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Michelle Kamhi
Bucking the Artworld Tide: Reflections on Art, Pseudo Art, Art Education & Theory

Adult; Art & Photography; (Publish)

Today’s artists and art lovers who adhere to a traditional view of art are virtually submerged in the tsunami of anti-traditional work and supporting critical spin generated by the contemporary artworld. This book--comprising more than three decades of contrarian writing and speaking--offers a solid defense of traditional visual art, as well as a trenchant critique of the countless "new art forms" invented since the early 20th century and of the flawed theoretical assumptions behind them. A key part of the volume constitutes a critique of K-12 art education, which has largely adopted the contemporary artworld’s anti-traditional mindset.

Kamhi, coeditor of the arts journal Aristos, follows Who Says That’s Art?: A Commonsense View of the Visual Arts with this pull-no-punches essay collection deriding abstract art and its postmodernist successors. She systematically and thoroughly beats down the idea that anything can be declared art, “from a pile of wrapped candies on the gallery floor [to] a dead shark preserved in a tank of formaldehyde.” She makes a passionate and effective argument that such work is “incomprehensible to the poor viewer” and advocates for representational art to regain its primacy.

Readers who struggle to appreciate some forms of art will sympathize with Kamhi’s difficulty connecting to Pablo Picasso’s sculpture. More controversially, she warns that “a movement has for some time been afoot to hijack art education for purposes of often radical political indoctrination” and scorns abstract art as contrary to “the commonsense attitude that has been a prime virtue of American society.” “What’s wrong with today’s ‘protest art’?” she demands. “Mainly this: it’s long on protest and virtually devoid of art.” Her candid reflections on what she calls “pseudo art” give readers the confidence to make up their own minds about the merits of artwork.

Kamhi writes with vehemence and certainty, and though she may not win over devotees of modernism, readers who find abstract and conceptual art baffling will be thrilled to encounter a kindred spirit. Objectivist thinkers will devour her examination of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of art; however, pop-art lovers will take exception to her harsh views on Andy Warhol and his contemporaries. The book is not illustrated, but Kamhi’s website hosts a resource page with links to all the artwork she cites. This well-researched and thoughtfully written guide is likely too weighty for casual art lovers, but art historians, critics, and artists will enjoy arguing over it.

Takeaway: Artists, critics, and teachers who are troubled by non-representational art will be thrilled to have their opinions confirmed by this clearly argued critique.

Great for fans of E.H. Gombrich’s The Story of Art, Fred Ross.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: B
Illustrations: -
Editing: B
Marketing copy: B