Democracy & the Arts

Greil Marcus, Author, John Rockwell, Author, John Simon, Author
Greil Marcus, Author, John Rockwell, Author, John Simon, Author Cornell University Press $42.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-8014-3541-6
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This strikingly uneven collection of articles offers a Rashomon-like myriad of perspectives on a subject too broad to be treated in such a slim volume. Nonetheless, there are some local points of interest: A.B. Yehoshua provides a thoughtful rumination on the decline of the novel; Martha Bayles engages in a lively discussion of the refusal to grant television artistic status; Anne Hollander encapsulates the history of fashion, emphasizing its conflicting, dialogic impulses; and John Simon is, if nothing else, entertaining in his vitriolic indictment of contemporary movie culture. Some entries fall flat: Robert Brustein's contrarian essay on multiculturalism never questions the primacy of high culture; on the other hand, Arthur Danto covers his ground effectively, ranging from the 1897 opening of the Brooklyn Museum to Komar and Melamid's 1994 tongue-in-cheek survey-generated painting, America's Most Wanted in an intelligent consideration of the public function of museums. The music criticism stands out, highlighted by Stanley Crouch's casting of the U.S. Constitution as a ""blues document"" because it views ""human beings as neither demons nor angels but some mysterious combination of both"" and also because, like the blues, its survival depends on a constant renewal of interpretive improvisation. But essays on architecture, media and postmodernism are less convincing. Overall, the collection suffers from myopia: the strict segregation of artistic disciplines limits the authors, preventing them from drawing larger conclusions. Students and specialists may find individual essays of use, but this collection unfortunately seems to show that democracy and art is far too broad a topic, and whether or not that is really the case, here it is surely dealt with too narrowly. B&w photos. (Feb.)
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