FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                Date: September 6, 2001

Contact: Donna McCracken

UIS professor’s book puts concept of “art” in historical perspective

SPRINGFIELD – The Invention of Art: A Cultural History, a new book by Larry Shiner, professor of Philosophy at the University of Illinois at Springfield, is an examination of how we arrived at the point where “almost anything, no matter how outlandish, can be called art.”

Published this month by the University of Chicago Press, Shiner’s book challenges the idea that “art began in ancient Greece” and instead argues that the concept of Fine Art is a modern invention that grew out of social and economic changes that took place in the eighteenth century. The book encompasses not only the visual arts -- painting, sculpture, and architecture -- but music and literature as well.

Shiner notes that an important focus of the book is the idea of fine art vs. craft. “I have wanted to be able to recommend a short history of the idea of art, written in non-technical language,” he said. “but I couldn’t find one. So I set out to write one for my students and other general readers. My aim is not to produce a new theory of art, but to put the question of art in a historical context that can help people make better sense of it.”

But the book is not just about ideas, he added: “It’s also about how art has been practiced and how various art institutions that we take for granted, like museums and concert halls, came into being.”

Shiner has been working on this book for more than 10 years, aided by preparations for the courses he teaches at UIS, including ones in the philosophy of art, Greek civilization and mythology, literary theory and criticism, and narrative in film. He also teaches various courses for the history program that examine the cultural history of the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and nineteenth and twentieth century Europe. “Much of what I learned in preparing these courses has enriched the book,” he noted, “and the stimulus of student enthusiasm and questioning were valuable along the way.”

Shiner’s previous books include The Secularization of History and The Secret Mirror: Literary Form and History in Tocqueville’s “Recollections.”

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