The Art of Art Works


276 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-919203-10-8






Reviewed by Terrence Paris

Terrence Paris is Public Services Librarian at Mount St. Vincent
University in Halifax.


Welch, a professor of philosophy at Mount Allison University, makes a distinction between art objects which are studied and admired in social and historical terms, often as mere curiosities, and art works which tie us into what is essential in the human condition. Each chapter is a reflection on art works as, consecutively, maps of life or ways of living, maps of ideation or ways of thinking, and maps of heritage or ways of resuming the traditions of life. Art reveals a wholeness and pattern of life. It redoubles life as in The Iliad of Homer and Van Gogh’s painting Starry Night. Art inspires and transforms our thought, provokes us to reflection, and illuminates our life (as do poems of Blake, Dylan Thomas, and Baudelaire). Art informs the present by undoing its everyday familiarity (as do Chaplin’s film Modern Times and Whitman’s poem Leaves of Grass).

According to Welch, it is our misfortune that we live within the modern tradition of scientific and technological supremacy where art is a distraction, a supplement to our condition, and essentially irrelevant. All is assigned to the domination of the universe. All skills are subsumed to the creation of consumer products. All individuality is negated by the anonymity of labour. Among the ancient Greeks, art (techne) completed what nature was unable to finish, art abided with what emerged in a way appropriate to it, and art contributed to the formation of a finite whole. Art is no longer continuous with the human condition; we have lost an important stepping stone into art. We are like the old blind man in Alex Colville’s Night Walk, who is led by a seeing-eye dog down a path, oblivious to the lamp which illumines the surrounding darkness.

Teachers are preoccupied with indoctrinating their pupils to the demands of industrial society. Welch calls on educators to help others to realize the possibility of art works as essential to the human condition. This book will be useful for all who maintain the importance of the humanities in the curriculum. Readers familiar with the history of Western philosophy will be best prepared, as Welch might phrase it, to stand with the author to face the matter of the work.


Welch, Cyril, “The Art of Art Works,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 21, 2024,