Less a primer than a series of postgraduate lectures.

A distinguished art critic, academic and philosopher distills his views into a compact volume that is likely to provoke more debate than it resolves.

Danto (Philosophy Emeritus/Columbia Univ.; Andy Warhol, 2009, etc.) maintains that the definition of art has to encompass the entirety of art, from the mimetic to the nonrepresentational, from the beautiful to the aggressively nonbeautiful, and from the traditional to whatever comes next. He offers the theory that “works of art are embedded meanings.” He expands: “Something is a work of art when it has a meaning—is about something—and when that meaning is embodied in the work—which usually means: is embodied in the object in which the work of art materially consists.” For those who speak in academic and/or philosophic code, this may add something to the ongoing dialogue, but anyone new to the conversation might wonder how we recognize or define “meaning” and whether it lies within the province of artistic intent or critical interpretation. Is the meaning what the artist thought he was doing (if he gave it any thought), or is it what the viewer perceives? While this book may not provide the last word that its title implies, it features plenty of provocative analysis on how a painting can be more “real” than a photograph, how the world of art and the world at large have changed (or not) since Aristotle and how (or if) we can make a qualitative distinction between a Warhol Brillo box and the actual box that inspired it. “Today art can be made of anything, put together with anything, in the service of presenting any ideas whatsoever,” writes Danto, putting the responsibility on the viewer to “grasp the way the spirit of the artist undertook to present the ideas that concerned her or him.”

Less a primer than a series of postgraduate lectures.

Pub Date: March 19, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-300-17487-8

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2013



This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955


A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

A teacher and scholar of Buddhism offers a formally varied account of the available rewards of solitude.

“As Mother Ayahuasca takes me in her arms, I realize that last night I vomited up my attachment to Buddhism. In passing out, I died. In coming to, I was, so to speak, reborn. I no longer have to fight these battles, I repeat to myself. I am no longer a combatant in the dharma wars. It feels as if the course of my life has shifted onto another vector, like a train shunted off its familiar track onto a new trajectory.” Readers of Batchelor’s previous books (Secular Buddhism: Imagining the Dharma in an Uncertain World, 2017, etc.) will recognize in this passage the culmination of his decadeslong shift away from the religious commitments of Buddhism toward an ecumenical and homegrown philosophy of life. Writing in a variety of modes—memoir, history, collage, essay, biography, and meditation instruction—the author doesn’t argue for his approach to solitude as much as offer it for contemplation. Essentially, Batchelor implies that if you read what Buddha said here and what Montaigne said there, and if you consider something the author has noticed, and if you reflect on your own experience, you have the possibility to improve the quality of your life. For introspective readers, it’s easy to hear in this approach a direct response to Pascal’s claim that “all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Batchelor wants to relieve us of this inability by offering his example of how to do just that. “Solitude is an art. Mental training is needed to refine and stabilize it,” he writes. “When you practice solitude, you dedicate yourself to the care of the soul.” Whatever a soul is, the author goes a long way toward soothing it.

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-25093-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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