Sunday, July 25, 2010

Art is...

I read N.D. Wilson's Notes From the Tilt-A-Whirl for a book club. No one had a word against the book that appeared in the least harsh. It gave general satisfaction. Which was funny because we had read quite an array of books, including some classics. Henry James for instance would've had a little burst of temper over this state of affairs ( a quote from Lionel Trilling) had he felt the comparison. But there was something I was still thirsting for. Maybe if I read the bit about art over again? Nope.
He says,
What is art?
You are. And the mayfly. And every wasp novel ever lived.
And the hard Winter overthrown by Spring. Motherhood. Grass. Juniper. Your annoying neighbor.
Art is.
And this,
What is the world? What is it for?
It is art.
Which is all very interesting, and all. And, of course, I do realize that he is referring to God as the Creator of this art. Maybe it's because I'm not an expert on the modern long poem, but this is what quenched the ol' thirst.
Art is making, or if good art is meant, right making. The word poetry derives from the Greek for to make. Law, medicine, bricklaying, teaching are arts. Art (a making) is distinct from science (a knowing), although it presupposes science in the maker (artist).
And this-
Art is right making. Morality (prudence) is right doing. Morality consists in doing good; art, in doing well. Art aims at the good of the thing made; morality aims at the good of the maker (and user).

A murder might be well committed, and thus be a true work of art. Whether it should have been committed at all is a question of morality. The moral question is both prior and posterior, but it is not a formal question of art. The moral question takes precedence; no murder is ever justifiable, no matter how fine an art it requires or displays.

These latter quotes are harvested from Arvid Shulenberger's The Orthodox Poetic: A Literary Catechism. And, my goodness, this guy know how to put things well.
Knowledge of nature and of art can be acquired only by experience plus thought plus study. A knowledge-by-description of these entities is not sufficient.
Check out the whole essay at
Or perhaps you would prefer buying Notes From the Tilt-A-Whirl.

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