As a starting point, the author argues that formalist, contextual and post-structural approaches fail to provide an adequate account of all art, particularly art produced outside the Western tradition. He believes therefore that there are profound problems right at the heart of Western thinking about art, and his new framework is an attempt to resolve these problems. At the core of the argument is a proposal to replace the notion of the "visual arts" with that of the "spatial arts", comprising two fundamental categories: "real space" and "virtual space". Real space is the space we share with other people and things, and the fundamental arts of real space are sculpture, the art of personal space, and architecture, the art of social space. Virtual space, which always entails a format in real space (thus making real space the primary category), is space represented in two dimensions, as in paintings, drawings and prints. Adopting a wide definition of art that in principle embraces anything that is made, and underpinning his arguments with detailed examination of artifacts and architecture from all over the world, David Summers develops his thesis in a series of chapters that broadly trace the progress of human skill in many different traditions from the simple facture of the first tools to the sophisticated universal three-dimensional grid of modern technology, which he describes as "metaoptical" space. In wide-ranging and revealing discussions of facture, places, centres, three-dimensional and planar images, virtuality and perspective, and the centreless metaoptical world of Western modernism, he creates a conceptual framework that always relates art to human use, and enables us to treat all traditions on an equal footing within broad and universal categories. At the same time this framework can help to accommodate and understand opposition and conflict both within and between cultures.
David Summers is the William R. Kenan Jr Professor of the History of Art at the University of Virginia. He is the author of two major, groundbreaking studies, Michelangelo and the Language of Art (Princeton, 1981) and The Judgment of Sense: Renaissance Naturalism and the Rise of Aesthetics (Cambridge UP, 1987). Since 1987 his chief scholarly preoccupation has been the project t...