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The Use and Abuse of Art
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The Use and Abuse of Art

4.13 of 5 stars 4.13  ·  rating details  ·  39 ratings  ·  8 reviews

The lecturer traces the historical development of attitudes toward the arts over the past 150 years, suggesting that the present is a period of cultural liquidation, nothing less than the ending of the modern age that began with the Renaissance.

Hardcover, 150 pages
Published 1974 by Princeton University Press
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I found my notes to this book in a box in the loft (part of what will become known as “The Bryant Papers” in a few decades, I’m sure). These notes are nothing more or less than a Complete Theory of Art, and Art here means Everything , from Rheims cathedral to South Park. So, here it is. I’m sure most of this is Barzun’s ideas, but I’m pretty sure I added and tweaked a bit too, and it’s my list of examples at the end. So :


Art performs one or more of three
Christine Sunderland
An excellent, concise, brilliant analysis of how art has replaced religion in the last century. I now understand why so much of "modern" art I find bewildering, depressing, and offensive. The arrogance of the cult of art - those in the know - is also revealed for what it is. This book is a happy vindication of my instincts about the entire question of modernity. Recommended for anyone who wants to understand today's culture.
I have to begin this review by saying I am a huge fan of Jacques Barzun. After being introduced to him through reading Dawn of Decadence when it was published I have read as many of his books as I can find. He has an acute sense of culture and history and is a straight forward writer. I was not disappointed in this book. There are six chapters that were each a lecture given as part of the A. W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts. Barzun has insights into the development of modern art that seem rig ...more
Nicely-crafted essays on the way we've defined "art" in the past couple of centuries and on what we've expected from art--- redemption, social change, social definition. Barzun is speaking to a general audience, and the collected essays here (originally given as lectures in the mis-1970s) are presented without illustrations, so there's a feeling here of being left without concrete examples, but Barzun's knowledge of art history is sweeping, and his ability to relate changes in how art is defined ...more
Moderately difficult read, but very much a classic! This author is clear and concise about how we use and abuse art and how art uses and abuses us, at times. Barzun is a comprehensive historian with years of experience in studying the zeitgeist of societies. In reading this book, I discovered my own definition of art, which will help me to understand what I like and do not like. I will read again and again.
Aaron Kent
I have trouble digesting art criticism. Maybe some of the things talked about in this book will sink in and inform me. By the time that happens in the future, I will be unable to say whether or not they came from this book or from other mysterious sources....
For everyone who is an artist. Gives you a clear perspective of what Art is!
Sarah Dawn
Really compelling and convincing
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Jacques Martin Barzun was a French-born American historian of ideas and culture.
More about Jacques Barzun...
From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present Simple and Direct: A Rhetoric for Writers The House of Intellect A Jacques Barzun Reader Teacher in America

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