What is art? Jed Perl—the Alexander Calder biographer, New Republic art critic, and early New Criterion contributor—offers his answer to the perennial question in his new book, really an extended essay, Authority and Freedom.

All art, Perl argues—across all genres and all times—is a fight between tradition and innovation. For something to be art, its maker must have mastered the technique and the craft of the tradition he is working in, but he must then go beyond that and make his own innovations. Without that freedom, the work is not art; it is merely craft. But without the necessary grounding in the traditions of its genre, the work disintegrates into nothingness.

For Perl these rules are true for everything from classical...


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