A Theory of Art

A Theory of Art

A Theory of Art

A Theory of Art


This philosophical theory of art, addressed to anyone with a serious interest in the arts, has three main objectives: to shift the focus of aesthetics from the question "What is art?" to the question "What is art for?" to describe the social and historical situation of art today; and to combine aesthetics with poetics and hermeneutics. A distinctive feature of the book is its argument that music exemplifies the current condition of art in a particularly revealing fashion.


Against the art of works of art. --Art is above and before all supposed to beautify life, thus make us ourselves endurable, if possible pleasing to others: with this task in view it restrains us and keeps us within bounds, creates social forms, imposes on the unmannerly rules of decency, cleanliness, politeness, of speaking and staying silent at the proper time. Then, art is supposed to conceal or reinterpret everything ugly, those painful, dreadful, disgusting things which, all efforts notwithstanding, in accord with the origin of human nature again and again insist on breaking forth: it is supposed to do so especially in regard to the passions and psychical fears and torments, and in the case of what is ineluctably or invincibly ugly to let the meaning of the thing shine through. After this great, indeed immense task of art, what is usually termed art, that of the work of art, is merely an appendage.

Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human

a. The Ethical Life

What I have done thus far was to find places for the most basic kinds of works (history, art, science, and philosophy) in the grid of world-types. We know now that both history and art represent worlds, the former actual, the latter fictional ones, and that both science and philosophy argue about the world, the former as it is, the latter as it should be. Thus we know now what these various kinds of works do. The question that still needs to be explored more fully is what their (and in particular, art's) point is, what the value is of their doing what they do.

An initial answer pertaining to all cultural media was suggested at the outset in the section The Media of Culture. I have established there that at bottom we need the media since, in order to know what to desire and what to avoid, we . . .

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