ART HISTORY & THEORY 1: THEORY
- 1000-1200 word book review/essay for an approved survey text.
The book begins with a chapter called “Blood and Beauty.” It feels like the author is aiming for the shock factor to try to draw the audience in and keep them reading the book. She discusses the expressive and symbolic associations of blood and their use in art, which is a subject that can be seen as taboo. However, she expands upon this idea by diving into art as ritual. In this chapter, Freeland states “ordinary objects or acts acquire symbolic significance through incorporation into a shared belief system” (Freeland 2). I appreciated this sentiment as it helped me to consider my own experiences with art and how it may play a role in my own spiritual practices.
From this point, the book explores the idea of “taste” or the ability to perceive what makes art good. In this section there is the statement “Beautiful objects do not serve ordinary human purposes” (Freeland 10) and I strongly disagree with this point. While there are definitely works of art that are beautiful because of their separation from daily use, there are many objects that I find beautiful in my ordinary life. The detailed circuitry of a motherboard is stunning and the fine patterns in the marble in the entry way of my office building are both very minor examples of beautiful objects that are a part of my every day “ordinary” human life. This chapter also begins the exploration into different art theorists, including Kant and Serrano, and the aesthetic theory that looks at art from the idea of beauty and good taste (Freeland 27). While I think that there are many different works of art that can be evaluated simply on their beauty, many others have deeper meanings or messages built in that may need something more than aesthetics to be judged upon.
Chapter 2 is titled “Paradigms and Purpose” and begins digging into the art found in Athens during the fifth century BC before moving forward to explore the gardens of Versailles and eventually the art of Andy Warhol. During the fifth century BC we can see the increase in the use of tragedy in artistic works. Aristotle viewed these tragedies as a form of art, while Plato did not. These differing opinions make it quite clear to me that art theory has never been a clear-cut science but instead gives a lot of room for individual interpretation and experiences.
The book then moves forward into the cathedrals in Chartres and the impact that philosophy had on the design and art utilized throughout their construction. This chapter explores the idea that “beauty is an essential property of god” and that by creating beautiful cathedrals you’re showing that God is present in the world (Freeland 37-41). I found this idea fascinating. Even as someone who doesn’t connect to the Christian mythology, I can acknowledge the beauty in the art found in these churches. The idea that art is a way to connect and show the presence of a deity is definitely something that I can work with in my own artistic spiritual journey.
From Chartres, the book moves on to the gardens of Versailles where it explores the idea that these gardens were a way that humans were showing that owned and controlled nature. However, other theorists, like Kant viewed these gardeners as people who “paints with forms” (Freeland 45). After a few other hops, the chapter ends with Andy Warhol’s silk screen panels, such as Brillo Box and the debate on whether or not these could be considered art. Ultimately, it is determined that “anything can become art given the right situation and theory being applied” (Freeland 55). I think this statement ultimately summarizes what I’ve learned from this book. While there are many works of art that I am not personally drawn to, that does not mean that they are not art. As someone who is not confident in their own artistic abilities, it is reassuring to think that, even if I don’t think the work I am doing is great, someone else may actually view it as art.
The third chapter of this book is titled “Cultural Crossings” and is focused on art that was created using natural elements. She looks at gardens as art, exploring the symbolism of the gardens in Versailles and Zen gardens and the importance of context in these forms of art. She also briefly discusses anthropology and explains that art can be find in all cultures, no matter how different they may all be.
Chapter 4 is titled Money, Markets, Museums. This chapter discusses the different types of museums from the fancy royal collections of the Louvre to the tribal museums of specific cultures found across the globe. Within this chapter we begin to see the correlation between wealth and art and how class played a part on what artistic works were valued and which were not. It discusses the history of museums themselves as well and how they began as private collections but eventually evolved to places owned by corporations to make money and create “interesting experiences” (Freeland 103). The book also discusses some of the popular purchases of art, such as Van Gogh’s Irises which sold for $53.9 million in 1987, while the author himself died very poor (Freeland 105). I think this chapter is important because it begins to express the idea that money helped to decide what was popular and considered “good” without the input of minorities or the less wealthy population. This definitely may have skewed art history in a major way, which I found unsettling.
Chapter 5 the discusses the exclusion of minorities directly in Gender, Genius, and Guerrilla Girls. This chapter discusses the lack of women in art history and questions whether gender and sexual orientation are important or relevant in the scope of art. I think this topic is much too large for this course honestly, but to summarize my opinions a bit, I think that gender, culture, ethnicity, sexuality, etc. all CAN matter in artistic expression, but they don’t HAVE to matter.
Chapter 6, Cognition, Creation, Comprehension, further digs into this theory. I think the sentence I most appreciated in this chapter was “understanding art is like understanding another person” (Freeland 148). While a work of art is not the artist, it is definitely an extension of them. It takes so much work to fully understand another human, and I think fully comprehending art can take just as much time and effort. In this chapter, we see another exploration of theorists including Tolstoy and Freud. The differing opinions of the theorists has been a recurring theme and I think interpretation is up to the individual.
The final chapter is titled “Digitizing and Dissemination” and explores the world of modern media. While some people seem to feel that technology has diluted art because of the wealth of it, I believe that technology has opened up our access to art, making it even more valuable. While not every show on MTV or every visit to Disneyland may be filled with art in the eyes of some theorist, I guarantee that Mickey Mouse is more meaningful to a 5-year-old than the Mona Lisa. It’s all in your own interpretation. Ultimately that is what I learned from this book.
Freeland, Cynthia. But Is It Art? New York: Oxford University Press Inc., 2001.