Maxwell Anderson is a celebrated art historian who for thirty years was director of museums in Atlanta, Toronto, Indianapolis, New York, and Dallas, most notably as the director of the Whitney Museum in New York for 15 years. He curated countless exhibitions, procured innumerable works to enrich museum collections, and occasionally identified unattributed treasures that rocked the art world.
Anderson is clear about what he looks for in artwork, "If a work of art does its job properly – by inspiring us, for example, or stirring, provoking, or engaging us – then it has a claim to being measured by how well it does one or more of these things."
Technical Skill of the Impressionists
The French Impressionists were startlingly original in their time and are now admired worldwide; Impressionist exhibits are very popular and profitable for museums. However, Anderson is discriminating regarding the technical skill of individual impressionists. He does not mince words when he talks about why he sees Manet's work "The Bar at the Follies-Bergère" as a masterpiece, whereas he views Renoir as "the poster child of the overrated artist."
Throughout the book Anderson analyzes seemingly disparate works of art such as the Nairobi mask, Bernini bust, and Mendelssohn observatory shown above, and explains why they all meet his five criteria of artistic quality.
In addition learning more about artistic quality, I was intrigued by Anderson's many tales of the inner workings of top-tier museums and the challenges they face.
I found that reading this book on an iPad had distinct advantages; I could easily look up less familiar vocabulary words (inchohate, plebiscite, adduced, invidious, evanescent, etc.), and also zoom in on the illustrations to study them carefully. I highly recommend "The Quality Instinct", a fascinating read. Enjoy!