n 1902, 70 million years after it tripped lightly through the Mesozoic forests in search of meat, the skeleton of a 20-foothightyrannosaurus was dynamited out of a sandstone bluff near Hell Creek, Mont. Wrapped in burlap and plaster and shipped back to New York, the bones were painstakingly reassembled by fossil curator Barnum Brown of the American Museum of Natural History. It was there, one day in 1947, that they happened to scare the bejesus out of 5-year-old Stephen Jay Gould. (...) With a mouthful of teeth as big as bananas, the great reptile gaped down at the little mammal who had usurped its place at the head of the food chain and set him scurrying for the safety of his daddy's pant leg. It was a sublime epiphany. Long after Gould could stare with equanimity at the skull of tyrannosaurus, he was left with the essential mystery that still motivates him as perhaps America's foremost writer and thinker on evolution: why should dinosaurs have ended up in human museums instead of—as one among an infinite number of evolutionary possibilities—the other way around? (shrink)
Does strolling through an art museum, admiring the old masters, improve us morally and spiritually? Would government subsidies of "high art" (such as big-city opera houses) be better spent on local community art projects? In What Good are the Arts? John Carey--one of Britain's most respected literary critics--offers a delightfully skeptical look at the nature of art. In particular, he cuts through the cant surrounding the fine arts, debunking claims that the arts make us better people or that judgements about (...) art are anything more than personal opinion. Indeed, Carey argues that there are no absolute values in the arts and that we cannot call other people's aesthetic choices "mistaken" or "incorrect," however much we dislike them. Along the way, Carey reveals the flaws in the aesthetic theories of everyone from Emanuel Kant to Arthur C. Danto, and he skewers the claims of "high-art advocates" such as Jeannette Winterson. But Carey does argue strongly for the value of art as an activity and for the superiority of one art in particular: literature. Literature, he contends, is the only art capable of reasoning, and the only art that can criticize. Language is the medium that we use to convey ideas, and the usual ingredients of other arts--objects, noises, light effects--cannot replicate this function. Literature has the ability to inspire the mind and the heart towards practical ends far better than any work of conceptual art. Here then is a lively and stimulating invitation to debate the value of art, a provocative book that will pique the interest of anyone who loves painting, music, or literature. (shrink)
In the year 748 Pope Zachary, in a letter to St. Boniface, mentioned among other matters a complaint which he had received from the latter concerning an Irish cleric named Virgil, active at that time in Bavaria.