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This article is taken from PN Review 15, Volume 7 Number 1, September - October 1980.

Criticism and the Emblems of Art Peter Leech

Could art render no affinitive image for life, for the quick of human experience, it would be too chill (and perhaps also too chilling). An art which neglects, or refuses to witness what Walter Pater felicitously describes as 'that perpetual weaving and unweaving of ourselves' in the end lacks the power to move us. It may speak loud in its absorption in its own aesthetic potency, but it leaves no resonating echo: we discover in such art no emblem of our inner ferment.

But these assertions occur in too indelicate a configuration around one of the deeper and central subtleties of the writings of Adrian Stokes: the idea, that is, of the emblematic in art. And it is, I would maintain, his assiduous pursuit of emblem in art which signals the rare quality of Adrian Stokes as a critical voice for art-and, since for art, also for humanity. For what Stokes seeks to propose is that art is instinct with life, and that 'the necessity remains to found art in common experience, and the artist in common man' (The Critical Writings of Adrian Stokes, III, p. 209). The emblematic aspects of art are just those aspects 'in which the coordination of art and life are implicit' (CWS, I, p. 115). And indeed, for Stokes, so intimate is emblem to art that we come upon his declaring 'if one needed to find another word for "art" it would be "emblem" ' (CWS, I, p. 41).

Still, ...


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