Deep Design: Nine Little Art Histories

ISBN: 0963726463
ISBN 13: 9780963726469
By: Libby Lumpkin

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About this book

In nine ambitious essays of uncommon erudition, art historian Libby Lumpkin constructs quirky condensed histories that suggest an alternative approach to art writing -- strangely intelligent and wildly spirited. She argues that post-atomic New Mexico has become this nation's repository for popular ideas of redemptive nature; that Western culture's denial of chance and contingency accounts for much of today's academic cottage industries; and that the persona of the showgirl, whose origins she traces to ancient Assyria, might serve as the emblem for a feminism grounded in the social relations of power. Even the ubiquitous "smiley face" attracts her analysis in an imaginative iconography of the smile from the art of archaic Greece and first-century India to Leonardo da Vinci and Andy Warhol

Reader's Thoughts


Picked this up while roaming the shelves of the public library, where I was supposed to be writing. It's intriguing and frustrating in almost equal degrees. Nine concise essays on design and (feminist) art history, which (both fortunately and unfortunately) do not stay within the mandate set out in the introduction, which is to look at the how rather than simply the why of design. Topics include the smiley face, the red-slash-within-circle prohibition sign, Las Vegas showgirls, New Mexico, and the state of feminist art circa 1990s. Midway into the first essay, I found myself wishing Lumpkin had a better editor and that wish stayed with me throughout. Not because she doesn't write well--she does--but because she isn't thinking as rigorously as she quite clearly could. Logical fallacies of all sorts abound. That first essay is filled with non sequitors (conclusions that do not follow from their premises). There and elsewhere, Lumpkin frequently begs the question by presuming that which she ought to be proving. A good editor or peer reviewer would force her to connect the dots in those non sequitors and to prove what she asserts, thereby forcing her to think even more deeply. Since so many of her ideas are already striking and insightful, I'm guessing that exercise would sharpen and deepen them.I liked best the essay on chance art--which took a thought-provoking detour into mathematics--and the meditation on place implicit in the essay on New Mexico. I felt frustrated by the essay on showgirls, which included intriguing ideas that were undercut by the logical fallacies mentioned above as well as by the acontextuality implicit in talking about this as if Nevada weren't also a site of the traffic in girls and women. I liked least the gratuitous sideways swipe at ecofeminists.Libby Lumpkin, if you're reading this: Give your next essay to at least two people who don't already agree with you and one more who does tend to agree with you but who is a good critical thinker who is not afraid to challenge you. Demand that they point out the structural weaknesses in your arguments. Then get ready to feel sheer delight when, in figuring out how to fix those problems, you end up saying something truly new.

Grant Billingsley

Digs deep into history. Great theories and observations. Sort of makes me want to make feminist art.


An interesting read at times, while at others it was just over my head. The first few essays are great, steeped in common enough knowledge about art history that I understood and enjoyed the read. Later essays clearly relied on much more robust knowledge of art theory.

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