April 8, 2006

What Good Are The Arts?

by John Carey

Recommended by Hornby in The Believer, this refreshingly direct book can restore your faith in argument about the arts. Carey demolishes a host of common assumptions about the arts, and absolutely skewers efforts since Hegel to show that mass art is inferior to fine art. Does art make us better? No: terrible people make terrific connoisseurs, and very good collections have been amassed by some very bad people.

Then, having demonstrated how generations of writers (Plato, Hegel, Winterson) made fools of themselves trying to show how art is good, Carey brilliantly argues something even harder: that literature is the most powerful and most expressive of the arts. Literature, unlike dance, painting, or theater, can reflect upon and satirize itself; it can do things well that the other arts struggle to do at all.