I have been puzzling over the Walter Pater quotation, and my take is that music speaks direct to the soul rather than needing explanation. There is craft, skill and interpretation in relaying music to the audience but finally, it communicates with your spirit, not your mind. Likewise with Turner’s ‘Fighting Temeraire’ or the nave of Durham Cathedral.
This led me on to considering writing in the same light. If our writing is too clever, too full of ornamentation- it may thrill the brain, the intellect – but it won’t reach deep inside. We need to write so cunningly our craft all but disappears. What a strange craft to work so hard to remove all traces of its maker. “Ars est celare artem” – as Ovid put it – the art is to conceal art.
My old art teacher (Mrs. Wyles, God bless her, of WEGHS) said that the second rate artists were good at the ruffles, the jewels, the things that people had about them but the best artists showed what was inside. That must be the same for writers.. at our best, we convey the essence of things in the way, for example, that the opening allegro non troppo of Beethoven’s Pastoral evokes awakening of cheerful feelings upon arriving in the country -” Gefühle bei der Ankunft auf dem Lande”. It isn’t a prettified Dresden shepherdess sort of of countryside he describes, but a consciousness. There would be no lambs gambolling with satin ribbons round their necks, if it were a poem.
Not that I aspire to the Old Radical’s level.
Yet think of the best craftwork you have ever seen; the humble Windsor chair as a f’rinstance.
It does the job, but, with such elegance and simplicity it is a thing of beauty. The best stories are like that: no fancy mouldings, drawing attention to themselves and poking you in the back, but smoothed and satisfying with a sense of rightness.
I think this is really what is meant by the oft disparaged remark ; ” I don’t know much about Art but I know what I like “. What people respond to (unless they are taught to despise their own sensibilities) is Art which reaches them unmediated. I don’t need anyone to explain Andy Goldsworthy’s icicles any more than I need anyone to tell me what John Tavener’s ‘Protecting Veil’ means, or the point of Michael Morpurgo’s ‘War Horse’.
I might find criticism and glosses interesting – but they are not necessary.
“All deep things are song. It seems somehow the very central essence of us, song; as if all the rest were but wrappages and hulls.” ~Thomas Carlyle