We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more

E-book purchase
Choose a subscription

Downloaded copy on your device does not expire. Includes 4 years of Bookshelf Online.


Where applicable, tax will be added to the above price prior to payment.

E-book purchasing help


Why Is That Art?

Aesthetics and Criticism of Contemporary Art

Third Edition

Terry Barrett

Publication Date - February 2017

ISBN: 9780190268848

304 pages
7-1/2 x 9-1/4 inches

In Stock

An accessible guide to contemporary critical approaches to art


Why is that art? Why is it in an art museum? Who says it's art? Why is it good?

Why Is That Art?, Third Edition, introduces students to theories of art through the presentation of contemporary works that include abstract and representational painting, animated film, monumental sculpture, performance art, photographs, relational art, and video installations. Ideal for courses in aesthetics, art theory, art criticism, and the philosophy of art, this unique book provides students with a newfound appreciation for contemporary art, scholarship, and reasoned argumentation.

New to this Edition

  • Additional coverage of non-Western artists featuring works by Mona Hatoum, Takashi Murakami, Rirkrit Tiravanija, and more
  • A thoroughly revised Chapter 6 and Conclusion emphasizing the application of theory to the works themselves
  • Updates throughout reflecting the latest research and thinking in art theory and criticism


  • Explores a variety of established theories of art, including Realism, Expressionism, Cognitivism, Formalism, and Postmodernist Pluralism
  • Applies each theory to contemporary works of art, discussing strengths and limitations of each mode of interpretation
  • Brings abstract ideas together in an accessible way through extended examples, giving students the understanding and vocabulary to confidently enter critical dialogue about art

About the Author(s)

Terry Barrett is Professor Emeritus at The Ohio State University and former Professor of Art History and Art Education at the University of North Texas.

Previous Publication Date(s)

September 2011


"I have the highest praise for Barrett's clear and concise text. The information is approachable and interesting to students who have little introduction to contemporary art theory, history, or criticism. The questions offered at the ends of the chapters offer thoughtful perspectives for further discussion, inquiry, and reference." --Franc Nunoo-Quarcoo, University of Michigan

"I like Why Is That Art? because it explains how to look, understand, and judge contemporary art through engaging discussions of selected stimulating art works. It highlights the reasons for accepting some works of art by merging a variety of established theories with convincing points of view." --Rihab Kassatly Bagnole, Savannah College of Art & Design

"Barrett's text serves as an ideal introduction to aesthetics and art criticism. The text really helps students in raising awareness of the complexity of the contemporary art scene and underlying ideas and theories that shape it." --Zdenko Krtic, Auburn University

Table of Contents


    1. Artworlds and Definitions: How That Became Art
    Honorific Definitions of "Art"
    The Open Definition
    Classificatory Definitions
    Art Criticism
    Description, Interpretation, Judgment, and Theory
    Critics on Criticizing
    Criticizing Criticism
    Criticism and Aesthetics
    Skepticism about Art, Aesthetics, and Criticism
    Aesthetics, Art Criticism, and Visual Culture
    Aestheticians, Artists, Critics, and Readers
    Questions for Further Reflection

    2. Realism: Art Is Realistic, Truthful, and Beautiful
    A Brief Overview of Realism
    Greek Theories of Realism in Art
    Issues Related to Realism
    Obscenity and Censorship
    Photography, Reality, and Truth
    What Does It Mean to Say That a Work Is "Realistic"?
    Works of Art by Jeff Koons
    Critical Commentary on Koons's Work
    Koons's Thoughts about His Own Work
    Paintings by Alexis Rockman
    Critical Commentary on Rockman's Paintings
    Rockman's Thoughts about His Own Work
    Photographs by Andres Serrano
    Critical Commentary on Serrano's Photographs
    Serrano's Thoughts about His Own Work
    Realism and Artists
    Realism and Artworks
    Realism and Audiences
    Questions for Further Reflection

    3. Expressionism and Cognitivism: Art Shows Feelings, Communicates Thoughts, and Provides Knowledge
    Expressionism and Cognitivism
    Expressionist and Cognitivist Theories of Art
    Leo Tolstoy
    Benedetto Croce
    R. G. Collingwood
    Suzanne Langer
    John Dewey
    Nelson Goodman
    Arthur Danto
    Psychoanalytic Theory
    Marxist Aesthetics
    Joan Mitchell, Painter
    Critical Commentary on Mitchell's Paintings
    Mitchell's Thoughts about Her Own Work
    Mitchell and Expressionism
    Louise Bourgeois, Sculptor
    Critical Commentary on Bourgeois's Sculptures
    Bourgeois's Thoughts about Her Own Work
    Bourgeois and Expressionism
    Kiki Smith, Printmaker and Sculptor
    Critical Commentary on Smith's Work
    Smith's Thoughts about Her Own Work
    Smith and Cognitivism
    The Problem of Artistic Intent
    Limitations of Expressionism and Cognitivism
    Strengths of Expressionism and Cognitivism
    Expressionism, Cognitivism, and Artists
    Expressionism, Cognitivism, and Artworks
    Expressionism, Cognitivism, and Audiences
    Questions for Further Reflection

    4. Formalism: Art Is Significant Form
    Precursors to Formalism
    Is Beauty Objective or Subjective?
    St. Thomas Aquinas
    David Hume
    Hume on Art Criticism
    Early Formalism: Aesthetic Attitude and Aesthetic Experience
    The Sublime
    Immanuel Kant
    G. W. F. Hegel
    Twentieth-Century Formalism
    Early Modern Abstractionists: Kandinsky, Mondrian, and Malevich
    Clive Bell
    Clement Greenberg
    Ferdinand de Saussure
    Roland Barthes
    Structuralism and Formalism
    Agnes Martin: Paintings and Drawings
    Critical Commentary on Martin's Work
    Martin's Thoughts about Her Own Work
    Joel Shapiro: Sculptures
    Critical Commentary on Shapiro's Work
    Shapiro's Thoughts about His Own Work
    Andy Goldsworthy: Environmental Sculptures
    Critical Commentary on Goldsworthy's Work
    Goldsworthy's Thoughts about His Own Work
    Martin, Shapiro, Goldsworthy, and Formalism
    Strengths and Weaknesses of Formalism
    Formalism and Artists
    Formalism and Artworks
    Formalism and Audiences
    Questions for Further Reflection

    5. Postmodern Pluralism: Art Destabilizes the Good, the True, the Beautiful, and the Self
    Precursors to Poststructuralism and Postmodernism
    Friedrich Nietzsche
    Critical Theory, the Frankfurt School, and Neo-Marxism
    Jacques Lacan
    Michel Foucault
    Julia Kristeva
    Jacques Derrida
    Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari
    Richard Rorty
    Slavoj Žižek
    Jean-François Lyotard
    Jean Baudrillard
    Fredric Jameson
    Cindy Sherman: Photographs
    Critical Commentary on Sherman's Photographs
    Sherman's Thoughts about Her Own Work
    Cindy Sherman and Postmodern Pluralism
    Lorna Simpson: Photographs with Words
    Critical Commentary on Simpson's Work
    Simpson's Thoughts about Her Own Work
    Lorna Simpson and Postmodern Pluralism
    Paul McCarthy: Performances, Videos, and Sculptures
    Critical Commentary on McCarthy's Work
    McCarthy's Thoughts about His Own Work
    McCarthy and Postmodern Pluralism
    Strengths and Weaknesses of Postmodern Pluralism
    Approaches to Postmodern Artmaking
    Escaping the Confines of Museums
    Collapsing Boundaries Between "High" and "Low"
    Rejecting "Originality"
    Working Collaboratively
    Mixing Media
    Mixing Codes
    Confronting the Gaze
    Facing the Abject
    Constructing Identities
    Using Narratives
    Creating Metaphors
    Using Irony, Parody, and Dissonance
    Postmodern Pluralism and Artists
    Postmodern Pluralism and Artworks
    Postmodern Pluralism and Audiences
    Questions for Further Reflection

    6. Conclusion
    Why Is Hanging Garden Art?
    Art by Definitions
    Hanging Garden and Realism
    Hanging Garden and Cognitive Expressionism
    Hanging Garden and Formalism Considerations
    Hanging Garden and Postmodern Pluralism
    Why Is Jellyfish Eyes Art?
    Jellyfish Eyes and Realism
    Jellyfish Eyes and Cognitive Expressionism
    Jellyfish Eyes and Formalism
    Jellyfish Eyes and Postmodern Pluralism
    Why Is Do We Dream Under the Same Sky Art?
    Do We Dream Under the Same Sky and Realism
    Do We Dream Under the Same Sky and Cognitive Expressionism
    Do We Dream Under the Same Sky and Formalism
    Do We Dream Under the Same Sky and Postmodern Pluralism
    Purposes of Art
    Selecting Criteria
    A Single Criterion or Multiple Criteria for All Works of Art
    Questions for Further Reflection


Related Title

Visual Worlds

Visual Worlds: Looking, Images, Visual Disciplines

James Elkins and Erna Fiorentini