Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Lewis on the Distinction between "Receiving" and "Using" Art

C.S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism, p. 88 (line breaks mine):
A work of (whatever) art can be either ‘received’ or ‘used.’

When we ‘receive’ it we exert our senses and imagination and various other powers according to a pattern invented by the artist.

When we ‘use’ it we treat it as assistance for our own activities.

The one, to use an old-fashioned example, is like being taken for a bicycle ride by a man who may know roads we have never yet explored.

The other is like adding one of those little motor attachments to our own bicycle and then going for one of our familiar rides. These rides in themselves may be good, bad, or indifferent.

The ‘uses’ which the many make of the arts may or may not be intrinsically vulgar, depraved, or morbid. That’s as may be. ‘Using’ is inferior to ‘reception’ because art, if used rather than received, merely facilitates, brightens, relieves or palliates our life, and does not add to it.
HT: S.D. Smith