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But is It Art?: An Introduction to Art Theory

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  1,861 ratings  ·  84 reviews
From Andy Warhol's Brillo boxes to provocative dung-splattered madonnas, in today's art world many strange, even shocking, things are put on display. Thisoften leads exasperated viewers to exclaim--is this really art?

In this invaluable primer on aesthetics, Freeland explains why innovation and controversy are so highly valued in art, weaving together philosophy and art the
Paperback, 256 pages
Published April 4th 2002 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published January 1st 2001)
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Glenn Russell
Mar 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

A most accessible short introduction to not only art theory but also the philosophy of art and aesthetics, Cynthia Freeland’s approach is to provide historical and cultural context for the frequently asked question: “But is it art?” As a way of sharing some of the book’s content, below are several highlights:

In the chapter Blood and Beauty we are introduced to modern artists who use blood, piss and other bodily fluids to produce their artwork. The general public finds such works disgusting, as A
Justin Evans
A very easy to read overview of a few art theories (bad on Kant; okay on Hume; good on feminism/ritual theory), and Freeland's chosen theory is a solid one as far as it goes. She has Dewey's idea that art is somehow metonymic of a 'culture' and can be understood cognitively as well as emotionally or aesthetically + institutional art theory's point that art is just what a community says art is.

But she never deals with the obvious objection: institutional art theory can only exist in modern and p
Clay Kallam
Nov 05, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: philosophy
I had hoped for a lot more ...

Cynthia Freeland's small book (Oxford, $14.95, 208 tiny pages) posed the question but never delivered any kind of satisfactory answer -- though to be fair, no one has ever really come with a satisfactory practical or philosophical definition of art. For many, of course, modern art (whatever that may be) doesn't really qualify, because a) the belief is that anyone can do it; b) it's ugly; and c) it's meaningless. On the other hand, museums are full of art that many d
Dec 24, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: philosophy, art
This book examines the diversity of art and its relevance in the world. Chapters 2 and 6 were interesting as she examined art broadly and historically and the ways in which it's interpreted by theorists and critics. The rest of the book is mostly filler, but it does provide a comprehensive look at how art is an essential part of the social fabric of society. She expresses how human beings are storytellers and creators while echoing philosopher John Dewey's sentiments that art is the best way to ...more
Annie Walker
Chapter 2 and 6 were fairly worthwhile chapters. They went through many Art Theories with thoroughness and expanded on some complex ideas without becoming bloated. Definitely works as an excellent spring board to dive into Art Theories on a more in-depth level. I thought her sections through early Philosophers were a bit dodgy and simplistic (i.e. Plato, Aristotle, and Kant), but they would take some time to unpack to a fuller extent.
The other chapters, however, were sloppy and at times even con
Bryce Holt
May 03, 2012 rated it it was ok
This should be 2.5 stars, but I'm going against the grain and giving the lower score because I was constantly aware of how boring this was throughout the entirety of the book. I liked the commentary on the Guerrilla Girls as it's been years since I heard about the work they are doing as well as the segment about Francis Bacon, but most of the book was, "Well, yeah, that's obvious," or, "I'm tired of hearing about Kant." Just overall kind of negative experience. Seems like a grad thesis written b ...more
Lauren Albert
A good but very basic overview of the major theories of art. I shouldn't have expected more since it is a very small and short book (200 pages). But she is even handed in her treatment of all of the theories. I was pleased that she was able to approach multi-cultural and feminist theories of art in the same way as she presented the others, showing both their positive and negative sides. Many people seem afraid to criticize for fear of being thought racist or anti-feminist. But theories can only ...more
Maria Kleopatra
Nov 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Excellent introduction to art theory. Covering several topics such as beauty, gender, monetary value, interpretation, &c., freeland guides you through the most important ideas that have been developed around art, often using well-known artists as examples, so you don't have to be an erudite in art history to follow her. She also uses clear, simple language to inaugerate you in the world of art history, making this an accessible book for everyone. ...more
Kenya Wright
Mar 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This was a great book in looking at art theory for someone who hasn't gone to art school. I'm writing a heroine for my new adult book and I really needed to learn more about why certain art pieces are considered ART.

This book hooked me up and wasn't crowded with a whole bunch of complex prose. There were some illustrations and just fun topics!

My favorite stuff was on artists who utilize bodily fluids in their art work. Loved it!
Mar 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
Nice (very) introductory book about art. The author guides reader in calm, clear tone about what definition art has been have. Those people who think art as all about making something pretty- please read this book before arguing your point.
Lệ Lin
Dec 16, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: borrowed
As far as I remember, I had never be so mindful about theories of art until taking an online course with this book as my required textbook reading. The reason to scrutinize this field, as the author wrote in the Introduction, "guiding us in what we value (or dislike), informing our comprehension, and introducing new generations to our cultural heritage."

A fairly short overview of art theory and I would hesitate to recommend this book to the common readers since too many chapters require you to h
Sep 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A perfect introduction to the topic. Sketches out some positions and illustrates them nicely.

Still the whole topic seems conceptually confused. Kant was talking about the experience of beauty, Hume about a class of beautiful things, Foucault suggesting we should stop talking about the creator of beautiful things, Aquinas trying to gerrymander beauty into being the manifestation of god. And then at some point people started using art instead of beauty and the institutional theorists said institut
Maarten Mathijssen
May 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Everybody interested in art so read this, just over 200 pages, richly illustrated but raising the right questions. Summarizing the opinions about art starting with Plato and Aristotle but mostly emphasizing the last century. Unintentionally comic when the CD Rom is mentioned as the last great development in technical progress. Freeland combines philosophy and art theories with clear examples providing for clarity. Also a book one can read more than once due to the many questions it raises. Fasci ...more
Dec 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
The central point didn't really come through until the very end, so it felt a bit like a few separate thoughts rather than one overarching coherent point. Kind of hints that it is necessary to have a post-modern perspective of art to even define art but never quite follows through entirely on that one. Ultimately a bit entry-level but not to a degree where it negatively affected any insight. ...more
Katie Buckley
Oct 21, 2019 rated it liked it
A great jumping off point for anyone who is interested in deepening their knowledge of art. I am partial to texts are organized thematically and I was intrigued by many of the chapter subheadings. I thought the examples Freeland used to explain each theory were helpful and well chosen. I am usually wary of those who draw explicit connections between artworks of different media, from different time period or place, and/or created by different cultures and societies, however the way in which Freel ...more
Jun 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
Used this text as a supplemental reading alongside primary source material. Very easy to read and follow. Freeland condenses dense material into applied examples. Great for those who need an overview of topics in art theory and aesthetic philosophy. I recommend taking inquiry further with primary sources in order to get better grounded or a more thorough view of topics.
May 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
She wrote a clear discourse on different art theories that are used to understand contemporary art (and art itself). It definitely went really well with Crispin Sartwell's "6 Names of Beauty".

(I read this for my class, Philosophy of Aesthetics: Art and Beauty.)
Nov 23, 2019 rated it liked it
I found myself looking up lots of art and artists as I read this book. Good stuff. The book touches on quite a few theories of art without really digging deeply into them. But as a casual reader without a artistic background, that's what made it an enjoyable introduction to art and aesthetics. ...more
Daniel Posthumus
Jun 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
Solid, if a little too short, introduction to aesthetics and art appreciation. Especially appreciated consideration of non-western and feminine contributions to art (transcending the typical 'canon'). ...more
Sep 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Not as easy to read as the author clearly thinks it is. It is no 'Ways of Seeing' but it was wildly informative. ...more
Markéta Effenbergerová
Good book for people who want to get into art theory, but I was hoping for a bit more.
It was nice to revise the basics tho and the book is nice written.
Apr 17, 2019 rated it liked it
Meh. Decent, very basic popular intro/overview. Nothing to rave about, or despair. A classic will-do-in-a-pinch sort of book.
Gail Kennon
some interesting content and me a tad closer to an answer to the question.
William Barbosa
Jan 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Great introduction for absolute beginners on aesthetics. While not going deep on any topic, it gives a broader view of the field while giving you pointers on where to go next
Apr 10, 2020 rated it liked it
A good basic overview. I was hoping for more on art theory and the avant-garde.
Алсу Субханкулова
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Dec 07, 2020 added it
Read for my Philosophy and Aesthetics class
Jan 15, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: art
The book presents art theories that propositions on what makes ‘art’ art. Ritual theory, formalist theory, imitation theory, expression theory, cognitive theory, postmodern theory – phew …. And while these are not the author’s own but a compilation and study, I do not agree with most of the endorsed theories, my reasons for which I will come to shortly.

The examples quoted as reference were quite few and that’s what put me off a bit. Art has so many masters, iconoclasts, styles and mediums.

The b
Luke Sherwood
Apr 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
Cynthia Freeland, Chair of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Houston, came out with But is it Art? in 2001. It’s an excellent introduction to various theories of art, particularly for an abject layman like me. In it, Professor Freeland expounds on competing and converging beliefs held by critics and philosophers, and she does so in a logical, concise, and accessible way. The book is a slim one, bolstered by References, Further Reading and an Index, like any scholarly book will.

Nov 11, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014-reads
It's been almost fifteen years since I sat through an Aesthetics class, and mostly what I remember of it are the cram-packed class handouts enumerating the thirty to forty things we'd touch on each period during our whirlwind tour of 2500 years of art theory. The only absolutely clear memories I have are of a Quincey Troupe poem about killing cattle and of watching John Cage perform 4'33, so it was nice to come across Freeland's basic intro to art theory, which served as a lucid and lovely refre ...more
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Cynthia A. Freeland is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Director of Womens Studies at the University of Houston. She has published several essays on aesthetics and film, and is the coeditor of Film and Philosophy (1995).

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