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8/15/01

   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 --