The Appreciation of Art is a Use of Emotional Ability (with an Example from F. Scott Fitzgerald)

Vik RubenfeldNovel6 Comments

We’ve been talking about how the appreciation of art is a use of emotional ability as well as intellectual ability. Here’s a powerful example from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.”

This is packed with the stuff we look for in a work of art. Turn your eyes on this, read every word with your whole heart, and see if it calls to life within you, your emotional appreciation of the beauty of a person’s emotions:

Already it was deep summer on roadhouse roofs and in front of wayside garages, where new red gas-pumps sat out in pools of light, and when I reached my estate at West Egg I ran the car under its shed and sat for a while on an abandoned grass roller in the yard. The wind had blown off, leaving a loud, bright night, with wings beating in the trees and a persistent organ sound as the full bellows of the earth blew the frogs full of life. The silhouette of a moving cat wavered across the moonlight, and turning my head to watch it, I saw that I was not alone — fifty feet away a figure had emerged from the shadow of my neighbor’s mansion and was standing with his hands in his pockets regarding the silver pepper of the stars. Something in his leisurely movements and the secure position of his feet upon the lawn suggested that it was Mr. Gatsby himself, come out to determine what share was his of our local heavens.

I decided to call to him. Miss Baker had mentioned him at dinner, and that would do for an introduction. But I didn’t call to him, for he gave a sudden intimation that he was content to be alone — he stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and, far as I was from him, I could have sworn he was trembling. Involuntarily I glanced seaward — and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock. When I looked once more for Gatsby he had vanished, and I was alone again in the unquiet darkness.

Did it work? Did you feel it? (If not, do not dispair; not every author is for every reader.)

People have written a lot about the green light at the end of the dock. They may all be right; they may all be wrong; my point here is that the beauty of this work of art is not and cannot be communicated by their discussions of whatever intellectual content they may discern in the book.  Want to see this for yourself? Read one of the results of this Google search. Plenty of great information and intellectual insight is to be found there. But the beauty of the work of art is of course absent. This is because the beauty of emotional insight cannot be captured or restated in merely intellectual terms.

If you enjoyed Fitzgerald’s emotions, and the meaning of those emotions, in reading the above excerpt from “The Great Gatsby,” you have witnessed emotional insight in action.

6 Comments on “The Appreciation of Art is a Use of Emotional Ability (with an Example from F. Scott Fitzgerald)”

  1. Fitzgerald’s writing has a beauty, an elegance that borders on poetry although it is prose. I don’t know how many times I have read and enjoyed this book, and now it is one of my daughter’s favorite books, too.

  2. Yes, his prose is poetic, but his novel is flawed,has a very one-sided cynical view of the upper crust and a bit shallow in its understanding of humanity. Like Hemingway said, “Yeah, they have more money”

  3. IIRC, there’s even a big logical anomaly in the middle of it. At the end of one chapter he’s in a car, and at the beginning of the next he’s in a restaurant, and it doesn’t really seem to make sense. I’m dashing out now but I’ll try to look it up later.

    OTOH, emotionally the novel is fantastic. 🙂

  4. I found that part of Gatsby I was talking about. It’s fine – there’s no logical anomaly to it at all. It’s in Chapter 4, where Nick drives to NY to have lunch with Gatsby and meets Wolfsheim. I just reread it and it’s all perfectly logical. 🙂

  5. Pingback: Another Stunner from GATSBY

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