New Bearings in Esthetics and Art Criticism

A Study in Semantics and Evaluation

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142                             PROBLEMS IN EVALUATION
and that, therefore, significance of content as well as perfection and significance of form is indispensable to the greatest art. Thus I believe, on the one hand, that limitations in moralistic systems may be revealed by explaining the crucial importance of the esthetic attitude for artistic experience; and I believe, on the other hand, that limitations in formal-istic theories may be exposed by plausibly showing that formal or plastic form is not a sufficient condition, although it is a necessary one, for artistic creations and experiences of the highest order.93
In exactly what sense or to exactly what degree such beliefs may fairly be considered valid is a puzzling problem. One is tempted to think that those principles which are held by many and variously constituted critical experts are the better ones; certainly they are more universal, hence more useful as vehicles of communication. In The Novel and the Modern World, Professor David Daiches makes interesting remarks upon this aspect of the evaluation of artistic standards. He shows, to begin with, that the varied standards of the most distinguished contemporary novelists are highly limited. He explains, for example, that James Joyce abandons normative standards of significance by adopting an excessively "art for art's sake" point of view, and that Virginia Woolf, although having for a criterion 'Is life like this?," nonetheless "refines on values" to an extreme degree. The important judicial question then becomes: does the limited nature of criteria also signify inferiority? Unquestionably the works of Joyce and of Woolf are too personal to be easily appreciated (though they are not, as Daiches asserts, "purely personal"). Quantitatively, therefore, the criteria of these artists are inadequate by comparison with more traditional types. But is there sound justification for holding that restricted principles are necessarily inferior qualitatively? I think not. Contrary to
93. For an admirable defense of this intermediate position regarding form and content, see Walter Abell, Representation and Form.