The lecturer traces the historical development of attitudes toward the arts over the past 150 years, suggesting that the present is a period of cultural liquidation, nothing less than the ending of the modern age that began with the Renaissance.
These six lectures, delivered at the National Gallery in Washington last year, explore the conventionally accepted functions of Art: religious, redemptive, destructive, revolutionary, and the validity of that great enigma, Art for Art's sake. While the author is most comfortable drawing his examples from the world of painting, his arguments and theories are applied to all forms of Art, his conclusions are pertinent to all media. As critic, Barzun is not afraid to state his opinions, and while his prose borders on the pedantic, seldom does he lose sight of the distinction between opinion and interpretation. While one might not always agree with his premises, the arguments are logically constructed and seldom is the reader asked to take a point on faith. Barzun's conclusions about Art, that it is not a separate entity, that the artist is not sacred, and that Art that scorns or hates its public is of little value, are reassuring points of view in our emperor's new clothes age of art criticism. (Kirkus Reviews)