Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Santayana, George. the Life of Reason: Reason in Art

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Santayana, George. the Life of Reason: Reason in Art

Article excerpt

SANTAYANA, George. The Life of Reason: Reason in Art. Critical edition: Edited by M. S. Wokeck and M. A. Coleman. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 2015. lvi + 276 pp.--The Life of Reason is Volume VII, Book Four, of the Collected Works of George Santayana. Professor James Gouinlock of Emory University provides an insightful introduction to this volume. Santayana may be a master of the English language, but he is demanding of the reader, given the vast learning and experience he draws upon and his often poetic and somewhat oblique way of expressing his judgments. "Arts," he tells us early on, "are instincts bred and reared in the open, creative habits acquired in the light of reason.... There is a painful pregnancy in genius, a long incubation and waiting for the spirit ... [and] what is ordinarily produced is so base a hybrid, so lame and ridiculous." But that is not final.

The artist, Santayana believes, is in many ways like a child. "The child seems happy because his life is spontaneous, yet he is not competent to secure his own good. To be truly happy he must be well bred, reared from the cradle, as it were, under propitious influences so that he may learn to love what conduces to his development." The artist's art will expand as his understanding ripens.

The ideal artist, like the ideal philosopher, has all time and all existence, "being," some might say, for his sources. Momentous themes beckon. A child plans Towers of Babel, but a mature architect cannot disregard gravity and economy, nor can he ignore a natural order, the way things really are. "The conditions of existence, after they are known and accepted, become conditions for the only pertinent beauty." Santayana has no patience with the irrational. Happy results can be secured in art, as in life, only by intelligence. The artist need not go afield in search of the exotic. Poetic beauty can be found in the world whenever it attains some unfeigned harmony with sense or with reason. Art supplies to contemplation what nature seldom affords in concrete experience--the union of life and peace.

Without mentioning his target, Santayana writes, "The man who would emancipate art from discipline and reason is trying to exclude rationality, not merely in art, but in all existence. …

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