Philosophy and the Arts Lecture 9:

Philosophy and the Arts
Lecture 9:
The Mystery of Creation
• Why, and how, do artists do what they do? Do they have superior
wisdom? Plato referred to an “ancient quarrel” between poets and
philosophers, and decided that, when put to the test, artists were not
• “I took them some of the most elaborate passages in their own
writings, and asked what was the meaning of them - thinking that
they would teach me something. Will you believe me? I am almost
ashamed to speak of this, but still I must say that there is hardly a
person present who would not have talked better about their poetry
than they did themselves. That showed me in an instant that not by
wisdom do poets write poetry, but by a sort of genius and inspiration;
they are like diviners or soothsayers who also say many fine things,
but do not understand the meaning of them”.
• That’s from the Apology, written more than 2000 years ago.
• Vincent Tomas suggested we look at things a different way, but his
results may not be so different.
Hit the rifle range!!
• Suppose you’re in the
Army, and you are
sent out to a rifle
range for weapons
training, with a
sergeant in charge to
teach you. It may be
frivolous of me , but
I’ll give you a choice
of sergeants.
Good Soldier, but…
• The man on the
previous slide was a
good soldier, but I
don’t think he ever
became more than a
• So consider this
handsome chap. At
least, he was a
sergeant for a while.
Maybe this is a better choice..
• The man on the
previous slide has no
weapon, and probably
wouldn’t know how to
use one.
• Oh, the three soldiers
have in common the
fact that I love their
wives—the first in a
different way; she
was my Mother.
What’s the point of all this??
• Rifle-shooting is a paradigm case of a goaldirected purposive activity.
• The shooter knows what he wants to do-hit the
target- and he knows when he has done that,
and when he has failed.
• Finally, if he has failed, he can be told what to do
to get back on target—hold the weapon more
tightly, move the sights 4 clicks left, three clicks
more elevation, and the like.
What about the artist in his
Is the artist so different??
• And the criticism gets worse:
• It will be said the artist also has • “His subjects seem plain, and
his brushstrokes do not convey
a goal-to create a work of art,
any intensity.”
but do we know when he has
done that?
• Is this true? And how can we
prove it? Or can we??
• Some people consider Thomas
Kinkade a great artist, but a
• Yet once more, many people
critic recently wrote:
love Kinkade’s work. Visit my
favorite little town of Salado,
• “Why is Mr. Kinkade
Texas, and find whole galleries
considered a great artist? I find
devoted to his works—and
his pieces to be flat and
they sell!!
without emotional impact”
• Look at just one example…
This is a Kinkade, his
The Mountains Declare His Glory
Mystery and solutions…
• In the end, Tomas seems
to leave us a mystery…
• But Beardsley has an
answer, even several.
• One of the more
interesting is what he
calls the Incept theory.
We could call it the
Inoculation theory, being
inspired is sort of like
getting a shot…
Henry James and The Spoils of
• One of the best-known
accounts of the Incept
theory is the story told by
Henry James, about how
he came to write The
Spoils of Poynton. He
claimed he heard a few
words at a cocktail
party—and he had it!!
The whole plot came to
him in a flash!!
But problems remain…
• For one thing, a study of
James’ notebooks reveal
it didn’t happen that way.
The manuscript
underwent a number of
changes; at one point the
novel had the working
title of The House
• So look for other theories,
various versions of the
so-called Propulsion
• I
• On this theory, the art work is either pushed, by
a powerful emotion, perhaps, or pulled
(Finalistic) to completion. But doesn’t that
assume the work is somehow, there, before it’s
created- and how creative is that??
• Finally, Beardsley settles for something like
gestalt. That is, when we begin a canvas, say,
what we do calls for, or requires, something else
to complement it. It turns out to be a selfcorrective process, controlled by the art work
itself. But how do we know when we’re
Is it all a “Category Mistake??”
• Jack Glickman has a
novel suggestion,
adapted from the British
philosopher, Gilbert
Ryle…maybe there is no
“creative process.”
• ‘Create’ may be a verb
like ‘win.’ We don’t block,
tackle, and win, in the
same sense. Similarly, we
could not paint from 12-2,
sculpt from 2-4, and
create from 4-6.
Is this enough??
• Clearly, this will not satisfy
everyone. It did not satisfy
Nietzsche or Freud, for
• In the end, Plato may have
been right. What the artist, be
he/she poet or painter or
musician, does may be
something divine, and beyond
human knowing.
• Who can really explain a
Rembrandt, a Michelangelo, or
even an Itzhak Perlman??

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