Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

SOME simply fascinating art students from Leeds University, having no idea what art is, decided to `make a statement' about it by taking a holiday in Scarborough. One would have thought it was easier just to make a statement, but possibly they cannot write. Greeks and Romans, knowing full well that art was rather hard work, would have spotted this collection of no-hopers at a thousand paces.

The nearest Greeks got to a word for 'art' was tekhne (cf. 'technical'), which Aristotle defined as `the trained ability to produce something under the guidance of rational thought'. In the ancient world, the artist was on the same level as our doctor or car mechanic - someone whose purpose it was to serve the public to the best of their technical capacity. So the idea that the artist was someone before whom one grovelled in drooling adulation would have struck the ancients as absurd. The Greek man of letters Plutarch (c. AD 50-120) hit the nail on the head: `No one of good breeding or high ideals feels that they must be an artist after seeing the work of Pheidias, or a poet because they get so much pleasure out of poetry. It does not follow that, because a particular work of art succeeds in charming us, its creator also deserves our admiration. …

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