In a sense, Wendy Steiner finds little to distinguish appearance from reality. In Venus in Exile, The rejection of Beauty in 20th-Century Art, for example, Steiner equates the 'beauty' of a woman as person with the 'beauty' of that woman's depiction. Ironically, Steiner borrows this universalizing view from the same philosopher that she identifies as anathema to beauty. Following Kant, Steiner links natural to artistic beauty, and, hence, holds an aesthetic view that overrides ontological categories. Thus, in the world according to Stiener Beauty equals Woman equals Art. The snake in the garden, however, is Kant's idea of the sublime. The sublime appeals, she claims, to the self-erasing thrill of a brush with death. In contrast, the allure of beauty promotes interest in life. In fact, Steiner recommends that viewers and artwork interact after the model of Cupid and Psyche. (Imagine, for example, a chummy interaction of diner and bed with Notre Dame or a piano concerto.) Moreover, the desire to experience the thrill of the sublime explains the denial of Beauty/Woman that characterizes the art of the 20th century. In addition to the distortions (i.e. pornographic imagery) or avoidance (i.e. non-representational shapes) of female figuration, 20t-century art also excludes or diminishes domestic subjects. Together the exclusions of beauty and woman and the 'good' or the non-aesthetic value of domesticity show, Steiner argues, the misogyny of the artists and, thereby, their hatred of life, love, and so on.
Given Steiner's credentials, the intellectual sloppiness that informs Venus in Exile is disappointing. In addition to her uncritical acceptance of art defined as aesthetic effect, her opinions betray Freud -images in art as in dream point to external causes-as the father of her psycho - utopian love child called Venus in Exile. Moreover, why the sudden, slap dash treatment of modern dance and the tiresome swipe at ballet in the last three pages of the book? That addition did little more than demean the art forms. Art forms, moreover, dominated by women. Finally, the hyperbole that demonized Kant and reduced the artwork of an entire century to the status of thrill distracted from rather than expanded on the topics of art, aesthetics, and woman as subject.