“Mediocre art is a mirror”

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According to Jessa Crispin

In a recent interview about Jane Austen, Fran Lebowitz said that great art is “not a mirror, it’s a door.” Mediocre art is a mirror, and either you get it or you don’t, either you relate to it or you don’t.

According to George Bernard Shaw

You use a glass mirror to see your face; you use works of art to see your soul.

Aside: According to Wikipedia, the title of Aldous Huxley’s mescaline book The Doors of Perception comes from a quote from William Blake

If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern.

Speaking of George Bernard Shaw, he also said

Better keep yourself clean and bright; you are the window through which you must see the world.

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One response »

  1. According to Ruth Franklin

    If the task of art, and of realism in particular, is to hold up a mirror to contemporary life, then Franzen has fulfilled his responsibility. He has a talent for a certain kind of middlebrow mimesis.

    But is this all we want from art? Is realism just a transcription of reality? Marveling at the various encomia to Franzen’s allegedly preternatural ability to show us what we actually look like, I was struck by the solipsism of the formulations—are we really our largest and most interesting subject?—and by the inherent narrowness of this vision of the aesthetic enterprise. In The Mirror and the Lamp, the great critic M. H. Abrams many years ago took issue with just such a shrunken ideal. He maintained that a fundamental aesthetic shift occurred at the start of the Romantic period, when writers and artists first began to envision art as not reflecting life so much as illuminating it with their own imaginations. The task of the novel, in such a view, is not to show us how we live but to help us figure out how to live—which happens to be precisely the form of enlightenment that so many of the characters in Freedom are pleading for.

    This is where Franzen’s novel founders. He is all mirror and no lamp. He substitutes the details for the big picture, a hyper-realistic portraiture for genuine psychological insight.

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