In her newest book, leading social critic Carol Becker offers a timely analysis of the nature of art and its role in politics and society. Completed just before the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center catastrophe, Surpassing the Spectacle is now especially relevant in its analysis of the spectacle society that was omnipresent before that fatal day. This book is remarkably prescient of the new concerns that have now become foremost in our thoughts since the attack. This collection of essays explores such topics as public memorials, America's attempt to hold onto a sense of security while faced with the reality of international terrorists living within our own cities, the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, restorative justice, and issues of freedom of expression as they relate to incidents such as New York Mayor Guiliani's quest to ban Chris Ofili's painting of 'The Holy Virgin Mary' at the Brooklyn Museum. The essays cohere around Becker's central concerns: the education and role of artists in a post post-modern climate, controversies over public space, iconography, memorializing, and the myth of the global citizen. Throughout, Becker works to reconstruct a vision of humanity that incorporates, and hopefully moves us beyond, a dystopian moment when we no longer were able to use words such as humane, accountable, or the public good without seeming nostalgic and romantic. Becker raises the question of the place of art and the function of public intellectuals in a society desperately in need of creativity and leadership. The book is written in clear and accessible prose, which nonetheless looks at the issues philosophically and does not sacrifice any of the subtleties of thought necessary to contextualize and surpass the spectacle of contemporary U.S. society.
As dean of a major art school, Carol Becker speaks with unique authority and competence against a completely studio-based art education that only trains artists to become professionals within the confines of a circumscribed art world, rather than to see themselves as culural leaders and transformers, able to take on serious issues. This book belongs in the library of anyone who believes that art has a crucial and important role to play in the shaping of today's global society.--Suzi Gablik, author of The Reenchantment of Art and Conversations Before the End of Time