To Read: Art Theory


I've piled these three together because they all reference each other, as a starter into reading art theory and learning about contemporary art they're good to begin with. Each book discuss why contemporary art is art, and why it matters. Each book is a collection of essays, that can be read together or dipped into as and when required.

art-theory-1But Is It Art? Cynthia Freeland (Published 2001)

The 1980s raised consciousness about identity politics, as many younger people with hybrid or 'hyphenated' identities used art to explore issues of racism and cultural assimilation.

But Is It Art? is a great book, and critics say it rivals Berger's Ways of Seeing. Freeland separates the many parts of art theory into easy, digestible chapters. The reader is thrown head first into how contemporary art can shock, but also these works are linked to earlier traditions. Freeland highlights that although theoretical, art theory is not one and the same as Einstein or Darwinian theories. There is no 'evolution' that can predict what or where the general art world will go.

art-theory-2What Art Is, Arthur C.Danto (Published 2013)

...[in which] avant-garde artists were enjoined to put aside their experiments and represent the world in ways reassuring to those whose worlds had been torn apart by war.

Danto begins What Art Is with reminding the reader that it was Plato who first defined art as imitation. Danto goes on to critic art, art movements, and artists in relation to a multitude of philosophers. The arguments presented in What Art Is are not necessarily part of the historical debate around art, but that of philosophy. Danto challenges the idea that we can't define art, and the individual essays that make up this book are thought-provoking and enlightening.

art-theory-3Art As Experience, John Dewey (Publish 1934)

Every experience, of slight or tremendous import, begins with an impulsion, rather as an impulsion. I say 'impulsion' rather than 'impulse'. An impulse is specialised and particular; it is, even when instinctive, simply part of the mechanism involved in a more complete adaption with the environment.

Art As Experience is not an easy read, it's a collection of complex and perplexing essays on esthetics. Dewey discusses what is and what isn't important within art, there are deep discussions on experience and how to develop an experience. Art As Experience is not a book I got through in one motion, it was a book where I read one essay, ignored it for a week, re-read the essay and then moved on to the next. There are many ideas imbued within the texts that are worth further investigation, a starting point for expanding knowledge.


BooksErin Veness