It’s August and, with the new school year right around the corner, there are only a handful of summer weekends left. But fret not; there’s still time to catch some sun at the beach, pool or park and finish a few good books before the season ends. For the next several Fridays, we’ll be sharing faculty members’ summer reading recommendations. First up: BFA Visual and Critical Studies Chair Tom Huhn.
Reading again Adam Smith’s 1759 The Theory of Moral Sentiments, one passage struck me as a nearly perfect description of our current Republican political moment: “This disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and the powerful, and to despise, or, at least, to neglect, persons of poor and mean condition, though necessary both to establish and to maintain the distinction of ranks and the order of society, is, at the same time, the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments.”
Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (2014). Kolbert is one of the most elegant and concise writers on contemporary science, and this book tells the fascinating story of how human beings are responsible for the latest mass extinction. This makes the book sound depressing, though strangely it is anything but that.
T. J. Clark’s Picasso and Truth: From Cubism to Guernica (2013). Clark is the most distinguished living art historian. His most recent book is a historical survey of the kinds of objects, and thereby the kinds of worlds they inhabit, in the paintings of Picasso. The book is also a history of the transformation of the experience of interior space, of the way in which our experience of what it means, and what it feels like, to be inside a room has changed dramatically.
Reading Clark, and thinking about objects in artworks, led me back to the most powerful account of just what kind of an object an artwork itself might be, which is to say I was led back to re-reading Richard Wollheim’s Art and Its Objects (1968). It remains one of the most wonderful books on trying to think through just what it is that artworks do to us, and we to them.
For a short and utterly hilarious novel about the state of religious faith in the United States, I recommend Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood (1952).