Monday, August 31, 2009

So I revisited my Jacques Maritain book....

And here's what I found.

1. Maritain, like Wood, thinks that an important element in the work of art is its form/unity. To the extent that the work is one and is a thing, it is good objectively (and i know you don't care about that, Don Pedro!). This would throw many modern artists out.

2. Maritain also places great importance on the 'artistic habit.' This is the grasp that the artist has of the rules of his art. Maritain does not tell what these rules are (he is no artist, although he does know his art history and criticism). He does provide advice on how to teach the habit, however, advocating the use of apprenticeships, not academia.

One of the aesthetic ideas that seems to flow from one and two is that the trained artist, not the philosopher, is the one most qualified to judge the quality of a work of art from his own discipline. Based on the sheer variety of forms and the practical and intuitive nature of the artistic habit, it also seems to imply that the rules for making good art are far harder to articulate and far subtler than something along the lines of "tonality" for example. I can gather nothing about whether or not he would say (as I do) that tonality is superior to atonality, all other things being equal.

3. The artist's primary concern should be to make as good of a work as possible, not to tell a theme, serve a purpose (as in music for relaxation, for example), or make money. Themes and purposes are not bad, but to not ruin the work, they have to be incorporated into the essence of what the art is. If the art is squeezed and stretched to fit the theme or purpose, the art is what we call preachy (Maritain doesn't actually say that, but you can guess it).

4. Art is not the same as morality or prudence or metaphysics. The artist who makes an excellently made sinful work is a good artist but a bad human being. Art is to the making faculty of man what metaphysics is to his mind: both deal with issues of matter, form, and the like. But art does not know them and should not try. It merely makes them.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A Fable for Interpretation

Once upon a time, a European trader who had never been to India arrived for the first time in that ancient land. As he was walking the streets from the port to the market, he saw a snake-charmer sitting by the roadside. The charmer played an incoherent jumble on his pipe, and the snake slithered upwards and swayed to the music.

"What a poor musician you are." the European observed "I know a great deal about the Indian musical tradition" (which was true) "and I know that you play very poorly, without any sense of unity of melody."

"Sit here and play it yourself" the Indian suggested dispassionately.

The instrument was about six inches long and was very similar to the a recorder. The European picked it up and began to play an English marching song. The snake attacked him and bit him. He died.

"The poor unfortunate fellow." the indian observed sadly. "He didn't understand that while I do make music, my real work of art is the proper union of the music with the snake. All would do well to remember this. It destroys all differences between the objective value of the art and judgements of taste."