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Ebook The Use and Abuse of Art by Jacques Barzun read! Book Title: The Use and Abuse of Art
The author of the book: Jacques Barzun
Edition: Princeton University Press
Date of issue: June 21st 1975
ISBN: 0691018049
ISBN 13: 9780691018041
Language: English
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 9.14 MB
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Reader ratings: 6.6

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I found my notes to this book in a box in the loft (part of what will become known as “The Bryant Papers” in a few decades, I’m sure). These notes are nothing more or less than a Complete Theory of Art, and Art here means Everything , from Rheims cathedral to South Park. So, here it is. I’m sure most of this is Barzun’s ideas, but I’m pretty sure I added and tweaked a bit too, and it’s my list of examples at the end. So :


Art performs one or more of three functions:

1) decorative (aesthetic). JB calls this “art as the enhancer of life”.

2) Self-expressive (which may be called therapeutic). JB calls this “art as a sanctuary… art as better than life… a truer reality”.

3) Ideological (aka inspirational) which subdivides into a) philosophical/religious, and b) political. JB calls this “art as the detergent of life… art for a better life”.

Furthermore, all art in these categories can be presented in two distinct modes:

i) the lyric – the celebratory, the incantation, the expression of depth, the interior

ii) the narrative – an incarnation within a sequence of events, the expression of breadth, the exterior

In order to make all this abstraction clearer, here are examples of each function and each mode. Not all are a perfect fit.


Decorative/lyric : The Waves by Virginia Woolf (not all novels employ plot & narrative and this one is more like poetry)
Decorative/narrative : any comedy or detective story, so let’s say The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie, or Right Oh, Jeeves by PG Wodehouse. These novels are wonderful decorations.

Self-expressive/lyric : Proust! I don’t think people read him for the galloping page-turning heart-thumping twists and turns of the plot.
Self-expressive/narrative : any autobiographical novel – say Sons & Lovers by D H Lawrence or The Country Girls by Edna O’Brien – I love that one.

Ideological/lyric : I guess this would be any major statement by an author in the form of a novel, so Utopia by Thomas Moore or the Fountainhead by Ayn rand would do – again, you don’t read these for the story
Ideological/narrative : there are hundreds – Germinal by Zola, The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck, anything by Upton Sinclair


Decorative/lyric : all Bracque’s cubist stuff, all Fauvism, Matisse
Decorative/narrative : Renoir’s lovely illustrations of Parisian life – les Parapluies will do nicely, or Her First Outing.

Self-expressive/lyric : all your abstract impressionists fit here, Pollock, Rothko
Self-expressive/narrative : The Beatitudes of Love by Stanley Spencer, all about his own odd life, and very moving

Ideological/lyric : all propaganda posters, Soviet social realism
Ideological/narrative : Guernica by Picasso


Decorative/lyric : arguably the majority of pop songs exist just to decorate our lives and nothing more. Hello Goodbye by The Beatles is an example of a particularly meaningless song which I happen to like a lot but couldn’t really tell you why.
Decorative/narrative : comedy songs will do here – let’s say Ernie, the Fastest Milkman in the West by Bennie Hill or With My Little Stick of Blackpool Rock by George Formby (I hope you know that one!)

Self-expressive/lyric : here come all the mournful singer songwriters – Mother by John Lennon, Sara by Bob Dylan. The great mass of blues songs fit in here too.
Self-expressive/narrative : The last Time I saw Richard by Joni Mitchell or Ballad of John and Yoko by the moptops

Ideological/lyric : Four Women by Nina Simone; Crime in the City by Neil Young; What’s the matter Here by 10,000 Maniacs
Ideological/narrative : Deportee by Woody Guthrie (The Byrds do a great version); The lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll by Dylan; Hurricane by Dylan; Only a Pawn in their Game by Dylan!


Decorative/lyric : You’re by Sylvia Plath
Decorative/narrative The Eve of St Agnes by jovial John Keats; The Hunting of the Snark by Lewis Carroll

Self-expressive/lyric : Poem on my Birthday by Dylan Thomas
Self-expressive/narrative : In memoriam by Tennyson

Ideological/lyric : all your great World War One poets
Ideological/narrative : Essay on Man by Pope


Decorative/lyric : musicals often have little or no narrative content, just the thinnest excuse for a story to drape the songs and routines over, so any Fred Astaire film fits here, or more recently Moulin Rouge (was there any story in that one at all?)
Decorative/narrative : superhero movies, caper movies like Oceans 12, Bourne Identity, all that stuff

Self-expressive/lyric : Scorpio Rising by Kenneth Anger, Pan’s Labyrinth; The Long Day Closes; Me and You and Everyone we Know
Self-expressive/narrative : Diner, Slacker; Hollywood Shuffle; In America

Ideological/lyric : Human Nature
Ideological/narrative: The Godfather trilogy; Boyz n the Hood; The Rapture (I really want to see that one again but it's not available, grrr)

Well, it's a game anyone can play. I found M. Barzun to be a very stimulating companion.

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Read information about the author

Ebook The Use and Abuse of Art read Online! Jacques Martin Barzun was a French-born American historian of ideas and culture.

Reviews of the The Use and Abuse of Art


On one Breath


What do you ask to drive a phone number for?


This is a very predictable author. When you get a book for free, you can read it. The intrigue is present, the unbundling is clear.


A charming book, a lot more!


The first review I put my soul in.

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