People all over the world make art and take pleasure in it, and they have done so for millennia. But acknowledging that art is a universal part of human experience leads us to some big questions: Why does it exist? Why do we enjoy it? And how do the world’s different art traditions relate to art and to each other?
Art Without Borders is an extraordinary exploration of those questions, a profound and personal meditation on the human hunger for art and a dazzling synthesis of the whole range of inquiry into its significance. Esteemed thinker Ben-Ami Scharfstein’s encyclopedic erudition is here brought to bear on the full breadth of the world of art. He draws on neuroscience and psychology to understand the way we both perceive and conceive of art, including its resistance to verbal exposition. Through examples of work by Indian, Chinese, European, African, and Australianartists, Art Without Borders probes the distinction between accepting a tradition and defying it through innovation, which leads to a consideration of the notion of artistic genius. Continuing in this comparative vein, Scharfstein examines the mutual influence of European and non-European artists. Then, through a comprehensive evaluation of the world’s major art cultures, he shows how all of these individual traditions are gradually, but haltingly, conjoining into a single current of universal art. Finally, he concludes by looking at the ways empathy and intuition can allow members of one culture to appreciate the art of another.
Lucid, learned, and incomparably rich in thought and detail, Art Without Borders is a monumental accomplishment, on par with the artistic achievements Scharfstein writes about so lovingly in its pages.
Ben-Ami Scharfstein is professor emeritus of philosophy at Tel Aviv University. He is the author of numerous books, including Mystical Experience, A Comparative History of World Philosophy, Ineffability: The Failure of Words in Philosophy and Religion, and Of Birds, Beasts, and Other Artists: An Essay on the Universality of Art.
“This is the most comprehensive study of art and artists ever written. Not only does it range across the world’s cultures in time and space, but it takes account of the latest findings in a variety of relevant disciplines, including neuroscience, cross-cultural psychology, and anthropology. Scharfstein’s mastery of the literature of those disciplines is impressive, as is his command of scholarly writing on art worldwide. Timely, global, and open-minded, Art Without Borders evinces warmth and humanity as Scharfstein admirably highlights the makers of art, their individual lives, and their views on artistry.”
“Art Without Borders is a masterpiece that elucidates human thinking about art in all its facets. Drawing on the best available knowledge in psychology, anthropology, and art history, Ben-Ami Scharfstein opens with a wonderfully cultivated meditation on the question of how we are to understand the notion of art in our present global village. But he also deepens the discussion throughout with detailed examinations of individual artists’ lives, accomplishments, reflections on art, and attitudes toward their work and traditions. This richness of human detail is one of the great virtues of this immensely learned and stunningly good book.”
“As wide-ranging a survey of the available literature on art as any single author could probably produce. Moreover, Scharfstein reads attentively and judiciously. . . . The book abounds in generosity and a patient will to listen.”