by Jonathan McIntosh

I’m teaching a graduate seminar on “Theological Poetics” this term at NSA, and one of the texts I’ve assigned is R.G. Collingwood’s classic The Principles of Art. Here’s a little gem on how the artist is one who makes artists of his audience:

If a poet expresses, for example, a certain kind of fear, the only hearers who can understand him are those who are capable of experiencing that kind of fear themselves. Hence, when some one reads and understands a poem, he is not merely understanding the poet’s expression of his, the poet’s, emotions, he is expressing emotions of his own in the poet’s words, which have thus become his own words. As Coleridge put it, we know a man for a poet by the fact that he makes us poets. We know that he is expressing his emotions by the fact that he is enabling us to express ours. Thus, if art is the activity of expressing emotions, the reader is an artist as well as the writer.