Category Archives: philosophy / theory of art

Through the Sapphire Sky: Alike in composition, unlike in meaning

A long time ago now (it seems), in our Reading group we discussed dragons as possibly universal archetypes and their different meanings in Western and Eastern cultures/literatures. Well English Lady Blogger Through the Sapphire Sky has written a very interesting and colourful post on this very subject. Please consider, “Alike in composition, unlike in meaning”:

When I saw this beautiful painting by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696–1770) on Aputsiaq ‘s blog, I doubted if the lady riding or standing on the dragon was really the Virgin Mary. I at first thought that She can’t have ridden such a creature by any means, for as far as I know, dragons have always been considered evil beings in the West. However, because of the title of the painting, The Immaculate Conception, I reconsidered and I came to believe that the lady must be Mary.

I could not understand why she rode or stood on the dragon for a long time. The painting remained a mystery for months. Recently, I realized that I had been completely mistaken by reading some articles about Marian Art and some Biblical passages and I finally figured out what this piece means. She is not riding or just standing on the dragon but instead she is stamping it down and triumphing over the creature, which is a metaphor for the devil.

via Through the Sapphire Sky: Alike in composition, unlike in meaning.

Aristotle’s Poetics

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In the movie Shadowlands, there are a couple of scenes showing C.S. Lewis, professor of Medieval and Renaissance English Literature, teaching some tutorials. (The movie shows Lewis teaching in Oxford; he was first a professor at Oxford, then moved to Cambridge University, which is where he was teaching when he met Joy Gresham, although he continued to live in Oxford until the end of his life.)

In the first tutorial scene, Lewis is talking about the Romance of the Rose. He then notices one of his students is asleep, and, perhaps like the viewer and the other students, he wonders why. This reminds him of Aristotle’s theories on literature, especially theatre or drama, because Aristotle would have said that the question to ask, as a writer of literature, is not “why is the student sleeping?” but “what will he do next?” In other words, he is using the occasion to teach.

One of our participants (thank you, Katsuyo!) kindly found a summary in Japanese of Aristotle’s Poetics, which help explain what Lewis was talking about:






I think the Japanese summary which refers to Aristotle’s ideas mentioned in the Shadowlands movie is this part (scroll down to Section 6):



I don’t think these ideas are all that important to the movie, however. The scene is just an example of an Oxford professor teaching a tutorial. Also, it shows Mr. Whistler sleeping. Mr. Whistler is a small sub-plot in the story. What is the purpose of this little sub-story, do you think?

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CS Lewis and the reductionists

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A reader sent me this comment:

someone said that rose represents a woman and worm that eats rose is a man, and I had similar idea at that time I remember. Now I notice that ideas of Freud has influenced on people’s consciousness much more than we expect and it became like common sense.

I mentioned a lecture that C.S. Lewis gave in 1942 concerning psycho-analysis and the ideas of Freud. Lewis had read Freud. He disagreed with Freudian psycho-analysis of literature. Specifically, he disagreed with the idea that everything in literature, as in dreams, has a sexual meaning. He agreed that the sexual meaning is part of the literary meaning; but only part of it, not the whole thing. In addition, the psycho-analytic view can hide the

Reductionism is the term often used to describe the psychoanalysis that Lewis was arguing against: the idea that, for example, a garden in a story only means the female body, that it has no further meaning or value.

Other writers and thinkers have also argued strongly against reductionism: Ayn Rand was one. In Atlas Shrugged, a character called the Wet Nurse is someone who has been educated in the ideas of reductionism: that the human being is only a bundle of cells and chemicals, and that human life, therefore, has little or no meaning (to quote Shakespeare, “It is a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing”). Through working and talking with Hank Rearden, the Wet Nurse comes to understand that a human being is so much more than that. Rand expressed herself angrily in other writing, too, about the terrible effect such ideas can have on young people, when their minds, ideas and values are still forming.

If the commenter is correct and Freudian ideas have become accepted as “common sense”, then perhaps the reductionist ideas have also become accepted, without examination. As Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” 吟味されざる生に、生きる価値なし。

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Session #18 November 25th, 2009: A Sense of Place

Today’s session will be on a Sense of Place, and the text will be an extract from British author Martin Amis’ book,  ” Money” (1984). I will bring Japanese translations of the extract.

The discussion will briefly include Romanticism and the Realism movement which followed it.

Session #19 will be next week, December 2nd, from 3:30 – 5:30.

P.S. You can listen here to an interview with Martin Amis discussing his book “Money” on the BBC (recorded 2002).

A few Ayn Rand quotes on art

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Thanks for your comments. As usual, Rand seems to have stimulated your brains!

Here are a few short quotes from Ayn Rand’s “Romantic Manifesto“. (Signet Centennial edition 1975).

As man is a being of self-made wealth, so he is a being of self-made soul.” (p. 169, quoted from “Atlas Shrugged“).

Art is the technology of the soul. (p. 169)

art does not teach – it shows (p. 169)

Art gives [man] the experience of seeing the full, immediate, concrete reality of his distant goals.

Art – the integrator of metaphysics, the concretizer of man’s widest abstractions (p. 124)

not a theoretical principle, not a didactic “message”, but the life-giving fact of experiencing a moment of metaphysical joy – a moment of love for existence. (p. 170)

a beacon raised over the dark crossroads of the world, saying: “This is possible!”

Where… can a child learn the concept of moral values and of a moral character in whose image he will shape his own soul?

What Romantic art offers… is not moral rules… but the image of a moral person – i.e. the concretized abstraction of a moral ideal. (p. 146)

Romantic art is a man’s first glimpse of a moral sense of life (p.  152)

Romantic art is the fuel and the spark plug of a man’s soul; its task is to set a soul on fire and never let it go out. (p. 152)

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Follow-up to session #17

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In session #17, we read and discussed Ayn Rand‘s ideas about the meaning and purpose of art, as she expressed them in “The Romantic Manifesto“.

Art expresses the artist’s values. When we see or hear art, we are exposed to those values. Those values are expressed in the colours, movements, shapes, words, sounds, choice of subject matter, etc. Everything in the work of art is chosen by the artist, it is not there by mistake or accident (usually!). What guides the artist’s choice? His or her value system, or system of ethics.

Art affects us emotionally, but also cognitively. Usually, we are aware of our emotional response, but not always aware of our cognitive response.

This is why art is used in propaganda: it is so powerful because it affects people emotionally. Perhaps this is a good reason to teach art in schools: so that young people can learn to not only respond emotionally to art but also consider it cognitively (by thinking).

Finally, Rand considered herself a Romantic (with a capital “R”!), rather than a Realist or Naturalist, and she shared many characteristics with other, earlier, Romantic artists, for example, an admiration for the artistic, energetic individual who is unique and intelligent and creative and free. However, most Romantic artists in the 19th century were against the intellect and logic and preferred emotion and feeling and intuition. In this respect, Rand differed from the Romantics.

The 19th century Romantics were reacting against the earlier Classicism; Rand’s Romanticism was a reaction against the Realism and Naturalism that dominated in the 20th century.

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