Encounters with Rauschenberg (University of Chicago Press), Leo Steinberg's witty lecture in critical ethics, exposes our penchant for reductive reading. Steinberg once used Rauschenberg's "flatbed" art to undermine the dogmatic formalism of the "picture plane." Now narrow critical minds decode symbols, fixating not on planes but on Rauschenberg's presumed iconography of anal sex. Critiquing the critics, Steinberg chides even the artist for occasionally indulging in trite sexual jokes as if inspired by the commentators' banalities. Don't assume that Steinberg is being prudish. He's an erudite specialist who speaks a popular, often earthy language, the natural enemy of borderline philistines and their fashionably "shocking" interpretations (and he names names). Encounters with Rauschenberg doesn't repeat gossip you've already heard, but opens your eyes and mind. It's real criticism.
Richard Shiff is Effie Marie Cain Regents Chair in Art at the University of Texas, Austin.