69. How do we judge literary value and artistic value?

Pref­ace: This is a dis­cus­sion paper, not a researched aca­d­e­mic doc­u­ment. The read­ing list at the end is a col­lec­tion of con­tem­po­rary links from the Inter­net and pretty acci­den­tal, not edited for qual­ity. The author is a prin­ci­pal orga­nizer for a Bris­bane, Aus­tralia, dis­cus­sion group whose mem­bers come from diverse back­grounds, and which deals with an eclec­tic col­lec­tion of top­ics. Where a topic is of broad gen­eral inter­est I have adopted the prac­tice of post­ing dis­cus­sion starters like the present one on Academia.edu in the hope that oth­ers might also find them worth think­ing about.







1.  Intro­duc­tion

Art emerges from the hand of the cre­ator, and the mind of the beholder. Art as dis­cussed in this arti­cle is taken very broadly. The broad mean­ing can encom­pass not merely paint­ing and sculp­ture, but lit­er­a­ture, music, dance, film, syn­the­ses made pos­si­ble by elec­tronic tech­nol­ogy, and so on. It can be a lit­tle con­fus­ing, at least in Eng­lish, as to how all of these enter­prises might be col­lected under a sin­gle head­ing. We do have an expres­sion in Eng­lish though about any activ­ity which requires mys­te­ri­ous but sophis­ti­cated human abil­i­ties: “It is more art than sci­ence”. The sug­ges­tion is that some human activ­i­ties depend upon a dynamic syn­the­sis skills, expe­ri­ence and judge­ment which is too com­plex to analyse, yet which yields out­comes of high qual­ity. “More art than sci­ence” cer­tainly under­lies our under­stand­ing of what artis­tic cre­ators have been able to achieve.

When it comes to par­tic­u­lar judge­ments how­ever, art, what­ever its form, has no sin­gle cri­te­rion of inter­pre­ta­tion. Depend­ing upon the time and the place, the cir­cum­stance and the human actors involved, the sta­tus of art (or its rejec­tion) is resolved through a mul­ti­tude of prisms. Here are some, but not all, of con­texts for con­sid­er­ing art and lit­er­a­ture:

§  the skill of the cre­ator

§  the moti­va­tion of the cre­ator

§  the unique­ness of the cre­ation

§  orig­i­nal­ity – a sin­gu­lar syn­the­sis of per­cep­tion and expe­ri­ence

§  the aes­thetic unity and pro­por­tion of sim­ple and com­plex cre­ations

§  the nar­ra­tive or per­cep­tual impact of the cre­ation

§  the res­o­nance the cre­ation achieves in other minds

§  the role of cre­ation in the tapes­try of human myth

§  the dura­bil­ity of the creation’s rep­u­ta­tion

§  the sta­tus of the cre­ation as a cul­tural marker

§  the cre­ation as a mar­ketable arte­fact

§  the cre­ation as a social class marker

§  the cre­ation as a tool of pro­jec­tion for other agen­das

§ do humans have some inher­ent capac­ity for appre­ci­at­ing lit­er­a­ture and art gen­er­ally?

§ judg­ing lit­er­ary and artis­tic value – can it be done?


2. The Skill of the Cre­ator


Where artis­tic or lit­er­ary worth is in con­tention, the tech­ni­cal skill of the cre­ator is usu­ally a nec­es­sary but not suf­fi­cient con­di­tion for such worth to be  accepted. The mar­gin dis­tin­guish­ing tech­ni­cal skill from other kinds of skill (e.g. psy­cho­log­i­cal manip­u­la­tion) is often blurred. By tech­ni­cal skill here I am refer­ring (roughly) to those abil­i­ties required of all mem­bers of a craft. For exam­ple, nov­el­ists, jour­nal­ists, tech­ni­cal writ­ers, report writ­ers and per­sonal let­ter writ­ers may all be per­fectly com­pe­tent scribes, yet few will be rec­og­nized as lit­er­ary mas­ters.

There may be excep­tions to the gen­eral assump­tion of high tech­ni­cal skill. For exam­ple, cave paint­ings or arte­facts from antiq­uity might or might not have rep­re­sented the high­est tech­ni­cal mas­tery of their age, yet acquire great value for con­tem­po­rary con­nois­seurs. Some artis­tic or writ­ten work by chil­dren might be pow­er­fully effec­tive partly as a result of pre­co­cious insight shin­ing through an obvi­ously lim­ited tech­ni­cal abil­ity. Myth in its nature has no sin­gle author (see the dis­cus­sion on myth to fol­low), yet may be beloved by a whole cul­ture. Some self-pro­claimed mod­ern artists might deny tech­ni­cal skill itself as any part of their cre­ation. Some tech­no­log­i­cally assisted cre­ation, such as pho­tog­ra­phy, might almost elim­i­nate a need for spe­cial tech­ni­cal skill on the part of the cre­ator.

In spite of the pre­ced­ing caveats, we gen­er­ally expect that art and lit­er­a­ture which is widely rec­og­nized for excep­tional worth will also embody an excep­tional level of tech­ni­cal skill by the cre­ator. In fact, we expect this in all fields of human activ­ity, whether it be sport or indus­try or research, and so on. By the same token, we rec­og­nize that the tech­ni­cally per­fect only occa­sion­ally achieves great­ness. Again, this is a gen­eral obser­va­tion. For exam­ple, I have worked amongst auto­mo­tive mechan­ics, where extremely tight tol­er­ances of engi­neer­ing man­u­fac­ture are absolutely required. Yet usu­ally those mechan­ics will share a con­sen­sus that some par­tic­u­lar engine has qual­i­ties of design and func­tion which they find quite beau­ti­ful (.. yes, this is incom­pre­hen­si­ble to techno­phobes!).


3. The Moti­va­tion of the Cre­ator


Moti­va­tion is a slip­pery con­cept. Humans typ­i­cally have com­plex moti­va­tions, and when asked their attempts to artic­u­late moti­va­tion are often inad­e­quate. We might, for exam­ple, hate a work envi­ron­ment but like the actual job and be moti­vated to do it well, even though the mon­e­tary reward is poor.

Pri­mary moti­va­tions may be money, or fame, or sta­tus, curios­ity, or a sense of duty, or a dozen other things. Most lit­er­ary and artis­tic activ­ity is poorly rewarded, yet there can be extrav­a­gant rewards for a few, not nec­es­sar­ily the most wor­thy by other cri­te­ria. A Nobel Prize cer­tainly helps with mar­ket­ing, yet few win­ners of the lit­er­ary award are mil­lion­aires. Wealth, or even fame, for lit­er­ary and artis­tic cre­ators is often acci­den­tal when it does occur. As with the lot­tery, those few suc­cesses might be enough to fuel the dream and suc­cour moti­va­tion.

Those artists or authors who do pitch suc­cess­fully to a mass audi­ence might be den­i­grated in more exclu­sive cul­tural cir­cles (e.g. acad­e­mia) for pros­ti­tut­ing their gifts regard­less of other intrin­sic qual­i­ties. This then becomes an almost unre­solv­able choice of val­ues between sub-cul­tures. Some­times his­tory over­comes these debates. For exam­ple, Charles Dick­ens is now an undis­puted mem­ber of the Eng­lish aca­d­e­mic lit­er­ary canon, regard­less of his ori­gins in Grub Street jour­nal­ism. In the medium of film, very large and risky invest­ments of money are usu­ally required, so a “great” direc­tor has, almost by def­i­n­i­tion, some­how man­aged to jug­gle mass audi­ence appeal with­out exces­sively com­pro­mis­ing a unique artis­tic pro­duc­tion.

In spite of the many con­flict­ing moti­va­tions which might drive a cre­ator at the mar­gins, respect does accrue to the indi­vid­ual who is cen­trally inspired (or even obsessed) by the intrin­sic sat­is­fac­tion which comes from the act of cre­ation itself. It is felt by the wider com­mu­nity that a gen­uine artist would seek to prac­tice and mas­ter his or her art how­ever dis­cour­ag­ing the sur­round­ing envi­ron­ment. Indeed, given the pal­try rewards gen­er­ally avail­able to cre­ative writ­ers and artists, this pub­lic assump­tion seems to have some jus­ti­fi­ca­tion. If accoun­tants or process work­ers were per­se­cuted social groups, there might be few accoun­tants or process work­ers. Although cre­ative writ­ers and artists have often been per­se­cuted they have never van­ished. (I must say per­son­ally though, as an entirely unrec­og­nized occa­sional and prob­a­bly bad poet who only does it for per­sonal sat­is­fac­tion, a throw­away word of praise here and there from strangers over the years has been extremely sat­is­fy­ing!).


4. The Unique­ness of the Cre­ation


A mod­ern motor car is an extra­or­di­nary arte­fact, com­prised of some 3,000 per­fectly inter­lock­ing and inter­act­ing parts, designed and man­u­fac­tured with the utmost care by pro­fes­sion­als at the top of their field. The enthu­si­asts for var­i­ous mod­els of cars are legion, yet most would be puz­zled by any claim to place such vehi­cles in a gallery alongside the unique cre­ations of rec­og­nized artists. Cars are mass pro­duced items, so that no mat­ter how per­fect, they some­how lack the cachet of being only one of a kind. In some sense, mass pro­duc­tion might make them too per­fect, almost inhu­man. After all, there remains a dif­fer­ence between a piano sonata exe­cuted by com­mands from a dig­i­tal com­puter and the same sonata per­formed by a gifted pianist.

Although art (taken broadly) is a unique cre­ation by an artist, or some­times a team (as in film),  unique­ness, as with skill, is not enough to make it art. A build­ing col­lapsed by an earth­quake may be entirely unique in its form, yet rarely seen as art. Fur­ther, a para­dox of art is that once it is con­ceived and exe­cuted by the artist it may often be repro­duced end­lessly by oth­ers and even improved upon. I recalled look­ing upon the exca­vated Ter­ra­cotta Army in Xi’an, China. Each sol­dier was carved as an indi­vid­ual, and the whole con­sti­tuted a remark­able artis­tic achieve­ment for its time. How­ever, some of the repli­cas sold by ven­dors at the gates of the museum seemed to be supe­rior to the orig­i­nals both in exe­cu­tion and mate­ri­als. Some of the end­less repro­duc­tions of clas­si­cal paint­ings – I don’t mean mere pho­tographs – have been achieved with such skill that they might eclipse the orig­i­nal. Even in lit­er­a­ture we now have the phe­nom­e­non of fan fic­tion, extend­ing and devel­op­ing orig­i­nal nov­els. Most fan fic­tion is rather ama­teur, but some achieves great pro­fes­sional pol­ish. Again, it is not incon­ceiv­able that some fan fic­tion could out­shine the orig­i­nal author.

In the world of art mar­ket­ing, the con­cept of unique cre­ation is often blurred with rar­ity. The few sur­viv­ing arte­facts from an era, while well done, might not have been the supreme artis­tic cre­ations of that era, yet they acquire great value through rar­ity, and are some­times assigned an exag­ger­ated lus­tre as “unique and price­less works”. Of course, great artis­tic achieve­ment is pos­si­ble in any era, even if its sur­vival is acci­den­tal. Geof­frey Chaucer’s Eng­land at the end of the 14th Cen­tury was a small and unim­por­tant coun­try of a few mil­lion peo­ple, most of them illit­er­ate, yet as a lit­er­ary achieve­ment his Can­ter­bury Tales can stand tall in any com­pany.


5. Orig­i­nal­ity – a sin­gu­lar syn­the­sis of per­cep­tion and expe­ri­ence


Some­times extra­or­di­nary events over­take ordi­nary peo­ple. Their later accounts of those events rarely become rec­og­nized lit­er­a­ture. Daily life, for most peo­ple, is, well, very ordi­nary. Their anec­dotes to friends tend to be highly pre­dictable, and for the most part their friends find the pre­dictabil­ity com­fort­ing. The artist, the author, finds extra­or­di­nary things in the ordi­nary. Many peo­ple find this dis­com­fort­ing.

A few years ago I tried to put my fin­ger on the dis­tin­guish­ing mark of artis­tic orig­i­nal­ity (May 1998). The next cou­ple of para­graphs quote directly from that:

Every writer cre­ates a pat­tern from dis­pro­por­tions. The pro­por­tion­ate is that checker­board of nights and days within which our lives are gov­erned, the rou­tine of sleep, how you part your hair, when you check for your mail, the trips to the shop that you make when bread or veg­eta­bles run out, the peo­ple you encoun­ter at the bus stop, what you say to the lady you see on Thurs­days. Words, though, in their nature are dis­pro­por­tion­ate against the pro­por­tion of expe­ri­ence. This note itself is a car­i­ca­ture.

So how does a writer dif­fer from the lan­guage mak­ers all around him, the cacoph­ony of chat­ter­ers? By writ­ing a sym­phony. The dis­pro­por­tions of our con­ver­sa­tion are art­less, for where there are pat­terns they are uncon­scious, and where there is sig­nif­i­cance, it is self­ish. The writer is able to cre­ate pat­terns from dis­pro­por­tion, pat­terns which cre­ate newly defined sig­nif­i­cance, a fresh real­ity. He mar­shals the trivia of ran­dom occur­rence into an enter­prise with pur­pose and direc­tion, just as a musi­cian mar­shals noise into music.

Well, such a pro­posal is fine as a brave state­ment of ide­als. Not all orig­i­nal cre­ation has great artis­tic worth, even to its orig­i­na­tor. In the actual world, the point at which writ­ing becomes lit­er­a­ture, or sketch­ing becomes art, seems to be a very fluid judge­ment. We can no longer point to for­mal pub­lish­ing, for exam­ple, as a clear marker of supe­rior writ­ing. In 2012 the num­ber of blogs on the Inter­net sur­passed 200 mil­lion. House­wives appar­ently form the largest con­tin­gent of blog writ­ers, and no doubt a per­cent­age of them are gifted cre­ators, though invis­i­ble to all but a small cir­cle of admir­ers. With num­bers like that we will sim­ply never know. It seems then that the impor­tance of orig­i­nal­ity to lit­er­ary or artis­tic worth is another one of those cri­te­ria to be eval­u­ated in a par­tic­u­lar time and place, a social con­text. It may (usu­ally) be a nec­es­sary con­di­tion, but is cer­tainly not suf­fi­cient for artis­tic worth. This is espe­cially so where the con­cept of a lit­er­ary canon of “great works” has become rather irrel­e­vant (more about this in another sec­tion).


6. The aes­thetic unity and pro­por­tion of sim­ple and com­plex  cre­ations


Although aes­thetic pref­er­ences vary amongst cul­tures, and also over time, it seems that human beings are highly sen­si­tive to per­cep­tions of unity or coher­ence, to bal­ance and to pro­por­tion. Ide­als of the human per­son invari­ably focus on these qual­i­ties, for phys­i­cal­ity, behav­iour and think­ing. Sex­ual selec­tion may by the bio­log­i­cal source of such pref­er­ences, but humans sub­li­mate aspects of sex­u­al­ity to every facet of their cul­tures. The con­cept of the golden mean may be uni­ver­sal. In any case, this sort of thing plays a major part in our eval­u­a­tion of artis­ti­cally cre­ative worth. Even the poetry or novel or paint­ing which vio­lates stan­dard aes­thetic per­cep­tions derive their dar­ing from con­trast with those very stan­dards.

Pro­ject­ing an impres­sion of aes­thetic unity and pro­por­tion in an artis­tic cre­ation may be rel­a­tively sim­ple or impres­sively com­plex. In gen­eral, the sim­pler that pro­jec­tion, the wider the avail­able audi­ence. The range is con­sciously exploited in music. A national anthem must be both avail­able and mov­ing to all minds. Also, the rel­a­tive sim­plic­ity of much pop music is a com­mer­cial asset, spun in a web of fash­ion. An orches­tral work as com­plex and ini­tially jar­ring as Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring will prob­a­bly never be acces­si­ble to a major­ity of the pop­u­la­tion, but has a greater chance of being judged (by those who con­sider them­selves qual­i­fied to judge) as an artis­tic tri­umph com­pared to, say, God Save the Queen or The Marsel­laise.

Thus com­plex­ity which is val­i­dated by suc­cess­fully pro­ject­ing an aes­thetic of unity and pro­por­tion seems to play an impor­tant part in our judge­ments of lit­er­ary and artis­tic worth. Note that it is art­fully man­aged com­plex­ity which we value, not the turgid com­plex­ity of the small print in an insur­ance con­tract. In fact the decep­tively sim­ple lan­guage of, say, a novel by John Stein­beck may con­ceal great com­plex­ity of pur­pose and design. Sim­i­larly some excep­tional children’s clas­sics, while writ­ten on one level for the abil­i­ties of their young read­ers, might also have other lev­els of more sub­tle appeal for adults (e.g. Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Won­der­land).


7. The nar­ra­tive or per­cep­tual impact of the cre­ation


Up to this point the essay has paid pri­mary atten­tion to the cre­ators of artis­tic things and some intrin­sic prop­er­ties of their cre­ations. It is arguable how­ever that while art and artists may some­times claim auton­omy, artis­tic worth implies the judge­ment of an audi­ence (which may of course be dis­placed in time). There­fore to under­stand the mean­ing of ‘artis­tic worth’ we must under­stand at least some gen­eral qual­i­ties of those who are expected to judge.

A suc­cess­ful writer or an artist rarely addresses pos­ter­ity, except indi­rectly through cred­i­ble expe­ri­ence.  In fact one of the mark­ers of artis­tic attrac­tion, it seems to me, is the abil­ity of the artist to explic­itly address “hot but­ton” qual­i­ties in a known audi­ence. Where those qual­i­ties are uni­ver­sal, the cre­ation may speak across eras and cul­tures, but that is almost acci­den­tal. I once spent a cou­ple of years as the writ­ings edi­tor for a com­mu­nity web­site for expa­tri­ates in South Korea, and thus became the recip­i­ent of much earnest but appalling poetry. This extract from an arti­cle I wrote about that expe­ri­ence tries to iden­tify where these wannabe poets failed in their bid for fame (Thor May 2003):

Hi S,

I have your lat­est poem. I will pub­lish it if you insist. Heck, we pub­lish almost any­thing 😉 . You asked for con­struc­tive crit­i­cism. O’rright. One of the nice things about Irish cul­ture (as opposed to, say Korean cul­ture) is that you can put it in someone’s face and still talk to them later.

Like you I can’t help writ­ing poetry, and the sort of stuff you are doing gives me echoes of my own mis­spent youth (not that I’ve grad­u­ated to any finer plane). One thing I have learned is that most of the mil­lions of unread poems in the world deserve their lousy rep­u­ta­tion. They were des­per­ately sig­nif­i­cant for the peo­ple who wrote them, but nobody else is inter­ested. There is a whole cat­e­gory of Inter­net money scams trad­ing on the vul­ner­a­bil­ity of these poor crit­ters with fake ‘poetry com­pe­ti­tions’.

Why is this stuff junk? 1) one because most of the poems are utterly self-absorbed; 2) the verse fraud­u­lently trades in abstract con­cepts and the code words of ‘uni­ver­sal truths’ while the sub-text screams ME ME ME..

Now for a moment let’s get a bit abstract and bor­ing (like we say poetry shouldn’t be)…

Most great poetry (..and great art gen­er­ally) has some­thing speci­fic to say about a real tree, or a real man, or a real dog in a real place. Its power is in vibrantly evok­ing that sit­u­a­tion in liv­ing sounds and colours and smells. Insight comes from emo­tion, and emo­tion comes from sen­sa­tion. It is no good talk­ing about the emo­tion and expect­ing read­ers to assume the sen­sa­tion.

Emo­tion of a cer­tain kind can also come from the ‘aha’ sen­sa­tion of cogent log­i­cal argu­ment which clicks, but that is not nor­mally the ter­ri­tory of poetry.

Any uni­ver­sal truths and epipha­nies which poetry read­ers arrive at will emerge from their *own* evoked emo­tions, not from the emo­tions that you tell them they should have.

If you can trick peo­ple into sim­u­lat­ing some mix of sen­sa­tions, and those sen­sa­tions lead to emo­tion, then insight, well they will think you won­der­fully clever. If you talk about ‘passion’s price’ and ‘sex’s greed’ or some vaguely bib­li­cal ref­er­ence to ‘milk and honey’, then they’ll think you a crash­ing bore…

Yeah but, you say, if I put my bro­ken soul in plas­tic wrap, stuff it back in the freezer, what’s there left to talk about with pas­sion? Well, there are your toe nails, your butt and your crooked nose … but prob­a­bly more inter­est­ing to every­one except you, there’s the tic on the face of that lady sell­ing tteok­bokgi on the cor­ner.

You still want to be pro­found? OK, but this is heavy pud­ding. Take small bites. Car­toon­ists prob­a­bly have a lot to teach wannabe poets. Your aver­age syn­di­cated car­toon, the Peanuts and the Blondies, do not give ser­mons. They scoop out tiny, wry snip­pets of sharp obser­va­tion, and attach them to sim­ple, mem­o­rable char­ac­ters with a smile. My guess is that they have done more to edu­cate, amuse and civ­i­lize the unwashed masses than all the turgid verse ever writ­ten.

This let­ter to the hap­less poet, S, was a lit­tle unfair. Like most of us, I too have been guilty of pro­ject­ing the per­sonal into the uni­ver­sal (e.g. see my poem “Times Sixty on Frosty Gye­myeongsan”, Thor May 2006. Gye­myeongsan is a moun­tain in Korea where I was liv­ing). Well, edi­tors are allowed a bit of hypocrisy, and the cen­tral plea for con­crete imagery remains valid.

For­mats like nov­els and films by nature of their length and com­plex­ity do have a licence to cre­ate fic­tional worlds with fan­tas­tic qual­i­ties, improb­a­ble crea­tures, and so on. Yet the very fact that hob­bits, for exam­ple, are not met every day by read­ers means that to be taken seri­ously noth­ing can be assumed about them. Hob­bits must be explained through explicit anal­ogy in a way which read­ers under­stand well and can visu­al­ize. Once iden­ti­fied, a hob­bit must be as con­sis­tent to his world as any bank clerk catch­ing the 8am bus to the city.

The skill and sub­tlety of the writer in main­tain­ing such a com­plex imag­i­nary world will play a part in our eval­u­a­tion of the artis­tic worth of the cre­ation. As with all cri­te­ria of artis­tic worth how­ever, nei­ther cred­i­ble real­ism nor con­sis­tent fan­tasy is suf­fi­cient in itself for us to arrive at a judge­ment of high artis­tic worth. Gen­res them­selves, while under­stood and sought out by enthu­si­asts, can also become extended clichés. The ‘pot boiler’, whether Mills & Boone romance, his­tor­i­cal fic­tion, crime thriller or sci­ence fic­tion is finan­cial sus­te­nance for com­mer­cial pub­lish­ing com­pa­nies but only some­times qual­ity lit­er­a­ture.


8. The res­o­nance the cre­ation achieves in other minds


This cat­e­gory extends directly from sec­tion 6, but con­sid­ers the indi­vid­ual reader or viewer or lis­tener more specif­i­cally.

Some of the lit­er­a­ture which influ­enced me most deeply was encoun­tered in free moments as a 19 year old, work­ing night shift in a dock­yard. On the other hand I aban­doned the uni­ver­sity study of lit­er­a­ture under a tor­rent of super­fi­cially lec­tured “great works” which were ruin­ing my appre­ci­a­tion of read­ing for plea­sure. The gen­uine impact which any artis­tic cre­ation has on us depends cru­cially upon our own state of mind. For this rea­son, regard­less of the soci­etal con­sen­sus about the artis­tic value of a cre­ation, it is worth­less to us if we are not in a frame of mind or state of matu­rity to receive it.

One of the tragedies of mass edu­ca­tion in schools and uni­ver­si­ties is that it bulk feeds stu­dents “knowl­edge”, includ­ing cul­tural expe­ri­ences, on the assump­tion that all are ready, pre­pared and will­ing to take it in. The out­come is that large num­bers of indi­vid­u­als are either per­ma­nently alien­ated from much excep­tional cre­ative work, or enter defen­sively into a per­ma­nent state of hypocrisy, going through the motions with an elab­o­rate reper­toire of adjec­tives while assum­ing that every­one else secretly also finds the whole thing a crash­ing bore. They may even build a career from going through the motions.

My per­sonal per­cep­tion is that a great deal of what goes on in uni­ver­si­ties, for exam­ple, is con­t­a­m­i­nated by elab­o­rate and hyp­o­crit­i­cal role play­ing which bets on ‘win­ners’ in the absence of gen­uine insight. This can eas­ily lead to con­spir­a­cies of mutual but fraud­u­lent con­grat­u­la­tion. Some­times the whole enter­prise devel­ops a per­verted sense of cre­ative worth. Thus the recent unmask­ing as a pla­gia­rist of Queens­land poet and lit­er­ary fes­ti­val orga­nizer, Gra­ham Nunn (Bochen­ski 2013 and Wyn­d­ham 2013) is just a quick peek under the sheets illus­trat­ing (I believe) some­thing quite wide­spread.


9. The role of cre­ation in the tapes­try of human myth


Every cul­ture has a reper­toire of myth which plays a large part in defin­ing its core val­ues. I use the word ‘myth’ here NOT in its col­lo­quial usage of mean­ing “a com­mon belief which should not be believed”. Rather myth here refers to a body of sto­ries and some­times oral poetry which is passed across gen­er­a­tions. In lit­er­ate cul­tures it may be col­lected and iden­ti­fied under the name of some author, such as the Iliad and Odyssey of Homer, or the Ice­landic Sagas. Occa­sion­ally they are assem­bled and elab­o­rated in the name of a reli­gion, as with the Chris­tian Bible. In purely oral cul­tures these sto­ries are sim­ply trans­ferred by recita­tion, and it is in oral form that their most ele­men­tal qual­i­ties are found.

Myths have intrigu­ing prop­er­ties. They are always rec­og­nized as part of a culture’s lit­er­ary canon, a com­mon source of ref­er­ence in daily life as well as in other writ­ings. The ori­gins of myths are usu­ally indef­i­nite his­tor­i­cally, though they some­times claim an unver­i­fi­able pre­ci­sion such as the origin of the world. Often they hark back to an ear­lier, found­ing age where the defin­ing qual­i­ties, fears and hope of the cul­ture were first iden­ti­fied. Above all myths, like lan­guage itself, are stripped of indi­vid­u­al­ity. They have no sin­gle authors, although in the writ­ten form some com­piler may claim author­ship and attempt to impose a style. What­ever qual­i­ties and pat­terns myths share are com­mon to all human beings. Some researchers like Claude Levi Strauss, rec­og­niz­ing the uni­ver­sal qual­i­ties of myth, have seen the study of their struc­ture as a door­way into the orga­ni­za­tion of the human mind itself.

Crit­ics may argue about the artis­tic value of cre­ations by known authors, and even arrive at some pro­fes­sional con­sen­sus within their lit­er­ary cir­cle. We could still say that their judge­ments are essen­tially sub­jec­tive, and indeed each gen­er­a­tion of crit­ics seems to pro­duce a dif­fer­ent con­sen­sus. Myth is above and beyond crit­ics. We may also express a per­sonal opin­ion about the value of a myth to us, but it can only be per­sonal. Myths have been adopted, mostly with­out ques­tion, by most par­tic­i­pants in entire cul­tures. Myths have sur­vived because they res­onate with nearly all the mem­bers of those cul­tures, and val­i­date their com­mon iden­tity. Myths then are a spe­cial kind of lit­er­a­ture, a sub­strate upon which other cre­ations may be built. Of course, each age and sub­cul­ture has other sub­strates of under­stand­ing, some as ephemeral as the season’s fash­ion, some like the works of England’s William Shake­speare try­ing to claim a more durable place in our com­mon under­stand­ing.



10. The dura­bil­ity of the creation’s rep­u­ta­tion


There are some kinds of artis­tic cre­ation which are designed to be ephemeral. The chore­og­ra­phy of an opera or an Olympic games cer­e­mony might live on in urban leg­end for a while, but really the fris­son of the achieve­ment is that it is a sin­gu­lar achieve­ment at a moment in time. This is true of per­for­mance arts in gen­eral.

I have just dis­cussed the unique dura­bil­ity of myth, and noted the per­sis­tence of some lit­er­ary cre­ations like the work of William Shake­speare. There is a sense in which dura­bil­ity may be asso­ci­ated with lit­er­ary and artis­tic worth. We may feel that the worth­less may soon be aban­doned, and the wor­thy pre­served. That is cer­tainly the hope or assump­tion upon which insti­tu­tions like uni­ver­si­ties have pro­moted the notion of a lit­er­ary canon, or supreme works of art. How­ever the attach­ment of dura­bil­ity to artis­tic worth might be hard to defend. It is not that those works cho­sen to rep­re­sent the canon are not wor­thy, or even supremely excel­lent. They are, and they deserved to be rec­og­nized.

How­ever, there are now more human beings walk­ing this planet than have existed from the com­bined totals of all pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions. Amongst those who are now alive there are more who are edu­cated, and have the oppor­tu­nity and tech­nol­ogy to express cre­ativ­ity than in all of prior his­to­ries. This means that not only is there more junk assault­ing our senses than ever before, but for those with the time and skills to look, there are more hid­den works of genius cre­ated daily than any indi­vid­ual can ever take account of. I men­tioned 200 mil­lion blogs. That is merely one medium amongst many. Even the estab­lished authors of best sell­ers are rapidly crowded out as the pub­lish­ing cycle spins ever faster (McCrum 2014). Our mul­ti­tude cre­ates both oppor­tu­nity and tragedy. Oppor­tu­nity to cre­ate, and a tragedy of anonymity. Shake­speare could might­ily impress a few mil­lion Eng­lish­men, and cer­tainly deserved the praise. Today’s Shake­speares will mostly never be known. Heaven knows, my own tal­ent is faint and fleet­ing, yet like the legion of truly gifted unknown cre­ators out there, when I pass on and my Inter­net sub­scrip­tion expires, my scrib­bles will float around as space junk for a while then fade into the ether forever.

There was a time when some could cred­i­bly claim to be edu­cated in the lit­er­ary canon of their cul­tures (naïve aca­d­e­mics and snobs are still prone to this). Such a con­cept of a lit­er­ary canon no longer seems defen­si­ble, except as a prop­erty of some self-defined social club. Per­haps the con­cept has always been fool­ish. I recall that in the 1960s a super­cil­ious lit­er­a­ture tutor asked if I con­sid­ered myself to be an edu­cated man. I bit my lip, being a cal­low 20s some­thing, then imme­di­ately wished that I’d asked if she knew how to tune the dual bar­rel car­bu­ret­tor on my motor bike.


11. The sta­tus of the cre­ation as a cul­tural marker


Although I have expressed doubts about the use­ful­ness of pro­mot­ing a for­mal  lit­er­ary canon, there is no doubt that cer­tain arte­facts, lit­er­ary cre­ations, or even films receive wide recog­ni­tion as cul­tural icons in par­tic­u­lar coun­tries, and a few pan-nation­ally. For exam­ple, local antiques – good, bad and indif­fer­ent – are for­bid­den for export from many coun­tries. They are seen as part of the cul­tural her­itage and may be extrav­a­gantly praised.

Lit­er­ary cre­ations from ear­lier cen­turies, like antiques, may sim­i­larly achieve a ven­er­a­tion which would never be con­sid­ered in a con­tem­po­rary work of sim­i­lar qual­ity. This is espe­cially so where ear­lier lit­er­ary works were scarce. Some 3rd World coun­tries with rel­a­tively new lit­er­ary tra­di­tions have pro­duced authors of world stan­dard, but I have also seen exam­ples where a 3rd World uni­ver­sity, scratch­ing for local heroes, will lion­ize some rather dubi­ous can­di­dates. It is a nat­u­ral human reac­tion, also seen some­times in the lit­er­a­ture of cer­tain social, eth­nic or other minor­ity groups. Some­thing is bet­ter than noth­ing in the shop win­dow, and at least cre­ates a start­ing point for later achieve­ments. For this kind of psy­chol­ogy, artis­tic cre­ation is no dif­fer­ent from sport, busi­ness enter­prise, or even mil­i­tary adven­tur­ism. For sim­i­lar rea­sons, in my own field, lin­guis­tics, it is prob­a­bly a smart career move to write the gram­mar of a lan­guage with ten sur­viv­ing speak­ers, as opposed to Eng­lish.

Late­com­ers to the lit­er­a­ture of a major lan­guage like Eng­lish face over­whelm­ing odds against attain­ing iconic cul­tural sta­tus. There is not only the weight of a vast pre­ced­ing lit­er­ary out­put to sur­pass, but also entrenched expec­ta­tions from read­ers about genre, and a vast indus­try of crit­ics voca­tion­ally wed­ded to one aca­d­e­mic regime or another.


12. The cre­ation as a mar­ketable arte­fact


Like every­one else, artists, writ­ers, musi­cians and cre­ative types gen­er­ally must eat. His­tor­i­cally the gen­eral run of these folk have needed to keep their day jobs as well. That at least yields a cer­tain degree of cre­ative licence, although self-indul­gence itself is rarely con­ducive to great art. In the end there is always a dis­ci­pline of cater­ing to other tastes beyond the creator’s own. If he is excep­tional the cre­ator may lead oth­ers to see what was not pre­vi­ously con­ceived of, but this path to awak­en­ing other minds is always fraught. When medieval artists and writ­ers depended upon patrons, their work had to be fil­tered through the men­tal and moral lim­i­ta­tions of those per­sons. Nowa­days the nay-say­ers are more likely to be cor­po­rate com­mit­tees and accoun­tants.

Where finan­cial reward or gen­eral pub­lic acclaim is sought for a piece of writ­ing, the com­mer­cial pub­lish­ing indus­try must be pla­cated. Pub­lish­ing is a high risk finan­cial ven­ture with a hor­ren­dous level of mar­ket­ing fail­ure. To break even from a mod­est but pro­fes­sion­ally edited pub­li­ca­tion, a pub­lisher might have to sell, say, 3000 copies. Under these con­di­tions, iron rules of con­ven­tional mar­ket­ing wis­dom come into play. Rep­u­ta­tion and brand are at a pre­mium. A known and loved author is bank­able. An out­sider has to sell some­thing more than com­pe­tent writ­ing. Thus, the clichés of sex and vio­lence, done accord­ing to cul­tural expec­ta­tions, are the short­est route to com­mer­cial suc­cess in the minds of pub­lish­ing exec­u­tives and film pro­duc­ers.  E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey, a recent entrant employ­ing this for­mula, has sold 100 mil­lion copies regard­less of appar­ently very mod­est lit­er­ary com­pe­tence. Mean­while writ­ers of greater lit­er­ary sophis­ti­ca­tion have to wait for a Nobel Prize to boost their sales and rep­u­ta­tion for a sea­son before sink­ing into the obscu­rity lit­er­a­ture depart­ment read­ing lists.

In the com­mer­cial world, the qual­i­ties of insight through which a great writer may change the lives of some read­ers take sec­ond place to mass mar­ket­ing hooks of crude emo­tion, as do mark­ers of a mas­ter crafts­man such as plot and char­ac­ter devel­op­ment. That is, such qual­i­ties are still to be found, but they have to be shoe-horned around the mar­ket­ing demands of a pub­lish­ing spon­sor. What is true of nov­els is even more true of cin­ema, where the ini­tial finan­cial invest­ment can run into mil­lions of dol­lars. Cen­turies ago West­ern lit­er­a­ture was infused with reli­gious iconog­ra­phy. More recently, over time the com­mer­cial imper­a­tive has shaped much of the lit­er­a­ture and visual media, and hence the wider cul­ture into other norms. It will be inter­est­ing to see if elec­tronic book pub­lish­ing (where “out of print” is unknown) and now bur­geon­ing self-pub­lish­ing even­tu­ally reshape, once again the land­scape of what is gen­er­ally expected and avail­able in lit­er­a­ture.


13. The cre­ation as a social class marker


Just as no artis­tic cre­ation ever comes to life in a cul­tural vac­uum, all human cul­tures sub­di­vide them­selves into a plethora of sub-cul­tures. In fact, many peo­ple role switch between a vari­ety of sub-cul­tures. Sub-cul­tures may be defined by reli­gion, or employ­ment, or edu­ca­tion, or loca­tion, or inter­ests, or fash­ion, or age, or eth­nic­ity, or even self-iden­ti­fied lev­els of sophis­ti­ca­tion and intel­li­gence.

Artis­tic cre­ation of one kind or another finds a niche in all of these chameleon social iden­ti­ties. It can scarcely be sur­pris­ing then that notions of lit­er­ary and artis­tic worth only some­times tran­scend the par­tic­u­lar social group where an artis­tic cre­ation has its origin. Just as with lan­guage use, art, music and lit­er­a­ture can them­selves be defi­ant badges to mark off cul­tural ter­ri­to­ries. That which is den­i­grated in one domain will be ven­er­ated in another. More or less objec­tive qual­i­ties, when they can be found, will be selec­tively mar­shalled to sub­jec­tive pref­er­ences, and the argu­ments amongst afi­ciona­dos may be fierce. Whether it is street kids diss­ing a rap rou­tine, or solemn pro­fes­sors shred­ding a novel, the process (and self-impor­tance) is pretty much the same. Out of this stew one per­for­mance or one novel will be declared supreme by group con­sen­sus. In the worlds of sci­ence and social sci­ence (also awash with com­pa­ra­ble psy­cholo­gies) it is called con­fir­ma­tion bias. For the lucky writer or artist or musi­cian, their local mas­ter­piece may make it into a text book or school cur­ricu­lum and guar­an­tee them a year or two of fame.


14. The cre­ation as a tool of pro­jec­tion for other agen­das


Most writ­ing is not done with the aim of cre­at­ing some­thing of lit­er­ary value. Lit­er­ary value may be a by-pro­duct, but over­whelm­ingly the aims of writ­ing are to archive infor­ma­tion, to inform, to pro­pa­gan­dize, or to gen­er­ate sales. Not sur­pris­ingly, we see most of this stuff either as ephemera (the daily news­pa­per), or reg­u­la­tion hiero­glyph­ics which hardly any­one is ever expected to read.

When writ­ing is the hand­maiden of other agen­das, it tends to grav­i­tate to for­mal­ism. Much writ­ing is writ­ten accord­ing strict for­mu­lae which almost pre­clude imag­i­na­tion or attrac­tive style. So-called tech­ni­cal writ­ing is a high priced and awful exam­ple. How­ever, where the pitch is to the widest pos­si­ble audi­ence, rather for­mu­laic con­struc­tion is also the rule, together with care­ful sub-edit­ing to cater for read­ers of more lim­ited abil­ity or intel­li­gence. In this case, the end game is usu­ally to gen­er­ate sales. Actual con­tent tends to be pre­dictable. In the 1960s, work­ing for a mass cir­cu­la­tion tabloid news­pa­per, I recall that the demand was to “aim for a read­ing age of 11 years” (aver­age lit­er­acy in the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion decli­nes after 14 years of age). The Reader’s Digest process of reduc­ing famous lit­er­a­ture to com­pressed and sim­pli­fied sum­maries also falls into this tra­di­tion.

Writ­ing by strict rules does not nec­es­sar­ily pre­clude lit­er­ary worth and orig­i­nal­ity. Son­nets and haiku are rigidly con­trolled for­mats. Some­thing sim­i­lar can be found his­tor­i­cally in music and art, both of which have also fre­quently been com­mis­sioned for reli­gious pur­poses. Sim­i­larly pro­pa­ganda cre­ations in the spirit of heroic Com­mu­nist real­ism may have left them­selves open to satire from the ide­o­log­i­cally opposed, but did not have to be inher­ently artis­tic trash. Within artis­tic cre­ation, as in life, our most exu­ber­ant play­grounds for frol­ick­ing are often found within the safe bounds of delim­ited free­doms.


15. Do Humans have some inher­ent capac­ity for appre­ci­at­ing lit­er­a­ture and art gen­er­ally?


The search in all social sci­ences is for under­ly­ing pat­terns which are attrib­ut­able to whole soci­eties, or even more inter­est­ingly to all human beings. Suc­cess in estab­lish­ing such pat­terns in var­i­ous dis­ci­plines has been elu­sive. Sug­ges­tive pat­terns are easy to find. If we adopt the stan­dards of so-called hard sci­ences for social sci­ences, then pin­ning down clear pat­terns from inherited or envi­ron­men­tal sources, or some mix­ture of devel­op­men­tal inputs, then bul­let-proof sci­en­tific cer­tainty has usu­ally been just too hard to achieve. It is not that social sci­ence researchers are idiots. The vari­ables are just too many and too com­plex to con­trol in any­thing which looks like a solid exper­i­men­tal design. [Of course attempts at such ‘sci­en­fi­cism’ have been man­i­fold, and the claims many and bold – enough to sus­tain count­less careers].

My own core inter­est is cog­ni­tive lin­guis­tics (though I mostly haven’t made a liv­ing at it). From the begin­ning mod­ern research lin­guists (i.e. not sim­ply peo­ple who speak mul­ti­ple lan­guages) have sought to find pat­terns in human lan­guages which might reveal deeper truths about the way human brains work. Since the pub­li­ca­tion of Noam Chomsky’s sem­i­nal the­sis, Syn­tac­tic Struc­tures, in 1957 large num­bers of lin­guists have been con­fi­dent that they are on a sci­en­tific track to crack­ing the under­ly­ing code of human think­ing.

If these research lin­guists were indeed cor­rect, then pre­sum­ably we might also be on the thresh­old of major insights, even into processes as slip­pery as value judge­ments about lit­er­ary and artis­tic achieve­ment. For what it is worth, I  began in this research tra­di­tion, and even­tu­ally walked away from two PhD the­ses based on Chom­skyan-type mod­els. I became con­vinced that such mod­els could not, in prin­ci­ple, account for the way human brains process infor­ma­tion and cre­ate lan­guage. As tem­plates the mod­els were sim­ply too crude to use­fully pre­dict out­comes, although even as poor tem­plates they did show up many inter­est­ing reg­u­lar­i­ties within and across nat­u­ral lan­guages.

I have digressed a lit­tle on mat­ter of lin­guis­tic pat­tern­ing since it at least sug­gests the pos­si­bil­ity that there may be prop­er­ties which all human minds share, not only when they make lan­guage, but also when they make judge­ments. In explor­ing the ques­tion of judge­ment, psy­chol­o­gists have not been any more suc­cess­ful that lin­guists in pin­ning out­comes down to any­thing approach­ing the cer­tainty of, say, ele­men­tary chem­i­cal reac­tions like com­bin­ing oxy­gen and hydro­gen to get H2O. How­ever, rel­e­vant to this essay, they have sug­gested a num­ber of com­mon fea­tures in human processes of per­cep­tion, and the way those per­cep­tions seem to be processed. If these fea­tures are indeed shared by all humans, then we might expect them to influ­ence the judge­ments we make in com­mon ways. Obvi­ously indi­vid­ual judge­ments have inputs from a mul­ti­tude of sources, and obvi­ously our indi­vid­ual judge­ments vary, yet taken across whole pop­u­la­tions the influ­ence of com­mon per­cep­tual set­tings might be expected to show up in social pat­tern­ing. I will not go into the con­tribut­ing lit­er­a­ture from research psy­chol­ogy here. That would take this dis­cus­sion too far afield. How­ever, in a pri­vate com­mu­ni­ca­tion, a friend has noted some points about per­cep­tual and cog­ni­tive pat­tern­ing in a col­lo­quial way. It may be use­ful to quote him here:

I think humans share a com­mon abil­ity to rec­og­nize pat­terns that are pleas­ing to the eye, ear and mind (i.e. beauty), and a com­mon abil­ity to rec­og­nize struc­tures that have an elab­o­rate, fine, ele­gant, or skil­ful con­struc­tion, as well as a com­mon abil­ity to rec­og­nize themes and ideas which are stim­u­lat­ing, mean­ing­ful and inno­v­a­tive. It may be this rea­son that con­sen­sus tends to appear regard­ing clas­sic authors and artists.” (Bill Fryer 2014).


16. Judg­ing lit­er­ary and artis­tic value – can it be done?


Lit­er­ary and artis­tic value can cer­tainly be judged. The empir­i­cal evi­dence is that we make such judge­ments all the time. Peo­ple make judge­ments accord­ing to their per­son­al­i­ties, their edu­ca­tion, their inter­ests and their affil­i­a­tions. They enthu­si­as­ti­cally jus­tify their choices with a selec­tive appeal to facts and the sup­port of other opin­ions. Is all of this sub­jec­tive? Of course it is, but it is a sub­jec­tiv­ity which usu­ally leans heav­ily on social con­sen­sus, and that con­sen­sus comes out of the sub-cul­tures within which the critic is a par­tic­i­pant. It might be the local pub, it might be a book club, or a meet­ing of friends who are art enthu­si­asts. It might be an inter­na­tional con­fer­ence of schol­ars in a major uni­ver­sity. Ce la vie. It takes all kinds of peo­ple to make the world go around.

In the end, just as con­sen­sus amongst social groups and his­tor­i­cal eras about the value of artis­tic cre­ations is so vari­able, indi­vid­u­als them­selves vary greatly in the impor­tance they attach to artis­tic judge­ment and the sen­si­tiv­i­ties they bring to bear. For exam­ple, most opera holds no great appeal for me, but I can accept that it is impor­tant to a few peo­ple I know. No doubt some indi­vid­u­als may find the social milieu within which opera is pre­sented impor­tant for their social or career needs and feign inter­est in the music. I hear music of some kind in all lan­guage, the writ­ten too, while for some peo­ple this is incom­pre­hen­si­ble. In vision, the art I per­ceive is often acci­den­tal, not some­body else’s planned pre­sen­ta­tion. Art is a falling leaf, seen from the cor­ner of my eye, a moment of unex­pected light in shade, a whirl of colour on the street, a sud­den cir­cle of peace in the cen­tre of a chaotic land­scape. Isn’t that enough?



Read­ing List


Abu-Zayd, Nasr (Jan 1, 2003) “The dilemma of the lit­er­ary approach to the Qur’an”. Alif: Jour­nal of Com­par­a­tive Poet­ics, online @ http://www.thefreelibrary.com/The+dilemma+of+the+literary+approach+to+the+Qur%27an.-a0122661089

Artists Insight (2014) “Reviews and news about London’s con­tem­po­rary visual arts scene”. Artists Insight web­site (Lon­don), online @ http://artistsinsight.com/

Baum, Henry (7 Octo­ber 2013) “What is Lit­er­ary Value?” IndieReader web­site, online @ http://indiereader.com/2013/10/what-is-literary-value/

Bochen­ski, Natalie (Sep­tem­ber 19, 2013) “Poet accused of pla­gia­rism stood down”. Bris­bane Times online @ http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/poet-accused-of-plagiarism-stood-down-20130919-2u0d5.html#ixzz2fHQyJ1nK

Fen­ner, David E. W. (20 April 2005) “Pro­duc­tion The­o­ries and Artis­tic Value”. Con­tem­po­rary Aes­thet­ics web­site, online @ http://www.contempaesthetics.org/newvolume/pages/article.php?articleID=265

Fitzger­ald, Cathy (Sep­tem­ber 2, 2013) “The Dilemma of Film­ing Beauty”. The Earth­li­nes Review web­site, online @ http://earthlinesmagazine.wordpress.com/2013/09/02/the-dilemma-of-filming-beauty-a-guest-post-by-cathy-fitzgerald/

Flood, Alison (5 March 2014) “Cre­ative writ­ing pro­fes­sor Hanif Kureishi says such courses are ‘a waste of time’. Bud­dha of Sub­ur­bia author, who teaches sub­ject at Kingston Uni­ver­sity, added that many of his stu­dents could ‘write sen­tences’ but not tell sto­ries”. The Guardian online @ http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/mar/04/creative-writing-courses-waste-of-time-hanif-kureishi

Green, Daniel (29 Jan­u­ary 2009) “Cir­te­ria for Lit­er­ary Value”. The Read­ing Expe­ri­ence web­site, online @ http://noggs.typepad.com/the_reading_experience/2009/01/lev-grossman-has-seen-the-future-of-fiction-in-the-digital-age-and-has-come-back-to-tell-us-about-it——-like-fan-fiction.html

Hunter, Lynette (2000) “What Is Lit­er­ary Value? | Gre­sham Col­lege Lec­tures”. Gre­sham Col­lege web­site, online @ http://www.gresham.ac.uk/lectures-and-events/what-is-literary-value?

Jar­rett, Chris­tian (27 Feb­ru­ary 2014) “If an artist is eccen­tric we find their work more enjoy­able and assume it’s more valu­able”. Research Digest, online @ http://bps-research-digest.blogspot.com.au/2014/02/if-artist-is-eccentric-we-find-their.html

Lam­ond, Julieanne (24 Jan­u­ary 2014) ” Stella vs Miles: Women Writ­ers and Lit­er­ary Value in Aus­tralia”. Mean­jin lit­er­ary mag­a­zine, online @ http://meanjin.com.au/articles/post/stella-vs-miles-women-writers-and-literary-value-in-australia/

May, Thor (1 June 2003). “So You Wanna’ Write a Poem??” The Pas­sion­ate Skep­tic web­site, online @ http://thormay.net/unwiseideas/wannawriteapoem2.html

May, Thor (19 Decem­ber 1998) “The Art of Dis­pro­por­tion”. The Pas­sion­ate Skep­tic web­site, online @ http://thormay.net/unwiseideas/disproportion.html

May, Thor (2006) “Times Sixty on Frosty Gye­myeongsan”. Youtube recita­tion online @ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6UHw5s5sCRg ; words of the poem at http://thormay.net/literature/timepassing/times_sixty.htm [con­text: Gye­myeongsan is a moun­tain in cen­tral Korea, at that time tow­er­ing behind my apart­ment].

Meskin, Aaron (n.d.) “Aes­thetic Value”. Academia.edu web­site, online @ https://www.academia.edu/820698/Aesthetic_Value

McCrum, Robert (2 March 2014) “From best­seller to bust: is this the end of an author’s life?”. The Guardian news­pa­per, online @ http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/mar/02/bestseller-novel-to-bust-author-life

Mitchell, David (23 August 2012) “Taste”. David Mitchell’s Soap­box chan­nel, online @ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sg_gj2UO2tU

New York Times (16 Octo­ber, 1881) “The Stan­dard of Lit­er­ary Value”. New York Times archive, online @ http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=FB0917FD3B5A11738DDDAF0994D8415B8184F0D3

Satchi­danan­dan, K (March 21, 2014) “Dilem­mas of Indian lit­er­ary crit­i­cism”. Front­line web­site (The Hindu news group), online @ http://www.frontline.in/columns/K_Satchidanandan/dilemmas-of-indian-literary-criticism/article5739887.ece

Sher­win, Brian (2/26/2011) “Fin­eArtViews Inter­view: Mat Glea­son — Art Critic and Founder of Coag­ula Art Jour­nal”. Fine Art Views web­site, online @ http://faso.com/fineartviews/27987/fineartviews-interview-mat-gleason-art-critic-and-founder-of-coagula-art-journal

Sötér, István (1970) “The Dilemma of Lit­er­ary Sci­ence”, in István Sötér and René Bon­ner­jea, István, New Lit­er­ary His­tory. Vol. 2, No. 1, A Sym­po­sium on Lit­er­ary His­tory (Autumn, 1970), pp. 85–100 Pub­lished by: The Johns Hop­kins Uni­ver­sity Press online @ http://www.jstor.org/stable/468590

Tag­gart, Andrew J.  (Fall 2006) “The Func­tion and Value of Lit­er­a­ture and Lit­er­ary Stud­ies Recon­sid­ered”. Project Muse web­site, online @ http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/lit/summary/v033/33.4taggart.html

Wan, William (9 March 2014) “Chi­nese offi­cials debate why China can’t make a soap opera as good as South Korea’s”. Wash­ing­ton Post, online @ http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/chinese-officials-debate-why-china-cant-make-a-soap-opera-as-good-as-south-koreas/2014/03/07/94b86678-a5f3-11e3-84d4-e59b1709222c_story.html

Wig­gins, Adam (11 May 2005) “Defin­ing Artis­tic Value”. Adam@Dusk blog, online @ http://dusk.org/adam/?p=47

Wikipedia (2014) “Arche­typal lit­er­ary crit­i­cism”. Wikipedia online @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archetypal_literary_criticism

Wikipedia (2014) “Art Blog”. Wikipedia online @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art_blog

Wikipedia (2014) “Art Crit­i­cism”. Wikipedia online @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art_criticism

Wikipedia (2014) “Art”. Wikipedia online @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art

Wikipedia (2014) “Claude Lévi-Strauss”. Wikipedia online @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claude_L%C3%A9vi-Strauss

Wikipedia (2014) “Com­par­a­tive Lit­er­a­ture”. Wikipedia online @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparative_Literature

Wikipedia (2014) “Crit­i­cal The­ory”. Wikipedia online @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_theory

Wikipedia (2014) “Fifty Shades of Grey” by E.L. James. Wikipedia online @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fifty_Shades_of_Grey

Wikipedia (2014) “Lit­er­ary Crit­i­cism”. Wikipedia online @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Literary_criticism

Wikipedia (2014) “Lit­er­ary merit” Wikipedia, online @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Literary_merit?

Wyn­d­ham, Susan (Sep­tem­ber 13, 2013) “Pla­gia­rism the word that can’t be uttered”. Bris­bane Times online @ http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/entertainment/books/plagiarism-the-word-that-cant-be-uttered-20130913-2tpha.html#ixzz2erKKHcAa




The source of this doc­u­ment:


mee­tup group: Gen­tle Thinkers http://www.meetup.com/Gentle-Thinkers/

dis­cus­sion top­ics blog (for the list of pro­posed top­ics): http://discussiontopics.thormay.net/

top­ics already dis­cussed: http://thormay.net/unwiseideas/DiscussionTopics/DiscussionIndex.htm

com­ments: Thor May – thormay@yahoo.com;

Thor’s own web­sites: 1. arti­cles at http://independent.academia.edu/ThorMay ;
2. main site:


Pro­fes­sional bio: Thor May has a core pro­fes­sional inter­est in cog­ni­tive lin­guis­tics, at which he has rarely suc­ceeded in mak­ing a liv­ing. He has also, per­haps fatally in a career sense, cul­ti­vated an inter­est in how things work – peo­ple, brains, sys­tems, coun­tries, machi­nes, what­ever… In the world of daily employ­ment he has mostly taught Eng­lish as a for­eign lan­guage, a stim­u­lat­ing activ­ity though rarely regarded as a pro­fes­sion by the world at large. His PhD dis­ser­ta­tion, Lan­guage Tan­gle, dealt with lan­guage teach­ing pro­duc­tiv­ity. Thor has been teach­ing Eng­lish to non-native speak­ers, train­ing teach­ers and lec­tur­ing lin­guis­tics, since 1976. This work has taken him to seven coun­tries in Ocea­nia and East Asia, mostly with ter­tiary stu­dents, but with a cou­ple of detours to teach sec­ondary stu­dents and young chil­dren. He has trained teach­ers in Aus­tralia, Fiji and South Korea. In an ear­lier life, prior to becom­ing a teacher, he had a decade of find­ing his way out of work­ing class ori­gins, through unskilled jobs in Aus­tralia, New Zealand and finally Eng­land (after back­pack­ing across Asia in 1972).

con­tact: http://thormay.net    thormay@yahoo.com

aca­d­e­mic repos­i­tory: Academia.edu at http://independent.academia.edu/ThorMay
dis­cus­sion: Thor’s Unwise Ideas at http://thormay.net/unwiseideas/unwisendx.html


How do we judge lit­er­ary value and artis­tic value? © Thor May 2014

This entry was posted in art, culture, merit, motivation, philosophy, poetry, proportion, truth, value, writing. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply