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But Is It Art?: An Introduction to Art Theory Paperback – April 4, 2002


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; New Ed edition (April 4, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192853678
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192853677
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 0.8 x 4.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #51,116 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A survey of everything from aesthetic theory to digital imaging, and of everyone from Goya to Damien Hirst, is packed into seven fast-break chapters here. Freeland (The Naked and the Undead), a philosophy professor at the University of Houston, is familiar enough with the impenetrable artspeak and rhetoric surrounding such issues as identity politics, censorship and public funding not to be intimidated by them; her cut-to-the-chase approach to such critical minefields as the use of bodily fluids in art produces clear and often pungent analyses. Chapters on gender, money and the marketplace, and on the uses and abuses of "primitive" motifs in contemporary art making are models of judicious clarity. And the chapters on the science of perception and the digital revolution display Freeland's equal ease with the vocabularies of scientific research. She can also be tart in her thumb-nail assessments of works (some shown in eight color and 24 b&w plates): '80s painter and filmmaker David Salle "relies on numbingly familiar imagery"; the sainted political artist Hans Haacke is "preachy and boring." But her interest is at all times on explicating issues rather than on rendering facile judgments. If the book suffers from trying to do too much in too small a space, its ambition and usefulness amply justify Freeland's project on its own terms.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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



More About the Author

Cynthia A. Freeland is a philosophy professor, Michigan native, cat-lover, and mystery book fan who has written books on art, horror, and the feminist interpretation of Aristotle. She was educated at Michigan State University and the University of Pittsburgh and teaches courses in aesthetics, ancient philosophy, and feminist theory. She is happy to receive and reply to e-mails from people who have read her books.

Customer Reviews

This was a very interesting book and a good read.
Phillip C McKee
The book was in great shape, as advertised, and I am so glad that it was both very affordable and easy to purchase.
g.b. koerner
This book largely succeeds in providing a lucid, largely unbiased view of many of the principal theories of art.
Cronos

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Terri on November 4, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Is there a more confusing or controversial area of understanding in today's society than determining whether a piece of work is 'art' or 'trash'. This book gives a scholarly, yet eminently readable and enjoyable description of how the question, 'but is it art', can be approached and understood. Beginning with Neanderthal renderings and ending in the digital arena - the changing creative environments and philosophical drivers are explained clearly and compellingly. The authors appropriately timed use of wit keeps one happily reading in an area that could easily get dry and intellectually elitist. I now finally feel that I have some tools to evaluate 'art' for myself.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Phillip C McKee on May 19, 2003
Format: Paperback
This was a very interesting book and a good read. However, if you are looking for a primer on art theory, then you need look elsewhere. This gives some insight into the general art theories of the past and today but it isn't organized like a textbook. Instead it has a more meandering structure that makes it more interesting but less instructional. All in all though, I really enjoyed it. The only thing I truly didn't like was that it gave very short shrift to some media that are only the line between craft and art. That would have seemed to be a very good topic for inclusion. But still a good book.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By ljm3764 on April 9, 2008
Format: Paperback
The author has tacked an immense subject and skims the surface by discussing some of the many different theories of art. Her desire to keep the discussion straightforward and brief results in sometimes heavy-handed simplification (to the point of dumbing down) the ideas she discusses, but the book is still a useful introduction to thinking about art.

I found myself disappointed with the book in a number of ways, and I'll discuss a couple of them here. First, the author has discussed theory by means of examples, and her choices of artists like Goya and Bacon work well, but some of her other choices (Bill Viola, for example) give the book a somewhat dated feel. A second, more significant disappointment, is the author's discussion of museums. A number of her comments seem uninformed and (in one case regarding the Getty) even snarky. The tone of her writing undermines her discussion of important questions such as how museums should balance the goal of showing worthwhile works with the goal of showing works by a representative group of artists. There is a lot of real-world compromise required to get lenders and donors on board so that exhibitions happen, and lenders, donors and exhibition organizers are, in fact, wrestling with these issues daily.

Overall, the book is a good introduction to a number of theories about art, and perhaps it would work as one of the texts to be used in a high school or college survey class. However, anyone with a serious interest in art will be left wanting something more satisfying on a number of levels.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A. Strawn on May 6, 2008
Format: Paperback
It may not be as complex as some readers are looking for, but it is an excellent place to start when contemplating "Why is THAT art?" You won't get bogged down trying to decipher lots of theory, but you will get some of the art history and the theory that is necessary to understand where the art world is today and what made it that way. Just the right amount of color plates and black & white illustrations to help those unfamiliar with the works mentioned.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer Grey on November 11, 2014
Format: Paperback
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.
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16 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Lam Kam Ying Mary on November 18, 2006
Format: Paperback
On the subject of art (or should it be Art?): Freeland's book is a good and relevant treatment of the issue, low of jargon and high on no nonsense sociology. I was surprised, however, to see no treatment of the historical rise of "nobrow" artistic culture and no philosophical and socio-aesthetic analysis of the phenomenon. In general there was almost no analysis of literature/literary fiction. C'mon, art is not equivalent to the visual culture. Let me just say that this astonishing gap is filled by a magnificent book by Peter Swirski 'From lowbrow to nobrow' which I heartily recommend to those who finished 'But is is art' feeling only partly sated.
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