Dabney Townsend, professor of philosophy at the University of Texas at Arlington and author of Aesthetic Objects and Works of Art (Hollowbrook, 1990).
Townsend says "aesthetics, as it has been known since the eighteenth century"--when the German philosopher Alexander Baumgarten invented the discipline--"has recently been successfully attacked for its attempt to isolate itself from every other field. But if what's happening in aesthetics is a breakdown, there's also a rebirth of sorts, an interdisciplinary ferment, as we try to figure out exactly what it is we're talking about." One book exemplifying this trend is Ben Tilghman's But Is It Art?: The Value of Art and the Temptation of Theory (Blackwell, 1986), which, Townsend says, "takes a strongly anti-theoretical approach to aesthetics and uses the title question to puncture some of the more high-flown theorizing of the twentieth century." Townsend also likes The Boundaries of Art (Temple University Press, 1992), by David Novitz, a "solid analytical philosopher" in the English tradition who "pushes the limits of how one does aesthetics by looking at the intersection of art and daily life."
Richard Wollheim, professor of philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley and author of The Mind and Its Depths (Harvard University Press, 1993).
Wollheim calls Philip Fisher's Making and Effacing Art: Modern American Art in a Culture of Museums (Oxford University Press, 1991) a fine work on "the influence of museums on the nature of modern art, but also, and perhaps more interestingly, [a revision of] the Hannah Arendt/Walter Benjamin view that art is the last stronghold of an older, pre-industrial way of making things." Fisher, Wollheim says, examines "the way modern art takes up and dignifies the actual conditions of industrial production." Wollheim also calls Kendall Walton's Mimesis as Make-Believe: On the Foundations of Representational Arts (Harvard University Press, 1990), a full-blown theory of representation, "easily the most important book in the field in the last few years."
Rosalind Krauss, professor of art history at Columbia University and author of The Optical Unconscious (MIT Press,1993).
Krauss points to Picasso and Braque: A Symposium (MoMA, distributed by Abrams, 1992), a book which shows how museums can influence art criticism. In it, editor William Rubin, chief curator emeritus of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, compiles the papers and discussions surrounding the museum's recent exhibition of the two artists' work. Krauss calls it an "exemplary act of seriousness" which shows how one can "put together an exhibition that's intellectually and aesthetically ambitious" and "get people to think about it in extremely interesting and various ways."
Carolyn Korsmeyer, professor of philosophy at the State University of New York at Buffalo and editor, with Hilde Hein, of Aesthetics in Feminist Perspective (Indiana University Press, 1993).
Korsmeyer deems Christine Battersby's Gender and Genius: Towards a Feminist Aesthetics (Indiana University Press, 1990)--"a critical, feminist study of the concept of the artistic genius from ancient times to the present"--a "must-read and also a good read, scholarly and well argued but not stodgily academic." She also notes with approval "an explosion of work on theories of emotion," such as The Rationality of Emotion (MIT Press, 1987), Ronald de Sousa's "important" work in the philosophy of mind, which Korsmeyer believes is making it possible to "take emotive responses to art seriously."
W.J.T. Mitchell, professor of English and art history at the University of Chicago; editor of Critical Inquiry and author of Iconology: Image, Text, Ideology (University of Chicago Press, 1987) and Picture Theory: Essays on Verbal and Visual Representation (University of Chicago Press, 1994).
Mitchell suggests that "philosophical aesthetics, strictly speaking, is no longer where the action is [except] insofar as it deals with feeling and sensation and engages in a new and interesting way with mass culture." He cites Jonathan Crary's Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century (MIT Press, 1991), a history of "the evolution in the nineteenth century of prosthetic devices for vision, like the camera obscura, the kaleidoscope, and the stereopticon. Crary argues that these were the critical innovations that led to modernism--much more crucial than abstract painting, because they reconfigured our whole idea of the observer."
Are there any great books you think we missed? Let us know.