Looking for a book recommendation that combines art and philosophy
July 25, 2012 6:50 AM   Subscribe

Students of art, lovers of philosophy, can you recommend a book I can buy as a gift for a friend?

I'm looking to buy a very good friend of mine a book for his upcoming birthday, but I'm having a hard time deciding which one.

Here are two salient facts:

1) He's an artist, and reads philosophical books in his spare time. He has most likely read all the standard dudes that get thrown about at art school, i.e. the Frankfurt School, all the French folks since Satre like Derrida, Deleuze, Foucault, Lyotard, etc. I know for a fact that he's reading Badiou right now.

So I think a philosophy text would be great, but it doesn't have to be specifically about aesthetics or art appreciation (a la Danto).

2) My friend explained to me that he reads philosophy like one would a novel, so I'd like to buy something fresh and engagingly-written. It's not like he understands set theory, so I think he's breezing by those bits and hunting for delicious turns of phrase.

fryman's suggestion of Quentin Meillassoux is intriguing but it doesn't really click to me. I would prefer getting something that has been published in the last ten years or so, but don't hold back if you have better suggestions from the 20th century.

As always, thank you Ask!
posted by Chichibio to Religion & Philosophy (17 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
What about On Ugliness, by Umberto Eco?
posted by Segundus at 7:07 AM on July 25, 2012

Best answer: Antonio Negri's Art and Multitude?
In terms of spiky, idea-laden, Francophone theory of recent times, perhaps something by Michel Serres or Marc Auge?
He's probably already read Dave Hickey's Air Guitar; bit of an old-school classic by now.
posted by hydatius at 7:16 AM on July 25, 2012

The 2002 reconstruction/translation of Walter Benjamin's lost Arcades Project would be a pretty spiffy gift.

There's also a newly-retranslated complete edition of Barthes' Mythologies that's gotten a lot of press.
posted by neroli at 7:22 AM on July 25, 2012

Nothing If Not Critical - A collection of essays by Robert Hughes
posted by Thorzdad at 7:28 AM on July 25, 2012

Seconding On Ugliness, but I'll also advance Jung's Red Book.
posted by iNeas at 8:03 AM on July 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Martha Nussbaum - Upheavals of Thought. Starts out by giving a general theory of emotions, then goes on to apply this to a lot of different areas including art, literature, and music. It might look daunting at 700+ pages, but as long as he reads the first chapter first, he can then skip ahead to the other parts that interest him.
posted by John Cohen at 8:05 AM on July 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Alain de Botton's The Architecture of Happiness is a nice look at philosophy through the lens of architectural aesthetics. Also, his The Art of Travel is good - it talks more about famous artists and philosophers themselves, rather than their works, but broadly deals with the artistic world.

Neither of those are "heavy" philosophy books, but they're not completely pop silliness either. Very enjoyable reads, both with interesting illustrations sprinkled through.
posted by agentmitten at 8:08 AM on July 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sophie's World might interest your friend.
posted by backwards guitar at 11:06 AM on July 25, 2012

Formless is out of print, but it would be perfect for this.
posted by rhizome at 11:17 AM on July 25, 2012

Art historian Lawrence Weschler's A Book of Convergences is philosophical, but grounded in everyday observations, and a steal at $4 for a high-quality McSweeney's hardcover! Weschler is not directly related to the books you've listed above, though almost of all of those authors reside on our coffee table (I live with an art historian).
Incidentally, she recommends Herbert Marcuse - An Essay on Liberation.
posted by obscurator at 11:20 AM on July 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The Arcades Project is a nice suggestion. He may have read other Benjamin, but if he hasn't, anything by Benjamin would be great.

A lot of the older aesthetics stuff in a really nice new critical edition, or a really old leather bound copy or something, would be cool, I think, like a really nice copy of Critique of Pure Judgement, or Birth of Tragedy, or Sentiment and Taste or something like that.

Since it seems like he's a lot of the major-sh deconstructionalist and post-modern type folks, I'll recommend some of my favorite modern works of aesthetics beyond those, though most are not within 10 years.

Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics... by Wittgenstein.
Art as Experience, by Dewey.
Aesthetic as the Science of Expression, by Croce.
The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works, by Goehr.
Languages of Art, by Goodman.
The World Viewed, by Cavell.
Essays on Music, Adorno.
Poetry, Language, Thought by Heidegger.

The only really recent one of all of those is the book by Goehr, which, while primarily about music, really addresses the idea of when art began and what we consider to be a 'work' of art. It's a great book.

A sort of fun one is 6 Names for Beauty, by Crispin Sartwell, and relatively recent.

If he's a visual artist, one of my favorite 'art' books is the Fluxus Experience by Hannah Higgins, also within the past 10 years, barely.

The Oxford Handbook of Aesthetics is a really nice collection, mostly of recent essays. As is Contemporary Debates in Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art.
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:01 PM on July 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh, and he might have read it, but I'd be remiss not to mention the also amazing Theory of the Avant Garde, by Peter Burger.
posted by Lutoslawski at 4:11 PM on July 25, 2012

One more, since he's a visual artist. This new biography of Van Gogh is really awesome. And if he doesn't already have them, a copy of Van Gogh's letters are a must. This one is neat because it has reproductions of the original drawings.
posted by Lutoslawski at 4:13 PM on July 25, 2012

Response by poster: John Cohen: The Nussbaum text is perfect, but unfortunately I think too much so: my friend's mother passed away just last week, and unfortunately having read the intro I think it's a tad too close to the bone.

Lutoslawski: Wow, really strong and thoughtful answers! I love the idea of an old leather-bound classic, but alas, the budget restricts. The other books (save Dewey and Burger, whom I've read) are going into my wishlist pronto.

hydatius: The Negri book looks great, and the Gormley cover is hilarious (to us, anyway - inside joke). But Michel Serres looks very interesting... so I think I'll settle on The Five Senses: A Philosophy of Mingled Bodies. It appears to echo the Nussbaum text, and an attack on "the sterility of systems of knowledge divorced from bodily experience" will be right up my friend's alley.

Some fantastic answers here, thanks everybody! The birthday is soon so I'll be off to buy now, but if you have any more suggestions don't be shy.
posted by Chichibio at 10:37 AM on July 26, 2012

John Cohen: The Nussbaum text is perfect, but unfortunately I think too much so: my friend's mother passed away just last week, and unfortunately having read the intro I think it's a tad too close to the bone.

Oh, I am so sorry to hear that. The book does have a lot of intensely emotional discussion about the author's loss of her mother. It was very kind of you to notice this and avoid choosing it as a gift now. However, I hope your friend has the opportunity to read the book someday. (Part of why I recommended it for someone who's more interested in philosophy as literature than as logical analysis is that it's so much more vivid and personal than the average philosophy book, including the focus on her mother's death.)
posted by John Cohen at 8:17 AM on July 27, 2012

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