Blog Goya and Brutal Aesthetics (Princeton Univ. Press)

Goya and Brutal Aesthetics (Princeton Univ. Press)

Posted Feb. 10, 2021, 7:09 p.m. by T

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Goya: A Portrait of the Artist

Janis Tomlinson

Princeton University Press


Claiming that coverage on the life and times of Francisco Goya has been patchy – at least outside the confines of the Spanish language, would be an understatement par excellence. It was about time for an in-depth biography, which Goya scholar Janis Tomlinson now provides.

Given Tomlinson’s expertise on the subject, it is intriguing to read how traditional notions and interpretations of Francisco Goya y Lucientes’s oeuvre are not only being challenged but counterpointed and debunked via an exhaustive array of hard facts, personal letters, court documents and previously unseen early sketches of Goya.

Tomlinson masterfully centres Goya and contextualises his artistic emissions around the upheavals that came with the age of transformation and instability of Spanish society and politics.

The result is a nuanced portrayal of an artist that contrary to popular belief is much less that of desolate, depressed soul infatuated with darkness and death, but one that has many facts all of which are powered by his ambition for invention, change and pushing the boundaries.

Sharing meticulously researched insights, Tomlinson’s critical thinking never results in an overly authoritative style but manages to trigger one to revisit his oeuvre with fresh eyes and reinforces the appreciation for Goya’s art, which has lost none of its impact and is as relevant as ever two centuries after his departure.



Brutal Aesthetics

Hal Foster

Princeton University Press


Given the barbarism of the first half of the twentieth century, i.e. the devastation and aftermath of World War II, the Holocaust, genocide as well as nuclear warfare and its implications, many not only turned to religion but the question that was raised within artistic circles was how art can help to navigate through such unprecedented turbulent times.

The outcome is a stream of modern art that can be referred to as  “brutal aesthetics” , which in essence is an artistic equivalent to the circumstances.

By approaching the topic from different angles, i.e. through the lens of the philosopher Georges Bataille, the painters Jean Dubuffet and Asger Jorn, and the sculptors Eduardo Paolozzi and Claes Oldenburg, Foster sets out to decipher art, define its very core and look for its essence to rise from the ashes.

The result is an immensely interesting study of historical and contemporary artistic practices, with often surprising recurring commonalities as far as themes and stylists devices are concerned, which sheds light on the directions artistic endeavour took from 1945 onwards and what role subversive, positive barbarism and creative destructivism played.

Specifically the section shedding light on how some artists masterfully manipulated art to not only invalidate the brut but being ambiguous to expose the culprits.

Foster manages to only highlight the merits of such manoeuvres but also unearths contradictions and artists whose undertakings (and the possible implications and reception thereof) were not thoroughly thought through.

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