LILA: An Inquiry into Morals

 

 

 

Other papers on this website:

Key selections from the 1993 AHP transcript

The 1993 AHP transcript-Part 1

The 1993 AHP Transcript-Part 2

The 1993 AHP Transcript-Part 3

The 1993 AHP Transcript-Part 4

David Granger's Aesthetics Paper

PhD Commentary

An Open Letter to Sam Harris

Art & the MOQ by Robert Pirsig

An Introduction to
 Robert Pirsig’s Metaphysics of Quality

Khoo Hock Aun's Paper

An MOQ Summary by Robert Pirsig

David Buchanan's Art & Morality Paper

Pirsig Annotations on Copleston

Gavin Gee-Clough's "Brisbane Winter" Paper 

 Henry Gurr's MOQ presentation

 

Sneddon Thesis

- Part One

 

Sneddon Thesis - Part Two

David Buchanan's 2006 Paper

Observer Interview

The MOQ & Time

The MOQ & Education

Pirsig & Pragmatism

Chai at the Lazy Lounge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Truth About Art 

 

A review of Patrick Doorly's new book

 

by Dr Anthony McWatt

 

   September 2013

 

 

Patrick Doorly's new book might not change your life (as one publicity writer wrote about 'Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance' in 1974) but it will change your view about art and non-existent Art with a capital 'A'! 

 

 

LIVING IS EASY WITH EYES CLOSED, MISUNDERSTANDING ALL YOU SEE

 

If you are a fan of Robert Pirsig's two books (1974's Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and especially 1991's Lila: An Inquiry into Morals), then you will certainly enjoy Patrick Doorly's new book, The Truth about Art: Reclaiming quality. If you are an art historian or a devotee of traditional Western philosophy (specifically any writing by or derived from Plato and/or Kant), you might not initially enjoy the various home truths found in this book but given an open mind and some careful thought, you might eventually come to realise (as you read through Doorly's carefully crafted arguments and empirical evidence), that he has given you a metaphorical key to release you from the shadows of Plato's cave and the culture-sapping fiction that great Art is only created by geniuses with God-given talents. That these two intellectual strides forward are to be found in a single text really deserves wide acclaim.

 

For instance, if there is just one lesson that a philosopher should take from reading Doorly's text, it is that any ontological claim should be tested empirically where practically possible. Unfortunately, it becomes evident very quickly that this is a methodology not shared by either Plato or Kant. For instance, though Kant wrote extensively about taste and beauty, Doorly shows us that his ideas about art and artists were not down to Kant himself visiting his local art studios in Köningsberg but relying on the testimony of previous art critics, some of whom held misleading ideas handed on uncritically from antiquity. This has had very unfortunate consequences for our modern age especially for those human activities traditionally regarded as being outside the so-called fine arts such as cooking, ropework, flower arranging, stone masonry, carpentry and, of course, motorcycle maintenance…

 

In fact, at points, Doorly's book made me feel rather angry not because I was angry with Doorly but with the philosophers and art critics such as Kant who despite their intelligence and abilities obviously avoided the effort to go out there in the real world and see for themselves. And the latter is exactly the type of advice that the Buddha gave his followers about his philosophy: 'Don't take what I say on face value but see for yourself!' The problem is if you don't put the effort into doing the latter and test things in the 'real world' then your ideas are far more likely to end up going 'off the mark' and, the unfortunate consequence of this is, if you're a 'heavyweight' spokesperson for your culture (as Plato and Kant are), then you're going to end-up misleading millions of people for centuries or even millennia. They say that our Western culture is built on the shoulders of giants. The unfortunate thing is if these giants are looking in the wrong direction, then our particular culture will be heading for a metaphysical cliff and other serious intellectual and social problems (ideas such as nihilism, Eastern Bloc styled architecture and 20th century conceptual art are but some of the ugly results not to be found anywhere in Plato's own beautiful world).

 

YESTERDAY, ALL OUR TROUBLES SEEMED SO FAR AWAY…

 

The resulting task of having to sift through the resultant cultural detritus back to Homer (the last cultural stop in the Western world before the Good became defined and frozen by Plato as some sort of Form) is immense. I would have said it would be nearly impossible to do this in one lifetime but the 20th century provided us with Robert Pirsig and it was to this task that he admirably carried out this project for over four decades. In his own discipline of art history, Doorly takes Pirsig's project even further (even adding to and clarifying Pirsig's own philosophical thoughts where necessary) and realigns his own discipline as if Plato and Kant had hardly existed in the first place.

 

As noted above, Doorly also shows us that a mystical 'Art' with a capital 'A' inhabited by a few geniuses has never been the case. This confirms the assertion of the art historian, E. H. Gombrich, in his introductory text The Story of Art originally published in 1950 and reprinted in numerous editions since then. From Leonardo da Vinci to Shakespeare to Kant himself, they never just produced a piece of high quality work in a vacuum. They all first had to look back to the static traditions that they were starting from (as Doorly notes, this is what Gombrich meant by 'schemata' in his texts about art history). Hence, out of the 37 plays that we have by Shakespeare, 25 are known to be based on previous pieces of work. What Doorly shows is that the talent of Shakespeare wasn't in being particularly original but in the clever little improvements to these older stories that he made whether to add a humorous line here or to change a plot line in a more interesting way.


IT'S GETTING BETTER ALL THE TIME!

 

Moreover, Doorly shows us that it is very rare for an artist to produce a work of art without second thoughts or revision. For instance, he informs us that the latest 'scholarly' edition of one particular Shakespeare play now appears in two versions side-by-side because they are so different! Moreover, for anyone who has seen X-ray photographs of 'old masters', it's nearly always the case that there are revisions and ideas later covered over by new paint. In fact, a usual sign of a forgery is that it does NOT have such revisions and 'changes of mind'!

 

This methodology of high quality art is also confirmed by examining the work of contemporary musicians such as the Beatles. John Lennon & Paul McCartney might have first met in 1957 but it would take them another ten years of hard work AND close examination and Dynamic experimentation with previous musical forms (primarily 1950s American rock n' roll but also, amongst other musical forms, 1920s music hall, skiffle, blues, choral music, Indian and avante garde music such as Stockhausen) before they produced their 'masterpiece', Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. For anyone who cares to find them on YouTube, their Anthology series or bootlegs, there are numerous out-takes, experiments and unfollowed leads to be found all along their 'magical mystery tour' of musical forms.

 

If Doorly's conclusions are correct here and, I believe, on the whole, that they are then I think this should be a good incentive for young people today to realise that to be a good chef or a good musician or a good playwright is not down to some mystical talent but some natural ability, a close study of past achievements and a considerable amount of hard work. Doorly has not only shown that the genius and Art with a capital 'A' have no clothes (just like that unfortunate emperor) but removed their complete existence!

 

Finally, for a rather nice if short interview with Patrick Doorly about The Truth about Art, please click on the following link:

 

 


 

 

AND IN THE END…

 

 

 

Marks out of ten?

 

I'm very impressed with both the scholarship and accessibility of Doorly's book so I'm giving it the high mark of nine and a half out of ten in this particular review! It would be ten out of ten but for one small if critical error concerning Pirsig's 'Metaphysics of Quality' (MOQ):

 

In section 8.1. of The Truth about Art (page 128 in my edition), Doorly writes that, in the MOQ, 'Quality is accepted as the primary reality'. Strictly speaking, Robert Pirsig would also add the caveat that this idea that 'Quality is accepted as the primary reality' should be considered only as a high quality idea (as a working postulation if you like) rather than a definitive statement of fact about an objective, independent world. This is because the latter type of thinking returns us to the Appearance-Reality distinction that has been the bugbear of Western philosophers since Plato's time and which the MOQ is designed - amongst other metaphysical quagmires - to avoid in the first place!

The author:


Patrick Doorly is an art historian specialising in Renaissance Italy. He divides his time between writing and teaching art history in the Department for Continuing Education, Oxford University, where he was acting director of studies for art history in 2001-02. Previously he was Head of Critical and Theoretical Studies at the School of Art & Design, Croydon College. Doorly was educated at St John's College, Oxford; Stockholm University; and the Courtauld Institute of Art. He was the organiser of the first MOQ Study Day held at Oxford University in 2009.

Reviewer:

 

Dr Anthony McWatt was the first person in the world to be awarded a Ph.D. in Robert Pirsig's 'Metaphysics of Quality'. Dr McWatt also holds a first degree in fine art & art history. His interests include politics, philosophy, film and music production.

Technical details:

 

- Paperback: 222 pages
- Publisher: Zero Books (John Hunt Publishing)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1780998414
- ISBN-13: 978-1780998411
- Product Dimensions: 24.9 x 19.8 x 1.5 cm

 

 

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The Truth About Art Study Days at Oxford.

 

Please watch this space for future dates!

 

 

These day schools will challenge the assumption that art is an ineffable mystery. ‘Art’ (from the Latin) was once a higher status alternative to ‘skill’ (Old English), for which the Greek equivalent was technê (technique, etc.). Only in the years 1790–1830 did German philosophers equip a new, abstract concept of Art with the attributes of genius, originality, rule breaking, and self-expression, all influenced by a spirit of the age. None of these attributes adequately describes the practice of painters, sculptors, and architects, who become artists insofar as they achieve excellence. These study days are based on Patrick Doorly’s new book of the same name, which has Reclaiming quality as its subtitle.  

 

 

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The Story behind The Truth About Art's Front Cover

 

The picture used as the front cover for The Truth about Art is an extract from the centre of Robert Streater's painting Truth descending upon the Arts and Sciences to expel Ignorance from the University which can be found on the ceiling of Oxford University’s Sheldonian Theatre (the venue for various university ceremonies such as the Encaenia - an annual ceremony where honorary academic degrees are conferred).  The full painting in all its glory can be viewed here:

 

 

Robert Streater (or Streeter) was the court (or 'serjeant') painter to King Charles II.  Streater’s composition was adapted to architect Sir Christopher Wren’s conception of the building as a Roman theatre.  A typical theatre in Ancient Rome was open to the sky and was probably protected from the elements by a large awning supported by a network of cords. The timber cords extending across the Sheldonian Theatre’s ceiling are gilded and in high relief, and from them, cherubs are rolling back a vast awning to reveal the triumph of the Arts and Sciences over Envy, Rapine and 'brutish scoffing Ignorance'.  The ambitious composition was executed in Streater’s studio in Whitehall, London during 1668–1669 and then transported to Oxford by barge. It comprises of 32 separate panels.

 

 

 

Despite the title of Streater's composition which appears to put Truth above all else, in the actual painting Streater puts the Good (represented by the sun) in the centre of the ceiling of the Sheldonian with Truth (represented by a cherub floating on a cloud) gazing upon it (further details can be seen above and below).  Though the significance of this imagery is overlooked by most visitors to the Sheldonian, there is little doubt about which takes ontological priority between the sun of Quality and the Truth which it illuminates!