Both knowledge and truth are beautiful things, but the Good is other and more beautiful than they. Plato, Republic, 508e
—The title of this book challenges its readers to reconsider beliefs so deeply embedded in our culture that they may appear to lie beyond critical examination. Truth and Art are both words in widespread use, but their meanings tend to recede the more we chase after them. At the time of writing, for example, Oxford University Press publishes over 40 books on aspects of Truth, evidently a concept that philosophers still find troublesome, despite its having been around since the birth of philosophy. And to the best of my knowledge, E.H. Gombrich’s assertion that there is no such thing as Art with a capital A remains unchallenged. So while putting Truth and Art together on a book cover may look like hubris, their role in that prominent location is to signal that these concepts are not facts of nature, but cultural legacies from past controversies. Their historical origin leaves them amenable to historical investigation, which is the task undertaken by this book.—The Truth about Art, p. 175
Who’s it for?
The book should intrigue and reward the thoughtful reader who has wondered where value lies in the arts. It is written to be accessible to students at undergraduate level, and to those non-specialists who enjoy visiting exhibitions at the National Gallery or the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Such individuals are invariably educated and intellectually curious, but are often unaware of how many modern assumptions about art were first formulated in the 18th century.
Professional art historians who are familiar with the aesthetics devised in that century may prefer to go straight for the matter of the book’s subtitle. They will find its thesis presented in chapter 1, section 1 Art or Fine Art (pp. 1–7). The case for art as any activity aiming at quality is set out in 2.2 Pirsig’s Critique of Aesthetics and 2.3 Gombrich’s Critique of Plato (pp. 26–37). Section 4.1 Roman Virtus identifies quality with the virtù celebrated in Renaissance Italy (pp. 57–59). 8.1 A Comprehensive Metaphysics (pp. 127–130) presents an outline of the metaphysics of quality, which is applied to visual art in chapter 9 Canons of Art. A scholar or visual art professional who has read that far with an open mind should understand the book’s unfamiliar thesis. The special case of contemporary fine art is examined in chapter 10 Anti-Art.