New Bearings in Esthetics and Art Criticism

A Study in Semantics and Evaluation

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"ARTISTIC TRUTH"                                    75
of Rubens' experience of life. In defending this solution to our problem, T. S. Eliot asserts:
My point is that you cannot afford to ignore Dante's philosophical and theological beliefs, or to skip the passages which express them most clearly; but that on the other hand you are not called upon to believe them yourself. . . . For there is a difference . . . between philosophical belief and poetic assent. . . . You are not called upon to believe what Dante believed, for your belief will not give you a groat's worth more of understanding and appreciation; but you are called upon more and more to understand it.142
But if, as other competent writers hold, the beliefs of the artist must be shared and accepted by the critic in order that he may appraise expertly, the truths expressed as insights in the object cannot be considered artistically pertinent or meaningful; for in that case, judgment upon the truth of these insights will be passed on the basis of the critic's standards; and the critic will not be able or willing to appreciate or apprehend the insights sympathetically unless they by chance coincide with his own truths or beliefs. Thus the puritan critic will judge Rubens solely on the basis of his own puritan criteria and will find no truth in that artist's sensuously expressed insights. Or, as J. C. Ransom attacks the passage of Eliot just
142. "Dante," Selected Essays, pp. 218-219. In Archetypal Patterns in Poetry (London, 1934), Maud Bodkin holds that the apprehension of poetic truth involves no "suspension of disbelief* but rather promotes a "quickening of belief" which comes from the poetic revelation of some actual and recurring phase or element of life. It seems to me, however, that the notions of "suspension of disbelief" and "quickening of belief" are, in at least one important sense, complementary rather than antithetical: for example, the painting of Rubens and the poetry of Dante can quicken the respective beliefs of puritan and heathen critics only after these critics have suspended their own disbeliefs. No doubt much of the difficulty in reaching an agreement upon this relationship between the two notions is caused by slight variations in meaning which the term "belief" receives.