What Artistry Can Do

Essays on Art and Beauty

Bart Verschaffel

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12 essays on artistry, art criticism and aesthetics written over a 30-year period
  • Approaches established problems of aesthetics and art criticism from oblique and unexpected angles, such as laughter and mockery, the artist’s ‘first artwork’, art as playing hide-and-seek, and caricature
  • Offers an original and challenging discussion of the aesthetic experience and the notions of beauty and ugliness
  • Presents complex theoretical issues and arguments in non-technical language comprehensible by non-specialists

This collection of essays by the Belgian philosopher and theorist Bart Verschaffel addresses the meaning and relevance of art today. Written over the course of his career, they cover a rich and inventive range of topics: from laughter and the artwork as gift, to splendour and modern beauty. This is the first synoptic collection of Verschaffel’s work, with many of the essays translated into English for the first time.


Introduction: Art as a Form of Understanding

  1. First Ideas on Art, Being Moved and Criticism
  2. Critical?Art
  3. What Art Can Do (Malpertuis by Jean Ray)
  4. On the Pleasure of Finding What Is Hidden (With Hidden Noise by Marcel Duchamp)
  5. Memoria: Memory Work and the ‘Conversation of Mankind’
  6. Aspects of Artistry
  7. On Laughter, Opinions and Artistic Freedom
  8. Notes on the Work of Art as a Gift
  9. Being an Artist Is an Art in Itself: On the ‘First Work’ and the Notion of ‘Oeuvre’
  10. Double-speak
    Elementary Aesthetics
  11. On Splendour and Modern Beauty
  12. Fatal Truths: Notes on the Beauty Experience
  13. On the Aesthetic Gaze, Beauty and the Two Sources of Ugliness
An anthology of essays by one of Belgium’s most original art theorists. As if looking at society with that same generous mockery that characterized Flemish painters from Bruegel all the way to Ensor, Bart Verschaffel’s prose follows the meandering and often contradictory movements of visual desire.
Emmanuel Alloa, University of Fribourg
Reflective, combative, and engagingly opinionated, this volume of essays by Bart Verschaffel is motivated by a deep commitment to art, to the importance of its distinctiveness from other forms of cultural production, and to what it means to think and write about it. The author’s elegant and supple writing navigates his materials in ways that are unfailingly persuasive and often surprising, and that – among much else – build a case for an idea that might be seen as both the book’s leitmotif and own self-description: that of artistry as a kind of critical memory work.
Mark Dorrian, Edinburgh College of Art
Bart Verschaffel is a philosopher and Professor of Theory of Architecture and Architectural Criticism at Ghent University in Belgium. He has published widely in the fields of Architectural Theory, Aesthetics, Visual Arts and Philosophy of Culture. In addition, he has curated exhibitions, authored essays and written documentary film scripts on artists such as Giambattista Piranesi, Anthony Gormley and Thierry De Cordier. His published books include What Is Real? What Is True? Picturing Figures and Faces (A&S/books, 2021), Mock Humanity! Two Essays on James Ensor’s Grotesques (A&S/Books-Plantin, 2018). He serves as director of the VANDENHOVE Centre for Architecture and Art at Ghent University, where he oversees the Charles Vandenhove art collection.

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