The Truth about Art

There is a widespread assumption that art lies beyond rational discussion, and the question ‘But is it art?’ is unanswerable. This book confounds that view by adopting a historical approach to the changing meanings of the word ‘art’ since antiquity, thereby dispelling much of the confusion surrounding it.

Reclaiming Quality

The Truth about Art by Patrick Doorly

ISBN 978-1-78099-841-1
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Both knowledge and truth are beautiful things, but the Good is other and more beautiful than they. Plato, Republic, 508e

This book traces the multiple meanings of art back to their historical roots, and equips the reader to choose between them. Art with a capital A turns out to be an invention of German Romantic philosophers, who endowed their creation with the attributes of genius, originality, rule breaking, and self-expression, directed by the spirit of the age. Recovering the problems that these attributes were devised to solve dispels many of the obscurities and contradictions that accompany them.
What artists have always sought is excellence, and they become artists in so far as they achieve it. Quality was the supreme value in Renaissance Italy, and in early Greece it offered mortals glimpses of the divine. Today art historians avoid references to beauty or Quality, since neither is objective or definable, the boundaries beyond which scholars dare not roam. In reality subject and object are united and dissolved in the Quality event, which forms the bow wave of culture, leaving patterns of value and meaning in its wake.

The book advocates no particular style, technique, period, or art form. It argues that we recognise an artefact as a work of art only when we see its merit. That merit is independent neither of the observer, nor of the artefact.



“…Readers who delight in the works of artists of all periods… will find Doorly's systematic demystification of the critical apparatus surrounding these works enlightening. The obvious integrity of his enquiry and the clarity with which it is conducted enrich our ability to understand what it is that delights us, and give a further dimension to our appreciation of the creative process.”

—Professor Nicholas Mann,
Director of the Warburg Institute (1990–2001)

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The Truth about Art

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Author Info

Patrick Doorly is an art historian with thirty five years’ teaching experience. His special interests lie in Renaissance Italy and early Greece. He lives and works in Oxford.

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