John Carey Challenges Ideas About Art at The City Club Last Friday

Submitted by Evelyn Kiefer on Tue, 01/24/2006 - 23:38.

What good are the arts? As the curator of a local sculpture collection, its a question I ask myself everyday. So I was very eager to hear what John Carey had to say in his address Friday, January 20th at The City Club of Cleveland. Carey, an emeritus professor of English at Oxford University, a noted author, book reviewer and public intellectual spoke about his controversial book published in 2005 titled What Good are the Arts. His talk was well organized and based upon a series of questions he asked himself when he began writing his book. The book is based on Carey's own careful conclusions and thorough knowledge of the many theories on the role of art.

As I expected, based on the synopsis The City Club posted on their website for the event, Carey debunked all the reasons I probably would have given if someone had asked me "What Good are the Arts." He offered conclusive evidence that an appreciation for art does not necessarily make you more civilized or a better person – Hitler for example loved art. Carey seemed, to me, one of the most down- to- earth intellectuals and a truly compassionate and empathetic person. If nothing else, Carey's talk provided listeners with an interesting reading list. I came away inspired to read – to read Carey's own book What Good Are the Arts and Pure Pleasure, Carey's book about what he considers to be the best books of the 20th century, and at least a dozen of the of books by other authors which he cited in his talk.

Something I found disturbing, I agreed completely with Carey's reasoning why literature is the highest form of art – highest form of art “for me at least,”he added. He described how reading challenges a person's creativity more than experiencing any other art form. In the absence of images, the the reader is forced to use his imagination and visualize what he is reading. Anyone who has been disappointed by a film based on a favorite novel can relate.

Carey's obvious love of literature was inspiring. He must have been a great lecturer when he was teaching at Oxford; the audience got a sense of what it must have been like to be a student in one of his classes. If you missed this forum on Friday and the televised version on Sunday morning check out The City Club's archives.