13 July 1939|
Cincinnati, Ohio, United States of America
|Died||2 March 2013
New York City, New York, United States
|Occupation||Author, art critic, historian, professor|
|Alma mater||University of Cincinnati (B.A., PhD)
University of Washington (M.A.)
School of Visual Arts
School of the Art Institute of Chicago
|Main interests||Philology, art criticism, linguistics, history|
Thomas McEvilley (//; July 13, 1939 – March 2, 2013) was an American art critic, poet, novelist, and scholar, a Distinguished Lecturer in Art History at Rice University, and founder and former chair of the Department of Art Criticism and Writing at the School of Visual Arts in New York City.
McEvilley was an expert in the fields of Greek and Indian culture, history of religion and philosophy, and art. He published several books and hundreds of scholarly monographs, articles, catalog essays, and reviews on early Greek and Indian poetry, philosophy, and religion as well as on contemporary art and culture. 
Toward a Redefinition of Painting for the Post-Modern Era
In his 1993 book The Exile’s Return: Toward a Redefinition of Painting for the Post-Modern Era, McEvilley made an important contribution to the late twentieth century "death of painting" debate. He noted that after two decades of decline in importance as a medium, painting revived around 1980. In its return from exile, painting assumed a new theoretical basis in postmodern cultural theory, together with a new kind of self-awareness and interest in its own limitations.
Heads It's Form, Tails It's Not Content
In the article "Heads it's Form, Tails it's not Content" McEvilley describes a theoretical framework for the formalist project presented by postwar critics such as Clement Greenberg, Michael Fried and Sheldon Nodelman. He argued that formalist ideas are rooted in Neoplatonism and as such deal with the problem of content by claiming that content is embedded within form. Formalism is based on a linguistic model that Claude Lévi-Strauss argued is given content through the unconscious. In adopting a formalist approach, a critic cannot ignore the content that accompanies every deployment of form.
Sculpture in the Age of Doubt
In the book Sculpture in the Age of Doubt (1999), McEvilley analyzes the intellectual issues surrounding the postmodern movement in the course of 20th-century sculpture.
The Shape of Ancient Thought
In The Shape of Ancient Thought, McEvilley explores the foundations of Western civilization. He argues that today’s Western world must be considered the product of both Greek and Indian thought, both Western philosophy and Eastern philosophies. He shows how trade, imperialism and currents of migration allowed cultural philosophies to intermingle freely throughout India, Egypt, Greece and the ancient Near East. This book spans thirty years of McEvilley's research, from 1970 to 2000.
Personal and education
McEvilley was born in Cincinnati. He studied Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, and classical philosophy in the classics programs of the University of Cincinnati where he received a B.A., and the University of Washington, where he received an M.A.. He then returned to Cincinnati, where he received a Ph.D. in classical philology. He also retained a strong interest in modern art, reinforced by the modern artists of his acquaintance.
In 1969, McEvilley joined the faculty of Rice University, where he spent the better part of his teaching career. He was a visiting professor at Yale University and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, among others. He taught numerous courses in Greek and Indian culture, history of religion and philosophy. In 2008 he retired from teaching after 41 years, residing in New York City and in upstate New York in the Catskills.
He received numerous awards, including the Semple Prize at the University of Cincinnati, a National Endowment for the Arts Critics grant, a Fulbright fellowship in 1993, an NEA critic’s grant, and the Frank Jewett Mather Award (1993) for Distinction in Art Criticism from the College Art Association.
McEvilley died on March 2, 2013 of complications from cancer at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. He was 73. He is survived by his wife, the artist and writer, Joyce Burstein; two sons from a former marriage, Thomas and Monte; a sister, Ellen M. Griffin; and two grandchildren. His son Alexander predeceased him. He was married twice earlier; both marriages ended in divorce.
This section gives an overview of topics on which McEvilley has written.
- 1964, Party Going (First Novel)
- 1987, North of Yesterday (a Menippean Satire)
- 1991, Art and Discontent
- 1992, Art and Otherness
- 1993, Fusion: West African Artists at the Venice Biennale
- 1993, The Exile’s Return: Toward a Redefinition of Painting for the Post-Modern Era
- 1994, Der Erste Akt
- 1999, Sculpture in the Age of Doubt
- 2002, The Shape of Ancient Thought: Comparative Studies in Greek and Indian Philosophies
- 2007, The Triumph of Anti-Art
- 2008, Sappho
- 2010, Art, Love, Friendship: Marina Abramović and Ulay, Together & Apart
- 2010, Yves the Provocateur: Yves Klein and Twentieth-Century Art
- 2013, Charles Dellschau's Aporetic Archive
- Heads It’s Form, Tails It’s Not Content (TKTK)
- On the Manner of Addressing Clouds (TKTK)
- The Monochrome Icon
- “I Am” Is a Vain Thought
- Art History or Sacred History?
- Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief: ‘Primitivism’ in Twentieth-Century Art at the Museum of Modern Art
- The Selfhood of the Other
- Another Alphabet: The Work of Marcel Broodthaers
- History, Quality, Globalism
- Penelope’s Night Work: Negative Thinking in Greek Philosophy
- Arrivederci, Venice: The Third World Biennials
- The Tomb of the Zombie
- Paul McCarthy: Performance and Video Works: the Layering (2008)
- Here Comes Everybody (1994)
- James Lee Byars and the Atmosphere of Question
- Charles Dellschau: A Higher Vision Is A Basic Demand Of Poetry. (forthcoming)
- 44 Four Line Poems (1982)
- Thomas McEvilley, G. Roger Denson (1996), Capacity: : History, the World, and the Self in Contemporary Art and Criticism. Routledge. ISBN 90-5701-051-8: This information is given on the backpage of this book.
- McPherson & Company Publishers
- Thomas McEvilley (2004). "Art and Cognition.". Slought Foundation Online Content. 11 December 2004, retrieved 4 April 2008
- Thomas McEvilley (1996), "Heads It's Form, Tails It's Not Content", in: Artforum 21.3 ( Nov.1982) : 50-61. Later collected in: Capacity: The History, the World, and the Self in Contemporary Art and Criticism, by Thomas McEvilley and G. Roger Denson. Routledge: Taylor & Francis Group. ISBN 90-5701-051-8. Page 22-44.
- McEvilley, Thomas (2002). The Shape of Ancient Thought. Allworth Communications. ISBN 1-58115-203-5.
- School of VISUAL ARTS, graduate programs 2007-2008, Retrieved 4 April 2008.
- "Awards". The College Art Association. Retrieved 11 October 2010.
- "Thomas McEvilley, Critic and Defender of Non-Western Art, Dies at 73". NY Times. Retrieved 1 April 2013.
- Jacket2 obit
- PennSound page
- Thomas McEvilley. "Art and Cognition.". Slought Foundation Online Content. 11 December 2004.
-  Short biography from McPherson & Co.
- Martínez Celaya Early Work 2006 Text by Thomas McEvilley
- Thomas McEvilley on 'The Shape of Ancient Thought' Video by Michael Kasino about Thomas McEvilley's Shape of Ancient Thought
- on YouTube
- on YouTube
- on YouTube