I’ve taken a break from going to shows in order to hit the books. Some of these books are just food for thought, others will be reviewed in due time here. In the meantime, though, here’s my Summer Reading List so far:Johanna Drucker’s “Sweet Dreams: Contemporary Art and Complicity,” University of Chicago, 2005
I’ve become an acolyte, and I can admit that I can barely restrain myself from evangelizing about this book. Drucker’s an American artist, theorist and art/design historian. She’s currently a research fellow at Stanford U., but she’s typically based at UCLA. “Sweet Dreams” presents Drucker’s critical theory with a refreshing methodology: developing critical theory out of contemporary artistic practice, rather than projecting theory onto art. Her thesis is that the academia’s radical negativity (that criticality = opposition) has become orthodoxy, which is rigid and outmoded. She proposes a position of acknowledged complicity that is better suited for the attitudes of affirmation, engagement with material pleasure, and complexity of art of the 1990s and 2000s.
I’ve only read the first few chapters, but I’d recommend this books to artists and curators interested in theory and new ways of understanding recent contemporary practice. I wouldn’t recommend it to artists allergic to aesthetic theory (though Drucker accomplishes a Herculean task of summing up modernism, postmodernism and aesthetic theory in the first three chapters), but she also writes cogently (it’s not a speculative work of philosophy—it’s precise and methodical).
Also on the list, in various stages of completion:Martha Buskirk, “The Contingent Object of Contemporary Art,” MIT Press, 2003
Buskirk’s investigation into “contingency” in 1980s and 1990s art might be a good bridge between Modernist “autuonomy” and Drucker’s “complicity” for art of the 1990s and aughts.
Tal Ben-Shahar, “Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment,” McGraw-Hill, 2007
Positive Psychology from a Harvard University professor. Hands on, concise, useful for reminding oneself of what’s ultimately meaningful in life.
Philip Zimbardo, “The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil,” Random House, 2008
The psychologist behind the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment turns towards morality and how humans are highly influenced by their conditions.
Martin E. P. Seligman, “Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life,” Free Press, 1990/1998.
Much of my inquiry into optimism and pessimism has been shaded by skepticism, so I think it’s high time to embrace the attitude/beneficent delusion of optimism.
Ellen Lupton, “Thinking with Type: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Editors and Students,” Princeton Architectural Press, 2004.
A concise, erudite read; I will continue to employ this newly gained knowledge for a long time.