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But is It Art?: An Introduction to Art Theory

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From Andy Warhol's Brillo boxes to provocative dung-splattered madonnas, in today's art world many strange, even shocking, things are put on display. This often leads exasperated viewers to exclaim--is this really art? In this invaluable primer on aesthetics, Freeland explains why innovation and controversy are so highly valued in art, weaving together philosophy and art From Andy Warhol's Brillo boxes to provocative dung-splattered madonnas, in today's art world many strange, even shocking, things are put on display. This often leads exasperated viewers to exclaim--is this really art? In this invaluable primer on aesthetics, Freeland explains why innovation and controversy are so highly valued in art, weaving together philosophy and art theory with many engrossing examples. Writing clearly and perceptively, she explores the cultural meanings of art in different contexts, and highlights the continuities of tradition that stretch from modern, often sensational, works back to the ancient halls of the Parthenon, to the medieval cathedral of Chartres, and to African nkisi nkondi fetish statues. She explores the difficulties of interpretation, examines recent scientific research into the ways the brain perceives art, and looks to the still-emerging worlds of art on the web, video art, art museum CD-ROMS, and much more. In addition, Freeland guides us through the various theorists of art, from Aristotle and Kant to Baudrillard. Lastly, throughout this nuanced account of theories, artists, and works, Freeland provides us with a rich understanding of how cultural significance is captured in a physical medium, and why challenging our perceptions is, and always has been, central to the whole endeavor. It is instructive to recall that Henri Matisse himself was originally derided as a "wild beast." To horrified critics, his bold colors and distorted forms were outrageous. A century later, what was once shocking is now considered beautiful. And that, writes Freeland, is art.


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From Andy Warhol's Brillo boxes to provocative dung-splattered madonnas, in today's art world many strange, even shocking, things are put on display. This often leads exasperated viewers to exclaim--is this really art? In this invaluable primer on aesthetics, Freeland explains why innovation and controversy are so highly valued in art, weaving together philosophy and art From Andy Warhol's Brillo boxes to provocative dung-splattered madonnas, in today's art world many strange, even shocking, things are put on display. This often leads exasperated viewers to exclaim--is this really art? In this invaluable primer on aesthetics, Freeland explains why innovation and controversy are so highly valued in art, weaving together philosophy and art theory with many engrossing examples. Writing clearly and perceptively, she explores the cultural meanings of art in different contexts, and highlights the continuities of tradition that stretch from modern, often sensational, works back to the ancient halls of the Parthenon, to the medieval cathedral of Chartres, and to African nkisi nkondi fetish statues. She explores the difficulties of interpretation, examines recent scientific research into the ways the brain perceives art, and looks to the still-emerging worlds of art on the web, video art, art museum CD-ROMS, and much more. In addition, Freeland guides us through the various theorists of art, from Aristotle and Kant to Baudrillard. Lastly, throughout this nuanced account of theories, artists, and works, Freeland provides us with a rich understanding of how cultural significance is captured in a physical medium, and why challenging our perceptions is, and always has been, central to the whole endeavor. It is instructive to recall that Henri Matisse himself was originally derided as a "wild beast." To horrified critics, his bold colors and distorted forms were outrageous. A century later, what was once shocking is now considered beautiful. And that, writes Freeland, is art.

30 review for But is It Art?: An Introduction to Art Theory

  1. 4 out of 5

    Glenn Russell

    A most accessible short introduction to not only art theory but also the philosophy of art and aesthetics, Cynthia Freeland’s approach is to provide historical and cultural context for the frequently asked question: “But is it art?” As a way of sharing some of the book’s content, below are several highlights: In the chapter Blood and Beauty we are introduced to modern artists who use blood, piss and other bodily fluids to produce their artwork. The general public finds such works disgusting, as A most accessible short introduction to not only art theory but also the philosophy of art and aesthetics, Cynthia Freeland’s approach is to provide historical and cultural context for the frequently asked question: “But is it art?” As a way of sharing some of the book’s content, below are several highlights: In the chapter Blood and Beauty we are introduced to modern artists who use blood, piss and other bodily fluids to produce their artwork. The general public finds such works disgusting, as Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ made with the artist’s own urine and a wooden crucifix. An expert art critic defends Serrano’s work citing 1) how the artist expertly employed a sophisticated but difficult process of photography (the work’s formal, material properties), 2) the artist is Catholic and part Honduran, part Afro-Cuban, with long traditions of blood and bodily fluids as part of religious rituals (the work’s content), and 3) how Serrano is part of a long Spanish tradition with artists such as Francisco Goya painting violent bloody scenes (this art is part of a tradition). The author counters how we are now living in a modern secular world and the community of museumgoers is much different than a community of, say, medieval Catholics or the ancient Mayan culture. Personally, I agree – people today visit a museum or gallery to see something really worth seeing, works that are visually striking, imaginative and part of a rich artistic tradition; they don’t go to museums to be disgusted, insulted or degraded. So when people witness cans of shit and the like in an art museum and hear the work justified by such reasons noted above, they say: “Yeah, yeah, yeah . . . but is it art, really?” People today visit a museum or gallery to see something really worth seeing, works that are visually striking, imaginative and part of a rich artistic tradition. Arthur Danto is cited as saying how in our modern world a work of art is an object that embodies a meaning. Thus, if in some way the art world sees meaning in an artist’s work, then that work is a work of art. Such a pluralist view helps us understand why artwork featuring piss and excrement or Andy Warhol Brillo Boxes or Damien Hirst’s dead shark are now accepted as art. Meanwhile, the average museumgoer listens to such theories and says: “Yeah, yeah, yeah . . . but is it art, really? Performance artist Milo Moire walks through a gallery nude holding a baby – her performance is her art. But many people ask: “Yeah, yeah yeah . . . but it is art, really? In 1974, an American anthropologist encouraged members of a western Mexican tribe to stick with their own traditional symbols and not include such western images as Mickey Mouse and Automobiles. Over the last forty years this has become a real issue – the modern art collector wants “traditional” art from traditional tribespeople but those tribespeople frequently love to incorporate the modern world into their art. One of my favorite examples: a New Guinea shaman was leading a lively tribe ritual encircled by many Westerners with their cameras. The shaman was wearing a black Oakland Raiders T-shirt. Westerners asks if he could take off the T-shirt so they could photo a traditional ritual. The shaman refused as he was very proud of his Raiders T-shirt. Go black and silver! New Guinea tribesman marching as part of an elaborate ritual. Notice the guy on the right with baseball cap, basketball shorts and white sneakers. Like it or not, we are now in one global world culture. Some might ask: “Yeah, yeah, yeah . . . but is it authentic traditional art, really?” Although many museums have attempted to reach out to a wider audience, the typical profile of a museumgoer remains a person college educated and among the higher income brackets. Some cities and communities have moved beyond the confines of museums, displaying public art for all to see. I’m proud to say my own city of Philadelphia is the city of murals, with nearly 4,000 - yes, that’s FOUR THOUSAND - murals throughout the city, created on the walls of commercial buildings or residences throughout the city, including all neighborhoods. A great way to make art a part of everybody’s everyday life. Cynthia Freeland touches a number of other subjects that have triggered much debate over the last years and are even more pressing in our current world, topics such as gender and art in the digital age. Again, such an accessible and enjoyable book to read for anybody interested in the world of art.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Justin Evans

    A very easy to read overview of a few art theories (bad on Kant; okay on Hume; good on feminism/ritual theory), and Freeland's chosen theory is a solid one as far as it goes. She has Dewey's idea that art is somehow metonymic of a 'culture' and can be understood cognitively as well as emotionally or aesthetically + institutional art theory's point that art is just what a community says art is. But she never deals with the obvious objection: institutional art theory can only exist in modern and A very easy to read overview of a few art theories (bad on Kant; okay on Hume; good on feminism/ritual theory), and Freeland's chosen theory is a solid one as far as it goes. She has Dewey's idea that art is somehow metonymic of a 'culture' and can be understood cognitively as well as emotionally or aesthetically + institutional art theory's point that art is just what a community says art is. But she never deals with the obvious objection: institutional art theory can only exist in modern and post-modern contexts. This is difficult to express without self-contradiction, I apologize: if art isn't cut off from everyday life (e.g., stained glass windows are set in the context of prayer rather than a museum), it makes no sense to have an institutional art theory. Now consider the social and cultural requirements for a theory of this kind, and ask yourself if this is the kind of art theory you want. Maybe it is, but maybe we want a theory that's more aspirational. For instance, I'm worried about the effect that institutional art theory has on the future production of art: it seems to damn us to endless cycles of critique and recuperation, of shocks that are shocking for about fifteen seconds before they get commodified by those who have the money to tell the rest of us what art might be (and that includes 'shocks' like performance art that supposedly resists commodification, but in much the same way that tie-died T-shirts resisted commodification, i.e., not much). In this situation, Dewey's art is metonymic of culture bit suggests very little about our culture other than the fact that it's decadent, unimaginative, backward looking and slightly pathetic. And I'm pretty sure there's more going on than that. Anyway, this is a thought-provoking book that you can read after lunch and before afternoon tea.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Clay Kallam

    I had hoped for a lot more ... Cynthia Freeland's small book (Oxford, $14.95, 208 tiny pages) posed the question but never delivered any kind of satisfactory answer -- though to be fair, no one has ever really come with a satisfactory practical or philosophical definition of art. For many, of course, modern art (whatever that may be) doesn't really qualify, because a) the belief is that anyone can do it; b) it's ugly; and c) it's meaningless. On the other hand, museums are full of art that many I had hoped for a lot more ... Cynthia Freeland's small book (Oxford, $14.95, 208 tiny pages) posed the question but never delivered any kind of satisfactory answer -- though to be fair, no one has ever really come with a satisfactory practical or philosophical definition of art. For many, of course, modern art (whatever that may be) doesn't really qualify, because a) the belief is that anyone can do it; b) it's ugly; and c) it's meaningless. On the other hand, museums are full of art that many don't think of as qualifying, and the artists that make those pieces can do quite well financially. But if you were looking for some kind of insights that might shed some light on why those questions go unanswered, this book does not contain them. Maybe someday someone will be able to articulate a definition of art that allows for medieval religious paintings, meticulous and gorgeous Hudson River School landscapes and urinals tilted on their side to all fit, but that time is definitely not now, and that book is definitely not "But Is It Art?"

  4. 5 out of 5

    Bryce Holt

    This should be 2.5 stars, but I'm going against the grain and giving the lower score because I was constantly aware of how boring this was throughout the entirety of the book. I liked the commentary on the Guerrilla Girls as it's been years since I heard about the work they are doing as well as the segment about Francis Bacon, but most of the book was, "Well, yeah, that's obvious," or, "I'm tired of hearing about Kant." Just overall kind of negative experience. Seems like a grad thesis written This should be 2.5 stars, but I'm going against the grain and giving the lower score because I was constantly aware of how boring this was throughout the entirety of the book. I liked the commentary on the Guerrilla Girls as it's been years since I heard about the work they are doing as well as the segment about Francis Bacon, but most of the book was, "Well, yeah, that's obvious," or, "I'm tired of hearing about Kant." Just overall kind of negative experience. Seems like a grad thesis written by a not quite altogether person who is, for the most part, pretty bored by the subject matter themselves. Harsh, maybe, but outside of a spare paragraph here and a good point there, this was mush. Certainly nothing new, that's for sure.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Annie Walker

    Chapter 2 and 6 were fairly worthwhile chapters. They went through many Art Theories with thoroughness and expanded on some complex ideas without becoming bloated. Definitely works as an excellent spring board to dive into Art Theories on a more in-depth level. I thought her sections through early Philosophers were a bit dodgy and simplistic (i.e. Plato, Aristotle, and Kant), but they would take some time to unpack to a fuller extent. The other chapters, however, were sloppy and at times even Chapter 2 and 6 were fairly worthwhile chapters. They went through many Art Theories with thoroughness and expanded on some complex ideas without becoming bloated. Definitely works as an excellent spring board to dive into Art Theories on a more in-depth level. I thought her sections through early Philosophers were a bit dodgy and simplistic (i.e. Plato, Aristotle, and Kant), but they would take some time to unpack to a fuller extent. The other chapters, however, were sloppy and at times even confusing simply because her logic jumped around so much. She seems to focus on only a few specific points in History/Art History to illustrate/prove her points, which makes them flimsy. It's not the most well-structured book on the topic I've read. Definitely does not follow a linear form of logic and comes across very scattered. All in all, it's not the worst Art Theory text I've read, but it's also not something I'd necessarily recommend.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Lauren Albert

    A good but very basic overview of the major theories of art. I shouldn't have expected more since it is a very small and short book (200 pages). But she is even handed in her treatment of all of the theories. I was pleased that she was able to approach multi-cultural and feminist theories of art in the same way as she presented the others, showing both their positive and negative sides. Many people seem afraid to criticize for fear of being thought racist or anti-feminist. But theories can only A good but very basic overview of the major theories of art. I shouldn't have expected more since it is a very small and short book (200 pages). But she is even handed in her treatment of all of the theories. I was pleased that she was able to approach multi-cultural and feminist theories of art in the same way as she presented the others, showing both their positive and negative sides. Many people seem afraid to criticize for fear of being thought racist or anti-feminist. But theories can only be strengthened if they stand up to criticism. No one can be taking a theory seriously if they avoid a critical analysis of it, rather patting it on the head condescendingly and going about their business. A very good introductory book with a lot of examples from many periods and styles of art.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Maria K.

    Excellent introduction to art theory. Covering several topics such as beauty, gender, monetary value, interpretation, &c., freeland guides you through the most important ideas that have been developed around art, often using well-known artists as examples, so you don't have to be an erudite in art history to follow her. She also uses clear, simple language to inaugerate you in the world of art history, making this an accessible book for everyone.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kenya Wright

    This was a great book in looking at art theory for someone who hasn't gone to art school. I'm writing a heroine for my new adult book and I really needed to learn more about why certain art pieces are considered ART. This book hooked me up and wasn't crowded with a whole bunch of complex prose. There were some illustrations and just fun topics! My favorite stuff was on artists who utilize bodily fluids in their art work. Loved it!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Yuree

    Nice (very) introductory book about art. The author guides reader in calm, clear tone about what definition art has been have. Those people who think art as all about making something pretty- please read this book before arguing your point.

  10. 4 out of 5

    La Lin

    As far as I remember, I had never be so mindful about theories of art until taking an online course with this book as my required textbook reading. The reason to scrutinize this field, as the author wrote in the Introduction, "guiding us in what we value (or dislike), informing our comprehension, and introducing new generations to our cultural heritage." A fairly short overview of art theory and I would hesitate to recommend this book to the common readers since too many chapters require you to As far as I remember, I had never be so mindful about theories of art until taking an online course with this book as my required textbook reading. The reason to scrutinize this field, as the author wrote in the Introduction, "guiding us in what we value (or dislike), informing our comprehension, and introducing new generations to our cultural heritage." A fairly short overview of art theory and I would hesitate to recommend this book to the common readers since too many chapters require you to have further research and a good background in art history or aesthetics. In order to convey the challenge in coming up with any suitable theory, Freeland took both the prominent concepts (such as those of Plato, Aristotle, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Sigmund Freud, Tolstoy, Clive Bell, Arthur Danto) and the little-known ones (Guerrilla Girls, Walter Benjamin, John Dewey, Robert Irwin and a few more). She did a good job in putting out and summarizing a wide range of theories. However, the book seems to lack a good structure for readers to follow somehow. I guess I would struggle a lot to read this book without any learning materials because each theory is so thinly spread and not as clear as it should be. Similarly, some theories were analysed at a good pace but others were rather unconvincing and lengthy. But notwithstanding all the shortcomings, I genuinely appreciate three things from the book: its pocket size, Freeland's great prediction of digital/ interactive art in the following years (this book was first published in 2001) and the way it considerably expanded my view on modern and temporary art. To end this review, I will take a quote of my favourite theory by Robert Irwin, just as Freeland did in her Conclusion, in which he "proposed to describe art as 'a continuous examination of our perceptual awareness and a continuous expansion of our awareness of the world around us.'] _ * my page

  11. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

    A perfect introduction to the topic. Sketches out some positions and illustrates them nicely. Still the whole topic seems conceptually confused. Kant was talking about the experience of beauty, Hume about a class of beautiful things, Foucault suggesting we should stop talking about the creator of beautiful things, Aquinas trying to gerrymander beauty into being the manifestation of god. And then at some point people started using art instead of beauty and the institutional theorists said A perfect introduction to the topic. Sketches out some positions and illustrates them nicely. Still the whole topic seems conceptually confused. Kant was talking about the experience of beauty, Hume about a class of beautiful things, Foucault suggesting we should stop talking about the creator of beautiful things, Aquinas trying to gerrymander beauty into being the manifestation of god. And then at some point people started using art instead of beauty and the institutional theorists said institutions decide what art is, Tolstoy said art was about expressing feelings etc etc. I'm sure academic debates are more precise about which claims they are contesting but all of the positions in this book seemed true on some level. Apart from Plato, clearly people can observe bad things happening to a virtuous person and not jettison virtue. Only Plato was wrong.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Maarten Mathijssen

    Everybody interested in art so read this, just over 200 pages, richly illustrated but raising the right questions. Summarizing the opinions about art starting with Plato and Aristotle but mostly emphasizing the last century. Unintentionally comic when the CD Rom is mentioned as the last great development in technical progress. Freeland combines philosophy and art theories with clear examples providing for clarity. Also a book one can read more than once due to the many questions it raises. Everybody interested in art so read this, just over 200 pages, richly illustrated but raising the right questions. Summarizing the opinions about art starting with Plato and Aristotle but mostly emphasizing the last century. Unintentionally comic when the CD Rom is mentioned as the last great development in technical progress. Freeland combines philosophy and art theories with clear examples providing for clarity. Also a book one can read more than once due to the many questions it raises. Fascinating Food for Thoughts.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Katie Buckley

    A great jumping off point for anyone who is interested in deepening their knowledge of art. I am partial to texts are organized thematically and I was intrigued by many of the chapter subheadings. I thought the examples Freeland used to explain each theory were helpful and well chosen. I am usually wary of those who draw explicit connections between artworks of different media, from different time period or place, and/or created by different cultures and societies, however the way in which A great jumping off point for anyone who is interested in deepening their knowledge of art. I am partial to texts are organized thematically and I was intrigued by many of the chapter subheadings. I thought the examples Freeland used to explain each theory were helpful and well chosen. I am usually wary of those who draw explicit connections between artworks of different media, from different time period or place, and/or created by different cultures and societies, however the way in which Freeland draws these connections was for the most part convincing. I wouldn't recommend this to someone as their first art-related book, but I think it could be enjoyed by someone who has an interest in art and who has perhaps encountered some of the theories or theorists before, although this is not crucial to the enjoyment of the text. I look forward to using the "further reading" section at the end of the text to explore some of the topics in greater detail.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    The central point didn't really come through until the very end, so it felt a bit like a few separate thoughts rather than one overarching coherent point. Kind of hints that it is necessary to have a post-modern perspective of art to even define art but never quite follows through entirely on that one. Ultimately a bit entry-level but not to a degree where it negatively affected any insight.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Melina

    She wrote a clear discourse on different art theories that are used to understand contemporary art (and art itself). It definitely went really well with Crispin Sartwell's "6 Names of Beauty". (I read this for my class, Philosophy of Aesthetics: Art and Beauty.)

  16. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    I found myself looking up lots of art and artists as I read this book. Good stuff. The book touches on quite a few theories of art without really digging deeply into them. But as a casual reader without a artistic background, that's what made it an enjoyable introduction to art and aesthetics.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Markéta Effenbergerová

    Good book for people who want to get into art theory, but I was hoping for a bit more. It was nice to revise the basics tho and the book is nice written.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mayalekach

    Not as easy to read as the author clearly thinks it is. It is no 'Ways of Seeing' but it was wildly informative.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Mishehu

    Meh. Decent, very basic popular intro/overview. Nothing to rave about, or despair. A classic will-do-in-a-pinch sort of book.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Gail Kennon

    some interesting content and me a tad closer to an answer to the question.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Anthoney

    The book presents art theories that propositions on what makes ‘art’ art. Ritual theory, formalist theory, imitation theory, expression theory, cognitive theory, postmodern theory – phew …. And while these are not the author’s own but a compilation and study, I do not agree with most of the endorsed theories, my reasons for which I will come to shortly. The examples quoted as reference were quite few and that’s what put me off a bit. Art has so many masters, iconoclasts, styles and mediums. The The book presents art theories that propositions on what makes ‘art’ art. Ritual theory, formalist theory, imitation theory, expression theory, cognitive theory, postmodern theory – phew …. And while these are not the author’s own but a compilation and study, I do not agree with most of the endorsed theories, my reasons for which I will come to shortly. The examples quoted as reference were quite few and that’s what put me off a bit. Art has so many masters, iconoclasts, styles and mediums. The brief coverage on women artist was enlightening as I was unmindful of the lack of gender disparity and representation in the art world. That in a nut shell concludes my review, and commences my lecture, so class is free to leave if you may wish. But if you were to complete reading, may I request if you can refer me to discussion forums on art. I would like to ‘impose’ my two bits and the following bits My Theories on the ‘Art Theories’ :) I am not convinced with the process of deconstructing art by theorizing it. I am not sure if theories are required to understand art, it serves only an academic purpose. Art, IMO, is a very personal experience. Its qualification and understanding may vary from person to person. Understanding and appreciation of art is seemingly difficult to generalize and should not be generalized. (Like for me, Picasso is overrated and I would consider that Duchamp was more revolutionary than him with his anti-art). Theories endangers and is likely to influence how a general populace absorbs and relates to the artwork. I would consider aesthetics (or the lack of it ?)* to be THE primary guide for judging art. And aesthetics can be subjective, a matter of personal taste, comprehension and - to some extent as the author asserts – knowledge and cultural background. Theorizing of art specializes art, delineates art, draws boundaries on aesthetics and limits appreciation of art. Contrarily, an artist may have chosen to nullify or dumb the aesthetics of their work. But they still aspire for some balance and form; seek appreciation or regard for their power of imagination, their intent; or to build consensus for their personal agenda and belief. This conscious and purposeful rejection of aesthetics itself can project beautiful form due to the reaction such works provoke, it’s likely to psyche you out into believing it to be thought provoking art. The artist’s power of imagination prevails ones opinion, rendering the art beautiful in some sense or at least impressive. One may try to organize or attribute some semblance and reason to the chaos projected by the artist and find it beautiful, appreciate if not the form the thought process. *(So can Lack of aesthetics be deemed artful – I would believe that deeming an artwork a work of art is again subjective and basis a general consensus. Another question that comes to mind is ‘bad art’ art, what then is bad art. But these don’t need theories just some broad critical analysis and explanation. Art theories seem just opinions and cannot be empirically tested. ) ---- Theories also may subversively formalize the creation of art. It kind of provides a guiding tool, a reference manual on how to create beautiful art. Art appears to be an such an instinctive, endowed and uninhibited process, and in modern context exploring and describing a subconscious mind at play. Such references could be exploited by a shrewd artist and thus maybe counterproductive. It’s like the animations & FX which have replaced the stunts in movies, no action sequence in movie seems believable and original, just imaginative and digitally choreographed and morphed. Of course, art is not only about inherent talent but also learning and developing finesse, technically and creatively but that cannot be a justification to proposition finer fundamentals of beauty and art. - A counterpoint to my argument could the manifestos published by various modern movements groups but these were formed by artists themselves so as to express the meaning of their respective genre, to attract more members presumably, to convince about the validity of their art style. ************************************************************* Commercialization of art is another issue that the author seems antagonistic about. While it can be harmful, I feel it cannot be deemed dangerous and endangering art and talent. Especially in the context of indigenous and native art, where its commercialization will only aid in the survival of the craftsmanship. It will encourage the future generations to preserve their culture, motivated by the financial incentive if not societal or ethical principles. Yes of course there is a risk of corrupting such art and craft but the risk is all pervading in all spheres and aspects of our living. Conclusion – Theories seems crap, and commercialization is a necessary evil .. hail capitalism and free enterprise

  22. 4 out of 5

    Luke Sherwood

    Cynthia Freeland, Chair of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Houston, came out with But is it Art? in 2001. It’s an excellent introduction to various theories of art, particularly for an abject layman like me. In it, Professor Freeland expounds on competing and converging beliefs held by critics and philosophers, and she does so in a logical, concise, and accessible way. The book is a slim one, bolstered by References, Further Reading and an Index, like any scholarly book will. Cynthia Freeland, Chair of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Houston, came out with But is it Art? in 2001. It’s an excellent introduction to various theories of art, particularly for an abject layman like me. In it, Professor Freeland expounds on competing and converging beliefs held by critics and philosophers, and she does so in a logical, concise, and accessible way. The book is a slim one, bolstered by References, Further Reading and an Index, like any scholarly book will. However, as I say, the body of this book contains no stuffy jargon, no obfuscating phrases; its points are painstakingly made, and highly accessible to the average adult reader. Her own preferences and beliefs are no mystery, but she handles the presentation of competing thought processes with commendable fairness and even-handedness. You will get a very convincing and non-judging assessment of some of the more shocking art which has been presented in the last 25 years. You will encounter deep discussions on such thinkers as John Dewey, Arthur Danto, the anthropologist Richard Anderson, Marshall McLuhan, and Jean Baudrillard, among numerous others. This book is required in an aesthetics class at a local university. I have taken copious notes from it, but won’t bore you with them. Suffice it to say, I found this brief, direct, and accessible book a commendable starting point in discussing art. The flow of the ideas reach other media besides graphic art, but those media are its main focus. http://bassoprofundo1.blogspot.com/20...

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    It's been almost fifteen years since I sat through an Aesthetics class, and mostly what I remember of it are the cram-packed class handouts enumerating the thirty to forty things we'd touch on each period during our whirlwind tour of 2500 years of art theory. The only absolutely clear memories I have are of a Quincey Troupe poem about killing cattle and of watching John Cage perform 4'33, so it was nice to come across Freeland's basic intro to art theory, which served as a lucid and lovely It's been almost fifteen years since I sat through an Aesthetics class, and mostly what I remember of it are the cram-packed class handouts enumerating the thirty to forty things we'd touch on each period during our whirlwind tour of 2500 years of art theory. The only absolutely clear memories I have are of a Quincey Troupe poem about killing cattle and of watching John Cage perform 4'33, so it was nice to come across Freeland's basic intro to art theory, which served as a lucid and lovely refresher course. Freeland, whose academic background shows a bit in her "I'm going to show you how this/Now here's me showing you this" chapter formatting, still manages to be flexible enough to weave multiple approaches into the discussion of just a handful of works drawn from a wide spectrum of styles and periods. She juggles Kant and Hume and Freud in the same breath as Mapplethorpe, Goya, and fetish sculptures from the Kongo, and does it all in a clear, concise style. Scholars in the field will find nothing for them here -clearly, a 200 page primer is going to offer samples and simplifications rather than deep insights - but for those interested in exploring new ground (or trying to remember what it looks like more than a decade after taking a very rushed guided tour!), Freeland's book is an excellent starting point.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Nat

    Freeland endorses Richard Anderson's definition of "art" as "culturally significant meaning, skillfully encoded in an affecting, sensuous medium" (77). She admits that what counts as "culturally significant" is contentious. And the definition would seem to include Volkswagen ads and possibly exclude works by Joseph Kosuth or Art & Language (because the works aren't affecting and sensuous, but coldly intellectual and text-based). But one virtue of this intro to art theory is that debates over Freeland endorses Richard Anderson's definition of "art" as "culturally significant meaning, skillfully encoded in an affecting, sensuous medium" (77). She admits that what counts as "culturally significant" is contentious. And the definition would seem to include Volkswagen ads and possibly exclude works by Joseph Kosuth or Art & Language (because the works aren't affecting and sensuous, but coldly intellectual and text-based). But one virtue of this intro to art theory is that debates over how to define art are quickly dispatched by looking at a wide variety of different art works. Focus is consistently kept on the art, and the pleasure of theorizing about it. It never devolves into the corrupted pleasure of theory for its own sake.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    This book was VERY introductory to Art Theory. I enjoyed it, particularly Ch. 6 - "Cognition, Creation, Comprehension" - which dealt with different theories of interpreting artwork. I could have done with more of that, but never having taken art history or studio art of any kind none of this was too repetitive. Still I could have done with more sophisticated and varied answers to the title question.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Mina

    Wonderfully easy read for beginners to art theory. I used this as a basis for a presentation I had in my philosophy class and it did help greatly with the basic underlying foundation of my topic. It is quite interesting as well! The use of blood and beauty in art is really interesting- first chapter.Darkness in art is always intruiging. Overall good reference/ beginners book for understanding art in its most basic form! Good book. :)

  27. 5 out of 5

    Linda S.

    Interesting, basic introduction to art theory and discussion of modern art. I'd recommend skipping the introduction--that was very dry and took me a while to get through even though it was short. The book is only a couple hundred pages so it doesn't deal with anything in depth but it is pretty interesting.

  28. 5 out of 5

    J.

    I was initially turned off by the meandering writing in this book, but I have to say it won me over. The author uses very specific examples to illustrate the methods of art criticism, and it ends up being very illustrative. At the end of the book, I can say I learned a lot about how an art critic or philosopher of art would think, and I enjoyed the trip. So the book is a success.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sari

    I wish I'd read this book earlier on my course, since it is a very entry-level book about art theory. A lot of the speculations of the effects of digitization on art are now of course out of date, but there is a very clear passage about Baudrillard I found useful. Overall, clarity is the strong point of this book in every chapter.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Zac Frank

    A truly splendid survey of art theory and philosophy. Surprisingly, Freeland finds a way to be objective in reviewing interpretations of modern and post-modern art. This really is a must-read for anyone who has any interest in going to an art museum. Though short, it goes right to the heart of the most challenging questions concerning art today.

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