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The Invisible Dragon - Essays on Beauty and Other Matters

The Invisible Dragon - Essays on Beauty and Other Matters

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Art Issues Press
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"If this book of shocking intelligence and moral hope is read widely and above all well, word for word, it will help the ―Peter Schjeldahl

An expanded edition of Hickey's controversial and exquisitely written apologia for beauty―championed by artists, reviled by art critics—is as powerful as ever 30 years on.


This special cloth and foil-stamped edition brings back into print
The Invisible Dragon's four essays on beauty. It commingles them with five previously uncollected essays by the MacArthur Foundation "genius." Among the supplementary essays is Hickey's surprising early profile of Dolly Parton; his elegiac tribute to comedian Richard Pryor; a description of the literary innovation of John Rechy's seminal gay novel Numbers; and a personal essay on the art of writing. Hickey's singular analysis of paintings by Ed Ruscha enjoins us to listen to art, not just look at it. His coupling of Caravaggio's 1601 Incredulity of St. Thomas and Robert Mapplethorpe's 1978 photograph Lou, NYC still has the ability to shock. Hickey's interpretations of art by Bellini, Velázquez, Raphael, and others provide urgent lessons for contemporary art and gender politics.

An afterword by Hickey's friend and Dragon's editor "queers" the brash, heterosexual gambler. It situates the creation of Dragon squarely within the traumatic time of the AIDS plague. The book originally made beauty visible under the looming presence of death and bodily decay. Today, Hickey's prescient diagnosis of the "therapeutic institution" resonates loudly. Artists respond by harnessing beauty as a source of meaning and of joy.

Dolly Parton, upon hearing of her inclusion in the 30th Anniversary Edition:

"To this day, after thousands of interviews with thousands of writers, Dave Hickey is still at the top of my list. In “Dolly Triumphant!” in 1974 [reprinted in this edition] he captured what I wanted to believe about myself at the time, but he had a better take on it than I did. The article gave me strength and confidence to go on and try to do even better. I ran across it not long ago and I thought to myself, Dave Hickey was a genius. Not because of what he did for me but because of the way he was, the way he felt, and the wonderful way he worded things. He was beyond compare. I liked him, I loved him and yes, I had a crush on him too. Long live the memory and the words of Dave Hickey."

—Dolly Parton, July 2023


Dave Hickey (1938-2021) was one of the preeminent arts and cultural writers of modern times. He opened A Clean, Well-Lighted Place gallery in Austin, Texas, in the 1960s, before becoming executive editor at
Art in America magazine. In the 1970s, he was a songwriter in Nashville, Tennessee, where he was instrumental in creating Outlaw country music. After the publication of The Invisible Dragon, Hickey became known as the "beauty guy" in the popular press. By the 1990s, Hickey had made a home in Las Vegas, from where he regularly traveled to speak with audiences worldwide.

Hardcover, casebound
160 pages
15 x 23.5 cm
Published by Art Issues Press 2023