by Jonathan Fineberg. University of Nebraska Press, August 2015. 216 p. ill. ISBN 9780803249738 (cl.), $39.50.
Reviewed November 2015
Carl Schmitz, Visual Resources and Art Research Librarian, The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation, firstname.lastname@example.org
Formed from a series of lectures given by Jonathan Fineberg at the Sheldon Museum of Art in Lincoln and Kaneko in Omaha during a yearlong residency at the University of Nebraska, this cohesive collection may be the capstone to Fineberg's theory of art. The essays cover discreet but inter-related explorations into the iconography of abstract forms, the grammar of abstract forms and unconscious dialogue, art and politics, and how art affects the brain. These topics are skillfully woven together through Fineberg's continuing scholarly foci on modern and contemporary art, psychoanalysis, and childhood, while the discussion also extends into neuroscience. As the author of the well-known textbook Art since 1940: Strategies of Being (currently in its third edition), Fineberg has previously mined elements of the territory here; what sets this volume apart is a highly approachable writing style and its exquisite production.
As stated in the introduction, Fineberg seeks to engage the reader in a discussion that ultimately addresses the value of art itself: "The complex contribution of how we see to who we think we are and what we think we know has broad implications for education–across all disciplines–and for why human society continues to need works of art." With such ambitious goals, Fineberg's ability to write clearly about concepts that might otherwise be intimidatingly complicated is essential. In his compact use of language, Fineberg is on par with writers like Malcolm Gladwell.
While the exceedingly communicative text is noteworthy, the volume is also highly visual. The covers are wrapped by a colorful and expressive detail from a Jean Dubuffet painting, but it's the profusely illustrated interior pages that are even more stunning. Each artwork cited in the text–from Calder to Christo and Miró to Motherwell–is illustrated, and most reproductions are placed on the same page as their related citation. This boon to the reader's experience is a commendable feat of editing and permissions work.
Based on Fineberg's reputation, it could be expected that Modern Art at the Border of Mind and Brain would be a valuable addition for collections centered on art theory. But it's what makes this book special–its text and visuals–that extends its appropriateness into general art collections.