Not Just a Good Story: Kierkegaard Expanded

October 8th, 2004 · 1 Comment · Education, Writing


Homer, 700 BCE

The other day, I began to write about what I called Kierkegaard’s version of authenticity (you can read the original quote I reference in the post here), and I attempted to set the ground for building a case for Murray’s entreaty for authenticity using K’s definition of a classic work.

K is arguing in “Either/Or” that it takes two things for art to achieve the status of what he calls a “classic work”: good premise and good form. Accomplishing both leads to a kind of transubstantiation, where the ordinary becomes extraordinary. Homer did not become Homer just because he was writing a great story, but also because he wrote that good story well.

This is pertinent because how we divide our thinking about art today. In contemporary art, we value the idea or premise more than the execution of that idea — we preference content over form. In fact, now content is almost sacred. Many contemporary artists have no formal art training, and either make art that doesn’t require it, or they hire other skilled craftspeople to complete artwork for them. We still call them artists, because we value them for their ideas, not their craft.

But Kierkegaard is saying that it takes more than a good idea to achieve that transubstantian that leads to a classic work. In America, we’ve largely dismissed the idea of connoisseurship; our museums will showcase any artwork just because it’s old without making value judgments. European museums still make distinctions between good and mediocre art. This makes it much easier to pinpoint the distinctions between artists: you will see acres of crucifixion scenes in the Louvre, but what makes one crucifixion scene good and another mediocre? The execution (ba-dum-dum-ching) of an identical idea.

Some art just seems to have a certain magic, something special and mostly undefinable. That’s the art that tends to stick around. Murray calls that kind of art “authentic,” and Kierkegaard calls it “classic.” I’d say it’s just plain good.


Rogier Van Der Weyden, Deposition, 1435

Category: Education · Writing

One Comment so far ↓

  • Leonard Bast

    It may take a while (I’ve got several other posts and comments in various stages of completion now), but I’ll be back to talk about this with you. It’s pointing to several different things I’ve been thinking about.

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