On Beauty
A History of a Western Idea 
by Umberto Eco 
440 pages
MacLehose Press, 2010
ISBN: 0857050206

A beautifully produced book, that combines short text with rich photographic material, and snippets from many of the works referenced.

It is unfortunate that it doesn't give enough space to explain further the theses put forward, a fact that makes it difficult to catch all the subtleties of the text at times. It lacks the comrehensiveness that would make it suitable for a broader audience. However, I feel that was not the author's intention anyway.

However you do get an understanding of the characteristics of aesthetic sensibilities through the centuries, the political and economic background of their development and the contradictions inherent in many of them.

Summing up the points to remember, I would note: the extraodinary influence of Ancient Greek Art, with its focus on proportion and harmony and the coming back to its classical values again and again in the West in the past centuries; the reaction of Mannerism to the Renaissance, and the hollowing out of its classical qualities; the reaction of Baroque and Rococo to all this, with the superficiality of the ancien regime; the reaction of Neoclassicism to this, as a sign of the capitalistic rationality of the evolving bourgeois; the reaction to it of Romanticism all the way to Decadance aesthetics in the late 19th century, that tried to reconsile rationality and sensibility; the practical and utilitarian aesthetics of Victorian times, Art Nouveau and Art Deco (see Eiffel Tower, Empire State Building); the love of the machine aesthetics of the early 20th century (see Futurism, Fascism); and the ironic work of the Dadaists and Duchamp's ready mades; the avant-garde and also the business-appropriated aesthetics up to the 60's; the cynical reconciliation of high and low culture in Pop Art, Andy Warhol and the likes; the media-recycled contemporary aesthetics.

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