Thomas Jefferson among the Arts: An Essay in Early American Esthetics

Thomas Jefferson among the Arts: An Essay in Early American Esthetics

Thomas Jefferson among the Arts: An Essay in Early American Esthetics

Thomas Jefferson among the Arts: An Essay in Early American Esthetics

Excerpt

"That Jefferson had no philosophy of art," Dr. Berman sums up her essay, "any more than he had a philosophy, in the professional sense, goes without saying. His writings do not contain a body of knowledge about art organized into a clearly constructed, formal system. His esthetic ideas express in effect a constellation of attitudes which are communicated via hundreds of observations occurring in all sorts of other connections throughout his voluminous writings. And these are heterogeneous. Their formal inconsistencies cannot be counted as they change from one decade to the next in the context of the experiences of that long and active life. Yet they give one the feeling of a certain vital unity, of a continuity. Yet they are condensable into certain principles which may be considered fundamental to their author's personality. To Jefferson art was an integral part of life. He looked upon life's daily round with the eye of a humanist and an empiricist. He believed in reason, in utility, in the reality and significance of matter, in a deistic God who set this matter to his laws, and in a human liberty ordained according to these laws, which are 'the laws of nature and of nature's God'."

Dr. Berman comes to her conclusions after assembling, classifying and collating in a series of somewhat unevenly styled chapters, each of which can stand by itself, all of Jefferson's available observations on painting, sculpture, architecture, gardening, music, oratory, rhetoric and poetry, fiction and letter-writing. There have been many studies of . . .

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