What art does

guillotineThe “Notable & Quotable” feature in today’s Wall Street Journal consists of a lengthy excerpt from my remarks on receiving the Bradley Prize last week in Washington:

In addition to giving comfort and joy, art also has the miraculous ability to let us live in other men’s skins, to test our perceptions and beliefs against theirs, and perhaps to be changed as a result. It does this by portraying the world creatively, heightening our perception and enriching our understanding of things as they are. Art makes sense of life.

To strive toward so noble a goal, the artist must first of all be able to tell the truth as he sees it about the world he sees around him. That task can only be pursued to the fullest degree under the aspect of freedom. Where there is no freedom, there is no art, save at the risk of the artist’s neck. And this freedom includes, among many other things, freedom from the paralyzing obligation to persuade.

The artist whose chief goal is not to make everything more beautiful but to enlist his audience in a cause—no matter what that cause may be—is rarely if ever prepared to tell the whole truth and nothing but. He replaces the true complexity of the world with the false simplicity of the ideologue. He alters reality not to make everything more beautiful, but to stack the deck.

This is what Oscar Wilde meant when he said that no artist ever tries to prove anything, though I’d put it another way. Great art doesn’t tell—it shows. And this act of showing is itself a moral act, a commitment to reality….

To read the entire speech, go here.

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Lookback: the (un)importance of being an art collector

LOOKBACKFrom 2004:

Few biographers and fewer critics long outlive their own time, and I doubt I’ll be one of them. More likely I will go down in history as the first known owner of Hart-Davis 631, and in 2104 some art historian specializing in the Edwardian era will click on that entry in a computerized catalogue raisonné, scratch his head, and say, “Who was that fellow with the odd name? Did it ever occur to him that the only thing he’d be remembered for was having owned a Max Beerbohm caricature and edited an H.L. Mencken anthology?” Indeed it did–and let it be said, if not necessarily remembered, that the prospect made me smile.

Read the whole thing here.

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Almanac: John P. Marquand on chance

INK BOTTLE“Jeffrey supposed that all married people must have shared some such moment of their own, for he had heard many of them speak of something like it with a sort of faraway affection. ‘We met in the strangest way,’ they would say. ‘It was in front of the Information Desk at Grand Central.’ They met on boats, they met at hotels, or someone introduced them. After all, they had to meet somewhere. They must have remembered it so clearly because it was the one time that human beings ever realized how greatly a fortuitous circumstance could change a life.”

John P. Marquand, So Little Time

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