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BUT IS IT ART?: An Introduction to Art Theory

Cynthia A. Freeland, Author
Cynthia A. Freeland, Author . Oxford Univ. $16.95 (262p) ISBN 978-0-19-210055-9
Reviewed on: 05/14/2001
Release date: 07/01/2001
Prebound-Sewn - 978-1-4177-7482-1
Paperback - 256 pages - 978-0-19-285367-7
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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. (June)

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