BUT IS IT ART? by Cynthia Freeland: A Review

This cover shows the “Art Cow” phenomenon popular in Houston a few years ago. Many of the cows are located in Houston and the surrounding counties still.

I admit it was the cover and the memories of encountering the cows in various places that made me take this small art theory book out of the Little Free Library in my home town. Having audited a course in the history of Art and Graphic design at my university until the pandemic closed the university last semester, I was very interested to see what the author considered was art, and what was not. The book deals with contemporary art and art criticism, and is a very good introduction to art theory. Freeland, who has attachments to Houston, discusses the relationships of art with beauty, culture, money, sex, and new technology. She posits the question of what art is and what it means, a broad topic for a tiny book. She covers basic art theories and discusses why current exhibits and articles are considered art. She discusses definitions of art according to various art movements, including everything from Hume and Kant’s opinion to the opinion of the artist who created The Piss Christ.

There are photographs and musings from the author as she discusses the philosophy of art. Does she answer the question posed in her title? No, instead, she makes a fine argument that what is art is in the eye of the beholder.