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Art in Mind

How Contemporary Images Shape Thought

Art has the power to affect our thinking, changing not only the way we view and interact with the world but also how we create it. In Art in Mind, Ernst van Alphen probes this idea of art as a commanding force with the capacity to shape our intellect and intervene in our lives. Rather than interpreting art as merely a reflection of our social experience or a product of history, van Alphen here argues that art is a historical agent, or a cultural creator, that propels thought and experience forward.

Examining a broad range of works, van Alphen—a renowned art historian and cultural theorist—demonstrates how art serves a socially constructive function by actually experimenting with the parameters of thought. Employing work from artists as diverse as Picasso, Watteau, Francis Bacon, Marlene Dumas, and Matthew Barney, he shows how art confronts its viewers with the "pain points" of cultural experience-genocide, sexuality, diaspora, and transcultural identity-and thereby transforms the ways in which human existence is conceived. Van Alphen analyzes how art visually "thinks" about these difficult cultural issues, tapping into an understudied interpretation of art as the realm where ideas and values are actively created, given form, and mobilized. In this way, van Alphen’s book is a work of art in itself as it educates us in a new mode of thought that will forge equally new approaches and responses to the world.

224 pages | 72 halftones | 7 x 10 | © 2005

Art: Art Criticism

Literature and Literary Criticism: General Criticism and Critical Theory

Philosophy: Aesthetics, Ethics


"A highly original interdisciplinary study about the functions of the image in contemporary art and literature. Van Alphen brilliantly demonstrates how a theory of images developed from art and literature can contribute to a rethinking of traditional forms of human identity. Clearly and lucidly written, Art in Mind is a work of true significance."

Matthew Biro, author of Anselm Kiefer and the Philosophy of Martin Heidegger

"This book advances a strong and original claim: that art, in this case contemporary art, thinks. And in this study, thought is always visual. The style is clear, animated, and free of jargon. Anyone interested in contemporary art or philosophy will find this book informative, thought-provoking, and rewarding."

Norman Bryson, author of Looking at the Overlooked

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1 Thinking about Art in History
Part 1: Exposing History
2 The Portrait’s Dispersal
3 Shooting Images, Throwing Shadows
4 The Representation of Space and the Space of Representation
Part 2: Rewriting History
5 The Homosocial Gaze
6 Men without Balls
7 Facing Defacement
Part 3: Working Through History
8 Caught by Images
9 Playing the Holocaust

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