Do musical compositions, paintings, or ballets have anything at all to say about the great ideas? This book by philosopher Mortimer J. Adler, is a carefully constructed fine-tuning of the elements central to his successful treatise on education, "The Paideia Proposal". In this book, Dr Adler challenges readers to precision in language, tracing the historical permutations of pivotal words like art, idea, and significance. In an examination of the central question how are the great ideas related to art and the arts, the author adjusts his Paideia reform of liberal education.
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The philosopher for Everyman turns his attention to the place of painting and music in education in this small volume that is characteristically straightforward, but not too gripping. Adler (The Four Dimensions of Philosophy, 1993, etc.) argues against his own earlier work in saying that painting and music do not belong in the core of instructional materials. Rather, he argues, they belong to the realm of appreciation and delight. Through careful definitions of terms such as art, the arts, and ideas, the author seeks to demonstrate that the great ideas embodied in written literature, ideas that can be read and reread over and over without exhausting their potential, cannot exist in great painting or in great music. This, Adler asserts, is because great painting and music do not engage in conversation (``They do not affirm or deny. They do not disagree and dispute''). His strongest example of this is Picasso's Guernica, a work of art whose meaning, expressed in words, could be as simple as ``war is hell.'' In keeping strict lines between what is written and what is painted or played, between the intellect and the senses, Adler remains firmly in line with the oldest of philosophical camps. And other than some interesting insights into the genesis of the Great Books and Great Ideas series, the illustrative material is uniformly bland. Those who are interested in future curriculums that are more inclusive of gender and nonwestern cultures will want to avoid this one. The plodding, sometimes pedantic style and extensive excerpts from previously published works make this long on definitions and reiterations, short on burning issues. -- Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.From Library Journal:
Adler (Ten Philosophical Mistakes, LJ 4/1/ 85) provides a clear and compelling explication on the idea content of verbal and nonverbal arts. He moves from a history of the concept of fine art into a lively discourse on the "invention" of the "great ideas," an organizational device he developed for Britannica, Inc. in the early 1950s. Whether an art work is nonverbal (e.g., a statue or painting) or verbal (e.g., an epic poem), "the artist can say what he or she has in mind only by producing the work of art that he or she has in mind." This text serves as a useful and involving introduction to aesthetic philosophy, but one chapter is an excerpt from Ten Philosophical Mistakes and another reproduces far too much of the Great Books' Synopticon relative to the new content and discussion provided in this slim text. For informed readers.
Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley P.L., Cal.
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