With The Invention of Art, Larry Shiner challenges our conventional understandings of art and asks us to reconsider its history entirely, arguing that the category of fine art is a modern invention—that the lines drawn between art and craft resulted from key social transformations in Europe during the long eighteenth century.
"Shiner spent over a decade honing what he calls 'a brief history of the idea of art.' This carefully prepared and—given the extent and complexity of what he's discussing—admirably concise, well-organized book is the result. . . . Shiner's text is scholarly but accessible, and should appeal to readers with even a dabbler's interest in art theory."—Publishers Weekly
"The Invention of Art is enjoyable to read and provides a welcome addition to the history and philosophy of art."—Terrie L. Wilson, Art Documentation
"A lucid book . . . it should be a must-read for anyone active in the arts."—Marc Spiegler, Chicago Tribune Books
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We take enormous comfort in the notion that art began in ancient Greece, or maybe even the Renaissance, and that its progress can be traced through a long series of masterpieces. We believe even more firmly in the idea that art is transcendent and universal. With The Invention of Art, Larry Shiner challenges these articles of faith and invites us to reconsider the history of art entirely. He argues that the category of fine art is a modern invention-that the lines drawn between art and craft resulted from key social transformations in Europe during the long eighteenth century.
The idea of fine art was inextricably linked to the development of new market economies and the rise of the middle classes, both constituting enormous changes in Western culture. During this period, the art museum, a place where art could be viewed, digested, and contemplated, first came into being. Meanwhile, critics became less interested in how art and literature functioned, and more fascinated with art's aesthetic worth. At the same time, the performance of classical music shifted from places of worship and political ceremonies to more secular and commercial venues where it could be listened to silently. And accompanying these institutional changes was the dissolution of the patronage system for producing art and the advent of a new market system supported by consumers.
The Invention of Art traces the rich tradition of opposition to these institutions. Shiner looks at works by thinkers as varied as Hogarth, Rousseau, Wollstonecraft, Emerson, Marx, Dewey, and Benjamin. Ultimately, he shows how the modern system maintains its dominance through the assimilation of artists and musicians who resist it, and the distinctions it draws between artists and artisans, and high art and the crafts.
Larry Shiner is a professor of philosophy at the University of Illinois at Springfield. He is the author of The Secularization of History and The Secret Mirror.
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