Acts of Engagement brings together writings spanning the extraordinarily eventful ten-year after the author left The New York Times, where he had been an art critic from 1982 to 1991. The writings fall into three broad areas: art, art criticism, and arts and cultural institutions. In each area, Brenson finds it imperative to consider issues such as responsibility, creativity, process, and voice--issues that have taken on increasing urgency as corporate culture has overcome almost every aspect of American life. If we are to understand and come to terms with the violent shift from multiculturalism to privatization and the difficult if not precarious situation American art and culture are now in, we must engage the key words that define the book's four sections: language, identity, audience, and power. In Brenson's catalogue and book essays, and in his short addresses and comprehensive lectures lie a wealth of historical knowledge, connoisseurship, political and social commentary, philosophical speculation, and an impassioned dedication to the value of artists and the visual arts. The book ranges from a detailed examination of a single popular masterpiece, to an appreciation of the potential everyday impact of artists as people, to analyses of the art world system and of sweeping social and institutional changes. Acts of Engagement addresses the fundamental humanity and necessity of the visual arts: what they are about, why they matter, and the challenges and dangers they face.
Remarkably lucid and readable, this book offers illuminating knowledge and insights throughout, at the same time posing courageous questions that are sure to keep readers thinking (and hopefully acting) well beyond their rewarding encounter with Brenson's fine mind and always inviting prose. Acts of Engagement is a gift in its own right and one you will surely want to share with others.--Jock Reynolds, Yale University Art Gallery