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In Art on My Mind, bell hooks, a leading cultural critic, responds to the ongoing dialogues about producing, exhibiting, and criticizing art and aesthetics in an art world increasingly concerned with identity politics. Always concerned with the liberatory black struggle, hooks positions her writings on visual politics within the ever-present question of how art can be an e In Art on My Mind, bell hooks, a leading cultural critic, responds to the ongoing dialogues about producing, exhibiting, and criticizing art and aesthetics in an art world increasingly concerned with identity politics. Always concerned with the liberatory black struggle, hooks positions her writings on visual politics within the ever-present question of how art can be an empowering and revolutionary force within the black community.


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In Art on My Mind, bell hooks, a leading cultural critic, responds to the ongoing dialogues about producing, exhibiting, and criticizing art and aesthetics in an art world increasingly concerned with identity politics. Always concerned with the liberatory black struggle, hooks positions her writings on visual politics within the ever-present question of how art can be an e In Art on My Mind, bell hooks, a leading cultural critic, responds to the ongoing dialogues about producing, exhibiting, and criticizing art and aesthetics in an art world increasingly concerned with identity politics. Always concerned with the liberatory black struggle, hooks positions her writings on visual politics within the ever-present question of how art can be an empowering and revolutionary force within the black community.

30 review for Art on My Mind: Visual Politics

  1. 5 out of 5

    Rowena

    “Does man love Art? Man visits Art, but squirms. Art hurts. Art urges voyages- and it is easier to stay at home.” — Gwendolyn Brooks hooks sees a dearth in the area of black art critique and she issues a call to arms for more critique and also for a new vocabulary for this to happen.This book is such a great look into the state of black art, especially as it relates to the dominant male Eurocentric art. Although the book was less accessible than hooks’ other books, the relatively slow speed that I rea “Does man love Art? Man visits Art, but squirms. Art hurts. Art urges voyages- and it is easier to stay at home.” — Gwendolyn Brooks hooks sees a dearth in the area of black art critique and she issues a call to arms for more critique and also for a new vocabulary for this to happen.This book is such a great look into the state of black art, especially as it relates to the dominant male Eurocentric art. Although the book was less accessible than hooks’ other books, the relatively slow speed that I read it at meant I took more time to ruminate on what I had read and think about the role that art has played in my life. I was struck by quite a few of bell hooks’ quotes, primarily about the politics of seeing. hooks says how we see things and relate to them depends on our worldview. hooks laments the fact that art is often seen as superfluous in so many black people’s lives just because there might be so many other pressing issues at hand. She finds that worrying for a number of reasons, primarily because of the transformative power of art. Reading on hooks’ own experiences with art, I thought of my own. Seeing as the majority of the art I’ve viewed is European art, that probably formed the lens through which I view art. It doesn’t help that black art, African in particular, is often called “folk art”, a term that devalues the art both intrinsically and price-wise. Having visited several African countries on vacation with my family and wanting to buy African art for souvenirs, I was always looked at with some bemusement as the art was created for (Western) tourist consumption, not for a “local” such as me. I find it interesting that without this Western demand for art, perhaps the art would not have been created but it does beg the question of how authentic the art is as African art as it was created with a western audience in mind. Either way, I liked it and I bought a lot of it. When I bought batik in Zimbabwe or malachite carvings in South Africa, what I saw was its beauty and the fact that I could buy art I could actually touch, art that wasn’t hung in a gallery somewhere, and art I could relate to on a deeper level because of my heritage. I have seen some great African diasporic art collections in Toronto and Vancouver and I’m often left thinking why aren’t the artists better known, and why aren’t more journals and magazines writing about their work? I attended Chantal Gibson’s art talk at the Vancouver Public Library during Black History Month and her discussions on her works Tome (http://www.chantalgibson.com/tome-201...) and Historical In(ter)ventions: Altered Texts and Border Stories (http://ethnographicterminalia.org/201...) were truly insightful, although it needed her explaining her vision, process etc before I fully understood what she was trying to portray. Black artists as “image-makers” was a profound point for me. About photography hooks says: “I think about the place of art in black life, connections between the social construction of black identity, the impact of race and class, and the presence in black life of an inarticulate but ever-present visual aesthetic governing our relationship to images, to the process of image making.” Photos are seen as a “disruption of white control over black images.” I think of the gollywog (http://revealinghistories.org.uk/lega...) on Robertson’s jam labels when I was growing up and how amazing it is that giving a black person a camera lets them create their own images to counter the negative ones: “The camera became in black life a political instrument, a way to resist misrepresentations well as a means by which alternative images could be produced.” hooks touches on black male art, but her focus is on the feminine. I enjoyed her thoughts on Lorna Simpson's (http://www.lsimpsonstudio.com/) work in particular, an artist who uses images of black female bodies that counter stereotypes: “Whereas female bodies in this culture depict us as hard, low down, mean, nasty, bitchified, Simpson creates images that give poetic expression to the ethereal, the prophetic dimensions of visionary souls shrouded flesh.” Although bell hooks is talking mainly about African-Americans and their experiences with art, I feel it’s very similar to the African diaspora’s experiences with, and perceptions of, art.In fact, there is a lot in the book about collective memory of the diaspora. It’s definitely not an easy read but I personally found it very rewarding.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Zanna

    It's difficult for me to convey what I see as hooks' central concern here without sounding hopelessly general. She is very much engaged with what art can do for people, personally and thus politically, and in passionately arguing the case for it she delineates and criticises the structures of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy as they are reproduced in, sustained by and do the work of exclusion and limitation inside the art world. She echoes Michele Wallace in lamenting the absence of black It's difficult for me to convey what I see as hooks' central concern here without sounding hopelessly general. She is very much engaged with what art can do for people, personally and thus politically, and in passionately arguing the case for it she delineates and criticises the structures of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy as they are reproduced in, sustained by and do the work of exclusion and limitation inside the art world. She echoes Michele Wallace in lamenting the absence of black critics writing about art, partly because this contributes to the lack of intelligent writing about the work of black artists; often she finds that no theoretical framework exists to 'read' the work of artists such as Alison Saar, leading to misguided attacks on work, overdetermining focus on biography and essentialist authenticity that reinscribe racist and sexist tropes. She points out that sustaining motivation to write this material as a black woman is difficult, since male and white female critics so often present radical insights without citing or mentioning the women of colour who have done the work, while that work is frequently ignored or dismissed. I was reminded of Susan Sontag's Against Interpretation. Sontag called for an 'erotics of art', clearly meaning the erotic in the sense of Lorde's essay 'Uses of the Erotic: the Erotic as Power' but I can't imagine bell hooks needing to hear such an injunction; I don't think it would occur to her to write about art starting from anywhere but pleasure, feelings, empowering self-awareness. The issues of interpretation that Sontag so strenuously grappled with are sailed through effortlessly here - hooks finds and upholds the deepest insights and dedicates effort to their fullest and clearest illumination, often employing anecdotes from her own life, and quotes from diverse sources. She investigates the reasons (beyond representation) why the majority of African Americans do not feel that the art world is relevant to them, and don't see fields of art work as open to them, and many of her conclusions here segue into encouragement for black artists and non-artists to find ways in. She aims to help "create collective awareness of the radical place that art occupies in the freedom struggle and [how] experiencing it can enhance our understanding of what it means to live as free subjects in an unfree world" In discussing the work of her friend, Alison Saar, hooks underlines how accusations of appropriation and an obsession with authenticity can become a tool of exclusion and perpetuates the othering and exotification of black artists. Appropriation need not be exploitation, she argues. Saar's appropriation of 'folk art' imagery and styles allow her to engage and extol the beauty of everyday life. While she herself is an academically trained artist, her use of these styles speaks to her embrace of the mysterious connections and longing for community that everyone feels, in her case, as a woman with African American heritage, connections to the rural South where she herself has never lived. Hooks sees in Saar's work an honest exploration of soul by a seeker who goes where the soul leads: "that vernacular emphasis on cultivating the soul, searching for depth and meaning in life, was continually connected to experiences of pleasure and delight I was really moved by the discussion of the power of snapshots and the cultural practice of filling walls with family pictures in black homes like the one she grew up in. Such curatorial spaces allowed black people to celebrate their own lives and images free from the surveillance of the white gaze. In Diasporic Landscapes of Longing, hooks looks at the work of Carrie Mae Weems and criticises the way her work is often approached "as though the sign of racial difference is the only relevant visual experience her images evoke". In discussion with the artist, she agrees with her that those who see images like her Ain't Jokin' series as straightforward ethnographic documentation are ignoring the serious issues it raises. Their conversation draws attention to the ways whiteness tends to diffuse radical potential in art work by seeing only 'rage' when race is marked ('this is as true of the liberal and progressive white gaze as it is of the conservative right'), or assuming that this is the only subject black artists can meaningfully deal with. Hooks also writes about Weems' images of African sites as anticolonial:Weems has insisted on rituals of commemoration that can be understood only within the context of an oppositional worldview, wherein intuition, magic, dream lore are all acknowledged to be ways of knowing that enhance the experience of life, that sweeten the journey[...] Weems imagines a diasporic landscape of longing, a cartography of desire wherein boundaries are marked only to be transgressed, where the exile returns home only to leave againon Lorna Simpson: "she depicts black women in everyday life as if our being brings elegance and grace to whatever world we inhabit" In Beauty Laid Bare: Aesthetics in the Ordinary, hooks rhapsodises the spirit-healing powers of beautiful things around us - in opposition to 'hedonistic materialism… offered as a replacement for healing and life-sustaining beauty.' she laments that "unlike the global nonwhite poor, who manage to retain an awareness of the need for beauty despite imperialist devastation, the vast majority of the black poor in the US do not harbour uplifting cultural objects in their homes. This group has been overwhelmingly encouraged to abandon, destroy or sell artefacts from the past." she suggests "Rather than surrendering our passion for the beautiful, for luxury, we need to envision ways those passions can be fulfilled that do not reinforce the structures of domination we seek to change." In Women Artists: The Creative Process, beginning by sharing her own need to spend time in solitary reverie, hooks passionately defends the creative's right to time, not only to work undisturbed, but to relax and contemplate. Comparing the lives of famous white male creatives she admired to those of women, she saw that successful men always seemed to have support a support network of people who 'both expected and accepted that they would need space and time apart from the workings of the everyday to blossom, for them to engage in necessary renewal of spirit' whereas for women such time is often, as Adrienne Rich puts it 'guiltily seized' I was reminded of Sara Ahmed's thoughts on philosophers at their tables in Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others One of the most interesting essays to me is Black Vernacular: Architecture as Cultural Practice in which hooks writes appreciatively about the shacks poor black folks in the south usually lived in where she grew up. These could be shaped to the needs and desires of their inhabitants, extended when required, and surrounded by outdoor space such as porches and yards: "often exploited or oppressed groups of people who are compelled by economic circumstances to share small living quarters with many others view the world right outside their housing structure as liminal space where they can stretch the limits of their imagination." she notes "I am often disturbed when folks equate a concern with beauty, the design and arrangement of space, with class privilege." and contrasts the freedom offered by the shack even to those who lack material privilege with the confining space of the 'projects' which leave no rooms for the expression of uniqueness. "Standardized housing brought with it a sense that to be poor meant one was powerless, unable to intervene in any way with one's relationship to space" Following the essay is a discussion with African American architect LaVerne Wells-Bowie, who discussed how long it took her to be able to see herself, a black woman, as an architect, in an environment where nobody and nothing ever suggested the idea to her, although her talents and inclinations might have pointed others in that direction. Her long journey through textile design perhaps gave her time and space to develop a deeper philosophy though: "I wanted my relationship to space to evoke architecture as it is informed by the humanities, not simply as a technical art". The two women consider African architecture and its connection with African American vernacular buildings. Hooks concludes "We need to document the existence of living traditions both past and present that can heal our wounds and offer us a space of opportunity where our lives can be transformed" Writing about Emma Amos in Aesthetic Interventions hooks really embarrassed me with my lack of insight. I had never thought about the power of black and other PoC artists using images of white people. Amos' work also "urges recognition of the cultural mixing that calls into question an emphasis on racial purity", echoing hooks' oft-articulated deconstruction of essentialism around race as well as gender. Noting that Amos' images including whites have been less well-received than her other work, hooks points out that the white-dominated art world does not want to see itself through black eyes. Printmaker Margo Humphreys talks about the high level of expertise and skill her work requires, and suggests that the form is seen as less intellectual than painting or sculpture simply because it involves messy manual labour, associated with marginalised people in the US. Hooks describes her work as mythopoetic and metaphysical. Humphreys agrees, explaining that her work is often autobiographical and sometimes examines 'the deeper philosophical meaning of emotions'. She uses colour as a tool of power: "you can enter [my] work the way you dive into a pool". This conversation really made me want to get acquainted with Margo's work. I hadn't heard of her or any of these artists before = ( To those who have read hooks' book We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity , the essay on Representing the Black Male Body will serve as a reminder of some key points. She criticises photographers like Mapplethorpe for their racist objectification of black male bodies, and discusses some black men's embrace of hypermasculinity as a response to their 'femininsation' in this kind of imagery. The final essay The Radiance of Red: Blood Works was for me the most surprising. I love how she opens by reminding me that 'dead bodies do not bleed'. Blood may be a sign of violence, but it is a sign of life, that can carry numerous meanings, as in the work of Andres Serrano. Hooks makes various points, for instance, contrasting the 'uncleanliness' of menstrual blood with the 'purifying' blood of Christ, but the essay moves in an open-ended way through a garden of ideas."In Circle of Blood the abstract image of wholeness converges with recognition that the circulating blood is central to continuity of being[…] [these images] challenge us to decentre those epistemologies in the West that deny a continuum of relationships among all living organisms, inviting us to replace this mode of thought with a vision of synthesis that extols a whole that is never static but always dynamic, evolutionary, creative. Though often overlooked, this is the counter-hegemonic aesthetic vision that is the force undergirding Andres Serrano's work"I don't consider this a review as such but I hope I've succeeded here in conveying a little of the flavour of these essays, which are the most exciting works of art criticism I've ever read, despite four years of formal semi academic study in the arts.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Tina

    I am always reading this book- Bell is incredible as both interviewer and artist.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Shelly

    STILL one of my favorite books on women and art and the arts.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Troy

    I wanted to like this more, but just couldn't. While it did get me thinking about things like art education and the seeming need for art critics to shape their views and writing to expectations put on them by Eurocentric norms and practices, it didn't do much in terms of giving me more to look at in terms of reviews and writing that were accesible or embraced what there is of AfAm visual art tradition. In the few turns she takes at it, of writing about the art and interviewing artists themselves I wanted to like this more, but just couldn't. While it did get me thinking about things like art education and the seeming need for art critics to shape their views and writing to expectations put on them by Eurocentric norms and practices, it didn't do much in terms of giving me more to look at in terms of reviews and writing that were accesible or embraced what there is of AfAm visual art tradition. In the few turns she takes at it, of writing about the art and interviewing artists themselves, hooks really can't escape the verbosity nor the urge to gush over her interview subjects, often outpacing them for lines. In more example than one, she gushes on for 200-300 words, only for the artist to respond "Yes." If this is what art crit is, even without the Eurocentrism, it's definitely apt to not appeal to anyone but the moneyed and social strata who look at art in terms of investment value instead of aesthetics or visceral connections.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Bec

    This book is about a subject that is essential to everyone, yet rarely recieves intellectual attention.  hooks crafts a new vision for what love is and could be by powerfully distinguishing it from abuse and domination: "without justice there can be no love."  Gleaning and analyzing other "scholarship" on love, which includes everything from books in the self-help genre, spiritual and philisophical books, to love poems, hooks also weaves her own story, and her own hopeful visions, into the text. This book is about a subject that is essential to everyone, yet rarely recieves intellectual attention.  hooks crafts a new vision for what love is and could be by powerfully distinguishing it from abuse and domination: "without justice there can be no love."  Gleaning and analyzing other "scholarship" on love, which includes everything from books in the self-help genre, spiritual and philisophical books, to love poems, hooks also weaves her own story, and her own hopeful visions, into the text.  As one of the most prolific and thoughful writers of our time, hook's concern for the lovelessness apparent in American culture should be a sign to us all to take a more careful look. 

  7. 4 out of 5

    Crystal U.

    This book didn't really spark my interest like most of bell's other books. Don't really remember why. I'll have to look back over the book to give more detail. This book didn't really spark my interest like most of bell's other books. Don't really remember why. I'll have to look back over the book to give more detail.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    "To transgress, I must move past boundaries..." ('Being the Subject of Art, 133). This is what bell hooks does in this 1995 collection of essays that is part historical survey, part critique, part manifesto. Artists (and artworks by) Alison Saar, Carrie Mae Weems, Emma Amos, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Lorna Simpson, and others are interviewed and interrogated in the best sense of the word. hooks amplifies intersectionality and lays bare the importance of "constructive critical interrogation" and how "To transgress, I must move past boundaries..." ('Being the Subject of Art, 133). This is what bell hooks does in this 1995 collection of essays that is part historical survey, part critique, part manifesto. Artists (and artworks by) Alison Saar, Carrie Mae Weems, Emma Amos, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Lorna Simpson, and others are interviewed and interrogated in the best sense of the word. hooks amplifies intersectionality and lays bare the importance of "constructive critical interrogation" and how essential it is to creating a more authentic understanding. One can, in hooks's mind, celebrate contributions without having to offer wholesale acceptance, especially if there is an absence of understanding of one own's hegemonic role (her basic criticism of Robert Farris Thompson, for example). In essays like 'In our Glory: Photography and Black Life' she digs past both aesthetic and political dichotomies of "good" and "bad". She acknowledges that cultural critique is connected to capitalism and other societal structures: Certainly a distinction must be made between having access to art and being willing to engage the visual on an experiential level--to be moved and touched be art. Many of us see art every day without allowing it to be anything more than decorative. The way art moves in the marketplace also changes our relationship to it. Often individuals who collect art spend more time engaged with issues of market value rather than experiencing the visual. ('Critical Genealogies: Writing Black Art', 108) Roughly at the center of the collection is hooks's most personal (in some ways) essay, 'Women Artists: The Creative Process'. It is this short essay where we learn most about hooks as an artist and writer, and where some of her boldest statements appear: Women have yet to create the context, both politically and socially, where our understanding of the politics of difference not only transforms our individual lives (and we have yet to really speak about those transformations) but also alters how we work with others in public, in institutions, in galleries, etc. For example: When will white female art historians and cultural critics who structure their careers focusing on work by women and men of color share how this cultural practice changes who they are in the world in a way that extends beyond the making of individual professional success? (131). It is a more than fair question. And when we consider that this collection is from a quarter of a century ago, it is telling that I find these questions still very relevant--at least in my field of music history/musicology. I can't speak to the situation in art history, but I'd venture that not much has changed. The only drawback of the book is that the reproduction of the artwork is not very good, and in some cases, the lack of color undermines some of hooks's most biting and salient points. The book warrants a new edition with color plates, but in lieu of that, the Internet does come to the rescue in most cases. It is worthwhile to take the time to look up the works featured in the book--some of them can be found on Phillips contemporary art and auction site, others on the artists's personal website (such as Carrie Mae Weems's personal website). Others, like Emma Amos's The Overseer, seem inaccessible. But hooks's prose throws many of these works into high relief through description and critique. But look for them---seek them out. Do the work. The rewards will be there. This was an important book for me to read, especially because so many of its lessons are directly applicable to music history. It asked me to look at my own "wokeness" and wonder if I have ever been, as Emma Amos put it, "the white critic [who] feels safe focusing on the blackness and otherness of the artist instead of learning to look at the art" ('Straighten up and fly right: Talking Art with Emma Amos,' 188). How much has identity politics shaped by own understanding of music? Am I working against silence and erasure? I'm not sure. But I do know that spending time with these essays has helped me consider the boundaries that I have yet to transgress.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Peaches

    “To transgress I must move past boundaries, I must push against to go forward” At times, hooks's lyrical style has a watercolor effect in my head: I'm not sure where ideas begin and end, and am left unclear how to use some of what she is saying; however, it is important to note that I am a white female who is looking for order I recognize in a text by a renowned black educational theorists (among other titles). The result is that I may not "get" all of it, but it is unfair to see that as negativ “To transgress I must move past boundaries, I must push against to go forward” At times, hooks's lyrical style has a watercolor effect in my head: I'm not sure where ideas begin and end, and am left unclear how to use some of what she is saying; however, it is important to note that I am a white female who is looking for order I recognize in a text by a renowned black educational theorists (among other titles). The result is that I may not "get" all of it, but it is unfair to see that as negative. What I appreciated the most was how hooks spoke with authority of experience on the relationship between blacks and the arts, including tensions, struggles, and breakthroughs that have historically occurred when using the arts.

  10. 4 out of 5

    A

    While in most instances, it is difficult for me to read books in this vein, bell hooks' frame of reference always goes straight to the heart of the matter. Maybe it was that I first read Wounds of Passion, which struck me as accessible and real. I had heard of the essay and interview with Alison Saar, and that was the impetus for reading this book. There is much to think about in how we look at the world. We can look at the world with different eyes if only we learn how to understand how everyon While in most instances, it is difficult for me to read books in this vein, bell hooks' frame of reference always goes straight to the heart of the matter. Maybe it was that I first read Wounds of Passion, which struck me as accessible and real. I had heard of the essay and interview with Alison Saar, and that was the impetus for reading this book. There is much to think about in how we look at the world. We can look at the world with different eyes if only we learn how to understand how everyone has a place and each place is as valid as the next.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Cicely Haggerty

    Beautiful and full of counter-hegemonic knowledge. Such a treat and a refreshing read, inspiring better, more productive art historical writing and analysis. I love bell hooks because she presents incredibly complex points in an accessible, exciting manner and this was just another example of that.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Lailai

    I like only part of her description about her experience. However as a whole book, I disagree, dislike and am disappointing that her evaluations about what white people appreciate.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Interesting perspectives and interviews.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Anna

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jo

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Irving

  17. 5 out of 5

    Suzanne

  18. 5 out of 5

    Rafet Dulundu

  19. 5 out of 5

    Richard

  20. 5 out of 5

    Rachel Lin Weaver

  21. 4 out of 5

    Requia

  22. 5 out of 5

    Wes

  23. 5 out of 5

    Tim Haslett

  24. 4 out of 5

    Debbie

  25. 4 out of 5

    Meg

  26. 4 out of 5

    Christina

  27. 4 out of 5

    Puck Hofman

  28. 5 out of 5

    Mare

  29. 5 out of 5

    Charlia

  30. 4 out of 5

    Aamer Kamel

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