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The Theory of the Arts, by Francis Sparshott; xiii & 726 pp. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982, $45.00 (cloth), $16.50 (paper). Discussed by Arnold Berleant " TTĀ» arth is a dead rock, rolled away, / Offering up to the illiterate sun / the J_L/unread name." So, on a note of mystery, ends one of Francis Sparshotfs recent poems, "The Cave of Trophonius." Indeed, die philosophic search seems burdened with this difficulty. Yet despite the fact tiiat "There are mysteries, it seems, and mysteries," like his Socrates in "At a Later Symposium," Sparshott has returned to ask hard questions. But where the poet may be diffident, die philosopher is not, and Sparshott, one of die eminent figures in modern aesthetics, proposes much in this important new book. The Theory of the Arts is a major undertaking, monumental in scope and massive in detail. In it Sparshott expounds a general theory of art, one in which other theories find dieir more limited place. His intent is to recast the history of the philosophy of art into a rational order, developing the logical relations among the many concepts and theories that have emerged during its two and a half millennia. This is no pedantic exercise, and not only for reasons of rich scholarship and novel observations. Art has its connections to immediate as well as perennial human concerns, and any satisfactory account of art must illuminate these relationships. Thus the main theoretical strand around which odier accounts are woven is what Sparshott terms "the classical line," the "normal" theory of art which has its origins in the thought ofPlato and is generated out of the rich but difficult notion of mimesis or likeness-making. Yet the classical line with its connections to the human world and its emphasis on skill is incomplete and inadequate alone, and Sparshott identifies other theoretical strands: the poetic line which sees in art the creation of new realities, the expressive line in which art gives utterance to unanalyzable intuitions, the mystic line which dismisses die contemplative cast of the normal theory and sees art as relating us 279 280Philosophy and Literature to the fundamental realities underlying the universe, and finally the purist line, which stresses the removal of art from practical uses. As an appendage to diese Sparshott offers brief treatment of a number of ideas, each of which for some other philosophers constitutes the main term. These include aesdietic attitude, experience, emotion, qualities, judgment, perception, object, and the like. Taken togetiier these discussions constitute the most comprehensive treatment of the theory of art to have appeared in decades. Now it was one of the happy events of history that the classical Greeks achieved a rare combination of observation and speculation, a balance that led to die discovery of so many seminal ideas in science, religion, politics, and philosophy . Nowhere was this combination developed to a more sophisticated and systematic degree than in the work of Aristotle, where the empirical and theoretical join in a rich relation. The same fine balance of die imaginative and the concrete was never attained in later periods, and die modern age in particular has erred in one extreme or the other, the last century in excess of speculation, our own in the empirical extreme. It is, then, both unusual and welcome that Sparshott recognizes this achievement of the genius of Greek philosophy. His full and careful elaboration of the classical line assigns the arts no esoteric condition. It rather affirms tiieir origins and many connections with social life. Sparshott develops die theory of imitation with its various contingencies and implications in an expansive manner. Originally a more general tiieory, imitation when confined to the fine arts embodies playful uses in three modes, including expression and form in addition to likeness-making. Sparshott pursues imitation as it is refined in the fine arts to mean arts ofbeauty to delight the eye and ear. He examines its relation to imagination, proposing diat the fine arts be considered "arts of the imagination," and he explores the primacy the classical line gives to the work of art. There are, too, the critical function, including interpretation and evaluation, and the artist, ofwhom is demanded both repeatable skill and unique...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 279-284
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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