Terry Teachout's remarks on accepting the Bradley prize. Freedom and the Role of the Artist
….But what am I? Not long ago I was introduced to an audience as an "intellectual." To me, an intellectual is a person who is primarily interested in ideas. What I am is an aesthete, a person who is primarily interested in beauty. That's why I write about art. What's more, I think there's much to be said for my preference. All history, and most especially the history of the 20th century, argues against placing ideas in the saddle and allowing them to ride mankind. Too often they end up riding individual men and women into mass graves.Posted by Jill Fallon at June 25, 2014 9:13 AM | Permalink
That's one of the reasons why I choose not to call myself an intellectual. …. Aesthetes have it all over intellectuals in one very important respect: You'll rarely catch us hustling anyone off to the nearest guillotine. We're too busy trying to make the world more beautiful. Our hands are stained with ink and paint, not blood.
…. the artist must first of all be able to tell the truth as he sees it about the world he sees around him. That task can only be pursued to the fullest degree under the aspect of freedom. Where there is no freedom, there is no art, save at the risk of the artist's neck. And this freedom includes, among many other things, freedom from the paralyzing obligation to persuade.
The artist whose chief goal is not to make everything more beautiful but to enlist his audience in a cause—no matter what that cause may be—is rarely if ever prepared to tell the whole truth and nothing but. He replaces the true complexity of the world with the false simplicity of the ideologue. He alters reality not to make everything more beautiful, but to stack the deck.
Great art doesn't tell—it shows. And this act of showing is itself a moral act, a commitment to reality.
A man who thought otherwise said, "Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it." But Karl Marx, as usual, got it wrong. The greatest philosophers and the greatest artists seek not to change the world, but to see the world as it is, then show it to the rest of us with the transforming clarity that is beauty. That is a supreme act of freedom. It's what Shakespeare and Mark Twain and Flannery O'Connor did. What Rembrandt and Sargent and Edward Hopper did. What Mozart and Aaron Copland and Louis Armstrong did. They looked, they saw, they showed—and we understood.