Art Matters

Art Matters

by Peter de Bolla
     
 
In the face of a great work of art, we so often stand mute, struck dumb. Is this a function--perhaps the first and foremost--of aesthetic experience? Or do we lack the words to say what we feel? Countering current assumptions that art is valued only according to taste or ideology, Peter de Bolla gives a voice--and vocabulary--to the wonder art can inspire. Working

Overview

In the face of a great work of art, we so often stand mute, struck dumb. Is this a function--perhaps the first and foremost--of aesthetic experience? Or do we lack the words to say what we feel? Countering current assumptions that art is valued only according to taste or ideology, Peter de Bolla gives a voice--and vocabulary--to the wonder art can inspire. Working toward a better understanding of what it is to be profoundly moved by a work of art, he forces us to reconsider the importance of art works and the singular nature and value of our experience of them.

In many ways a "practical aesthetics," Art Matters proceeds by way of example. Through chapters attending to three works of art--Barnett Newman's painting Vir Heroicus Sublimis, pianist Glenn Gould's second recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations, and William Wordsworth's poem "We Are Seven"--de Bolla plots a personal history of aesthetic experience that opens up the general forms of art appreciation. His book invites us to a closer encounter with art, and to a deeper appreciation and clearer expression of what such an encounter might hold.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In four short chapters and an introduction, Cambridge University Fellow de Bolla (The Discourse of the Sublime) mulls over his reactions to art, especially what he calls "mutism: being struck dumb" by a work. Among the cases he examines in detail are a painting by American modernist Barnett Newman ("Vir Heroicus Sublimus"), Canadian pianist Glenn Gould's second recording of Bach's "Goldberg Variations" and a poem by Wordsworth, "We Are Seven." Although most of the text is in dense philosophical-speak, rife with references to Kant and other names familiar to readers who have taken a course or two in philosophy, a wry pragmatism peeps through, such as when de Bolla states that some students "refuse to talk about" their aesthetic responses, either out of "fear of losing something valuable to them" or else because of the "mundane mechanics" of the Cambridge University grading system. Elsewhere, de Bolla cannily refuses to consider Newman's abstract canvas separately from its context and location, New York's Museum of Modern Art. On Glenn Gould, de Bolla mixes references to jazz and classical performance, which are intrinsically different art forms, with some biographical errors, such as the false notion that Gould lived "in almost complete physical seclusion." On Wordsworth the author is more secure, making folksy observations such as, "Reading is a far more risky business than is often assumed, or than we care to admit, but it is said that there is often scant reward where there is no risk." There are plenty of both here. 10 color illustrations not seen by PW. (Nov.) Forecast: Despite the challenging writing style, there is enough donnish Brit charm here to appeal to readers with a cursoryacquaintance with philosophy and the arts. Good for larger collections on the arts, although the desultory chapter on Gould can be safely skipped by music fans. Readers looking for unsentimental paths to art-based solace might be pointed here. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780674006492
Publisher:
Harvard University Press
Publication date:
12/28/2001
Pages:
190
Product dimensions:
5.62(w) x 8.34(h) x 0.76(d)

What People are saying about this

Peter de Bolla's Art Matters is an extraordinary description of and argument for the uniqueness of the aesthetic experience. Despite the inherent difficulty and complexity of this enterprise (in which aspects of musical performance, lyric poetry, and contemporary painting are described with great attentiveness) de Bolla has produced a grippingly refined and persuasive text, utterly free of sentimentality or cant, true, direct, original.

Meet the Author

Peter de Bolla is Fellow of King's College at Cambridge University and author of Harold Bloom and The Discourse of the Sublime.

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