James Joyce on Art and Artists

I’ve been reading Joyce’s Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man. As the character of Stephen, Joyce’s doppelganger, in this autobiographical novel, Joyce says a lot about Art. Since Art is the subject that seems to interest me the most of anything in this world, I especially relished these comments from Joyce, which seems, to me, acute.

Joyce on Art and Artists


The feelings excited by improper art are kinetic, desire or loathing. Desire urges us to possess, to go to something; loathing urges us to abandon, to go from something. The arts which excite them, pornographical or didactic, are therefore improper arts. The esthetic emotion (I used the general term) is therefore static. The mind is arrested and raised above desire and loathing.


The personality of the artist, at first a cry or a cadence or a mood and then a fluid and lambent narrative, finally refines itself out of existence, impersonalizes itself, so to speak.  The esthetic image in the dramatic form is life purified in and reprojected from the human imagination.  The mystery of esthetic, like that of material creation, is accomplished.  The artist, like the God of creation, remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails.


To him she would unveil her soul’s shy nakedness, to one who was but schooled in the discharging of a formal rite rather than to him, a priest of the eternal imagination, transmuting the daily bread of experience into the radiant body of everliving life.

Soul is the form of forms. From Ulysses

You might be interested in reading two other posts I wrote on Joyce:  (1) Ineluctable Modality of the Visible and (2) James Joyce’s 129th Birthday Today.  See my 1-minute film about Joyce called Winning.

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