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

4.1 out of 5 stars 50 customer reviews

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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


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 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 (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,121 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In the question she poses as the title of her book, Freeland reveals her desire to speak directly to everyday viewers perplexed by what they see in museums and galleries. Freeland, however, also writes to the serious student of art. The value of embracing philosophical aesthetics for art history inquiry quickly becomes apparent in reading Freeland's book. She is not an art historian, but a professor of philosophy who studies art, film, ancient Greek philosophy, and feminist theory.

Freeland asks in the first chapter, "Why has blood been used in so much art?" (p. 1). The journey involved in answering this and the question of the book's title is more Freeland's point than arriving at definitive conclusions. The first chapter and each subsequent one become models for the reader regarding how theory might provide an organizing framework for making sense of art. In trying to figure out why blood has been a recurring motif not only in contemporary art, but also in the art of the past, Freeland deftly guides the reader in applying ritual theory, formalism, and expressionism. Since the questions she poses are not resolved in chapter one, Freeland's whole book becomes a "virtual tour" through the history, institutions, politics, paradigms, and cultural contexts that make up and bring meaning to the world of art. Art theory serves as Freeland's tour guide.

Toward the end, Freeland reveals that she concurs with John Dewey's cognitive theory of art in answering the title question -- that is, artists use art to express thoughts and ideas to an audience. She further agrees with Arthur Danto that these thoughts are conveyed within a context, which is the art world.
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