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8/19/01

Pat,

   I found your latest post helpful and you brought up important points that 
I'd like to further comment on. 

   Towards the end of the post you make a statement that I basically agree 
with:
> I personally think anyone who wants to know
> what art is ought to make an effort to look at
> a lot of art. Those people who do this turn to
> different and more specific kinds of questions,
> like "how do Japanese vases differ from Korean vases?" 

This answer recognizes that, in part, appreciation of art may be an "acquired 
taste", that is, it is only after some education that some art may be 
appreciated. I know this answer will offend some people who believe that art 
is whatever their personal instantaneous reaction says it is (Jon Rouse, the 
other day, called this "individual whimsy"). But ultimately, I still think 
you are right. Last year my son repeatedly told me he found all paintings and 
sculptures boring (this was during a discussion of how much he loved music). 
Then he took a  European history course that included studying the art of 
various time periods. He became a convert and now greatly enjoys art. He was 
in Paris this summer and said his favorite place was the Louve, which would 
have been his LEAST favorite tour stop last year. So tastes change, 
especially as one learns more.  I also agree that as one learns more, you 
begin to ask more specific questions like "how do Japanese vases differ from 
Korean vases?". 

  I think the issues that I'm trying get clear in my own mind are best 
illustrated by an earlier part of your post:

> It's not much different from inviting a friend for dinner
> and knowing that what the friend would regard as
> a great dinner isn't necessarily what one would choose
> for one's self. I personally think it's not especially helpful
> to ask what the "real standards" are for a good dinner. 

Isn't this just what the Classic Modernists were trying to do? Perl said, 
"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".  Pat, in the terms 
of your example, isn't this like saying, "What Eliot or Pound or Yates or 
James or D.H. Lawrence most feared was that our lack of 'properly 
discriminating taste buds' would cause us to accept as 'good dinners' meals 
that were NOT good dinners."  In other words, I think Perl is saying the 
Classic Modernists were willing to tag things as "not art", just as a chef 
from a five-star hotel would declare a fast-food restaurant as serving "not 
good dinners". 

If all that is meant by declaring something 'not art' is "I personally don't 
think this is art (or a 'good dinner')", then I have no problem figuring out 
what they meant (They are simply expressing personal preference). But I have 
the feeling they mean (or, at least, they WANT to meant) much more: that they 
are trying to say that is it important for there to be AGREEMENT with THEIR 
view of what is "not art". For if 'agreement' is not important, why would 
Perl say "What Eliot or Pound or Yates or James or D.H. Lawrence most FEARED 
was. . . ". Isn't the basis of the FEAR that some aesthetic standard other 
than theirs would become the prevailing view in the general population? And 
didn't they regard this event, if it were to come to pass, as a "cultural 
decline"?  The very phrasing of the term "cultural decline" implies a 
judgmental attitude that I'm struggling to understand.  

You wrote:
> the fact that there are no absolute standards for beauty
> does not mean "it's impossible to judge," although
> time and again people tie themselves up in that knot.

This is the heart of the matter. While Eliot appears to be a philosophical 
Relativist (at least, this is what Perl argues for when analyzing Eliot's 
Ph.D. thesis), it seems, in fact, he had very specific aesthetic standards 
and furthermore believed that if THOSE standards were not generally accepted, 
it would result in a "cultural decline". This seems to me to be an Absolutist 
position. Do you think this was TSE's position and, if so, is it defensible?

-- Steve --