Drawing Us in CL

Deborah Chasman, Other
Deborah Chasman, Other Beacon Press (MA) $20 (208p) ISBN 978-0-8070-6606-5
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This slim collection of short essays by writers, literary critics and art historians makes for an often enjoyable but ultimately unsatisfying collage of reflections on visual art. The most successful contributions are the less self-absorbed, such as New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl's meditation on the theft of The Scream, photographer Wendy Ewald's ethnographical approach to the role of photographs in the lives of Appalachian children and New Republic critic Jed Perl's theoretical musings on how ""visual experience"" has been marginalized by, in part, our inability to see art ""as an experience that takes place in time."" Playwright August Wilson and critic-at-large bell hooks discuss the centrality of Romare Bearden's work. Eminent philosopher and critic Arthur C. Danto offers a cultural/political take on art and society, painter Laurie Fendrich attempts to explain ""why abstract painting still matters"" and the brilliantly offhanded Dave Hickey (Air Guitar) invites us to think less and enjoy more. But too many of the more intimate entries evoke a sense of d j vu all over again--how art unifies and humanizes (novelist Dorothy Allison), how in the past art played a more central role in the culture (the late, great Alfred Kazin). (Novelist Mary Gordon fares better with ""Notes on Pierre Bonnard and My Mother's Ninetieth Birthday."") The 15 pieces--few more than several pages in length--have the polish of magazine work and are easily read in bites, but they don't quite come together as a whole, or as a definitive look at the current range of visual art experiences. Foreword by Hilton Als not seen by PW. (June)
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