Deep but somewhat vague ruminations on the making and viewing of art.
Supensky, a sculptor and emeritus professor at Towson University, cites no philosophers and elaborates no specific doctrine, but ranges widely across some of the perennial questions surrounding art. He allows that aesthetics is “an ingredient that defies a definition” yet floats a loose characterization anyway: A true work of art proceeds from a conscious purpose, tries to communicate, applies a skillful technique, has an “element of mystery” that can spark the viewer’s imagination, and stands out from mass-produced commodities by properties of uniqueness, authorship and marks of flawed humanity. (Qualifying that last stricture, he feels that a traffic sign can become art if mounted in a gallery.) Moreover, he insists, good art must be “honest,” by which he means an expression of the artist’s individuality; he therefore enjoins readers to find their own style rather than emulating other artists, even suggesting that readers heighten their self-knowledge by donning a mask and viewing themselves nude in the mirror. Supensky goes on to address some of the practicalities of making a career out of art: For instance, teaching children for a living, he warns, will stunt an adult artist’s skill and ambition. He also takes up a few set-piece problems that have perennially haunted artists, arguing that, no, a 4-year-old could not have painted a Jackson Pollock masterpiece. Supensky raises some interesting queries—“If I drive my automobile over a muddy road and leave tracks without intending them to be art, can I later return to the tracks and proclaim them to be art?”—but his rather slapdash treatment of them could have been sharpened by a more involved conversation with philosophical literature. The diffident prose isn’t particularly stimulating, either. On the other hand, the color photos—the best part of the book—feature an eclectic array of artworks, including Grecian vases, abstract paintings and a few of the author’s own witty clay sculptures.
A staid, unfocused but visually absorbing meditation on the arts.