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What Good Are the Arts? (2005) - John Carey

Related: artistic merit - nobrow - relativism - art - good - John Carey

What Good Are the Arts? (2005) - John Carey [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Carey fails to recover artistic merit from "the abyss of relativism." Perhaps, as Carey suggests, relativism is all we can hope for in world perceived by over 6 billion minds a day. [May 2006]

Description and criticism

From Publishers Weekly
"People in the West have been saying extravagant things about the arts for two and a half centuries," sighs Carey, Professor of English at Oxford and eminent critic, at the outset of this witty and irreverent dismissal of cultural elitism, his second (The Intellectuals and the Masses). A work of art is whatever the experts agree on? Not so, says Carey, declaring instead that a work of art is "anything that anyone has ever considered a work of art." Well surely some art is "superior" to others? But again Carey demurs, finding so-called high art to be "culturally constructed" at best, and "spectacularly wrong," "self-deluding" and "catastrophic" at worst. To illustrate, Carey finds parallels between terrorists and those who defend high art on grounds of its purity and depth (both pit themselves against Western popular culture). In another passage, Carey cripples the argument that art appreciation creates emphatic and thoughtful people by remembering Hitler's "intense" love of opera and architecture. In Part Two, Carey argues the "supremacy" of literature in the same extravagant terms he just debunked (reading "has the power to change people"). Regrettably, despite clever logic and inexhaustible imagination, Carey fails to recover artistic merit from "the abyss of relativism." Perhaps, as Carey suggests, relativism is all we can hope for in world perceived by over 6 billion minds a day. --Copyright Reed Business Information via Amazon.com

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