One of the questions that jumped out at me from the Perl lectures was the
notion of a definition of art. It seems that people like William Carlos
Williams took a very general view of the question of "what is art?". Recall
the Williams' quote, "There is nothing sacred about literature. It is damned
from one end to the other. There is nothing in literature but change, and
change is mockery. I'll write whatever I damn please, whenever I damn please,
and as I damn please, and it will be good if the authentic spirit of change
is on it." The notion that art must have a very broad definition seems
echoed in Williams' line, "Better than to deprive birds of their song, to
call them all nightingales." In his poem "The Red Wheelbarrow", Williams
calls our attention not to nightingales but rather to "white chickens".
On the other hand, people like Eliot had 'standards' for art. As Perl said
(referring to the Williams' quote about nightingales), "I think you're now in
a position to understand that that sentence is a Paleo-Modernist's nightmare.
What Eliot or Pound or Yates or James or D.H. Lawrence most feared was that
the attempt to reconcile high culture with egalitarian or democratic ethics
would cause us to accept as art things that were NOT art; would cause us to
accept that all birds are nightingales. Some of them are chickens."
I am very suspicious of some 'authority' deciding what is and what is not
art, but, at the same time, I am sympathetic to the view that not EVRYTHING
is art. What do the scholars have to say about the existence of artistic
standards in art and literature? What is the current thinking about the
question of "what is art?".
-- Steve --