Could this be art?

“Nor should it be of any wonder that this philosophical conquest has cost an extraordinary amount of effort, because it is like having set foot on a hill long contested in battle, making it an altogether different accomplishment from a relaxed climb by a carefree hiker during peacetime. This is no mere resting place along a stroll but the result and symbol of an army’s victory. The historian of Aesthetics follows in the footsteps of this arduous march, in which (and here is more magic of thinking) the victor, instead of losing strength from his adversary’s blows, gains from them in strength and reaches the coveted knoll, thus denying his adversary but still remaining in his company. (…)

And yet, at the foot of truth, ‘like a shoot’ – as in the tercet by Father Dante – a doubt is born, which then drives man’s intellect ‘from height to height.’ The doctrine of art, as intuition, as fancy, as form, gives rise to an ulterior (and I have not yet said ‘last’) problem, which is no longer one of opposition or of distinction from physics, hedonism, ethics, and logic, but internal to the field of images itself; and by putting into question the adequacy of the image to define the character of art, it in fact sidesteps the manner of discerning the genuine image from the spurious and in so doing enriches the concept of the image and of art. What function (one wonders) can a world of mere images have in the spirit of Man, devoid of philosophical, historical, religious, or scientific value, devoid even of moral or hedonistic value? What is more futile than dreaming with open eyes in a life that demands not only the eyes but that the mind be open and the spirit vibrant? Pure images! However, to live on pure images has the less than honourable name of ‘daydreaming’ – that usually follows the epithet of ‘idle’ – and is something rather unproductive and vapid. Could this be art? Indeed, there are times when we enjoy ourselves by reading some dime-novel, where image after image follow one another in the most diverse and unexpected ways, but we enjoy this during moments of fatigue, when we are forced to kill time, and are fully aware that it is not art. In such cases, it is a matter of a pastime and a game, but if art were a game, and a pastime, it would fall into the broad, always welcoming, embrace of hedonistic doctrines. A utilitarian and hedonistic need is what occasionally pushes us to relax the bow of the mind and the will, lean back, and allow images to parade by in our memory, or combine them in odd ways in our imagination, in a kind of reverie, which we shake off the moment our rest is over. And we shake it off at times to return precisely to the work of making art, which is never achieved by lying down. So it is that, either art is not pure intuition, and the demands made by the doctrines – which we thought were refuted above – then remain unsatisfied, and is then the reason why the refutation of those doctrines is itself troubled by doubt; or that intuition cannot consist of a simple imagining.”

Benedetto Croce

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