The Theory of the Arts

The Theory of the Arts

FRANCIS EDWARD SPARSHOTT
Copyright Date: 1982
Pages: 726
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7zv5m7
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  • Book Info
    The Theory of the Arts
    Book Description:

    In a systematic overview of classical and modern contributions to aesthetics, Professor Sparshott argues that all four lines of theory, and no others, are necessary to coherent thinking about art.

    Originally published in 1982.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5701-2
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. PREFACE
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-xiii)
  4. LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. xiv-2)
  5. I INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 3-22)

    Art is a simple matter. Consider five objects, all familiar at least by proxy: Leonardo’sMona Lisa, Shakespeare’sHamlet, Beethoven’sEroica, Dante’sDivine Comedy, Michelangelo’sDavid. Each of these is a work of art, if anything is; we would be more surprised if a history of the relevant art left them out than if it included them.¹ Suppose now that you found the experience of looking at, listening to, or reading one of these neither enjoyable nor interesting. You would then feel entitled to say that either you were not up to it (it was beyond you, or was not...

  6. I. ARTS
    • II THE CLASSICAL LINE 1: ARTS
      (pp. 25-57)

      Our study takes its start from some obvious truths about people. Among those truths are these:

      that people spend their lives making things and doing things;

      that they can reflect on what they make and do;

      that they can tell what other people make and do;

      that things can be made and done well or badly;

      that people can tell when something made or done is the same sort of thing, or the very same thing, that was made or done before;

      that conscious skill and knowledge can be brought to the making and doing of things;

      and that such...

    • III THE CLASSICAL LINE 2: ARTS OF DISENGAGED COMMUNICATION
      (pp. 58-101)

      Our business is not with arts in general but with the fine arts—painting, music, and the like. But what is “the like”? It certainly seems simple enough—did we not say at the start that art is a simple matter? We began by singling out works of art as artifacts whose function was to provide worthwhile experiences simply by being cognized. Accordingly, we can define the fine arts as all those arts that produce such objects, differentiating the particular arts by the different methods or different media they use. But there is one thing wrong with this simple solution:...

    • IV THE CLASSICAL LINE 3: ARTS OF BEAUTY
      (pp. 102-136)

      We have seen that any theory that considers the fine arts to be forms of imitative play is obliged to recognize that they are in the first instance arts of beauty: that is, that they are directed toward the production of objects whose primary value is exhausted by the quality of the experience to be obtained in cognitive relation to them, in perceiving, understanding, investigating, contemplating, and so at last or first enjoying them.¹ The function of imitation theory in relation to this initial thesis is to explain why there should be such arts and what special kind of contemplables...

    • V THE CLASSICAL LINE 4: ARTS OF IMAGINATION
      (pp. 137-144)

      The two rival definitions of the fine arts could be unified in the concept ofarts of imagination, were it not that the term “imagination” itself may be equivocal at the crucial point. I say “may be”: the equivocation would be between imagination as the quality of being imaginative, quick to see possibilities to which others are blind and to invent freely, and imagination as the mere human capacity to form mental images and do other things related to but not identical with perception. But whether that is an equivocation or simply the verbal counterpart of a breadth of scope...

    • VI THE CLASSICAL LINE 5: WHAT WORKS OF ART ARE
      (pp. 145-191)

      Once we have adopted a definition of a fine art of the sort given in chapter 4, we can define a work of art as the performance of a practitioner of a fine art in the practice of his art. But although we can do that, we would be ill advised to do so for a number of reasons. In the first place, the status of the definition of a fine art is in some doubt. The fine arts are arts of beauty in the sense indicated, perhaps only because the concept of arts of imitative play proved unmanageable, and...

    • VII THE CLASSICAL LINE 6: WHAT WORKS OF ART ARE LIKE
      (pp. 192-233)

      What different sorts of works of art are there? All sorts. The question is absurd. Classifying works of art seems to be a problem only if one feels that one has to criticize those systems of the arts that philosophers from Plato to Souriau have attempted. But perhaps it is worth saying that the best way to classify works of art is not necessarily by enumerating and classifying arts. Since we define a work of art as a performance considered with respect to its design, the appropriate classification of such works would follow the proper ways of classifying performances and...

    • VIII THE CLASSICAL LINE 7: THE CRITICAL FUNCTION
      (pp. 234-271)

      Our discussion of characterization showed two things. First, certain doubts about how works of art are fitly to be described, and about how descriptions agreed to be fit are properly to be understood, reflect a contestability, a floating quality in designs themselves. Second, discussion of the terminology used in ascribing qualities of works of art must be inconclusive unless it forms part of a more general discussion of the kind of discourse in which it figures. On both accounts, our next move should be to say something about such discourse. The topic certainly seems to be a standard one in...

    • IX THE CLASSICAL LINE 8: THE ARTIST
      (pp. 272-280)

      This can be a short chapter, because it is a mark of the classical line that the artist is no big deal. That line encourages us to define the artist as an artificer, one who produces a certain sort of product. In no other way than in this, the exercise of his functional role, is it implied that he is in any way special. He is defined solely by his having the ability to produce works of art, or works in one of the fine arts, and by his actually using this ability. Thus, a painter is simply one who...

  7. II. ART
    • X THE IDEA OF ART
      (pp. 283-302)

      The way of thinking about artists and their arts and works that has hitherto occupied us, and the explication of which we have now ended, has some claim to be considered normal. What it is based on and articulates are the irreducible and ineluctable facts of practice and institution, and even of history, with which any theory of art must deal. It is because institutions, objects, and practices exist to which what we have said is immediately and evidently appropriate that there is a theory of art. What leads us to say that art exists is, ultimately, the fact that...

    • XI THE EXPRESSIVE LINE 1: ART AS EXPRESSION
      (pp. 303-345)

      Of all those alternatives to the classical line that find their natural expression in speaking of “art” as a single significant entity rather than of “arts” or “the fine arts,” by far the most influential and widespread has been what I here call the expressive line. Not only was this approach the one generally taken by theorists of art in the early decades of this century, but more recently, as the entrenched doctrine, it was what theorists conscious of their originality felt they had to present themselves as combating.

      What I mean by “the expressive line” is the various developments...

    • XII THE EXPRESSIVE LINE 2: ARTS, WORKS, ARTISTS
      (pp. 346-370)

      The standard form of the expressive line holds not only that all art is expression but that all expression is art. If, having established that expression is a fundamentally significant form of mental activity, we then concede that art is a special case of expression, we need a separate argument to establish that its specialness does not lie in its being marginal or trivial. But if what makes it special is not its triviality but the kind of importance it has, then the philosophy of art is the theory of that kind of importance and not the expressive line as...

    • XIII THE MYSTIC LINE
      (pp. 371-413)

      At the beginning of chapter 10, I recapitulated the story of how the observed or imputed likenesses of certain practices generate the idea that those practices are variations of a single practice, that of the fine arts, and how that notion in turn generates the concept of art as what animates that practice. Once isolated for inspection, the concept of art gives rise to a new spirit of practice: “art for art’s sake,” a devotion to the production of objects that cannot be mistaken for anything other than objects for contemplation because they are conspicuously divorced from the service of...

    • XIV THE PURIST LINE
      (pp. 414-455)

      Let us review our progress once more and see what remains to be done. The classical line derives the notion of the fine arts, and the more general idea of art based on that notion, from the emphasized affinities of certain bodies of skilled practice. These arts specialize in the production in this or that medium of suitable objects for absorbed contemplation, and may be alternatively thought of as arts of representation, presenting and interpreting the world or an alternative world in image; as arts of expression, presenting and communicating the artist’s vision and hence his feeling; or simply as...

  8. XV CONCLUSION
    (pp. 456-464)

    I have contended that if we wish to think sensibly about that area of human concern toward which the word “art” gestures, it is futile to take our start from the properties of works of art conceived as objects that confront us as alien. Our theorizing will indeed center on works of art, which are the focus of our practical concern and for which, in most views, everything else in art exists—for though the artist is better than his works, it is for their sake that he is an artist—but our thinking becomes incoherent unless we think of...

  9. APPENDIXES
  10. NOTES
    (pp. 503-684)
  11. BIBLIOGRAPHIC KEY TO WORKS CITED
    (pp. 685-712)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 713-726)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 727-727)