Jacques Barzun

Do The Arts Make Us Better?

Do the Arts make us better? Oxford’s John Carey asked that question in What Good Are The Arts? (2005).  A provocative little book, it rankled readers on both sides of the Atlantic when it appeared. It sank its fangs into a reigning cultural assumption that art’s mission is to improve people.
The belief that art can make people better dates back to classical times. Aristotle taught that music was character-forming and should be introduced into the education of the young. In listening to music, he maintained, “our souls undergo a change.”
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The Conversion of Artists?

The website of the Catholic Artists Society offers an audio download of its sponsored lectures. In return, it asks only for the courtesy of a small voluntary donation. When I went to the site after Gregory Wolfe’s talk, there was an addendum to the donation button. If you preferred prayer to cash, you could make good by saying a decade of the Rosary for the conversion of artists. That codicil is now gone, thank goodness. The conversion of artists. Given the unlovely, preparatory landfill turned out in carloads by MFA programs, it might have seemed a humane objective. Continue Reading
The Responsibility of the Artist

A small gem of a book that artists should have on their shelves is Jacques Maritain’s The Responsibility of the Artist. Together with Jacques Barzun’s The Use and Abuse of Art, it is all anyone needs to think or talk about the artist’s ultimate purpose. Dover keeps Barzun in print. Sadly, it does not do the same for Maritain. But scout around for a used copy. (First published in 1960, there exists also a 1972 edition.) Neglect is owed, most likely, to Maritain’s dual ambition: the pursuit of scholarship and the pursuit of sanctity. Continue Reading
Art & Money

HERE I SIT WITH A HORRID LITTLE BOOK. Well, not so little at 300 pages but definitely unlikeable. Fine Art and High Finance by one Clare McAndrew was published this year by Bloomberg Press [yes, that Bloomberg]. Subtitled Expert Advice on the Economics of Ownership, it is a handbook on the global art trade meant for the financial sector. Dr. McAndrew explains:
The international art market is estimated to have turned over more than $60 billion in total sales of fine and decorative art and antiques in 2008, one of its highest-ever recorded totals.
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