Self-aware. Self conscious. Self induced.

Book Mulling

This is going to be a new thing here – not quite a review of a book and really, more of a conversation with the book. About 4 years ago I started reading John Carey’s provocatively titled What Good Are the Arts? Let me state up front that Mr. Carey is a literary critic and book reviewer for London’s The Sunday Times so yes, he does believe that the arts are good. He, or his editors or publishers, have simply gone in the direction of what we now call “link baiting” in online interactions.

What Good Are the Arts?

I’m coming back to this book now because a) I’ve always meant to come back to it; b) it’s interesting; c) it’s deeply flawed; and d) through the end of our residency, my time is my own and reading, writing, and thinking about art and suchlike is a good use of my time. With that said – Carey’s introduction.

What Good Are the Arts comes in two halves – the first will ask and answer questions, and the second will make an argument. He spends a brief amount of time covering some basic historical ground so that we’ll all be on the same page (or at least, understand his point of departure).

In the “Western” world, ART comes with a rarefied, spiritual air in its Platonic form. It should be divorced from sex and money and it should have some ennobling affect or influence. Carey argues that these positions are casually assumed rather than thought through and he wants to get at the bottom of them. One problem he asserts is that exactly what sort of influence we’re talking about is unexamined (what do you mean by ennobling, exactly?) and that many markers of aesthetics only serve to reinforce class differences, not get at art itself.

Thus, Part I, in which he will address the following:

  • What a work of art is
  • The differences and superiorities between high and low art
  • Whether art and its spiritual effects can be a substitute for religion
  • Why science cannot help us with the question of art
  • Given that aesthetics are deeply and only personal responses, justification of them must be done by reasoned thinking.

And Part II, in which he argues that the literary arts are the best of the arts, and not just because he reviews books for a living.

That’s it. I mean, this is just a summary and I’m already working on picking apart some stuff, even while I’m wholly appreciative that he acknowledges that aesthetics are often about class distinctions. From what I remember, there’s a lot of interesting stuff here.

I’m not sure how often I’ll be posting to this category, but I’m going to aim for once a week at least and I’ll link between posts.


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