From Head to Hand: Art and the Manual
From Head to Hand:
Art and the Manual
by David Levi Strauss
Oxford University Press, USA
$24.95 List Price
The title of critic David Levi Strauss's new book, paired with his reputation for engaging political subjects, suggests From Head to Hand: Art and the Manual might be a fruitful addition to the recent spate of books that link craftsmanship to broader questions about economic worth. The best known of these are Richard Sennett's The Craftsman (2008) and Matthew B. Crawford's Shop Class as Soulcraft (2009), both of which draw on a tradition of moral criticism, inaugurated by John Ruskin and William Morris, that protests capitalism's tendency to undervalue skilled labor. Being aesthetes, Sennett and Crawford pondered the special place of art in such an economy. Yet the opportunity to pick up where they left off isn't profited on, and this collection of twenty essays and conversations, all but two previously published, is narrowly focused on artistic process itself: what Strauss calls "the passage from idea to object in the plastic arts."
Strauss's writing is always smooth and occasionally compelling. He discusses artists known for the material presence of their works, from sculptors Martin Puryear, Donald Lipski, and Ursula von Rydingsvard to painters Terry Winters, Ron Gorchov, and Leon Golub. His insights include identifying von Rydingsvard's "peasant's attitude toward labor" and the ways in which Winters "wants painting to contribute to the next iteration of . . . visual consciousness"; particularly welcome are his examinations of lesser-known figures like Raoul Hague, a sculptor and friend of photographers Robert Frank and Lee Friedlander, and of the Haida Project, a 1990