New Bearings in Esthetics and Art Criticism

A Study in Semantics and Evaluation

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RELATIVISM                                              133
Better in what sense, according to what standard? In one mood you might say: Better be like Jim Darnley, fleshly, since you are living in the flesh, hard enough, coarse enough, loose enough to feel at home in the crowd. In another mood you may say: No: better be like Mario, refined by nature, clear as a crystal, merry without claims, brave without armour, like the lilies of the field or the lilies of Eton. Or in yet another mood, why not think it better to be as Oliver himself was, burdened but strong, groping but faithful, desolate but proud? 81
Now to whatever extent we believe that all men should be mentally and spiritually alike, to the same extent shall we probably endorse a uniformity of artistic principles and evaluations; for critical conceptions to most of us are relative in the same way and to the same degree that human nature, human ideals, and human ideas are relative. Thus most ob-jectivists, with perfect consistency, will hold that neither ethical nor artistic standards are to the slightest degree relative, whereas most relativists will believe in the validity of varied standards both moral and artistic. These latter will differ according to fundamental cleavages in types of expert critics.
We may illustrate this psychological relativity in critical principles by briefly summarizing two contrasting and representative attitudes toward art and esthetics. For Coomara-swamy, "Art has to do primarily with knowledge, and only accidentally with feeling";82 it must be controlled by the intellect and must never be irrational. In the next place, art should reveal reality and truth. The real things which art will imitate are the divine originals or Platonic Ideas which are contrasted with the unreality of mere appearances. And thirdly, again following Plato, and rejecting the distinction,
81.  The Last Puritan (New York, 1936), p. 319.
82.  The quotations from Coomaraswamy are taken from a lecture entitled: "Figures of Speech, or a Figure of Thought?"