Today's postmodernist view implies a moral relativism that doesn't result in the kind of Marxist-style imperatives that drove arguments in those days, but the Puritan impulse to art as a vehicle for social improvement persists. It also labels the rise of ideas as "branding," thus ignoring the powerful insights of abstraction and the thinking that followed in its wake. The analogous relationship between the arguments of today and those of Benton's time makes Wolff's new biography an important book.
It hasn't, though, changed my view of Benton's work. Since I was never really interested in it, I don't suppose I've seen more than a dozen or so in the flesh. Reading Thomas Hart Benton: A Life hasn't elicited a desire to see more.
Ken Greenleaf can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
THOMAS HART BENTON: A LIFE | By Justin Wolff | Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux | 416 pages | $40
, Grant Wood, Martha Graham, Jackson Pollock, More