Suggestions for modern books and essays that address art and creativity?
January 11, 2013 6:11 PM   Subscribe

I've been re-reading Tolstoy's "What is Art?" and Ayn Rand's "Romantic Manifesto". I would like to read more about how we think about art and what we consider to be art as well as the relationship between the artist and society/culture. I'm especially interested in how we think of art and what is my responsibility as an artist to the greater society and culture.

I want to begin to develop a better sense of the relationship and responsibilities of the artist to both their art and their relationship to society as a whole.

I'm not really interested in "History of Art" type books/essays. I have those.

Assume modern means post-1800 CE.

I think it needs to be said that, even though I mentioned Rand on the other end of the spectrum, I'm not really interested in Objectivist writings other than this. It is about getting a broad range, not about getting more Rand in my life.

I would like to read more commentary from creators who had broad things to say - not just limited to what they thought of themselves or their media.

Thanks, everybody!
posted by Tchad to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Oscar Wilde - Picture of Dorian Grey

James Joyce - Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
posted by chloe.gelsomino at 6:13 PM on January 11, 2013

Response by poster: I won't threadsit, but I am looking for essay or manifesto type exposition, not necessarily fiction that can be interpreted as commentary. I want it to be a fairly direct analysis similar in form to the ones I mentioned.
posted by Tchad at 6:20 PM on January 11, 2013

Best answer: Kenneth Clark's The Nude, in fact any if him if yiu want mid century, middle broad opinions on the subject.

steven Johnson , Art A New History

camille Pagilia, Sexual Personae

Any anything by Ruskin, the big bad of victorian art and soceity crit.
posted by The Whelk at 6:26 PM on January 11, 2013

Best answer: I just finished and loved Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery by Jeanette Winterson

It deals with the canon, what "real art" is, how objects have value, a bit of queer theory, and most definitely how the artist interacts with their work and their culture.

My one caveat is that she doesn't *just* deal with visual art in the book, but I found that almost a strength, it was interesting seeing how visual art like painting was similar and dissimilar to music and poetry, it helped contextualize the "what is art" discussion in an interesting way.
posted by Sweetchrysanthemum at 6:32 PM on January 11, 2013

Seconding Winterson's Art Objects. It is great. I took a class on this topic in college and we had an anthology. I think it was just called "The Philosophy of Art and Aesthetics" edited by Tillman and Cahn. Looks like there are used copies on Amazon (sorry can't link from phone). It obviously has pre-1800 perspectives but there should still be plenty that would interest you.
posted by katie at 6:39 PM on January 11, 2013

Best answer: Art in Theory 1900-2000: An Anthology of Changing Ideas is a collection of essays on the topic written by renowned artists, theorists and critics.
posted by girih knot at 6:47 PM on January 11, 2013

Best answer: Addressing specifically the question of duty, artists and critics thinking in the shadow of Marx typically have a lot to say about the artist's responsibilities toward the audience and/or society. Some examples:

Brecht, "A Short Organum for the Theater"
Lukács, "Realism in the Balance"
Marcuse, The Aesthetic Dimension: Toward a Critique of Marxist Aesthetics

Feminist artists of the 70s and 80s, e.g. Judy Chicago or the Guerilla Girls, also leap to mind as having made numerous artists' statements that suggest the art world, if not the artist, has social responsibilities.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 6:49 PM on January 11, 2013

Best answer: Meyer Schapiro's essays, especially “Art and Social Change,” “The Social Bases of Art,” and “The Value of Modern Art,” in Worldview in Painting: Art and Society (New York: George Braziller, 1999): 113-128; 133-157. The whole book might actually be of interest.
posted by obliquicity at 8:09 PM on January 11, 2013

(Schapiro was writing in the 1930s.)
posted by obliquicity at 8:09 PM on January 11, 2013

I am a big fan of Art and Fear from the perspective of thinking about making art, and then why we decide to or decide not to. Has some stuff about the artist's place in society. And it's a sort read, but thinky and thoughtful.
posted by jessamyn at 8:19 PM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction." Also check out Theodor Adorno's work.
posted by incountrysleep at 9:14 PM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

'The Society of the Spectacle' by Guy DeBord or anything by or about the Situationists in general. they started a near revolution in France in 1968. less about art per se but more about life as art and art as life.
posted by Conrad-Casserole at 9:34 PM on January 11, 2013

How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti raises these questions, though I'm not sure I agree with her answers.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:42 PM on January 11, 2013

Best answer: madeleine l'engle's walking on water: reflections on faith and art is a classic if you don't mind a spiritual perspective

julia cameron's the artist way is another good one

rilke's letters to a young poet sounds like it would be good but i admit i haven't read it yet

richard florida's the rise of the creative class: and how it is transforming work, leisure, community and everyday life sounds really interesting and all those other books on the creative class or cultural creatives

architectural critic charles jencks' what is postmodernism? is a fantastic read on art, architecture & postmodernism. there are lots of books & essays on philosophical & cultural postmodernism that deal with the arts and creativity which i highly suggest investigating. (most of what i've read has a spiritual bent so i won't recommend those unless you ask)
posted by wildflower at 11:00 PM on January 11, 2013

You might take a look at Noel Carroll's Philosophy of Art.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 12:44 AM on January 12, 2013

Carl Jung's The Spirit In Man is one of my favorite pieces of (slightly out-there) theory that tries to get at what art is. One person that it influenced was Joseph Cambell, who wrote the Hero With A Thousand Faces (about myths and art).
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:03 PM on January 12, 2013

Some books of essays about what makes poets poetate, that I think are very applicable to all artistic endeavor, are Richard Hugo's The Triggering Town, WH Auden's The Dyer's Hand and Harold Bloom's The Anxiety of Influence. I'd also recommend TS Eliot's Selected Essays, 1917-1932, especially the essay Tradition and The Individual Talent.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:18 PM on January 12, 2013

Finally, some classical philosophy (post 1800 but mostly pre 20th century style):
Shelling's Philosophy of Art
Hegel's Lecture on Aesthetics
Henri Bergson's The Creative Mind
Schiller's On the Aesthetic Education of Man
Kierkegaard Either/Or
Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:41 PM on January 12, 2013

I'm not sure this is *quite* what you're looking for, but you might try Ellen Dissanayake, especially What is Art For?
posted by segatakai at 10:17 PM on January 12, 2013

Best answer: Here are the critical books on aesthetics written after 1800. All of these deal in some aspect with the notion of artist and their relation to the audience and the artwork.

Kant, Critique of Pure Judgement (1790)
Hegel, Lectures on Aesthetics
Schiller's On the Aesthetic Education of Man
Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy
Heidegger, Poetry Language Thought
Benjamin, Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (and pretty much everything in the collection Reflections)
Wittgenstein's thoughts on the matter collected in Lectures and Conversations and Culture and Value
Croce, Aesthetic...
Adorno, Aesthetic Theory
Goodman, Languages of Art
Collingwood, The Principles of Art
Dewey, Art as Experience
Cavell, The World Viewed
Danto, The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art

If I had to read only one that was accessible without a lot of philosophy background, I would probably go for Dewey.

For a good overview of the contemporary issues on the issue, the Oxford Handbook of Aesthetics is really quite good. I highly recommend Lydia Goehr's work on art and politics.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:02 PM on January 14, 2013

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