A bold challenge to the imbecilities of the international art world
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More About This Title WHO SAYS THAT'S ART?


A well-documented debunking of the international art world's "cutting-edge" contemporary work, combined with rich insights into the appreciation of genuine art, past and present.


Michelle Marder Kamhi is an independent scholar and critic. Since 1992 she has co-edited the arts journal Aristos. She also co-authored What Art Is: The Esthetic Theory of Ayn Rand (Open Court, 2000)— praised by the American Library Association’s Choice magazine for its “well-documented . . . debunking of twentieth-century art . . . and art theory,” and lauded by the eminent cultural historian Jacques Barzun for its “breadth and depth.” The Art Book (published by the British Association of Art Historians) called What Art Is a "balanced critical assessment of Rand's idiosyncratic arguments."

A graduate of Barnard College, Kamhi earned an M.A. in Art History at Hunter College of the City University of New York. Prior to her association with Aristos (which began in 1984), she had been an editor at Columbia University Press, where she worked on titles in its distinguished Records of Civilization series—and was active as a freelance writer and editor for many years.

Kamhi is a member of the American Society for Aesthetics, the National Art Education Association, and the National Association of Scholars. Articles by her have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Arts Education Policy Review, Art Education, and the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, among other publications.


Introduction, “If Art Can Be Anything, Then It Is Nothing,” sets out the book’s main line of argument.

Chapter 1, “What Exactly Are We Talking About?,” further defines the concept of art that this book deals with (that is, fine art, or “Art with a capital A”), tracing its roots to antiquity and showing its relevance to non-Western and pre-literate cultures as well.

Chapter 2, “What Qualities Make a Work ‘Art’? And How and Why Do We Respond?,” considers the essential nature of works of art—their chief characteristics and their primary function.

Chapter 3, “What’s Wrong with Abstract Art?,” answers that question—in part, by showing the mistaken premises and unattainable goal on which such work was originally based.

Chapter 4, “Anti-Art Is Not Art,” debunks the various inventions of postmodernism—from “Pop art” to so-called conceptual and performance art—by documenting the anti-art intent that gave rise to them.

Chapter 5, “Do Photography, Video, and Film All Qualify as ‘Art’?,” sorts out important differences between those media and the arts of painting, drawing, and sculpture.

Chapter 6, “Critics and Curators—Informed Guides or Intellectual Bullies?,” considers the role and influence of critics and curators, both good and bad.

Chapter 7, “What Do Cognitive Science and Evolution Tell Us about Art?,” examines evidence from the fields of cognition and evolution that illuminates the view of art presented here.

Chapter 8, “Rethinking Art Education,” critiques destructive recent trends in art education and counters with constructive suggestions for the future.

Chapter 9, “Today’s Dysfunctional Artworld—Who Is to Blame?,” considers the forces that conspire to promote pseudo art in today’s culture, from art dealers and wealthy collectors to museum trustees and public officials.

Chapter 10, “The Pleasures and Rewards of Art—Real Art, That Is,” is a very personal reflection upon some of the author’s favorite works.

Postscript, “What Can Be Done?,” suggests a few simple steps toward restoring cultural sanity with regard to contemporary art.


“Forceful and persuasive. . . . An impressive companion for advanced studies in visual arts, accessible enough for general-interest readers.”— Kirkus Reviews

“Kamhi’s scrutiny is unerring. . . . providing non-specialists with a scholarly yet accessible account that not only explains how to distinguish genuine art but also promises to enhance its appreciation.” — Midwest Book Review

“If like most people you are confused by the extremes of ‘contemporary art,’ this book is a must read. Kamhi applies a lifetime of experience to the task of clarifying the murky realm of artworld theory. Concisely addressing and clarifying all the main issues, she shows why much contemporary work shouldn’t qualify as art at all. In addition, she provides a sound basis for appreciating real art, both new and old.” — John Nutt, painter and art educator (U.K.)

“This book, intended for a wide audience, is dynamite thrown at a largely self-satisfied little [art] world. . . . [Kamhi] carpet bombs the field of visual art, exploding every half-baked notion that has cropped up in visual art and education since Kandinsky. What she has written so passionately about is well worth reading. . . . [She] has done great work in showing that the collective [art] wizards are just loud and windy, full of sound and fury but signifying nothing.”— Peter J. Smith, Professor Emeritus of Art Education, University of New Mexico

“The contemporary attitude is that anything can be considered art. Kamhi’s extended text correctly insists that this is nonsense. . . . [Her] perceptive study, an ‘indictment of the avant-garde’s spurious inventions,’ is so encompassing that it would be impossible in a brief review even to mention the many interconnected issues and areas [she] covers in superb exemplified detail.” — Journal of Information Ethics (forthcoming)

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