A theory of art: inexhaustibility by contrast by Stephen David Ross

By Stephen David Ross

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A work of art is a novel being, not simply an appearance of another reality. Derivative though it may be in some respects, a work is unique in other respects. It is not necessary, as Northrop Frye seems to suggest, that literature be an autonomous reality in order to deny its wholly derivative character. "2 Starting from a mimetic theory, Frye can break away only by bifurcation. " Objects imitated or symbolized, feelings expressed, if they are essential to the nature and value of a work of art, make it little in itself.

We lack even a rudimentary understanding of art in generals though we possess remarkable insights into individual works and periods. Yet given the variety of works, styles, and arts, it is not surprising that we have no adequate general theory of art, for every such theory is dissipated into new forms and developments in artistic production. It is worth noting in addition that however profound and incisive our understanding of masterpieces of art, they transcend every particular knowing, every particular experience.

The opposition as described is very crude, and a natural conclusion is that neither rightness nor richness alone is a supreme artistic value, but that a greater value lies in their combination. Yet the difficulties posed for each alternative by twentieth-century art are not resolved in their conjunction. Many important works are skewed, distorted, unbalanced, and unharmonious, especially works of literature: Kafka's Metamorphosis, Joyce's Finnegans Wake. Other works are greatly oversimplified, minimalistic, impoverished in their range of considerations, especially in the visual arts: works by Rothko and Brancusi.

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