Playing with the Edge: The Photographic Achievement of Robert Mapplethorpe

Front Cover
University of California Press, 1996 - Art - 194 pages
Arthur Danto's assessment of the achievement of Robert Mapplethorpe is a lucid and graceful introduction to a controversial artist by the most distinguished philosophical critic of the arts in our time. While fully addressing the most public dimensions of Mapplethorpe's career--the branding of his work as pornography and the legal and censorship issues that surround the exhibition of his photographs--Danto's essay breaks with common responses by offering a fascinating and deeply sympathetic account of Mapplethorpe's aesthetics.
In Playing with the Edge, Arthur Danto returns the discussion of Mapplethorpe to a consideration of his artistic legacy. He refuses to retreat from the sexual content of Mapplethorpe's images, claiming that the content and the artistic character of the photographs simultaneously invite and deflect the charges of pornography and together define the importance of Mapplethorpe's work. Danto discerns the images' uniqueness in the relation of trust between the photographer and his subjects.
Through a fascinating exploration of the relation of Mapplethorpe's images to those of other artists (Titian, Sherman, Winogrand, Cartier-Bresson, Golub) Danto presents a compelling argument for Mapplethorpe's enduring position in the history of art, no less than the history of our times.
FROM THE BOOK:"There is a tension at the heart of Robert Mapplethorpe's art, verging on paradox, between its most distinctive content and its most distinctive mode of presentation. The content of the work is often sufficiently erotic to be considered pornographic, even by the artist, while the aesthetic of its presentation is chastely classic--it is Dionysiac and Apollonian at once. The content cannot have been a serious possibility for a major artist at any previous moment in history. It is particular to America in the 1970s, a decade Mapplethorpe exemplifies in terms of his values, his sensibilities, and his attitudes." Arthur Danto's assessment of the achievement of Robert Mapplethorpe is a lucid and graceful introduction to a controversial artist by the most distinguished philosophical critic of the arts in our time. While fully addressing the most public dimensions of Mapplethorpe's career--the branding of his work as pornography and the legal and censorship issues that surround the exhibition of his photographs--Danto's essay breaks with common responses by offering a fascinating and deeply sympathetic account of Mapplethorpe's aesthetics.
In Playing with the Edge, Arthur Danto returns the discussion of Mapplethorpe to a consideration of his artistic legacy. He refuses to retreat from the sexual content of Mapplethorpe's images, claiming that the content and the artistic character of the photographs simultaneously invite and deflect the charges of pornography and together define the importance of Mapplethorpe's work. Danto discerns the images' uniqueness in the relation of trust between the photographer and his subjects.
Through a fascinating exploration of the relation of Mapplethorpe's images to those of other artists (Titian, Sherman, Winogrand, Cartier-Bresson, Golub) Danto presents a compelling argument for Mapplethorpe's enduring position in the history of art, no less than the history of our times.
FROM THE BOOK:"There is a tension at the heart of Robert Mapplethorpe's art, verging on paradox, between its most distinctive content and its most distinctive mode of presentation. The content of the work is often sufficiently erotic to be considered pornographic, even by the artist, while the aesthetic of its presentation is chastely classic--it is Dionysiac and Apollonian at once. The content cannot have been a serious possibility for a major artist at any previous moment in history. It is particular to America in the 1970s, a decade Mapplethorpe exemplifies in terms of his values, his sensibilities, and his attitudes."

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PLAYING WITH THE EDGE: The Photographic Achievement of Robert Mapplethorpe

User Review  - Kirkus

One of our leading postmodern critics captures, in decorous prose, photographer Robert Mapplethorpe's putatively outrageous social and aesthetic vision. As art critic for the Nation, Danto (Philosophy ... Read full review

Playing with the edge: the photographic achievement of Robert Mapplethorpe

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

Describing and dissecting Mapplethorpe's oeuvre and place in art history might be given as an entrance exam for aspiring critics. Perhaps no other contemporary photographer has been so widely written ... Read full review

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About the author (1996)

Arthur Danto is Johnsonian Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Columbia University and art critic for The Nation. He is the author of more than 15 books, including Encounters and Reflections, 1990 winner of the National Book Critics Circle Prize for Criticism.

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