Playing with the Edge: The Photographic Achievement of Robert Mapplethorpe

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Arthur Danto's assessment of the achievement of Robert Mapplethorpe is a lucid and graceful introduction to a controversial artist by the most distinguished philosophical critic of the arts in our time. While fully addressing the most public dimensions of Mapplethorpe's career—the branding of his work as pornography and the legal and censorship issues that surround the exhibition of his photographs—Danto's essay breaks with common responses by offering a fascinating and deeply ...

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Overview

Arthur Danto's assessment of the achievement of Robert Mapplethorpe is a lucid and graceful introduction to a controversial artist by the most distinguished philosophical critic of the arts in our time. While fully addressing the most public dimensions of Mapplethorpe's career—the branding of his work as pornography and the legal and censorship issues that surround the exhibition of his photographs—Danto's essay breaks with common responses by offering a fascinating and deeply sympathetic account of Mapplethorpe's aesthetics.


In Playing with the Edge, Arthur Danto returns the discussion of Mapplethorpe to a consideration of his artistic legacy. He refuses to retreat from the sexual content of Mapplethorpe's images, claiming that the content and the artistic character of the photographs simultaneously invite and deflect the charges of pornography and together define the importance of Mapplethorpe's work. Danto discerns the images' uniqueness in the relation of trust between the photographer and his subjects.

Through a fascinating exploration of the relation of Mapplethorpe's images to those of other artists (Titian, Sherman, Winogrand, Cartier-Bresson, Golub) Danto presents a compelling argument for Mapplethorpe's enduring position in the history of art, no less than the history of our times.

FROM THE BOOK:"There is a tension at the heart of Robert Mapplethorpe's art, verging on paradox, between its most distinctive content and its most distinctive mode of presentation. The content of the work is often sufficiently erotic to be considered pornographic, even by the artist, while the aesthetic of its presentation is chastely classic—it is Dionysiac and Apollonian at once. The content cannot have been a serious possibility for a major artist at any previous moment in history. It is particular to America in the 1970s, a decade Mapplethorpe exemplifies in terms of his values, his sensibilities, and his attitudes."

Danto's assessment of the achievement of Robert Mapplethorpe is a lucid and graceful introduction to a controversial artist by the most distinguished philosophical critic of the arts in our time. Through an exploration of the relation of Mapplethorpe's images to those of other artists, Danto presents a compelling argument for Mapplethorpe's enduring position in the history of art. Photos.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The erotically candid photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe, who died of AIDS in 1989, became the focus for the controversy over federal funding of the arts. Danto, professor emeritus of philosophy at Columbia and an art critic for the Nation, proclaims that Mapplethorpe produced ``some of the most shocking and indeed some of the most dangerous images in modern photography, or even in the history of art.'' While acknowledging the ostensibly pornographic content of many of Mapplethorpe's photographs, especially his sadomasochistic pictures, Danto argues that the work transcends pornography because of the ``moral relationship between subject and artist,'' a core of trust that made his photographs explorations, risks and revelations. Mapplethorpe's subjects, he writes, are touched with a beauty and transcendence that lift them above their tawdry surroundings. Danto won the 1990 National Book Critics Circle prize for criticism for Encounters and Reflections. Illustrated. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Describing and dissecting Mapplethorpe's oeuvre and place in art history might be given as an entrance exam for aspiring critics. Perhaps no other contemporary photographer has been so widely written about, yet virtually no one seems capable of addressing the whole of his work. Supporters too often ignore the uncomfortable content or discuss the beauty of contradiction, while detractors make little effort to go past a superficial reading or ignore the work altogether to focus on the individual. With characteristic lucidity, Danto, art critic for The Nation, brings the whole of the man and his multifaceted works into focus in the title essay here. That essay is a reprint from Mapplethorpe (Random, 1992), however, brought together with a brief introduction discussing the National Endowment for the Arts-controversy and a 1988 (read precontroversy) review of a Mapplethorpe show. Libraries already owning the Random House illustrated book need not purchase this title for the addendum; libraries that lack that catalog should purchase it to give patrons a chance both to see what the fuss is about and to read Danto's illuminating words.-Eric Bryant, "Library Journal"
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520200517
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 10/20/1995
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 8.25 (w) x 8.28 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Arthur Danto is Johnsonian Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Columbia University and art critic for The Nation. He is the author of more than 15 books, including Encounters and Reflections, 1990 winner of the National Book Critics Circle Prize for Criticism.

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