The essay “what is art” is taken from the volume “essays on life” by Clutton Brock and was first published in the form of an article in the ‘times literary’ supplement of January 1924.
“Everyone now is thinking or talking about the nature of art and aesthetic experience” .clutton-brock begins his essay by stating the popular subject of discussion.
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This subject; the nature of art and of beauty is simultaneously confusing as well as thrilling .the problem about the nature of art and aesthetic sense is so confusing that it is hard to pinpoint what the actual problem really is. The only thing clear about it is that it is novel and new. Art, in the past, was always considered inferior to what is reflected. Tolstoy in his book “what is art?”, even though he himself saw the importance of art reduced art to absurdity and valued it in terms of other things and not for itself. That art had not the right to exist for itself, that it should be judged and valued not for itself but for other subsidiary effects whether political, social, or moral. Such a conception reduces art to nothing and this conception is the opposite of what art truly is.
Shelly in his work “defence of poetry” considered art to be judged by the ethical and intellectual benefits it showered upon mankind. Jonson spoke uncompromisingly on the nature of art. Dr. Jonson regretted the loss of a proposed epic by Dryden because it led to the deprivation of the social and moral edification of mankind .what Jonson meant was that art’s function was to socially improve and morally rectify the viewer, reader or observer of the work of art. Clutton Brock opposes this view and says on the contrary if a piece of art is lost today its loss would be mourned not for the values it could or would impart but rather it would be mourned for the loss of art itself.
However, Jonson thought as he did of art because he already had preconceived notions about art and had not examined art carefully to see the nature it. If Jonson had done so, he would have seen that art in truth is never valued for moral or ethical or cultural values but for itself. For Jonson, himself would not have read poetry for the stated objects. had he done so then it would have no longer been poetry?
Ever since art evolved man has valued art form itself, without actually knowing it, for men still look for reasons as to why they should value art, even when one finally discovers that art is to be valued for itself, one is ‘puzzled’ by the discovery.
The actual enjoyment of art comes from the experience of viewing art or experiencing art. This enjoyment should be spontaneous and felt in the moment. However, most people try and experience art with a preconceived notion as to how they should enjoy it. So in a way when people view the art they do not feel the actual beauty of it but experience what they ‘think’ the beauty of art is. and in their minds, there is always a conflict between what art really is and what they think it is. Paradoxically to enjoy art one must consciously ‘not think’ about art and if no effort is put one unconsciously begins to think about art.
The baffling and interesting problem about the nature of art is that each individual while viewing art expects art to have an effect on one’s behaviour. human nature is such that every action is a response to some external stimulus that is received.. and one believes each action to be in connection with the future.
Then there are those people who are ‘laboriously on their guard ‘ to try and not to value art for moral appeal yet they are still prone to praise art because it tells the truth about life. This concept is completely off the track or mark. People in calling art true are simply forgetting what they are experiencing and only thinking of the effect of a work of art on their future, other people believe they can learn from a work of art and again praise art for what is learnt. if something is indeed learnt from art it would be by chance and accident, for the primary purpose of art is not to teach but to move. One does not value art for the purpose of knowledge nor is one truly disappointed when one learns nothing from it.
The essence of aesthetic experience is that it disconnects one form both the past and the future, it frees the viewer ..for when art is observed one neither lives in ‘have been or will be ‘s ‘ but rather in the now. even if this only for a moment one is free from all chains, visible and invisible, thus art can be recognized by its power of giving freely.
The forms art comes in is diverse .. it could deal with sorrow, joy both or neither, it could present a solution or a problem, however, the essence of art is that it frees the individual. But as soon as the experience is over one’s thoughts are bound again and one reverts to one’s original way of thinking. Exactly due to this reason, one again tends to be confused about the nature of art. What one is during the experience of art one was not before and will not be after. The artist himself would not be as he was while he was creating his work.. and thus himself falls into the trap of viewing art in terms of something else. He does not, he cannot remember that while he was creating art he was free from all things even from time.
There fore if indeed one wants to truly realize ..as Clutton Brock says s it should be perceived through the nature of art. For if there were to be heaven it would, give one the life one has now but without past, the future, without necessity, without fear, without anxiety. and this is what art gives unto man ..endless freedom contained in a single moment.
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