Essential Reading| Art In Theory

One of the best anthologies available to
students of art history and theory.
Click on image above to access Google Books version
Seeing as it is reading break for many university students all or much of this week, I wanted to add another set of titles to my Essential Reading series which constitute a kind of “greatest hits” of art theory discourse. As I mentioned in passing in a post last week about Google Art Project, the critical conversations around art production, reception, and dissemination are far removed from the apparatus of spectatorship invited by the coffee-table book approach to art exhibition that Google (and many other on-line art galleries and museums) employ. Engaging with the ideas and theories surrounding art in any given period is one key antidote to a strictly formal approach to art, and the "Art in Theory" book series provides us with the perfect place to start. Published by Wiley-Blackwell, the set of critical anthologies cover the historical period of 1648-2000 in three large volumes: Art in Theory 1648-1815; Art in Theory 1815-1900; and my personal favourite Art in Theory 1900-2000

Click on image above to access
Google Books version
Each book is divided into thematic chapters with an opening introductory essay by one of the anthologies' editors (Charles Harrison, Paul Wood, or Jason Gaiger) and an accompanying series of key primary texts written within the time frame under investigation. With themes ranging across the three volumes such as “Establishing the Place of Art”; “The Profession of Art”; “Demands of the Present”; “Aesthetics and Historical Awareness”; “Freedom, Responsibility and Power”; “Institutions and Objections” there is a deliberate approach to contextualize the writings of key artists, philosophers, writers, and historians many of whom students have likely heard of but never read in the original. In this way, reading the likes of Poussin, Rembrandt, Locke, Diderot, Delacroix, Marx, Baudelaire, Courbet, Zola, Duchamp, Greenberg, etc.. (to name but a few) in their own words is part of the importance of these volumes. 

Click on image above to access
Amazon "Look Inside" version
In a networked culture where so much of what is offered up academically  comes at us “second-hand”, it is vital to build the practice of going back to the original texts of those we are studying to look for the specific nuances, rhetoric, style, and complete version of ideas under consideration. In my case, I used all three of these anthologies as an undergraduate and graduate student, and today routinely include readings from the volumes in the classes and seminars I instruct. As with many of the other titles I have featured in this series, these volumes have a special space in my home and office library. Lucky for us, Google Books has done a very nice job of reproducing key parts of two of the three volumes. Click on the images of the books to link directly to Art in Theory 1648-1815 and Art in Theory 1900-2000. The middle volume, Art in Theory 1815-1900, is somehow missing from online access, but I have included a link to the Amazon page where you can search the “Look Inside” feature to get a sense of its contents. Happy Reading Break!