing patterns of color. With the support
of influential critics and art collectors,
Pollack became the hottest artist of his
era. Jackson Pollack. White Light,
1950s.
Abstract painting is abstract-- it confronts
you. Jackson Pollack
47
COLOR FIELD PAINTING
Mark Rothko took Abstract Expressionism into a
new realm. In this style of painting , the artist
takes large, hazily defined rectangles of color
and paints them on the canvas.  He uses anything
from bright happy colors to dark murky colors to
convey his emotions and a sense of spirituality.
The paintings are best viewed in a peaceful
environment, where the viewer can linger on each
work of art for as long as he desires. Retinal
illusions may occur with prolonged
viewing. Mark Rothko. Orange, Yellow, Orange,
1969.
48
Jasper Johns. Three Flags, 1958.
AMERICAN NEO-DADA During the second half of the
20th century, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenerg
pioneered the revival of the Dada spirit in
American Art. They borrowed ideas from Duchamp,
but also made use of popular American iconography
in a way that foreshadowed Pop Art.
49
Robert Frank. Parade, Hoboken, New Jersey.
STREET PHOTOGRAPHY Photographers have always
found urban life a fascinating subject for their
cameras. In the 1950s and 60s, artists such
as Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand and Diane Arbus
took to the streets to document what some
considered the darker, less wholesome side of
American life. Franks 1958 cross-country cult
classic The Americans was greeted with outrage by
critics who felt his viewpoint was too
pessimistic.
50
POP ART Pop Art arose in America and Britain from
a fascination with the new urban mass-culture,
with its characteristic cults and artifacts
advertisements, pin-ups and comic strips. Artists
such as Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol were
deliberately rejecting the claim made by the
Abstract Expressionists that art conferred high
moral status on those who practiced it with great
energy and seriousness. To the contrary, the Pop
Artists declared that art could be mundane,
expendable, low-cost, transient, mass produced
and inexpensive. Roy Lichtenstein. Forget It,
Forget Me!, 1962.
51
Art is what you can get away with. Andy Warhol
The Two Marilyns, 1962. Silkscreen on canvas.
POSTMODERNISM ANDY WARHOLS FACTORY Andy Warhol,
who once earned a living designing shoe
advertisements and Christmas cards, could be
considered the first pop star of the art world.
Best known for his repetitious and mass-produced
silkscreens of everyday objects like soup cans
and coke bottles, and his application of
unnatural color on posters of icons such as
Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley, Warhol was also
a filmmaker, an editor and a band manager. His
work represents the ultimate refutation of the
Modernisms formalist paradigm.
52
FINDING NEW USES FOR THE CAMERA Painter David
Hockney has used photography to construct unified
compositions whose sum total of parts has a far
greater impact than the whole. In the process of
photographing a subject like Pearblossom Highway
11 (1986), Hockney fragments the panorama, only
to rebuild it in his studio. The result is a
mosaic that elevates the commonplace to the level
of fine art.
53
Betye Saars three-dimensional, mixed media
The Liberation of Aunt Jemima (1972) attacks the
stereotype of servitude represented by racist
icons in American culture since the early 19th
century. Saars Jemima holds a broomstick in one
hand but a rifle in the other. Before her stands
a portrait with a small white child violated by a
clenched black fist, the symbol of Black Power.
The Aunt Jemima confronts viewers and compels
them to reject the stereotypes that lead to
intolerance.
ARTISTS PROTEST SOCIAL INJUSTICE
54
FEMINIST ART The world of art has historically
been dominated by wealthy white males. In the
1970s, the feminist movement in America was
accompanied by a rise of artists who created art
with feminist themes. Among these are Judy
Chicago, The Guerilla Girls, and Barbara Kruger.
In We Dont Need Another Hero (1987), Kruger
confronts viewers with stereotypical epithets for
the dominant sex, seeming to criticize females
for feeding male expectations as much as males
for having them.
55
Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain, 1991-97
FRIVOLITY IN POSTMODERN ARCHITECTURE When the
Guggenheim Foundation gave Frank Gehry the job of
building their museum in Bilbao, Spain, he
responded by illustrating his guiding principle
of movement in architecture buildings under
construction look better than buildings
finished, with shifting masses, collapsing
solids, juxtaposed and twisted volumes. Gehry
simulates movement by giving the appearance of
solid forms collapsing or imploding, and by
juggling perspectives to create collisions and
conflicts.
56
GRAFFITI PURE URBAN ART Graffiti, created by
artists who frequently use pseudonyms, serves as
a fantasy-- as adornment and decoration as well
as mutilation and desecration. The activity,
rebellious, perilous and skilled, creates a
theater for both competition and cooperation
among urban males. The actual execution of a
piece, it has been said, is more of a statement
than its style or content. The motive of graffiti
could be said to be an intense desire to gain
recognition from what the taggers perceive to be
an indifferent world. Flexible (1984) by
Jean-Michel Basquiat reflects his beginnings as a
ringleader of the New York City graffiti scene in
the 1970s. Basquiat, known for his ability to
balance the primitive with the sophisticated,
became a commercial success without ever fully
abandoning his connection to the streets.
57
You have to think twice about everything I say,
no matter whether I mean it or not. That is
provocative. Sarah Lucas
Sarah Lucas. The Fag Show, 2000.
ART FOR THE NEW MILLENIUM IS ART DEAD? After
thousands of years of making art, some questions
remain constant. What is new? What are the
trends? Some critics lament the lack of truly
inspired new art, saying Art is Dead, and that
Postmodernism is little more than the rehashing
and blending of old mediums and themes. Sarah
Lucass The Fag Show, inspired by her desire to
give up smoking, provides as good an example as
any. Her concern with political, sexual and
feminist issues notwithstanding, is there
anything new here aside from cigarette sculpture?
58
SOURCES ART A New History. Paul Johnson.
HarperCollins, NY, 2003. Lives of the Great 20th
Century Artists. Edward Lucie-Smith. Thames and
Hudson, London, 1999. Understanding Art, 7th
Edition. Louis Fichner-Rathus. Thompson
Wadsworth, Belmont, CA, 2004. Postmodern
Perspectives Issues in Contemporary Art. Howard
Risatti. Prentice Hall, New Jersey, 1998. Teach
Yourself Postmodernism. Glen Ward. Teach Yourself
Books, London, 1997.
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