Art and Scholasticism by Jacques Maritain

Chapter I

The Schoolmen and the Theory of Art

The Schoolmen did not write a special treatise entitled Philosophy of Art. This was no doubt due to the strict pedagogical discipline to which the philosophers of the Middle Ages were subjected; occupied in sifting and probing the problems of the School in all directions, they cared little that they left unworked regions between the quarries they excavated. Yet we find in them a very profound theory of Art; but we must look for it in austere treatises on some problem of logic -- "is Logic a liberal art?" -- or of moral theology -- "how is the virtue of Prudence, a virtue at once intellectual and moral, to be distinguished from Art, which is an intellectual virtue?"

In these treatises, in which the nature of art is studied only incidentally, art in general is the subject of debate, from the art of the shipbuilder to the art of the grammarian and the logician, not the fine arts in particular, the consideration of which has no "formal" bearing on the matter under discussion. We must go to the Metaphysics of the ancients to discover what their views were concerning the Beautiful, and then proceed to meet Art and see what comes of the junction of these two terms. If such a procedure disconcerts us, it at least affords us a useful lesson, by making clear to us the error of the "Aesthetics" of modern philosophers, which, considering in art only the fine arts, and treating the beautiful only with regard to art, runs the risk of vitiating both the notion of Art and the notion of the Beautiful.

Thus one could, by gathering together and reworking the materials prepared by the Schoolmen, compose from them a rich and complete theory of Art. I should like only to indicate here some of the features of such a theory. I apologize for the peremptory tone thus imposed on my essay, and I hope that despite their insufficiency these reflections on maxims of the Schoolmen will draw attention to the usefulness of having recourse to the wisdom of the ancients, as also to the possible interest of a conversation between philosophers and artists, at a time when all feel the necessity of escaping from the immense intellectual disorder inherited from the nineteenth century, and of finding once more the spiritual conditions of honest work.

Chapter II The Speculative Order and the Practical Order