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NONFICTION : TWENTIETH-CENTURY ARTISTS ON ART, edited by Dore Ashton (Pantheon: $24.95, hardcover; $14.95, paperback).

March 30, 1986|SUZANNE MUCHNIC

Long on breadth and short of depth, this anthology of artists' words may have difficulty finding an audience. Dore Ashton's compilation will serve those in search of quotes to support a theory, but the book is too fragmented to assist serious scholars and too unfocused to provide laymen with a coherent survey. She has accomplished her goal, however, of providing a sequel to Robert Goldwater's and Marco Treves' "Artists on Art," which similarly documents an earlier era. And she has done an ambitious job of it, assembling "characteristic recorded thoughts" uttered by about 200 prominent artists, excluding the "resolutely mute" and those she considers persistently "laconic" or "unintelligible."

Ashton begins with early modern masters (Picasso, Matisse, Miro, Mondrian and Leger), then proceeds chronologically to the present and geographically through North and South America, Europe, Great Britain, Scandinavia and the Soviet Union. Comments range from Francis Picabia's short list of irreverent maxims--"A conviction is a disease." "Everything for today, nothing for yesterday, nothing for tomorrow."--to David Smith's intelligent explanations of his work and philosophy.

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