THE ART OF ART WORKS
Volume 11 Number 1.
Aesthetics, for all the tidiness, even fussiness of the image it conveys, is much the most untended plot of the domain of philosophy. No one quite knows what plants grow there, and few care. Consequently, the appearance of a gardener is always a welcome sight, whatever his purpose, whatever instruments he brings with him. When it turns out the gardener is Canadian, the cause for celebration is magnified.
Cyril Welch, a professor of philosophy at Mount Allison University, has produced, in The Art of Art Works, a major piece of Canadian aesthetic husbandry. It is careful trimming that he gives to the foliage, one guided by concern for origins, for place, for the earth, for fitness.
The Art of Art Works is dense reading. It requires of the reader more than casual acquaintance with the classics and of some central positions in aesthetics. It also requires more than tolerance of the Platonic-Aristotelean view of reality, which may prove difficult for readers trained by a different viewpoint.
It is not revelatory, by any means. There is no way in which its words will help readers or gallery-goers move easier through the stuff of a work of art. The few instances that illustrate the author's argument—Chartres, VanGogh's "Starry Night," Homer, and Pindar—serve chiefly to emphasize the substance of hereness, of sanctified place, of what Welch calls "thinghood." The Art of Art Works is a passionate book; its author asserts quite early that "Only in art works do life, ideation, and heritage genuinely 'come out' for what they are—'in the raw,' as it were." In three closely-reasoned chapters he argues the necessity of labour, conversion, and community for restoring art to a central position in society.
One of Cyril Welch's mentors is Henry Adams, the author of Mont Saint-Michel and Chartres, arguably the greatest work of aesthetic mysticism in the English language. It is possible The Art of Art Works is intended to put its readers into the art it discusses in just such a fashion as Adams quite magically managed.
Yet, if he leaves us outside, as he often does, the fault may be not in his language (he is no Adams) but in his argument, which, assigning knowledge, truth,, and beauty to transcendental preserves of being immune to sensation, remains as intractable as it was when Plato first enunciated it.
Nonetheless, it is pleasant to see a good gardener at work.
James E. Simpson, Edmonton Public School Board, Edmontcn, AB.
1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995
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