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 culturalsignificance 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. Read more
Review “I know of no work that moves so swiftly and with so sure a footing through the battle zones of art and society today.”–Arthur C. Danto”Profoundly refreshing and satisfying…. Freeland’s energetic and engaging voice breezily guides the reader, while employing an astonishing array of examples to illuminate and activate her explications.”–Don Bacigalupi, Director, San Diego Museum of Art”A vibrant study of a complex and contentious field of artistic endeavor and enquiry…. Lucid and thought-provoking.”–Murray Smith, University of Kent”Freeland provides a unique and inclusive view of the past by discussing it from the vantage point of contemporary art.”–Lucy R. Lippard, author of Mixed Blessings: New Art in a Multicultural America About the Author Cynthia Freeland is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Houston, Texas. Her books include The Naked and the Undead: Evil and the Appeal of Horror, Feminist Interpretations of Aristotle, and Philosophy and Film.