Friday, 15 August 2008

What Good Are The Arts? - John Carey

This is a genuine piece of iconoclasm and a book that should be a set text on every arts course in the country. It is a refreshing, no-nonsense, easy to read discussion that defines art, explores what it is and what it is not good for, and demolishes a great deal aesthetic theory from Kant onwards. Furthermore, Carey puts the case for why he believes literature to be better than other arts (because of its ability to be critical of the world and of itself).

In a sense, this was a book preaching to the converted. I have long held that the case(s) for art as a kind of superior aspect of human existence, the appreciation of which is open only to an elite are spurious if not downright malicious. They consider certain works of art to be more important than people, as having innate value; they consider some people to be more important than others simply because of their taste.

This has always struck me as bordering on fascistic, but I have never been able to articulate my arguments. Carey’s book has given me a good base from which I can explore further. I don’t have to rant any more and ask questions. I can now begin to articulate in coherent form what has always been a gut feeling.

Carey says at the end of this edition that a number of people have told him how liberating they found the book. That it gave them permission to like what they liked without feeling inferior about it. In that alone it has provided a great service. Yet it does so much more in an articulate and passionate way that gives you some hope for the future of the arts in general and writing in particular.