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A groundbreaking book that proposes a radically new answer to the questions What is art? and How do we know whether something is a work of art?
THE AWFUL TRUTH ABOUT WHAT ART IS by Donald Brook, paperback, 136pp.
This new book was commissioned by Artlink magazine to put before the general reader a radically new answer to a pair of questions that have been made insoluble by running them together as if they were a single question. One of them is What is art? The other is How do we know whether something is a work of art?
The awful truth extracts the main themes from forty years of the author's lectures, discussions and essays. Donald Brook identifies art as the engine of cultural evolution. He argues, wittily and persuasively, that cultural kinds such as the cubist painting and the food mixer evolve by imitation and adaptation just as biological species evolve by replication and adaptation. In both of these evolutionary processes the unintended and the unexpected are crucial elements.
Turning from abstraction to the artworld, he shows that things may be recognised by the artworld as works of art for any reason, or for no reason. The artworld may classify the switching of a light bulb on and off as a work of art if it chooses, but as the audience for its entertainments we are free to find the performance so unilluminating that we may decide it has no significant role in cultural evolution. Art (when it is properly understood) and works of art (as they are recognised by the artworld) are only accidentally related.
Donald Brook brings to this revelatory construction his training as an artist, a philosopher and an engineer as well as his experience as an art critic, educator and writer. He was a founder of the Tin Sheds at Sydney University in the late sixties and of the Experimental Art Foundation in Adelaide in 1974, and is Emeritus Professor of Visual Arts at Flinders University of South Australia. He has influenced generations of students smart enough to recognise that here is a truly original thinker. Now in his early eighties, he is an iconoclastic living treasure.