New Bearings in Esthetics and Art Criticism

A Study in Semantics and Evaluation

Home | About | Philosphy | Contact | Search

OBJECTIVISM                                                99
only highly praises an artist like Tibaldi, who is almost unknown at the present time, but also condemns the art of Bernini (which today is glorified by some, repudiated by others), refers to the "vulgar eagerness" of the "Discobolus," and briefly dismisses as "old painters" Mantegna, Perugino, and Durer. Turning to the nineteenth century, we find Hazlitt remarking, in one place, that Murillo's "Beggar Boys" at Dul-wich "is the triumph of this collection, and almost of painting," and in another, that while Michelangelo's forms have "an intellectual character about them and a greatness of gusto . . . his faces on the other hand have a drossy and material one." n Delacroix ranks Lesueur and Lebrun above Poussin, Ruysdael and Ostade above Watteau; and Taine condemns Fra Angelico, Durer, and medieval art in general. Only yesterday Roger Fry, in Last Lectures, launched an almost wholesale attack upon the esthetic value12 of Greek sculpture, whale Lionello Venturi remarked that "in Italy, there was a steady production of great art from the 13th to the 20th century." 13 Remarkable contemporary evaluations are equally common in expert literary criticism. Thus Yvor Winters places "Jones Very above Emerson, Bridges and Sturge Moore above Yeats, Williams above Pound and Eliot, and Edith Wharton above Henry James." 14 But the most astonishing judgment with which I am familiar comes from the poet-critic W. H. Auden: "If I am to trust a reviewer's judgment upon a book I have not read, I want to know among other things his philosophical
11.  William Hazlitt, Essays on the Fine Arts (London, 1873), pp. 397, 313.
12.  The adjectives "esthetic" and "artistic" are used throughout this essay in a fairly free and unspecific sense. At the same time, some distinction in meaning between the two words is intended. By "esthetic" I refer to that aspect of experience which may be roughly characterized as disinterested contemplation or as perception of data for their own sake. By "artistic" I refer very generally to aspects of experience or to properties of objects which have been associated with the fine arts. While the definitions of the terms necessarily overlap, they are by no means identical. A similar distinction would hold between "beauty" and "art."
13.  Art Criticism Now, p. 38.
14.  R. P. Blackmur, The Expense of Greatness (New York, 1940), p. 168.