Pleasure and the Arts: Enjoying Literature, Painting, and Music

Pleasure and the Arts: Enjoying Literature, Painting, and Music

Christopher Butler

Language: English

Pages: 256

ISBN: 0199288720

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


How do the arts give us pleasure? Covering a very wide range of artistic works, from Auden to David Lynch, Rembrandt to Edward Weston, and Richard Strauss to Keith Jarrett, Pleasure and the Arts offers us an explanation of our enjoyable emotional engagements with literature, music, and painting. The arts direct us to intimate and particularized relationships, with the people represented in the works, or with those we imagine produced them. When we listen to music, look at a purely abstract painting, or drink a glass of wine, can we enjoy the experience without verbalizing our response? Do our interpretative assumptions, our awareness of technique, and our attitudes to fantasy, get in the way of our appreciation of art, or enhance it? Examining these questions and more, we discover how curiosity drives us to enjoy narratives, ordinary jokes, metaphors, and modernist epiphanies, and how narrative in all the arts can order and provoke intense enjoyment. Pleasurable in its own right, Pleasure and the Arts presents a sparkling explanation of the enduring interest of artistic expression.

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connections (between for example ‘dark’ colours’ and ‘dark’ emotions) but that the schemas they activate bring us to have the appropriate feelings? The conventions and emotional effects of all such Expressionist paintings are at issue here, with what Roger Cardinal calls their ‘supercharged density of gestural energy’.37 49 Fig. 2 Munch, The Scream (lithograph, 1895). How do we interpret the emotion here? Can this be a picture of ‘alienation’? Emotions and Narrative Compare the distortions

their cue from inanimate expressive distortions, which lead us to see them, and to feel them, as expressing a generalized alienation and stress in modern urban life, in the case of Munch. But for all we know there might be a quite different rationalizing narrative—alienation is just the one ‘in place’ for us. (Suppose that the protagonist’s little sister has just dropped into the water and been drowned. The expression could well be the same. But we know that in modernist Expressionism, the

intuitions in this area, and they can apply just as much to rabble-rousing politics as they do to sentimental philanthropy. These intuitions concern our tolerance of the kind or degree of simplification habitual to those emotions of which we morally approve.71 But it is possible to distinguish here. We mustn’t judge all sentimental works by the criteria we may bring to Little Nell or pictures of fluffy kittens or the more dreadfully religiose of Country and Western songs. La Bohème is not exactly

different ways. Such characterizations would encourage us to enjoy even music without text, by liking it as we like at least two persons, as they express themselves, Beyond Words: Enjoying Abstractions more or less in alliance: composer and performer (this will be discussed in Chapter 6, below). Abstraction in Painting From the point of view of the viewer trying to get pleasure from what is manifestly present in an image, abstraction in art can be characterized in largely non-historical

and release. But what kinds of interpretation are involved in noting such things? There seems to be in the literature on this subject a basic dispute about how ‘immediate’ an enjoying response can be or should be, and this is particularly acute for analysis of the form of artworks. Hanslick for example (with Wagner in mind) decried as ‘pathological’ any experience of music in which the listener did not understand the music as an imaginative object to be held at an aesthetic distance, and so

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