BEN SHAHN by Ben Shahn


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In this selection of his writings from 1944 to 1967, the late Shahn tackles the big issues squarely -- objective versus non-objective art, the engaged artist versus the disengaged -- stating again and again his own conviction that to survive art must be socially responsible, while tempering even his strongest polemics with a generosity and tolerance rare in the art world. His style is simple and chatty, sometimes tending toward a cheery blandness. At the age of nine he was an apprentice lithographer: he recalls the Depression, his European travels, his passion for Giotto, Rilke, Oriental calligraphy, and FDR. Art is discussed as craft, as ""a force for peace,"" and as a tool for the exploration of mind and soul, and the achievements of Klee and Henri Bresson, among others, are reviewed. Shahn's own creative process is explored and in an excerpt from an earlier collection of his Harvard Norton lectures, The Shape of Content (1957), he analyzes the unconscious play of symbol and mythology in his own life as they contributed to his painting ""Allegory."" However the quality of selection is uneven: short incidental letters are interspersed with ambitious statements on aesthetics, and autobiographical notes are arbitrarily juxtaposed with lectures and reviews. What the editor hoped to make ""an extension of Ben Shahn's art"" remains a mixed bag, whose importance is, however, heightened by the reemergence of figurative realism as a serious movement on the American art scene.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1972
Publisher: Praeger