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Retrospect On Cultivating Moral Taste Brad ). Kallenberg Suppose that I wanted to convince you that Rembrandt was the world's greatest painter. How might I go about accomplishing this? I might begin by teaching you a theory of aesthetics. Once you had mastered this theory you would be capable of following my "proof" of Rembrandt's superiority. Of course, if you were a bright student, you might ask what makes this theory of aesthetics prefer­ able to others. In that case, I would be forced to retrace my steps, teach you many theories of aesthetics, prove the superiority of my theory of aesthetics, and only then get on with the business of demonstrating what makes Rembrandt history's premier painter. Undaunted, you might challenge the very grounds on which I built my case for my particular theory of aesthetics which supports secondarily my conclusion that Rembrandt is the greatest painter. And so on. This strategy doesn't look very promising, does it? The scenario could be made all the more ridiculous if we supposed that I just happen to be a world­ class art critic who has made the study of Rembrandt my life's work and you . . . well, let's just say that you are "culturally challenged" - along the lines of someone who hankers after Elvis on black velvet. Now the case of theoriz­ ing about great art is quite beside the point; you simply have poor taste. Before we can discuss "greatness" in art, you must first cultivate your sensibilities. This requires a very different strategy. Suppose that, instead of teaching you a theory of aesthetics, I begin by taking you to the Hermitage in St. Petersburg where you confront, firsthand, Rem­ brandt's enormous (eight feet by six feet) painting "The Return of the Prodigal Son." When I ask you what you like about this painting, you say (pointing) that you're quite taken by the color of that individual's eye and think you will paint your walls back home just that shade. In response, I simply raise the question of whether a color might be what it is because of its relation to the rest of a paint­ ing. Not waiting for you to finish processing this suggestion, I go on to describe the details of the painting - ranging from the obvious (one of the prodigal's sandals is off) to the more subtle (the face of the prodigal has the shape and texture of a just-born infant) - which, save for my pointing them out, would have been lost on you. Perhaps then I begin to draw your attention to the artistic conventions (such as the play of light and shadows) that distinguish paintings 3 6 1 3 62 Brad }. Kallenberg from photographs. I proceed to describe details of Rembrandt's own life that may have influenced which character he identified with or the manner in which he read the biblical text behind the painting. Now suppose, after all this, I then asked you for an evaluation of Rembrandt and you say: "Well, I know what I like when I see it, and, to be frank, this just doesn't do anything for me." My next move would be to place you in front of another Rembrandt, and while I make similar descriptions as I did with the first painting, I askyou to make comparisons between the two paintings for me. After repeating this exercise with several (many?) Rembrandt pieces I finally stand you before a work by an artist of an entirely different sort, say Monet, and ask your opinion of it. It is not inconceivable that at this point you might say, "I don't know if Rembrandt is great art, but that (pointing to the Monet) is plainly bad art. Just look at how washed out the colors are! I prefer Rembrandt." At that moment, I've scored a minor victory. For I would have succeeded in moving you from ambivalence with respect to Rembrandt to using Rembrandt as the benchmark against which you measure all other paintings. Your artistic sensibilities may still be primitive (after all, you are disgusted by Monet!), yet you have begun to develop a taste for Rembrandt - albeit not without a price. The hours we have spent together in museums have been an expenditure of energy, as well as time, in your struggle to see what I see. I want to suggest that the practice of moral reasoning, or ethics, requires the same sort of tutored...


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