Move Closer: An Intimate Philosophy of Art

John Armstrong, Author
John Armstrong, Author Farrar Straus Giroux $27 (224p) ISBN 978-0-374-10596-9
Paperback - 208 pages - 978-0-374-52782-2
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Director of the aesthetics program at the University of London's School for Advanced Study, Armstrong is also a research fellow in philosophy there, besides running his own art gallery. His brief book follows in the tradition of Sir Kenneth Clark's Looking at Pictures and Ernst Gombrich's many studies about how and why people look at art, but is less authoritative about art history, and, unlike the work of those two fine writers, often falls into truisms ( ""the language of art-historical scholarship and the often grand public setting of art can encourage an impersonal attitude""). Armstrong discusses at length the feeling of a tourist being bewildered by failing to respond to famous works of art, but seems unaware that this feeling was codified nearly 200 years ago by Stendhal, and is indeed referred to as ""Stendhal's Syndrome."" Sometimes Armstrong's approach conflicts with his conclusions. In the chapter, ""Private Uses of Art"" he asserts: ""We should not think that we become more sensitive to the pleasure art and beauty afford by becoming more informed or better conceptually equipped."" Yet he spends the rest of the chapter explaining the views on art of writers like Kant, Schiller, Hegel et al. On less intellectual subjects, he can be a little disingenuous: ""Because... we can so easily invest our passions in sexy objects--sexual content in paintings stands as a test case of the role of interest in engaging with art."" Even if the arguments do not hang together, the ultimate impression is of a highly civilized Englishman, like Jacob Bronowski (The Ascent of Man), offering a brief but refreshing interlude in a world where puzzling over art is considered an amusing pastime. (Sept.)
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