Acts of Engagement brings together writings spanning the extraordinarily eventful ten-year after the author left The New York Times, where he had been an art critic from 1982 to 1991. The writings fall into three broad areas: art, art criticism, and arts and cultural institutions. In each area, Brenson finds it imperative to consider issues such as responsibility, creativity, process, and voice―issues that have taken on increasing urgency as corporate culture has overcome almost every aspect of American life. If we are to understand and come to terms with the violent shift from multiculturalism to privatization and the difficult if not precarious situation American art and culture are now in, we must engage the key words that define the book's four sections: language, identity, audience, and power.
In Brenson's catalogue and book essays, and in his short addresses and comprehensive lectures lie a wealth of historical knowledge, connoisseurship, political and social commentary, philosophical speculation, and an impassioned dedication to the value of artists and the visual arts. The book ranges from a detailed examination of a single popular masterpiece, to an appreciation of the potential everyday impact of artists as people, to analyses of the art world system and of sweeping social and institutional changes.
Acts of Engagement addresses the fundamental humanity and necessity of the visual arts: what they are about, why they matter, and the challenges and dangers they face.
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Michael Brenson is on the faculty at the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts, Bard College. He lives in Accord, New York.Review:
Remarkably lucid and readable, this book offers illuminating knowledge and insights throughout, at the same time posing courageous questions that are sure to keep readers thinking (and hopefully acting) well beyond their rewarding encounter with Brenson's fine mind and always inviting prose. Acts of Engagement is a gift in its own right and one you will surely want to share with others. (Jock Reynolds, Yale University Art Gallery)
This is a book to return to over and over, to enjoy the pleasure of engaging with a major thinker as he brings the reader through the contemporary art world. Brenson's thoughtful, deliberate, and poetic observations are lessons in becoming more aware and in thinking critically about what one sees, and cumulatively these essays form a warning to the reader not to take art or politics for granted, but rather to take responsibility for being an informed and vocal participant in a fragile social network. (Joan Rosenbaum, director, the Jewish Museum)
Give this book to everyone you know! Defining the central questions of culture in America, Brenson offers an invitation to step into the fray inspired by a language born of deep insight, broad experience, and a moral compass. Acts of Engagement reveals, defines, and activates the crucial artistic questions of our time. This is the most important summary of art and artists in American culture I have read in over a decade.... (Saralyn Reece Hardy, director/curator, Salina Art Center, Salina, Kansas, and former director of Museums and Visual Arts, National Endowment for the)
Michael Brenson writes with a reflective passion that is unique in contemporary discussions on art and cultural politics. He takes us through some of the most vexed and heated questions of recent times with patience, clarity, intuition, and sympathy. (Arthur C. Danto, art critic; Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Columbia University The Nation)
I read this stark, erudite, eloquent, and moving book with a tremendous sense of elation. Each chapter sparkles with the kind of argumenation and authority that have been largely absent in much criticism of today. The essays are not only cogent but critically fresh, ethically brave, and artistically committed to the imaginative agency of the artist. (Okwui Enwezor, Documenta 11, Kassel, Germany)
Michael Brenson takes us on an encyclopedic tour of the art world, and no matter what the topic, his profound intellect and mastery of language shine through, illuminating even old favorites anew. As enjoyable as it is informative, this book is ideal whether one is an art novice or a chief curator. (Agnes Gund, president emerita, The Museum of Modern Art)
Give this book to everyone you know! Defining the central questions of culture in America, Brenson offers an invitation to step into the fray inspired by a language born of deep insight, broad experience, and a moral compass. Acts of Engagementreveals, defines, and activates the crucial artistic questions of our time. This is the most important summary of art and artists in American culture I have read in over a decade. (Saralyn Reece Hardy, director/curator, Salina Art Center, Salina, Kansas, and former director of Museums and Visual Arts, National Endowment for the)
Brenson's lively writings provide a powerful and inspiring reminder of the central role that art can play in defining and changing society. (Publishers Weekly)
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