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Beyond the Brillo Box: The Visual Arts in Post-Historical Perspective Hardcover – August 25, 1992

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In Danto's view, artists' feelings of belonging to a continuous tradition vanished around 1965, one year after Andy Warhol's Brillo Box. In the current "post-historical" epoch, he writes, postmodernists make pathetic stabs at reconnecting with the past, when what is really necessary is an art responsive to human needs. In these often heavy, academic lectures and essays for journals and catalogues, the Columbia philosophy professor and Nation columnist interprets Pop Art as "a sacramental return of the thing to itself" and applies his definition of artworks as symbolic expressions to a discussion of African "primitive" art and Chinese painting. One challenging essay deals with Western art's "master narrative," comprising the Renaissance's "narrative of recovery," the Enlightenment scenario of progress and modernism which, for Danto, began when Van Gogh and Gauguin turned for inspiration to Japan, Egypt and Polynesia. Elsewhere he defends the National Endowment for the Arts' sponsorship of the controversial Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit and delves into minimalism, museum architecture and pluralism in the arts. Illustrations.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.


"Danto's richly digressive wit and learning keep us in tow. . . . In this period in which Art has evolved into Philosophy, Danto is producing a Criticism that at moments turns into a kind of Poetry." -- Nicholas Jenkins, New York Newsday

"Rigorous, untrendy and wonderfully accessible . . . Danto [is] one of the most interesting and important critics of our time." -- Bruce Barcott, Seattle Weekly

"[Danto is] the one contemporary thinker about art that every intellectual interested in the subject must read." -- Carlin Romano, Philadelphia Inquirer --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (August 25, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374112428
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374112424
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,429,198 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Jason F. Metcalf on December 16, 2008
Format: Paperback
Arthur C. Danto's Beyond the Brillo Box: The Visual Arts in Post-Historical Perspective, is somewhat of a prequel to the author's After the End of Art, and presents a group of collected essays on his perspective that "Andy Warhol's Brillo Box of 1964 brought the established trajectory of Western art to an end and gave rise to pluralism which has changed the way art is made, perceived, and exhibtited" (rear cover). He further explains within Brillo Box, and in the chapter on Learning to Live with Pluralism, that he previously published an essay entitled "The End of Art", but that it proposed "not that art would stop but that one reason for making art no longer had validity".

Throughout the book, Danto revisits this very thesis, and in actuality the said previous scholarship seems to be the backbone of the text. Indeed, the later (1997) After the End of Art explains the idea of a paradigmatic or epochal change in much more concrete and palpable terms. When reading the first several chapters of Beyond, the reader has to work to find their bearings in Danto's non-linear style of writing. The concise introduction thus deceivingly pushes the average arts interested reader into somewhat less familiar territory, as the author consistently journeys into areas of philosophical interest such as his chapters on Metaphor and Cognition, and Narrative and Style. Danto should be given considerable credit, however, for his self-proclamation as first philosopher, and second art-critic. He seems to be more than aware of his position as a philosopher-critic, and has no pretensions of his work identifying itself as just art criticism.
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Format: Paperback
The distinguished American philosopher Arthur C. Danto died last week. I've been reading this book -- some essays from which I had read before -- in tribute. Danto ended his career as a philosopher of art and as a believer in and enthusiast for artistic production in the post-modern era. His sense that we can no longer tell the story of art as a story of progress towards increasingly accurate representation has led him to seek to identify what makes art art in other ways, and the essays in this book address that question. He asks in effect how you can tell art from "mere real things" when some works of art are visually indistinguishable from "mere real things." In other words, you can't tell by just "looking," and in a marvelous opening essay,"Animals as Art Historians," he punctures the myth of "the innocent eye" -- the idea that if one can just look at an object without preconceptions, then you can intuit its artistic essence. Danto is having none of it, and yet he insists that it isn't the case that "just anything" can be art. So what replaces the eye as distinguisher? According to Danto, it is our ability to penetrate, with historical, cultural, and anthropological knowledge, the "discourse of reasons" in which the work of art participates, and his essays show him teasing out the difficulties and challenges of undertaking that quite hard intellectual work -- work that is perhaps for objects from some cultures remote in space and time finally unlikely to yield unambiguous answers, but which for much of what we take for granted as "great art" today can also be revealing and clarifying.

For Danto, Warhol's "Brillo Box" of 1964 crystallized the question of what makes art art if two objects, one art and one not, look exactly alike.
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