New Bearings in Esthetics and Art Criticism

A Study in Semantics and Evaluation

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"ART" AND "BEAUTY"                                       39
Coomaraswamy creates the impression that there is something almost sacred about such terms as "esthetic," "beauty," "art," "decoration," and so forth. In this connection, therefore, it is amusing and instructive to mention a reference by J. C. Ransom to "the absolute name of art" which he would refuse to apply to precisely that "moralistic" traditional "rhetoric" which, according to Coomaraswamy, most deserves to be called art! 71 Thus do the intellectual dogmatists contradict one another upon linguistic matters which, if properly understood, should cause no trouble whatsoever; for while, as I insisted in the foregoing section, the correct semantic procedure by no means commits one to the irresponsible way of Humpty-Dumpty, to talk about the "absolute name" of anything at all seems downright nonsensical.
Elsewhere Coomaraswamy claims that "we misuse language when we speak of objects as 'art,' " 72 a point of view shared, as we have observed, by Collingwood and Croce. But why are we thus misusing language? The likely reply of Coomaraswamy that the etymology of the word is opposed to the sense he is attacking should persuade no one who has observed the vicissitudes of meaning which all such terms have undergone and who is not unduly impressed, like Socrates in the Graty-lus, by the supposed magic of words or by the supposed significance of their traditional meanings. Or if Collingwood should argue against calling objects "art" from the platform of usage, he could easily be refuted by sheer fact; for today the majority of writers and teachers use the term "art" to refer to certain kinds of objects, and no one can prevent them from doing so. Of course it is unfortunate that the term often refers ambiguously both to objects and to creative activity, but if the verbal confusion is to be remedied in the near
71.  For Ransom's view, see "Ubiquitous Moralists," The Kenyan Review, Winter, 1941. Goomaraswamy's defense of "moralistic" traditional "rhetoric" is explained on pp. 133-134*
72.  Coomaraswamy, The Art Bulletin, June, 1939, p. 205.