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A Fable Of Modern Art
by Dore Ashton
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John Bernard Myers, Washington Post Book World
"The hero of The Unknown Masterpiece, Frenhofer, is one of Balzac's archetypal artists, a man who has worked for years on a painting he has concealed from friends and admirers. . . . 'Who,' asks the art critic Dore Ashton, 'was Frenhofer?' thus propelling a ruminative essay into a kind of art- critical detective story. . . . It is her gift to throw us back again into looking, hearing, reading all that is best not only in our own time, but in those periods of the previous century which inform much of life with the desire to experience, to discover what we don't know."
John Spurling, Times Educational Supplement
"Dense with facts, quotations and cross-references, one of those stimulating arguments which sets mental hares jumping in all directions."
Franz Schulze, Art News
"The tensions, the doubts, the vaulting ambitions and fragmented triumphs that make up so much of the history of the arts in modern times are the substance of Ashton's concerns here. She writes of them with sympathy, passion and unfailing acuity, all tempered and enriched by extensive knowledge based on an immense amount of research."
Allan Temko, San Francisco Review of Books
"An exquisite book."
Dore Ashton's masterly analysis of modern art grows out of a consideration of Balzac's brilliant and little known 'philosophic' story The Unknown Masterpiece in which the concerns of Cézanne, Picasso, and the abstract expressionists are strikingly prefigured. Balzac's fable is discussed not only within the context from which it emerged--early nineteenth-century romanticism--but also in its embodiment of various attitudes towards art. Ashton illuminates a web of associations linking Balzac to Cézanne, Rilke, Schoenberg, Kandinsky and Picasso as they struggle with the yearning to express the inexpressible, to make concrete the abstract.
As Professor Ashton develops the conjectures of her book she reveals the interrelations of literature, music, and art and the basic problems which engage or beset the contemporary artist and those who seek to understand and appreciate contemporary art. This is a book of extreme originality which ranges so widely and offers such valuable insights that it forms an important contribution not only to the history of art and culture, but also to the history of ideas.
About the Author
Dore Ashton is Professor of Art History at Cooper Union, New York City, and author of many books, including A Critical Study of Philip Guston (California, 1990).
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