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This perspective, whether turning on common feelings or a special singular rapport, makes considerable space for critics and curators. Only people with education and discernment can hope to identify the existence of this contradictory tension. Only they can effectively mediate between the viewer, listener, reader, on the one hand, and on the other, the artist, who creates from internally generated impulses, and especially the immortality afforded by common feelings with others in the larger culture. Under this influence the Greeks actually came to distrust the artist. They feared that his interest in self-expression could draw people away from the common sense of their culture, produce something voluptuous, and possibly undermine their precious common values. They demanded the critical mediation as a kind of protection for the people. How else can one explain the Athenian arrangement in which a board would judge competitions among new dramatic works? Such critics, unlike the modern kind, did not exist to say whether a work was bad or good or even effective. Rather they judged whether it was misplaced and so was unlikely to achieve imperishability within their culture.

All this seems to stand in stark contrast to more modern approaches to art. Rather than cultural ties, popular attitudes stress originality, the artist’s inner force, and subjective individual responses to it. They insist only that the work offer an honest expression of the artist’s feelings. The culture’s common sense or that of the viewer simply interfere. Still, nothing in this modern approach precludes the ability to create the imperishability of great art as described by Kant, Arendt, Scruton and others. The arguments put forward by these people do not insist on a public standard, much less censorship. They are quite willing, as was Pericles, to let the artist follow his or her vision. That may or may not create an imperishable beauty that speaks to future generations. Critics and future generations will determine that. The only efforts that are doomed to failure are these that contrive to attack the common feeling among people. They certainly fail to capture inner artistic feelings, even if they do tap inner political feelings. Meanwhile they actively reject an effort to speak to future generations.

Nor does this emphasis on common culture clash with the modern insistence that no one culture or artistic tradition is better than another. Though Pericles, Kant, Arendt and Scruton write in terms of a Western culture, none makes any claim of superiority. Even Pericles avoids such claims. His harshest criticism is that barbarian artists fail in terms of their own culture. Neither do such views suggest, implicitly or otherwise, that people of one culture cannot appreciate the great art of another. Few would deny that aspects of beauty and common feeling can transcend even the most disparate cultures. Thucydides, through Pericles, asserts as much. Ironically, it is some multiculturalists who argue the contrary, especially those who object to what they call expropriation when people from one tradition attempt to capture the feeling of another. These claims effectively deny cross-cultural understanding and would box each culture into itself. If these views do not assert superiority, they surely call for a separation. Kant and these others make no such exclusionary claims.

However incomplete this characterisation of great art, it does offer a practical guide to exhibitors, be they museum directors, librarians, publishers, or music directors. It should also inform visitors, readers, or concertgoers. The most fruitful path, for the art itself and those who would bring it to others, would emphasise art’s lasting role and its ability to touch simultaneously on our personal feelings as well as something larger than ourselves, something we hold in common with others or at least some others. With this in mind, Arendt warns of two destructive trends. One she calls “cultural philistinism” and the other is a confusion between art appreciation, in any form, and entertainment. In identifying and explaining these dangers Arendt offers guidelines for all involved.
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