A seasoned art scholar, editor and author presents an overview of art history with a suggested approach for identifying “true” visual art.
As the co-editor of the renowned art journal Aristos and co-author of What Art Is: The Esthetic Theory of Ayn Rand (2000), Kamhi brings to her newest book decades of study and practical experience in the art world. She provides a history of visual arts as viewed by Aristotle, Kant, Rand and others, and offers her list of “basic assumptions” about “true” art’s essential characteristics: “First, all works of art are made with special skill and care—they are not the product of casual whim, chance, or accident,” and, among other assertions, “They are not abstract.” She concludes: “Any work that does not possess all these attributes is either failed art or non-art.” In Chapters 3 and 4, Kamhi reviews 20th-century innovations she believes depart from conventionally accepted visual arts—including abstract art, pop art, installation art and similar visual art forms. Other chapters cover film as art, art education, the role art critics have played in promoting bad art, and the rewards of “real art.” Chapter 7, perhaps the book’s most engaging, reveals that, according to data from cognitive science, emotions are tied to sensory experiences, and perceptions of beauty and meaning aren’t really subjective. Online links to dozens of artists’ works help bring the text to life, and the extensive chapter endnotes offer solid supporting resources for further study. Kamhi’s writing is forceful and persuasive as she defends her conventional concept of art: “Prior to the early twentieth century, artists…employed imagery to embody meaning.” Abstract art is not “an intelligible vehicle of meaning or emotional expression,” she says; rather, it is “essentially a failed enterprise.” Certain appreciators might agree, but the art world no doubt has a compelling rebuttal.
An impressive companion for advanced studies in visual arts, accessible enough for general-interest readers.