... [a] measured but emphatic case for art for art's sake and a dissection of the long battle between the two abstract nouns that give his book its title ... Perl is generous with examples showing how this conflict has played out--with critics, with art lovers--across the generations ... Perl isn't remotely a dry or humorless writer, but Authority and Freedom will likely speak most clearly to those who have some grounding in art history or appreciation ... is itself beautifully made, its ideas both authoritative and, intellectually speaking, freeing.
Despite the anxious concerns about enforced relevance that inspired the book, Authority and Freedom more often than not reads like a free-range cornucopia of revelatory encounters Perl has had with books, poetry, music, painting, sculpture, architecture, film and dance. He radiates sheer pleasure with his very personal responses to art of all kinds, writing with warmth and a sense of gratitude for the many peak experiences he’s had from a lifetime of engagement ... At times his penchant for name-checking across centuries can become head-spinning ... it is baffling why, after Perl’s repeated alarms about the threat of 'relevance,' he gives no examples of what exactly he sees that troubles him so ... One wonders whether the real reason for his silence here is the by now familiar threat of being canceled. As a result, the book tends to remain on the 'meta' plane much of the time — earnest and thoughtful, but absent the cranky brio, the piss and vinegar of his art columns ... It’s unlikely that Authority and Freedom will change many artists’ minds about how they view their work. They will do what they want, and many, if not most, today are ablaze with an intensity not seen since the 1930s to make their art speak truth to power, to heal what they deem the rent in our social fabric. If you ask them, they will tell you that art that doesn’t address this sense of urgency is not just out of touch with the times, it is irrelevant.