New Bearings in Esthetics and Art Criticism

A Study in Semantics and Evaluation

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(E) "Truth" as Artistic Insight
So far in this analysis of truth as an artistic criterion, we have distinguished between four uses of the term "truth," i.e., "truth" as an undefined term, as "scientific fact," as "sincerity," and as "consistency"; and we have found reasons of varying sorts for being dissatisfied with each of these uses. A fifth (and final) use, which we shall now consider at some length and which we shall call truth as "artistic insight" or "artistic revelation," is a complicated one, difficult to analyze.
As a starting point for the discussion, consider the interesting and illuminating views recently expressed by Professors Greene and Irwin Edman.123 These writers agree upon one important matter: namely, that a work of art presents more than a pleasing surface pattern, that it "says something," and that, therefore, it should not be judged solely by formalistic standards. They assert that art-objects have "the character of revelation," and offer "new insights, new observations, new interpretations, new appraisals of a more or less familiar subject matter"; or, as stated in the familiar controversial terminology, an art-object "rings true," is "true to our experience," or is "poetically true."
Let us make the assumption, which I believe is a valid one, that the majority of expert critics124 agree with the foregoing general critical position. Two related questions of considerable interest and importance may then be asked: first, precisely what is meant by the phrases just quoted? second, can they reasonably be subsumed under a general category of truth in art?
In order to answer these questions, let us begin by asking specifically: what is the nature of the religious insights and
123.  These occur in The Arts and the Art of Criticism, chap, xxiii, passim; in The Art Bulletin, December, 1940, pp. 274-276; and in The Art Bulletin, March, 1941, pp. 80-81.
124.  The qualifications of the expert critic are described on pp. 92-93.