The late sculptor Ken Price put it best: "Nothing I can say is going to improve how it looks."

David Salle is a creative painter who is also a respected art critic. Most of the pieces in this sterling collection were written for magazines: Town and Country, The Paris Review, Interview, ARTnews, and Artforum. Others were written for exhibition catalogs. The essays ask, in various ways "what makes a work of art tick, what makes it good, what makes it interesting?"

Art criticism in the last 40 years, according to the author, has treated paintings and sculptures as a position paper and the artist as a kind of artist manqué. The emphasis has been upon the artist's intention and how this perspective sheds light on the cultural concerns of the moment. Salle is more interested in finding pleasure and beauty in the variety, strangeness, and surprise of the visual world. Look at his essay on Amy Sillman, a modern-day action painter. Also check out the piece on Sigmar Polke whose "pictorial inventiveness is so generous, so viewer-friendly it makes you feel that, on a good day, you could do it too."

This collection is divided into four sections: How to Give Form to an Idea, Being an Artist, Art in the World, and Pedagogy and Polemics. In the last section, Salle shares two thought-provoking lectures and two pieces which spur us to think outside-the-box on the hows and whys of contemporary art.

Sometimes art works lift our spirits and provide elation. Salle states that Jeff Koons's a Flower Puppy, from 1998, is the single greatest work of public sculpture made since Rodin. He then shares an experience of a close encounter with it at the Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa in Spain:

"During a stressful week when I was installing a show in the museum, I approached the building on foot each day and experienced a kind of fraternal joy on seeing the puppy — first just a shape in the distance, then gradually the realization: it's a dog! — that I'm not sure I had ever felt before. I was so grateful for its being there; it was such a gift. I never tired of seeing it; I was just happy that it existed. What more can an artist do?"

Salle makes no bones about frequently writing about the artistic creations of friends such as Roy Lichstenstein, Jeff Koons, and John Baldessari. His appreciation of their imaginative efforts is enriched by his knowing them. We highly recommend these musings on art that celebrate pictorial values and creative surprises.