Since 1984, when he became art critic for The Nation, Arthur C. Danto, one of America's most inventive and influential philosophers, has also emerged as one of our most important critics of art. As an essayist, Danto's style is at once rigorous, incisive, and playful. Encounters and Reflections brings together many of his recent critical writings-on artists such as Andy Warhol, David Hockney, and Robert Mapplethorpe; and on the significance of issues like the masterpiece and the museum. The result is a spirited brief from the front lines of current aesthetic and philosophical debate.
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In this prodigious display of intellectual bravado, Danto proves that art can be metaphysics. Art critic at the Nation since 1984, the author calls himself a ``philosopher of art.'' An autobiographical introduction to this collection traces how he went from would-be artist to distinguished professor (Philosophy/Columbia Univ.) to wide-eyed art critic. Then, in 44 critical essays, Danto doggedly wrestles mostly with big New York museum shows of the last five years. In reviewing, he succeeds by being concrete, setting himself off from the ``visualism'' of formalist critic Clement Greenberg by looking first for meaning. Art often succeeds for Danto as a ``transformative experience''; two exemplars, Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol, pop up repeatedly. His summations have a willful, off- kilter freshness: in historical Chinese painting he discerns of- the-moment lit-crit ``intertextuality''; Mario Merz's retrospective is described as having aggressively ``occupied'' the Guggenheim Museum; he calls Vel zquez ``a master of conceptual drama.'' The book ends with five ``aesthetic meditations'': ``Art after the End of Art,'' ``Beauty and Morality,'' and the like. In these, Danto is craggier and rangier, summoning the spirits of Hegel and Wittgenstein. Feisty and opinionated throughout, Danto nonetheless shows himself to be a sucker for art that displays human spirit. He holds up art triumphantly as a ticklish enigma, a moral conundrum in our midst. -- Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.From Publishers Weekly:
Danto's philosophically informed art criticism in these 41 reviews and essays bristles with erudition, eclectic taste and keen intellect. He evinces fresh perspectives and generous sympathies whether he is discussing Old Masters like Titian and Velazquez; moderns such as Picasso, Seurat and Kasimir Malevich; contemporary painters Francis Bacon and David Hockney; or sacred Tibetan art. Female artists are well-represented here, with perceptive pieces on Eva Hesse, Jenny Holzer, Helen Frankenthaler (whose paintings Danto compares to "inspired jazz"), Liubov Popova and Madeline Gins, who collaborates with her husband, Arakawa, on conceptual explorations of thought and writing. Professor emeritus of philosophy at Columbia and art critic for the Nation (where most of the selections first appeared), Danto sets forth meditations on contemporary aesthetics, the limits of art as a moral, suasive force and the role of the museum in shaping an image of a culture.
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