Golden Artistry



Much of the argument on this subject is of the type ‘I feel this’; ‘No, I don’t’. We must face the fact that respectable human beings approach the arts with widely differing predispositions. The less pure an art is, the less likely is it that those who have the misfortune not to be gifted with the organ necessary for its specific appreciation will be aware of their lack. The tone-deaf man realized that instrumental music has nothing to say to him, generally without accusing those who enjoy it of self-deception. The man with no aesthetic sense is more likely to think he appreciates painting, though his preferences and his reactions are likely to reveal the extent to which his approach is literary. But with literature the distinction is still more obscured, and disagreement therefore liable to be more heated. A contrast partly relevant here was pointed in a trenchant, if exaggerated, way by Rémy de Gourmont:

To the reader who draws his emotions from the very substance of what he reads is opposed the reader who only feels what he reads to the extent that he can apply it to his own life, to his griefs, to his hopes. He who enjoys the literary beauty of a sermon by Bossuet cannot be touched by it religiously, and he who weeps for the death of Ophelia has no aesthetic sense. These two parallel categories of writers and readers constitute the two great types of cultivated humanity. In spite of shades and overlappings, no understanding is possible between them. They despise each other, for they do not understand each other. Their animosity extends in two wide, sometimes subterranean, streams through literary history. (Style, 1902. Tr. R. Aldington, Selections, pp. 104–105)obamalisa1

I have often quoted in this Part writers who have shown by their attitude that they find euphony and expressiveness to be important for their appreciation of literature. I have done this at the risk of being accused of merely using scissors and paste, instead of simply giving my own experience and opinion, because this is a matter of feeling rather than argument, so that one needs the support of a crowd of witnesses. The arguments, indeed, are mostly on the other side, such as they are. But do they weigh much against the avowed intentions of so many poets and the strong apperceptions of so many readers, in widely different lands throughout two and a half millennia? Let us test similar arguments in another sphere. A woman may appear beautiful to one man, but not ot another; she may attract a number of men who nevertheless allege different reasons for their feeling; she may be generally admired in England, but unnoticed in Pekin; a slight accident to an eye or an operation on her nose may completely destroy her charm. But should we for such reasons deny the reality or the importance of feminine beauty?

L.P. Wilkinson, Golden Latin Artistry (1963)


It is not enough simply to say de gustibus non disputandum est; no astronomer worth listening to will ignore the dark things and forces to whose existence his whole experience and experiment testifies, though he be not now able—perhaps never able—to measure them, nor shall we fail to hear the voice of the heart in that moment when it begins to speak, before the interposition of ideology by the stupid brain, which seeks to protect the process of its own fossilization from the painful stretching of exercise.Botero-Mona_Lisa

The mind is alive, yes, but like all living things, it wants to die, to be at rest. The impulse of beauty through the heart is the god-given stimulus that elevates the human spirit from its animal entropy. We pronounce a man dead not when his brain, but when his heart stops. The fluttering of the heart is the breath of life.


Thanks, dear reader, should you ever find me, for being my gadfly, even if we despise each other, since we cannot understand each other.


About philokalos

Philologist, historian, and lover of great books, I started this blog to keep myself alert to the beauty of what I see amid the demands of my work.
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