Jacques Maritain's

The Responsibility of the Artist

  1. Art and Morality
  2. Art for Art's Sake
  3. Art for the People
  4. Poetry and Perfection of Human Life
  5. Notes


THIS little book is based on six lectures that I was privileged to deliver at Princeton University, under the auspices of the Council of the Humanities, in 1951.

Though the requirements of the subject matter have made it necessary to bring up a number of themes already discussed in Art and Scholasticism and in Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry, my topic does not pertain to aesthetics alone; it pertains also, and mainly, to moral philosophy.

What are, in the poet, the novelist, the man dedicated to any kind of creative art, the relations between the exigencies of poetry and intellectual creativity and those of moral standards, which have to do with the right use of human free will? What is the moral responsibility of the artist with respect to others, and with respect to himself? While he is striving toward the perfection of his work, is it requested of him, and possible for him, to strive also toward the perfection of his own soul? These problems, which are raised by the very activity of the poet and the artist, and which each must, willy-nilly, solve for himself in one way or another, cannot be treated without reference to aesthetics, of course, but they essentially deal with what might be called the ethics of art.

No questions are more intricate than those which relate neither to Art alone nor to Ethics alone, but to Art and Ethics at the same time. The philosopher who, at the risk of displeasing everybody, embarks on such questions, must take into account both the dignity and demands of moral life and the dignity and liberty of art and poetry. Have I succeeded in pointing to the kind of balance which, despite the tensions involved, exists between the two worlds I was considering? At least I have tried to do so.

I wish to express my gratitude to Professor Whitney Oates and to the Council of the Humanities, as well as to the Princeton audience, whose generous sympathy greatly encouraged me to publish this essay. I also wish to thank most cordially Mrs. E.B.O. Borgerhoff for the thoughtfulness and understanding with which she assisted me in the preparation of the book.

Princeton, N.J.
January, 1960

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