How to Respond to Strangeness in Art

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Working through four case studies, this book focuses on conceptual issues involved in coming to terms with works of art that bear significant marks of more than one culture. The introduction identifies the conceptual problems of ‘joining’ elements from two cultures that are strange to one another. It distinguishes between joining these elements, and merely juxtaposing, blending or mixing them. When the joining is genuine, it leads to a concord that does not erase the otherness of the joined elements to one another; instead, it continues each of the joined traditions.

The case studies examine Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, Ming landscape paintings, Iranian rugs, and Guatemalan architecture, textiles and folk tales. The first analysis focuses on the difference between the cyclical time of the neo-Daoist poetry in Mahler’s text and the end-directedness of European music. The next chapter describes the Ming period struggle to join Yuan period elements with the very Song period elements that the Yuan painters had rejected. Thinking about Iranian rugs in European interiors opens up a contradictory valuation of the exotic when the far-away has become familiar. The last chapter brings to the surface the possibility of invisible strangeness when differences are too deep to be seen, and the even greater strangeness when the differences are surpassed.


“In this remarkable book, Dr. David Greene explores in fascinating detail the nature of ‘strangeness’ in artistic expression that results from contacts across cultural boundaries. ‘To be sure,’ he writes in his opening chapter, ‘all great art, and not only experimental or innovative art, is strange, and all great art joins contrasting elements.’ Yet does contrast necessarily imply strangeness, he asks? What constitutes mutually strange elements and in what ways are they brought together in works of art? What kinds of outcomes result from the juxtaposing or integrating of mutually strange elements? Dr. Greene addresses and illuminates these and other penetrating questions at the outset of the book, laying the groundwork for his in-depth analyses of four case studies carefully selected to present broad historical, geographical and religious differences ...” – (from the Preface) Alison Arnold, Editor, Garland Encyclopedia of World Music

“ ... As a professor and champion of interdisciplinary teaching and research in the arts, I find that Professor Greene’s work is an impressive addition to the study of cultural, ethnic, and anthropomorphic cross-fertilization in the arts. He has a unique premise for his book, and it makes a great deal of sense. Professor Greene explores his complex thesis in a clear, lucidly-written style. His provocative arguments are easily understood. In addition, his work is meticulously researched, and his points are backed up with helpful examples ... This book is certainly not the ‘same old thing,’ but a fresh, exciting and insightful examination of a challenging vision of the arts ...” – Moylan C. Mills, Professor Emeritus, Penn State University

Table of Contents

Preface by Alison Arnold
1. Strangeness at the End
2. Strange Times: Mahler’s “Der Abschied” and Neo-Daoist Poetry
3. New Ways to Old Strangeness: Ming Landscape Paintings
4. Tangible Strangeness: The Iranian Rug in European Interior Design
5. Surpassing Strangeness: Textiles, Architectural Decoration and Stories from Guatemala

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