Section 1: The Author, Her Credentials, Work and Achievements
Michelle Marder Kamhi is an independent scholar and critic. Since 1992 she has co-edited the arts journal Aristos. She also co-authored What Art Is: The Esthetic Theory of Ayn Rand (Open Court, 2000)— praised by the American Library Association’s Choice magazine for its ‘well-documented . . . debunking of twentieth-century art . . . and art theory,’ and lauded by the eminent cultural historian Jacques Barzun for its ‘breadth and depth.’
A graduate of Barnard College, Kamhi earned an M.A. in Art History at Hunter College of the City University of New York. Prior to her association with Aristos (which began in 1984), she had been an editor at Columbia University Press, where she worked on titles in its distinguished Records of Civilization series—and has been active as a freelance writer and editor for many years.
Kamhi is a member of the American Society for Aesthetics, the National Art Education Association, and the National Association of Scholars. Articles by her have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Arts Education Policy Review, Art Education, and the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, among other publications.
Section 2: Preliminary
This is a courageous, well written and important book. Very many in the established artworld will disagree with its conclusions but they are supported by rigorous argument and passionate conviction. All who are interested to find the truth about art should study it and engage with its arguments. One cannot absorb all that this book contains in a single reading and there is more in it than can be adequately covered in a single review.
Kamhi succeeded in making this an accessible and lively book but it is at the same time challenging, requiring both thought and effort in its reading. Her American perspective is in no way limiting, grounded as it is in her comprehensive knowledge of world art.
Kamhi’s exposition is so lively that she inadvertently manages to make the things she is attacking interesting! As a result, we can feel the excitement of those times when artists were trying out all sorts of experiments to see if they might be art.
She also has a talent for making general points by using particular examples, thereby making the argument easy to follow. Her discussion of Postmodernism using the example of Warhol’s Brillo Boxes is a case in point.
Time and time again, Kamhi makes us aware of the sorry lack of questioning and argument in today’s artworld, a world in which critics, curators, sponsors, the media and even the poor bewildered museum goer, tend to accept that whatever they are told is art is in fact art. It is as if the world of art is sleepwalking to nowhere.
There are many highlights in this book including but not limited to: first, Kamhi’s love for and knowledge of art from earliest times through to the modern era. Secondly, she provides a firm basis for appreciation of ‘real’ art with a wealth of examples which satisfy the criteria she defines and also of ‘pseudo’ art which does not. Thirdly, Kamhi incisively analyses the development of Abstract Expressionism which was the unfortunate culmination of Modernism. Fourthly, Kamhi provides a blistering exposé of the Institutional theory of art which underpins the artworld of today. Finally, she prescribes the changes in attitudes and actions required to restore sanity with regard to contemporary art.
Section 3: Summary of the Author’s Purpose in Writing the Book
Kamhi’s purpose in writing Who Says That’s Art? is implicit in her subtitle A Commonsense View of the Visual Arts. She sets out to explore the reasons for the yawning gap between the kind of works currently promoted by the contemporary artworld establishment and the kind of works which tend to be appreciated by the general public. She openly acknowledges that she is not the first to identify or comment upon this situation. She observes:
When the art establishment assumes that after Marcel Duchamp we can no longer question whether anything put forward as art truly qualifies, others clearly disagree.
She insists now that we must all disagree and speak out if we find that something championed as art is in our opinion ‘utterly senseless or pointlessly offensive’, whatever we are told to believe by the artist or the art establishment. As she points out:
Wait, you may protest, isn’t defining art in terms of artists a circular definition? And doesn’t basic logic tell us that such a circular definition has no value? Since an artist is someone who creates art, don’t we need to know what “art” is to determine whether someone qualifies as an “artist”? You would be right, of course. But basic logic is not operative in today’s artworld…
Kamhi cites the forthright observation of George Orwell that there are times in which “the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.” She looks to each and every one of us to speak out for what we feel we like and what we don’t like about art today. When the Emperor has no clothes, we are urged to laugh and say out loud that he is naked.
In short, Kamhi’s remedial prescription for what she sees as the artworld’s distorted view of art is the application of commonsense.
Section 4: Debunking of Current Artworld Myths
Kamhi leads us through a systematic debunking of current artworld myths, including the myth that art is anything an ‘artist’ intends as such and that there is no other definition of art.
She strongly debunks the myth that the traditional distinction between ‘fine’ and ‘decorative’ art was an arbitrary invention of 18th century European culture and should be discarded. Other current artworld myths she debunks are:
- Art has progressed since the 19th century.
- Photography has made traditional realist painting pointless.
- “Abstract art” is just another style of art.
- Something that blurs the distinction between art and life (such as Tracey Emin’s My Bed) can still be art.
- Marcel Duchamp invented “conceptual art” with his readymades.
- Robert Rauschenberg “redefined painting” with his combines.
- The artworld stars whose work is avidly sought by contemporary collectors—from Andy Warhol to Jeff Koons—are today’s equivalent of the old masters.
- Today’s big-name art collectors are just like the great collectors of the past.
We may not agree that all these things are myths but Kamhi’s reasons for believing that they are, deserve our attention.
Section 5: What are Kamhi’s Views on the Nature of Art?
She starts by sharing and examining the confusion of the general public when confronted by, for example, the pickled sharks and piles of bricks which amongst much more nonsense have been presented to them as art. Her view of the true nature of art is pretty well summed up by the following paragraph:
For art lovers, the term art will conjure up a Rembrandt self portrait or… Michelangelo’s Pieta and they reasonably assume today’s art should resemble such work in essential respects – variations in style and subject matter notwithstanding. If not, why call it art?
Kamhi believes that the problem lies in the lack of any commonsense definition of art which is meaningful to people at large. In her view, the necessary qualities of art are essentially:
- Art is made with special skill and care.
- Art is representational but not necessarily realistic. The point here is that representational art is far more able to describe the world than is abstract art.
- Art embodies ideas and values of significance to both the artist and (potentially) other people.
- Art involves more than just technical skill; the artist must possess a special sensitivity.
Kamhi concludes that:
Any work that does not meet all these criteria is, in my view, either failed art or non-art.
Section 6: Ideas and Values of Significance
Kamhi’s third necessary quality of art (that art embodies ideas and values of significance to both the artist and potentially other people) deserves the consistent emphasis which she gives it throughout her book. She argues persuasively that artists create meaningful images by selectively representing the appearance of things in the real world. Their work embodies what they regard as important, based on their own experience and values - their deeply held ‘sense of life.’ Further, she continues:
Each viewer, in turn, grasps a work of art in the light of his own knowledge and life experience, and responds to it according to his personal sense of life - in some cases positively, in others negatively or indifferently. Contrary to modernist claims, art cannot be wholly ‘abstract’ (or ‘non-objective’). It must be representational. Why? Because without recognizable subject matter, it fails to be intelligible.
And the consequence of it not being intelligible is that the artist will not be able to express his or her ideas and values and there will be nothing to which the poor viewer can relate. In sum, art needs to be intelligible to ordinary folk and it needs to deal with what ordinary folk value and believe to be important in their lives.
As Kamhi writes:
In the broadest sense, every work of art implies, in effect, this represents something that the artist cared about—thought important, worth attending to, thinking about, remembering.
As Jacques Barzun put it:
Art distills sensation and embodies it with enhanced meaning in a memorable form - or else it is not art.
Section 7: Discussion of Important Points Made in this Book
Modernism, Postmodernism and the Institutional Theory of Art
Kamhi starts her challenge to the art establishment with the Modernism of the twentieth century which culminated with Abstract Expressionism, championed by the critic Clement Greenberg. She argues that abstract art does not meet the essential requirement that art should represent the real world, by means of forms which are recognisable to us. As the philosopher Ayn Rand says, the ideas and values expressed in art are fundamentally abstract but the achievement of art is that it is able to express those abstract ideas and values in concrete recognisable form.
Kamhi then moves on to Postmodernism, which she describes as “anti-art”. She sees Postmodernism as beginning with Pop Art, which was a reaction against the abstract art of Late Modernism. She cites Warhol’s Brillo Boxes (which were exact copies of real Brillo Boxes on sale in shops) as a classic example of Pop Art. At first sight, these were a step in the right direction, because they are highly representational and therefore not abstract. However, as philosopher-critic Arthur Danto pointed out, the Brillo Boxes present a problem: since they are exact copies of real Brillo Boxes, it is no longer possible to distinguish art from reality on perceptual grounds. It did not occur to Danto that the simple solution to the problem was to admit that the Brillo Boxes are not art. Instead, he appealed to the Institutional Theory of Art, which in effect states that something is art if professionals in the artworld say it is. So, although Andy Warhol’s Brillo Boxes look no different to real Brillo Boxes, we know they are art because Warhol and Danto say they are! It is not difficult to spot the circular argument in all this.
We may point out here that the Brillo Boxes are only one step removed from that cornerstone of Postmodernism: the readymade. Instead of exhibiting an exact copy of an object, Marcel Duchamp realised that he could simply exhibit the object itself! The equivalent in the case of the Brillo Box would be to buy a real Brillo Box from a shop and exhibit it in an art gallery.
Nya and the key
Kamhi tells us how her granddaughter Nya has learnt what a key is, namely a device for opening locks. She then compares the concept of a key to the concept of art and asks: who decides what art is? You might just as well ask who decides what a key is? It’s the wrong question; we already know what a key is and we already know what art is, more or less. Granted, there is some mystery surrounding the true nature of art, which may be elucidated by patient enquiry, but we can tell it from things which are patently not art. The real point here is that art is whatever art is and no-one has the right to decide what art is and no-one has the right to decide that a readymade object such as a urinal is art. In the case of an Institutional theory of keys, a locksmith could pick up a spoon and inform us that it was a key!
Two Important Distinctions
First, Kamhi distinguishes between art and decorative/useful art. She therefore uses the word “art” to denote fine art or art which is more than just decorative or useful. She has no quarrel with decorative or useful art as such, she just says that it is different to art proper, or fine art.
Secondly, Kamhi distinguishes between art and things which in her view are not art, such as the abstract art of Modernism or the ‘anti-art’ of Postmodernism. This is where her real quarrel lies. She is not prepared to accept that the abstract drip paintings of Jackson Pollock and the readymade objects of Marcel Duchamp are art.
The Significance of Critics
On page 119 Kamhi says that critics should have a wide and deep knowledge of art history and on page 120 she quotes a critic of the New York Times who said that when sympathy for the avant-garde is the critics underlying assumption, criticism can cease to be judgement. She also makes the important point that critics should write intelligibly. The prevalence of “art speak”, using big words when simple words would suffice and often meaningless anyway, is well known to all of us.
Kamhi also makes the vital point that critics should have a sense of what art is! Art, like many things, is not easy to define, but if a critic has no sense of what art is, there is a danger that he or she will accept anything as art and will try to read meaning into it, even when there is no meaning to be read.
The Place of Collectors
On page 204 Kamhi says that the work acquired by today’s influential collectors is validated mainly by the high prices which they pay for it, rather than by its worth as art. On page 198 she refers to the “cultural house of cards”, propped up by the influential people in the artworld. Of course, too many people have too much to lose, both as regards reputation and financially, should that house be allowed to collapse.
In contrast, the author cites earlier collectors who appear to have had both knowledge of art and good taste. These people appear to have really loved the work which they collected. One such collector was in the habit of living with a painting for some time before deciding to buy it.
Branding in the Artworld
On page 213, Kamhi tells us about the economist Don Thompson who writes that reputations in today’s artworld are not created by aesthetic judgement, but by the branding that occurs when an artist’s work is linked to a major dealer, auction house or collector.
Cognitive Science and Evolution
Kamhi’s persuasive arguments are grounded in a wide-ranging resumé of the modern findings of cognitive scientists, archaeologists and philosophers about the importance of art in the history of man’s evolution. While she is in agreement with many of their findings, she is not afraid to take them to task for inadequacies and absurdities. We will cite just one important example from page 147:
…in his book The Art Instinct, Denis Dutton began this widely acclaimed study of art by arguing that works of art are ‘the most complex and diverse of human achievements’ and that art-making ‘requires rational choice, intuitive talent, and the highest levels of learned, not innate, skills.’ Yet he held that Duchamp was ‘an authentic artistic genius,’ and he argued that the ‘readymade’ Fountain is an important work of art, even ‘a work of genius.’ Such a conclusion is all the more remarkable as Dutton noted several major respects in which Fountain indisputably flouted what he regarded as ‘universal criteria of art.’
Kamhi observes that this instance is just another example of failure “to define art with any rigor.”
Kamhi is supportive of many of the views of David Lewis-Williams in his The Mind in the Cave (2002) which understood early cave art to be an ‘expression of prehistoric man’s world-view, expressing belief in a three-tiered universe, comprising realms both above and below the known terrestrial world – a conception of the universe which is culturally ubiquitous.’ In other words, far from being merely some kind of aid in the hunting of animals, art was at the heart of everything that was important to prehistoric man.
In a far reaching synthesis of other scientific findings in cognitive science, Kamhi lays bare the strong role of mimesis (imitative representation of the real world) in the story of artistic development, contrasting it’s damaging absence in abstract art. She also details the importance of the growth of higher level awareness in humans, characterized by its ability to integrate past and present experience. She stresses the growing understanding of the relationship between art and the workings of the brain. She leads onwards to a theory of art, due to Ayn Rand, that integrates Cognition and Emotion:
According to Rand’s view, humans create art because of a deep psychological need, both cognitive and emotional, to give concrete external form to our inmost ideas and feelings about life and the world around us. As Rand succinctly put it, ‘Art brings man’s concepts [about such things] to the perceptual level of his consciousness and allows him to grasp them directly, as if they were percepts.’
Kamhi has a considerable talent for calling a spade a spade and not calling it a readymade work of art, as illustrated by the following parable of The ‘Creative’ Shoemaker:
To drive this truth home, let me conjure up my Parable of the ‘Creative’Shoemaker, Giuseppe Girolamo. Giuseppe was not content with crafting shoes like those of his fellow shoemakers. He wanted to be more ‘creative’ and ‘original.’ His shoes would dispense with soles, since they are rarely seen, and would consist instead of laces that wound around the ankle and toes with endless fanciful ornaments, thus adorning the instep. At first, the villagers who flocked to his shop declared: ‘I love Giuseppe’s shoes. They’re funky and fun, and so imaginative. And I’m so much more smartly dressed than my neighbors.’ But they soon discovered that their feet were bloodied and sore, lacking the customary protection that ‘old-fashioned’ shoes with soles had afforded. In time, they even began to question whether Giuseppe was, in fact, a true shoemaker. For wasn’t the basic function of shoes to protect the foot, and doesn’t that require being equipped with soles? So, too, art has a function, the fulfillment of which necessitates certain properties.
Section 8: Taking the Author Slightly to Task
Decorative Art and Fine Art
We appreciate Kamhi’s reasons for distinguishing between art and the decorative or useful arts and we realise that she has no quarrel with the latter. There are those, however, who like the idea of all these forms of art being one. They all have the common ingredient of craft and it seems more democratic to say that they are all one. Some of us are uneasy with the Renaissance artists’ insistence that they were superior to the humble craftsman and we are not sure that such ego is appropriate in art. We feel that in Eastern art especially, fine art and decorative/useful art seem to merge into each other so that it is difficult to see where one ends and the other begins.
We raised the case of representational stained glass and mosaic with the author and she replied that she would probably say they are borderline cases and that there are works of decorative art that rise to a high level and share important characteristics with the primary "fine arts". She also makes the point that the real artist behind such works might be the designer of them, rather than the craftspeople who fabricate them.
On page 33, Kamhi states that art must be representational but it does not have to be realistic, yet at various points in the book, she is critical of non-realistic representational Modernist works by Picasso, Matisse, Duchamp and Henry Moore. It is as if Kamhi feels that non-realistic work is slightly inferior to realistic work. Like Kamhi, the Stuckists favour figurative painting, but they are enthusiastic about representational Modernism, especially Expressionism. Some Stuckists are engaged in further developing the style of Cubism. An important idea of Stuckism is that of Remodernism, whereby Stuckists aim to redo Modernism, taking it in the direction it should have gone in before it succumbed to abstraction and Postmodernism. Perhaps though, some examples of Cubism and Moore’s more abstract sculptures are too close to being abstract art for comfort.
A very important area of agreement, however, concerns spiritual values. The philosophy of Remodernism emphasises the importance of spiritual values and so does Kamhi in her book. It might in fact be argued that spiritual values are what art is all about.
Clive Bell and the Importance of Form
A vital ingredient of art is form, such as colour, tone, line and composition. In her notes at the back of the book (page 272), Kamhi refers briefly to the critic Clive Bell. In his book “Art”, Bell claims that it is the form in art which matters and that the subject is irrelevant. We suggest that both form and subject are equally important and that it is these two, working together that work the magic of art. While the author does refer to things like line and composition, her main reference seems to be to the importance of subject. Yes, she often emphasises how the artist conveys meaning and feeling about the subject but we would like to see more said about form, which is surely the means whereby that meaning and feeling is conveyed.
We might mention here that we have a slight problem with Kamhi’s phrase at the bottom of page 8 of her book: “imagery in two or three dimensions”. Of course a sighted person will experience images when looking at art, however sculpture, especially, is not essentially imagery; it is form. A blind person can experience sculpture by touch, with no image involved. And for sighted people a single sculptural form is equivalent to an infinite number of images. Even a two dimensional painting may be thought of as consisting of forms rather than an image and the image thought of as an effect of the painting rather than the painting itself.
While we are talking about Bell, Kamhi has repeatedly encouraged us to judge art for ourselves and not just passively accept what we are told and she has argued passionately that something is not art just because someone says it is. She would no doubt agree with the following statement by Bell (Art, page 9): “But it is useless for a critic to tell me that something is a work of art; he must make me feel it for myself”.
Beating the Bounds
In his book “Playing to the Gallery”, based on his Reith lectures, the artist Grayson Perry says that the idea of there being boundaries in art is probably anathema to many in the artworld. Like Kamhi, he believes that art does have boundaries. He describes the Anglo Saxon custom of Beating the Bounds of a parish and uses it as a metaphor for delineating the boundaries of art.
We believe that the boundaries of art are less certain than those of a parish and that the only way to discover them may be to produce novel creations, by way of experiment almost, to see if they work as art. You cannot be sure that something will work until you have tried it! We could argue that both Modernist and Postmodernist artists have been busy over the years, beating the bounds of art to see if they are valid or not. And the Institutional Theory of Art is certainly not the way to decide the matter!
It’s Good Having Him Around
The critic Brian Sewell, who has recently died, was very critical of the Postmodernist Young British Artists, yet we understand Young British Artist Damien Hirst once said of Sewell: “It’s good having him around”. Conversely, we could say it’s good having Hirst around. The antics of Postmodernist artists add colour and debate to the art scene. And they are good for the artist who believes in painting pictures, because they encourage him or her to question what they are doing. Our views will be all the stronger for having been tested against different views and we should always bear in mind that we might be wrong! The real harm is that those who are influential in the artworld, such as critics and curators, are not questioning their own views enough, with the result that they accept objects like Hirst’s pickled shark as art and conclude that painting is out of date.
Photography and Art
Kamhi does not support the prevailing artworld view that photography is art. She lists what she sees to be the key differences between photography and art as follows: a photographic image is produced by a largely mechanical process unlike a work of art; the photographer’s control is limited by the camera whereas an artist’s control is only limited by his/her skill; a photograph is, in effect, a literal record of a subject whereas a work of art is filtered through the sensibility of the artist; photographs can be lucky accidents, whereas a painting is never the result of chance.
We have however some reservations about her supporting points. It seems to us that Kamhi is under the misapprehension that photographs are a literal record of a subject at a particular moment. This is not the case. Michael Freeman, the acclaimed international photographer and writer, elaborates on the reasons for this misconception:
At a deeper level, there is an inherent paradox between depicting reality and yet being something completely apart as a freestanding image. Other arts, like poetry, painting and music, are obvious as constructs. There is no confusion in anyone’s mind that a poem or a song have originated anywhere else but in the mind of their creator, and that the experience in life that they refer to has been filtered through an imagination, and that some time has been taken to do this. In this respect, photographs do create confusion. The image is, in most cases, so clearly of a real scene, object or person, and yet it remains just an image that can be looked at quietly in completely divorced circumstances. It is of real life and at the same time separate. This contradiction offers many possibilities for exploration…
So photographs are not in essence literal records, although they can be used for record purposes if desired. While it’s not obvious that photographs are constructs, we would argue with Michael Freeman that, along with art, poetry and music they are ‘constructs’ fashioned from the raw material of the physical world by the mind and creative choices of the photographer.
The ‘mechanical’ act of pressing the shutter button can be the endpoint of some fairly complex creative decisions around what to include in and what to exclude from the image, such as formal considerations of composition, choice of subject, focal point, best angles, depth of field, optimum lighting and desired ‘look’ to the resultant image. The reason why enthusiast and professional cameras have so many controls, dials and menu choices is precisely to enable the photographer to have all these creative options available.
It is true that the differences between the way in which the eye sees and the camera sees are of major significance to the creative process of photography. The camera takes a single shot at one aperture, one shutter speed, one focal point and with an exposure sensitivity of maybe at best eight stops, (dynamic range of the sensor). On the other hand, the eye is constantly traversing the subject or scene: using many apertures as the eye automatically adjusts for sky and shade, lingering here moving on there, with multiple focal points and a dynamic range of perhaps as much as twenty-four stops, though not all at once. Even more significantly, behind the eye is a brain which is continuously processing this light data. Consequently, the ‘picture’ which we see is what our brain has constructed for us and, part of this process, is the influence of our values, cultural norms and beliefs which are part of our innermost being.
As a result of these physical differences between the eye and the camera, how often do we find that the photograph we have taken has failed to capture the magic of the scene which so enthralled us, the early golden light of morning through a light mist for example? Even with the most professional of pre shot camera setting decisions, there may often be a considerable gap between what we saw and felt at the scene and what we experienced subsequently when we viewed the un-manipulated image straight from the camera. This ‘expectation’ gap then becomes the subject of further extended creative decision making through post processing or ‘Photoshopping’ which can end up with outstandingly creative results in the right hands. Software processing of images after capture enables the photographer to close the gap between the image he ‘saw’ and the image captured in his camera and now being prepared for printing or the web. In a real sense, the final image is therefore a ‘construct’ of the creative choices made during the whole process of choosing a subject, setting up the camera, taking of the photograph and finally, post processing of the image.
Consequently, we would say that photographs are also largely dependent upon the choices and the actions of the photographer, very like the way in which paintings are dependent upon those of the artist. The ‘mediation’ of the camera and of ‘electronic activity’ is a fact but then so is the ‘mediation’ of brush and pigment. Neither photography nor art are possible without these ‘mediators’ but the creative input by photographers remains nonetheless considerable even if we must properly concede it to be somewhat lesser than that of artists…
We think Kamhi’s examples of great photographs taken by accident do not support her case. Great photographers can seize a moment to react instinctively and take a great image in a way that happy snappers cannot. Experience, training, camera skills and hard work enable professionals to make their own luck.
We believe that serious photographs are not in general a literal record. They are creative constructs which are wrested from the raw material of the physical world through the mind of the photographer and the means of a camera, followed by creative post processing. A photograph therefore is the end product of an exploration of the visual possibilities of the physical world
It is easy to take an unmemorable photograph, awesomely difficult to take a really good one. Michael Freeman quotes another photographer, Lisette Model:
Photography is the easiest art which perhaps makes it the hardest.
It therefore seems that some of the reasons Kamhi puts forward to buttress her view that photography is not art are overstated and/or at least partially incorrect. We are however fully in agreement with her that the way many Post Modern artists are using photography is NOT art, as in the example Kamhi provides on P91:
Kosuth did an entire series of ‘Definition works’— epitomized by his One and Three Chairs (Etymological). It consists of a nondescript folding chair set next to a life-size black-and-white photograph of the same chair and an enlarged dictionary definition of ‘chair.’
For us, on the other hand, much of the creative work done by real photographers involves making many of the same kind of decisions and choices as artists. We think the case for photography to be considered at least a ‘kissing cousin’ of art is a strong one.
Section 9: Conclusion
We absolutely share Kamhi’s enthusiasm and high regard for representational painting as a major art form, possibly the major art form. We also think that her arguments concerning abstract art and Postmodernism need to be considered very seriously by all who are interested in the truth about art. We cannot go the whole way with her but we can go a good deal of the way – most of the way even.
She gives us her clear definition of art and then demonstrates that, while figurative painting and sculpture meet the requirements of this definition, abstract art and Postmodernist art do not. We may disagree with her definition but we must applaud her courage in attempting a clear definition of art based on her own sincere convictions. After all, clarity of thought is what we so badly need in the present artworld, where anything goes, no matter how lacking in artistic merit.
On page 198, the author writes the paragraph below:
In the visual arts, there are now two parallel universes. One is the realm of the pseudo artists favoured by prominent collectors and promoted by major galleries, museums, and the media. The other is that of genuine artists labouring in a cultural underground, little known by the public and cut off from the lively criticism and engagement, not to mention income, that broad exposure could provide them. If traditional painting and sculpture seem to be dead in our time, it is not because they have been replaced by something better or more meaningful. It is because institutional bias and a distorted art market have eclipsed them, depriving them of the interest and support required for their flourishing.
While we don’t agree that successful artists are necessarily pseudo artists, we do believe that representational painting and sculpture are sorely neglected by the present art establishment.
A really major thing we are left with after reading her book is the almost total lack of questioning in today’s artworld, and the Institutional Theory of Art lies at the centre of all this. The early Modernists, including Duchamp, were indeed questioning the nature of art by their very work, but there is little point in repeating what they did, all those years ago, now. Artists who employ novel media and strategies today may believe they are questioning things, but when novelty is the norm, it’s not much of a question.
How to round off our review? We suggest that that this is a book which everyone, in Thomas Cranmer’s words, should ‘read, mark, learn and inwardly digest’. We believe that everyone should respond to Kamhi’s clarion call for commonsense and honest judgement on the subject of contemporary art. We believe she is absolutely right to ask everyone to reject the all-too-common default position of deferring to presumed art experts. And when she writes that the art of our time should not require special expertise to be understood or appreciated, we believe that we should all rise to our feet and clap our hands.
In Kamhi, we believe we can now welcome the emergence of a prophet who will be honoured not only increasingly widely in her own country of America but also indeed in Britain and all countries in which people are unhappy, dissatisfied and confused by the present artworld’s distorted view of art.
J W Bourne     and D F Bailey