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Reviews387 Serious Art, by John Passmore; 301 pp. LasaUe: Open Court, 1992, $49.95 cloth, $14.95 paper. Can it be that serious art has become submerged by "a wave ofentertainment and telic art"? This, of course, was the fear that motivated the aesthetic movement , and Passmore righdy points out that its response was to produce works that "had no possible value as entertainment and which had to be appreciated as ends in themselves" (p. 13)—works, however, which are now widely regarded as serious art. Passmore's aim is to explore the concept ofserious art in order to see whether we can properly distinguish a class of serious artworks. The word "serious," he tells us, was first applied to the arts in 1901 when George Bernard Shaw used it of certain literary works in order to draw attention to die triviality of the British stage. Since then, however, the word has been used with increasing frequency to describe favored artworks. What sense can we make ofthis usage? A serious work of art, Passmore tells us, may be entertaining and may serve certain purposes, but it will not merely do this. And although the dictionary definition of "serious" seems to capture what is essential to serious art—that it is of importance, is not slight or negligible or trivial (p. 10)—Passmore wants to take matters further than this. He wants to explain what factors make art important and nontrivial. In order to answer these questions, Passmore turns to a range of concepts central to art theory, and tries in separate chapters to distinguish serious art in terms of the imagination, truth, morality, beauty, form, innovation, and emotion. AU of these approaches are found to be limited, pardy because "none of these concepts is pellucid" (p. 291), but also because of the difficulty of generalizing about the arts. Whereas "writers on the philosophy of art" tend to assume that their pronouncements regarding one art "wUl automatically apply to other arts," Passmore prides himselfon an ability to resist this tendency. In the process, he contrives to demonstrate his own, not unimpressive, knowledge and understanding of the arts. And, of course, as almost any philosopher of art might have expected, he reaches the perfecdy acceptable conclusion that there is no one set of conditions that is sufficient in all cases for serious art. Whatis curious about theenterprise is Passmore's seemingly naive assumption that what makes art serious or important must always inhere in the work itself. Litde attention is given to the social parameters of the production of art, and this cuts off one avenue of inquiry that, even if a cul de sac, deserves attention. This, of course, is not to say that Passmore's observations are trite or unilluminating . Quite die contrary. However, they are often polemical. At times they seem designed merely to convey the author's strongly held, but not always well-defended, opinions on a range of art-theoretical issues. There is no mention , let alone discussion, of the major philosophical contributions of the last 388Philosophy and Literature diree decades to the many topics that he discusses, but this, as weU as his dire warnings about the tendency of aestheticians to generalize, does not stop Passmore from generalizing about the state of art theory and the phüosophy of art. In the end, what one gets are Passmore's opinions freshly delivered in a scholarly vaccuum—presumably for the sake of posterity. The book is lively, enjoyable to read, and not at aU dreary. But, as the author warns us in his introduction, it is a book that is not always well informed and is invariably and frustratingly under-referenced. University of Canterbury, New ZealandDavid Novitz Matrix andLine: Derrida andthe Possibilities ofPostmodern Social Theory, by BUl Martin; xii & 255 pp. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992, $49.50 cloth, $16.95 paper. Certainly we are past the time when Derrida—considered alongside the more immediately workable "historicisms" of Foucault, Williams, and their revisionists —was sometimes prematurely dismissed as a merely "hermetic" thinker. In his fine book Matrix and Une, BUI Martin does much to clarify my notion that this is the case. Martin proposes a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 387-388
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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