Mr. McLuhan proceeded to make several assertions about the Arts and the artist:
“The artist is an explorer, and an innovator, one who restlessly seeks new areas; as [James] Joyce and [Marcel] Proust.
The artist is a man for whom the cliché, the banal, is intolerable. The artist is given to concern with freshness, precision and immediacy in the plying of his craft. His object is to renew human awareness of itself and of the world; a renewal of the experience of perception through sight, sound, smell, touch.
The artist is concerned to present a precise demarcation of things. Ordinary human experience is vague, sloppy, confused. The artist’s life is taken up with the ordering of things. He wants to select, to add, remove, to make vivid details.
The artist requires the exact equivalent; the precise formula for every emotion or combination of emotions. Mr. McLuhan illustrated by citing a passage from Dante’s Inferno in which Dante had employed an image suggesting victory against the forces of Hell. It was the introduction of a flood of emotion into a passage of objective description.
The artist seeks to make ordinary observations precise, and to develop taste. His function is the function of an educator. His values are existential; immediate enjoyment of arts. The critical judgment of scholars is that the Arts train perception and develop judgment.
Contemporary education practices are deficient in not using the Arts effectively. These values are not being achieved because the training methods insulate the subject against these values.
Developments in the Arts occur; but they never improve. In the hands of an artist, painting, music, sculpture, achieve a kind of excellence at one leap that cannot be improved upon. The artist must sacrifice early excellence in proceeding to new fields of development. The components of human experience don’t change. The themes of Homer’s Iliad — war, pathos, sorrow, tragedy, defeat, and of the Odyssey — man wandering in exile — are as valid today as they were for Homer. These two modes used by Homer are unchanging; they appear to be basic to human experience.
There is no discussion in the Arts.
The Arts present a possibility of extending the range of one’s experience.” (VDG, March 8, 1949, pp. 2-3)
McLuhan’s statement led to a discussion of “the meaning of improvement in the Arts and Sciences” with particular reference to whether technique in the arts could be viewed as cumulative (p. 3). The extent to which cumulation in the arts and the physical sciences, respectively, was addressed. The group then considered how children’s acts, in relation to art, compared to those of “trained persons.” This was followed by a general discussion of the nature of artistic expression, how the artist is viewed by society, and how people respond to art exhibitions. The session concluded with a discussion of the historical relationship between artistic achievement and broader social factors, with specific attention given to “the existing climate of opinion and artistic or scientific expression” and “[w]ith the conflict between ecclesiasticism and science, science and Nazism, and science and nationalism generally” (p. 6).