Costello and Jonathan Vickery, Editors
Berg Publishers, Oxford, New York, 2007
213 pp. Paper, $19.95
Reviewed by Rob Harle (Australia)
This books greatest virtue is the
important contribution it makes to art
education. To my knowledge it is the first
time such a broad anthology of "key contemporary
thinkers" has been attempted. As such
it will become an indispensable reference
and source book for art students particularly,
and also for History of Ideas and Cultural
Costello and Vickery have done an excellent
job of representing the main intellectual
contribution, concerning art theory and
practice, since the beginning of the 1960s
of over 45 artists, philosophers, and
art historians. None of these actually
speak for themselves; each essay discussing
their significant ideas is written by
a scholar with specific knowledge of each
"key thinker". To give the prospective
reader an idea of those represented, here
are just a few of the better known ones:
Foucault, Barthes, Adorno, Smithson, Derrida,
Merleau-Ponty, Klein, Danto, Greenberg,
The book is arranged into four sections,
together with a List of Contributors,
Introduction, and a very informative Glossary
of Terms.I Art Theory and Practice
redresses the usual omission of actual
artists in anthologies of this kind, "
includes artists as thinkers, that
is, artists who have made a major contribution
to thought about art
writings as well as their art".
II Art Theory and History, this
section includes art historians and theorists,
who have made the greatest impact
on thought about art
and whose work
clearly embodies a broader intellectual
position despite remaining close to its
III Philosophy of Art and Aesthetics.
This section concerns philosophers from
various traditions whose work, in addition
to aesthetics and the philosophy of art,
is also "
widely read beyond the
confines of professional philosophy".
IV Theory and Philosophy of Culture
is more diverse than the previous sections
and draws on "
a range of disciplines,
such as sociology, and sub-disciplines,
such as semiotics and psychoanalysis,
as well as, the philosophy of culture".
(All quotes from the General Introduction).
Art: Key Contemporary Thinkers
should come with a warning in red on the
front cover, something like the following:
Students Beware. Uncritical consumption
of all ideas in this book could lead to
insanity, artistic impotence, or as Wittgenstein
once suggested, "becoming a shop keeper".
Young undergraduate visual art students
will find this book a little like a candy
shop where they just have to try every
sort of candy until they make themselves
sick. Why is this? The range of ideas
presented in this book is extremely broad,
in many cases completely contradictory
and in other cases conveys a sense of
depression and hopelessness.
If "art is dead", art galleries (museums)
now "cemeteries", and artists studios
have become "commercial depots" (p. 6),
then I suggest it is many of the art critics,
artists, and philosophers of art represented
in this book who are the executioners.
They have attempted to destroy something
that they have barely perceived. The myopic,
tunnel lack-of-vision that has elevated
an intellectual approach to art, to the
supreme criterion by which art can be
conceived and perhaps executed, to the
exclusion of a "feeling" approach to art,
has done humanity and art a great disservice.
The warning I suggest is serious, if young
art students, curators, and potential
critics swallow this "intellectual only"
approach to art uncritically, they will
simply end up impotent clones of the "key
thinkers". The art they create will be
a shallow, impoverished, still-born art
to which they have failed to give one
of the most important qualities of all
art - feeling.
This criticism should alert the reader
to the importance of this book. And why,
apart from being an informative and comprehensive
introduction for those generally interested
in art and art history of the later years
of the twentieth century, it will become
an essential reference book in art education
at tertiary level.