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THE MEANING OF LANGUAGE by Robert M. Martin. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, U.S.A., 1987. 230 pp. Paper, $8.96. ISBN: 0-262-6318-3. Reviewed by Donald Brook, Visual Arts, The Flinders University of South Australia, Bedford Park, S.A. 5042, Australia. At first sight The Meaning of Language has no obvious relevance to visual art and artists, but this appearance is deceptive. In fact, it could turn out to be one of the most important basic texts on the studio bookshelf, for the following reason. Nearly everyone speaks of art as a visual ‘language’. Either this usage is egregiously false or, when it has substance, the metaphor is taken in so many different ways by its users that communication is at best imperfect and at worst positively deceptive. Speakers on a putative ‘language of art’ would do well to start from a shared conception of the nature of language itself, and this book might have been designed to supply the idea where it is lacking, and to correct it where it is grossly mistaken. The writing is lucid to the point that the promise (often made but seldom kept) of being accessible to readers without philosophical training for once rings true. Although clearly developed throughout , the arguments are by no means simplistic. Contributions to the subject by such modern writers as Bennett, Wittgenstein, Grice, Fodor, Chomsky, Goodman, Austin, Kripke, Strawson, Quine, Lewis, Searle, Dennett, Russell, Putnam, Frege, Davidson (and many others, in no particular order) are interpreted in such a way that the broad pattern of exposition remains clearly visible through the selected detail. The 23 chapters are all shortenough for the main sense of each one to be grasped at a sitting. The unphilosophical but diligent reader should have a feeling, in the end, not of perfect mastery of what is after all a most difficult and vigorously contested subject, but of competence to fit more technical writings into place within an orderly landscape of comprehension. The author does not address the question “What sort of language (if any) is art?” but the artist who has understood him will be able to turn back to it with fresh eyes and a much better-prepared mind. Whoever prefers to find out more before turning back will welcome the suggestions made for further reading. PERSPECTIVE, OPTICS, AND DELFT ARTISTS AROUND 1650 by Arthur K. Wheelock, Jr. Garland Publishing, New York,NY, U.S.A., 1977. 345 pp., illus. Cloth, $75. ISBN: 0-8240-2740-X. Reviewed by DavidG. Stork,Department of Physics & Program in Neuroscience, Clark University, Worcester, MA 01610, U.S.A. Art books in the $75 range are of two types. On the one hand there are largeformat , beautiful, coffee table books, profusely illustrated with four-color reproductions; on the other, there are research monographs, scholarly,possibly obscure,and expensive because of the low expected sales and the captive library market. Perspective, Optics, and Delfr Artists Around 1650, Wheelock’s 1973 Harvard dissertation published through the Garland series on Outstanding Dissertations in the Fine Arts, is of the latter category. Although its expense and its large sections of untranslated Dutch might daunt the general reader, those interested in the interrelationships between science and the arts can profit greatly from the book. It is worth a trip to a local university library. The book centers on how the expanding interest in the science of optics affected Dutch painters ofthe seventeenth century, especially in regard to their approach to perspective. Wheelock writes, “By the mid seventeenth century many Dutch artists seem to have found traditional perspective laws inadequate for their purposes. Most of these laws had evolved in different periods and in different cultures; many had been devised by theorists rather than artists, and their abstract discussions had little relevance to the artistic demands of Dutch masters.” This renewed interest came from improved lenses and mirrors, and from the optical researches of astronomer-physicist Johannes Kepler, Anton van Leeuwenhoek (inventor of the microscope, and, incidentally, trustee of Vermeer’s estate), Rent Descartes, and others. This gave the Dutch artists “a freedom to experiment with perspective rules that resulted in their individualistic expressions of space. The freedom came in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1530-9282
Print ISSN
0024-094X
Pages
pp. 214-215
Launched on MUSE
2017-01-04
Open Access
No
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