Does strolling through an art museum, admiring the old masters, improve us morally and spiritually? Would government subsidies of “high art” (such as big-city opera houses) be better spent on local community art projects?
In What Good are the Arts? John Carey–one of Britain’s most respected literary critics–offers a delightfully skeptical look at the nature of art. In particular, he cuts through the cant surrounding the fine arts, debunking claims that the arts make us better people or that judgements about art are anything more than personal opinion. Indeed, Carey argues that there are no absolute values in the arts and that we cannot call other people’s aesthetic choices “mistaken” or “incorrect,” however much we dislike them. Along the way, Carey reveals the flaws in the aesthetic theories of everyone from Emanuel Kant to Arthur C. Danto, and he skewers the claims of “high-art advocates” such as Jeannette Winterson. But Carey does argue strongly for the value of art as an activity and for the superiority of one art in particular: literature. Literature, he contends, is the only art capable of reasoning, and the only art that can criticize. Language is the medium that we use to convey ideas, and the usual ingredients of other arts–objects, noises, light effects–cannot replicate this function. Literature has the ability to inspire the mind and the heart towards practical ends far better than any work of conceptual art.
Here then is a lively and stimulating invitation to debate the value of art, a provocative book that will pique the interest of anyone who loves painting, music, or literature.

via What good are the arts? – John Carey – Google Books.