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Sample Book Report Paper on Government and the Arts by Stokstad and Cothren

Book Critique

In their book, Stokstad and Cothren offer a blend of formal and contextual analysis of art history. The book is essential in assisting the audience to recognize and appreciate the vital roles of art and architecture in the history of human society. This paper offers a personal perspective and critique of the book, with some recommendations of additions that would enhance its content and address identified shortcomings.

Critique

The book by Stokstad and Cothren is a concise description of art and architecture across the history of human society from the ancient times of Neolithic and Paleolithic art to art in modern society. Using a friendly tone and approach, the authors provide an inclusive, engaging, and genuinely global assessment of the history of art. This is because they consider diverse periods of art across human history and diverse cultures in different parts of the world, including Asia, Europe, and Africa. The authors further assess art in different religious and socio-cultural contexts across human history, including Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Jewish religion, Confucianism, Ancient Greek culture, and the Ottoman, Roman, and Mughal Empires. The book also covers different periods that have defined the history of art across human history, including the Geometric style, the Gothic period,medieval art, the Renaissance period, and the Reformation era. In this analysis, the authors have divided the book into separate chapters and sub-sections within the chapters. The book adopts a highly interactive model in the analysis of art and its significance in the history of human society. The global survey of visual culture in the book is highly inspiring for the audience, particularly in terms of influencing a deep appreciation of the subject of art and its significance in the history of human society.

The book’s major strength is its application of an interactive model in the analysis of art. The authors have incorporated in-depth research on the art and its contextual significance from cultural, social, and political perspectives. This approach has enabled the book to offer the audience deep insight into the art and its features. It has allowed the audience to link the art and its history to the particular cultural, social, and political contexts of its creation. An illustration of this strength in the book is the authors’ in-depth discussion of the significance of particular works of art in the early renaissance period. These works include The HolyTrinity with the Virgin, St. John the Evangelist, and Donors, The Tribute Money, and The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise by Tommaso di Ser Giovanni (Masaccio), and Fra Angelico’s Annunciation(Stokstad and Cothren 315-318). Angelico's painting depicts the event in religious history when Angel Gabriel informed Mary that she would bear and give birth to Jesus. It depicts Mary awestruck by Angel's news, in an aura of glory and holiness. The painting features the use of a linear perspective, concerning a central vanishing point, to depict distance and space for the audience. The Holy Trinity, with the Virgin and Saint John and Donorsby Masaccio, depicts individuals in honor of the "crucified" individual in a manner promoting devotion and remembrance of the dead. Masaccio utilized line and shading effects in linear perspective to depict space and distance in reference to a vanishing point for the audience's eye-level. Stokstad and Cothren (315-318) provided concise discussions of the significance of the works in the context of the eras to which they belonged.They show that the paintings by Masaccio and Angelico were epitomes of the early renaissance era of art in their use of mastery in illusionistic techniques to show depth in painting works, such as linear perspectives, and depictions of the naturalistic realism of faces.

I think that the book by Stokstad and Cothren has ignored or neglected the aspect of the impact that art and its production in history have had on societies and their governance, along with relationships between institutions such as religion, education, the government, social and cultural norms, and societies' freedoms. Art has had a profound effect on these institutions in both positive and negative ways. This is an important aspect that the authors needed to incorporate in their book because art, by its nature, involves the expressions of artists, and by extension, their societies, about diverse issues and their desires, values, norms, and needs. Over the years, the work of artists has caused controversies and affected the relationships between different institutions in society. This is especially because of typical features and subjects in art and its production and expression, such as nudity, portrayals of politics, and portrayals of relationships between different institutions in the society. Art, like any other form of expression, could inspire or offend the audience and particular institutions of the society. It can offend and has offended the religious, social, and political beliefs of particular people and societies, the ethnic and social affiliations of individuals and communities, and the moral and aesthetic senses of individuals and communities (GA para.1-4; Mincheva 2-3). Because of its nature as a form of expression, art has, and has had, the capacity to harm, abuse, offend, slur, or otherwise affect the opinions, interests, desires, and wellbeing of particular society members or communities (ACLU para.10-16; Gaut, Lopes, and Lopes 119) adversely. The expression of personal and social opinions about these issues in art over the years has caused controversies between artists and institutions of society. These issues constitute an important part of the history of art since the olden times. Nonetheless, in their book, Stokstad and Cothren have largely neglected their significance, instead of concentrating purely on the artists and art. This focus fails to provide an accurate and effective understanding of art and its significance in society since olden times.

In this context, I think that the main drawback of the book is its failure to capture the adverse/negative aspects of art in history. In their book, Stokstad and Cothren have focused largely on the positive aspects of art in terms of its development over time and the significance of prevailing forces and influences in different eras in its production. It has neglected the “bad” aspects of art, particularly in terms of its capacity to harm, abuse, offend, slur, or otherwise affect the opinions, interests, desires, and wellbeing of particular society members or communities adversely. This is a significant drawback of the book because these aspects are important components of the history of art. Stokstad and Cothren have titled their book "Art: A Brief History." This title underscores the need to capture all aspects of the history of art in a balanced manner in the book. Nonetheless, neglecting the "bad" side of art in the book does not do justice to the title, such that the title does not fit the book's content and focus. Rather than the history of art, the book has focused on the positive aspect of history. This is a major drawback of the book because it fails to provide a comprehensive and balanced assessment of the history of art since the olden times.

Additions to Textbook

To rectify the problem described above in the book by Stokstad and Cothren, it would be necessary to include content that captures the adverse effects of art as a form of expression on the society and relationships among its institutions. This addition to the textbook would aim to capture the capacity of art to harm, abuse, offend, slur, or otherwise affect the opinions, interests, desires, and wellbeing of particular society members or communities and their institutions adversely. It would serve to portray the “bad” aspects of art, particularly offending the religious, social, and political beliefs of particular people and societies, the ethnic and social affiliations of individuals and communities, and the moral and aesthetic senses of individuals and communities.

This addition would apply to chapter 18, and relate particularly to three works: EdouardManet’sOlympia (1863) and The Luncheon on the Grass (1863), and Edmonia Lewis’ Forever Free (1867) (Stokstad and Cothren491, 492, and 494). The subject of the addition would be thepotentially offensive nature of these works and their portrayals on the religious, social, and political beliefs of particular people and societies, the ethnic and social affiliations of individuals and communities, and the moral and aesthetic senses of individuals and communities. The three identified works above belonged to the Realism movement or era of art, which emerged in the 1840s. As a movement, Realism rejected subjects that were “exotic” and exaggerated drama and emotionalism that were features of the Romantic Movement before it, instead of seeking to portray typical and "real" situations and people in ways that were "accurate," "practical," and "true." In these efforts, artists in the Realism era sought to confront and not avoid the aspects of life that were sordid or unpleasant, such that their focus was typically on non-idealized events and subjects in the society that previous artists and art had rejected or ignored. Manet’sOlympiafeatured a nude woman (Olympia) in the presence of her fully clothed maid. Besides Olympia’s nudity, she gazed in a confrontational manner that portrayed her as a prostitute. This work was offensive for conservative audiences, which perceived it as vulgar and immoral. The second work, The Luncheon on the Grass,featured a nude woman in a casual lunch with men who are fully dressed. In the background, there is also a lightly dressed woman bathing in a stream(Stokstad and Cothren492). This work was offensive to conservative audiences because of the implied depiction of women as sexual objects for men’s pleasure. Manet’s depiction of a nude woman lunching with men who are fully dressed represented an affront to the society’s sense of propriety. The third work, Lewis’ Forever Free, is a sculpture that celebrated the emancipation of slaves in America, representing a man standing and staring upwards and a woman kneeling with her hands in a prayer position (Stokstad and Cothren494).Nonetheless, the work depicted women as submissive, thereby promoting the notion of women as a weaker gender that is subordinate to males in society.

The addition to this chapter would capture the offensive nature of art to particular audiences and communities. This offense relates largely to depictions of particular sections or groups in the society in a way that perpetrates negative stereotypes about them. In this case, this offense regards the depictions of women as sexual objects for men’s pleasure and the female gender as weaker and subordinate to that of men in society.

Similar additions would be suitable for chapters17 and 19 and in the book by Stokstad and Cothren. In chapter 17, the additions involve particular references to Angelica Kauffmann’s work, Cornelia Pointing to her Children as her Treasures (1785), and Marie-LouiseElisabeth’s Portrait of Marie Antoinette with her children (1787) (Stokstad and Cothren 454, 456). The first work by Kauffmann depicts a woman, Cornelia, indicating to a woman visitor that her children are her jewels. The painter intended to teach society a moral lesson that life and children are more important than jewels and material possessions (Stokstad and Cothren 454). The second work by Marie-Louise Elisabeth depicts Queen Marie Antoinette holding her children, in a way that portrays her as "a good mother." Both these works are potentially offensive for some sections of the audience, particularlywomen in the west, through depictions of the stereotype that the roles of women in the society are in the household, featuring care for the home and children. This depiction is especially potentially offensive in the context of gender relations as the society views men as superior to women.

In chapter 19, the additions involve specific references to two works: The Joy of Life (1905-1906) by Henri Matisse and Self-portrait with an Amber Necklace (1906) by Paula Modersohn-Becker (Stokstad and Cothren513, 515). The first work by Matisse depicts nude women and men, some of whom are in sexual embraces, in a background of vivid color. This work and its title are offensive for conservative audiences because of the portrayal of nudity and sexual activity in the open as appealing and as activities that offer joy. The work by Modersohn-Becker depicts the nude body of herself wearing a necklace and with exposed breasts. The woman holds flowers that echo the color and shape of her breasts. The sensual and explicit nature of this work is offensive for conservative audiences because of its portrayal of women's bodies openly and the promotion of stereotypes about women’s sexuality.

Explanation

The choice of artworks for analysis in this paper has related to their significance in the two major themes that the paper has identified in the art that Stokstad and Cothren have reviewed in their book. The first four artworks selected are The HolyTrinity with the Virgin, St. John the Evangelist, and Donors, The Tribute Money, and The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise by Tommaso di Ser Giovanni (Masaccio), and Fra Angelico’s Annunciation. The purpose of choosing these artworks in the paper is to illustrate the authors’ application of an interactive model in the analysis of art as a major strength in the book. Using these artworks, this paper has illustrated that Stokstad and Cothrenincorporated in-depth research on the art and its contextual significance from cultural, social, and political perspectives in their book to enable the reader to acquire deep insight into the contextual significance of the art and its features. This approach in the book allowed the audience to link the art and its history to the particular cultural, social, and political contexts of its creation.

The choice of the other artworks in the book has served to illustrate the theme of a failure of the authors to address the aspect of the offensive nature of art to particular audiences and communities in their book. This theme concerns the depictions of specific groups or sections in society in a way that perpetuates negative stereotypes about them. The works selected to illustrate this theme are Manet’sOlympiaand The Luncheon on the Grass, Lewis’ Forever Free, Kauffmann’s Cornelia Pointing to her Children as Her Treasures, Marie-Louise Elisabeth’s Portrait of Marie Antoinette with her Children, The Joy of Lifeby Matisse and Self-portrait with an Amber Necklace by Modersohn-Becker. These works have served to depict the theme of portrayal of women as sexual objects for men’s pleasure and the female gender as weaker and subordinate to that of men in the society.

 

Works Cited

“Freedom of Expression in the Arts and Entertainment”. American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), 2019.

“Government and the Arts”. Harvard Law School, n.d.<http://www.law.harvard.edu/faculty/martin/art_law/public_art.htm>

Gaut, Berys, Lopes, Dominic, and Lopes, Dominic. The Routledge Companion to Aesthetics. Psychological Press, 2002.

Mincheva, Svetlana. Symbols into Soldiers: Art, Censorship, and Religion. Freemuse, 2012.

Stokstad, Marilyn, and Cothren, Michael. Art: A Brief History. Pearson, 2016.

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