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“Different Tastes in Literature”
by C. S. Lewis
What is the essay’s thesis?
What is the essay’s thesis?
“The idea that some preferences in art are really better than
others cannot be got rid of: and...
What is the essay’s thesis?
“I am going to submit that, in a recognisable sense, bad art
never succeeds with anyone.”
In what does bad art not succeed?
In what does bad art not succeed?
“In all this, surely, we find the symptoms of a real want for
bad art, but of a want whi...
What is the transition to joy like?
What is the transition to joy like?
“It was more as if a cupboard which one had hitherto valued
as a place for hanging coa...
How can bad art sometimes be an experience of joy?
How can bad art sometimes be an experience of joy?
“… this sort of thing very often happens when the
reader is imaginative...
How can bad art sometimes be an experience of joy?
“In the mirage we enjoy what is not there--what we are
making for ourse...
How does one distinguish bad art and good art?
“The point is that no one cares about bad art in the same
way as some care ...
How does one distinguish bad art and good art?
How does one distinguish bad art and good art?
“… there is no experience alternative to that of good art. The
experiences ...
Are some works of art better than others?
Are some works of art better than others?
“... you tell me that what I experienced on first hearing the
Prelude to Parsifa...
How does one form good taste in art?
How does one form good taste in art?
What works of art (musical pieces, paintings,
novels, poems, plays, films, etc.) do y...
How does one form good taste in art?
What works of art (musical pieces, paintings,
novels, poems, plays, films, etc.) do y...
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Different tastes in literature

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A brief look at Lewis' view on what makes the difference between good and bad art.

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Different tastes in literature

  1. 1. “Different Tastes in Literature” by C. S. Lewis
  2. 2. What is the essay’s thesis?
  3. 3. What is the essay’s thesis? “The idea that some preferences in art are really better than others cannot be got rid of: and this idea, brought into conflict with the fact that there seem to be no objective tests, engenders the problem ... I have been seriously wondering of late whether we do not make it unnecessarily difficult by an initial mis-statement. Again and again, one finds a writer assuming at the outset that some people like bad art in just the same way as others like good art. This is what I question.”
  4. 4. What is the essay’s thesis? “I am going to submit that, in a recognisable sense, bad art never succeeds with anyone.”
  5. 5. In what does bad art not succeed?
  6. 6. In what does bad art not succeed? “In all this, surely, we find the symptoms of a real want for bad art, but of a want which is not even in the same species with men’s wants for good art. What the patrons of the bad art clearly desire--and get--is a pleasant background to life, a something that will fill up odd moments, ‘packing’ for the mental trunk or ‘roughage’ for the mental stomach. There is really no question of joy …"
  7. 7. What is the transition to joy like?
  8. 8. What is the transition to joy like? “It was more as if a cupboard which one had hitherto valued as a place for hanging coats proved one day, when you opened the door, to lead to the garden of the Hesperides ... Such transitions are simply misrepresented by saying ‘the boy began to like poetry’, or ‘began to like better poetry’. What really happens is that something which has lain the background as one of the minor pleasures of life--not radically different from toffee--leaps forward and envelopes you ... till you tremble and grow hot and cold like a lover.”
  9. 9. How can bad art sometimes be an experience of joy?
  10. 10. How can bad art sometimes be an experience of joy? “… this sort of thing very often happens when the reader is imaginatively superior to the author, and is also young and uncritical. Thus for a boy in the first bloom of his imagination the crudest picture of a galleon under sail may do all that is necessary. Indeed he hardly sees the picture at all. At the first hint he is a thousand miles away, brine on his lips, her head rising and falling, and gulls have come to show that undiscovered country is near.”
  11. 11. How can bad art sometimes be an experience of joy? “In the mirage we enjoy what is not there--what we are making for ourselves or, it may be, remembering from other and better works of which the work before us is a reminder … The patrons of sentimental poetry, bad novels, bad pictures, and merely catchy tunes are usually enjoying precisely what is there. And their enjoyment, as I have argued, is not in any way comparable to the enjoyment that other people derive from good art.”
  12. 12. How does one distinguish bad art and good art? “The point is that no one cares about bad art in the same way as some care about good ... I suggest that any work which has ever really mattered--has got inside the ring fence, and that most of what we call ‘popular’ art has never been a candidate for entry. It was not trying to do that: its patrons didn’t want it to do that: had never conceived that art could do that or was meant to. The criterion of good art would on this view be purely empirical. There is no external test: but there is also no mistaking it.”
  13. 13. How does one distinguish bad art and good art?
  14. 14. How does one distinguish bad art and good art? “… there is no experience alternative to that of good art. The experiences offered by bad art are not of the same sort.”
  15. 15. Are some works of art better than others?
  16. 16. Are some works of art better than others? “... you tell me that what I experienced on first hearing the Prelude to Parsifal was inferior to what you experience in hearing Bach’s Passion Music. I am sure you are right. But I do not think you mean, or ought to mean, that Wagner is bad art in the sense in which much popular music is bad art ... Wagner is ‘good’ by the mere fact that he can become the most important thing in life to a boy for a whole year or more. After that, decide as you please.” [See Prelude to Parsifal] [See Bach St. Matthew Passion]
  17. 17. How does one form good taste in art?
  18. 18. How does one form good taste in art? What works of art (musical pieces, paintings, novels, poems, plays, films, etc.) do you care about?
  19. 19. How does one form good taste in art? What works of art (musical pieces, paintings, novels, poems, plays, films, etc.) do you care about? Spend time on other works that, in a similar way, make you care about them.

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