Chapter 21. "Art is Emotion" by Walter Pater

Table of Contents
Ideas of Interest from The Renaissance
The Reading Selection from The Renaissance
Related Ideas
Topics Worth Investigating

Walter Pater adapted from Wright, Life of Pater

About the author …

Walter Pater (1839-1894) lived and taught at Oxford for most of his life where he excelled as an essayist and critic. Pater's lectures reportedly were hesistant and soft-spoken; Oscar Wilde noted that his talks were not to be heard—they were, rather, to be "overhead."[1]

Pater thought contemporary philosophical theories dwarf our thoughts and lives; he felt æsthetics and a life lived æsthetically embody the significant life. Most of his major views on æsthetics are expressed in Marius the Epicurean and The Renaissance—works often considered to be a major source for the "art for art's sake" movement in the 1890's.

About the work …

In his Renaissance, [2] Pater expresses the view that the spiritually full life is one lived in intensely felt moments. The heart of life, he thought, is the intensity of the moment. The habit for such a focus of experience is extracting the unique beauty, or each unique virtue, moment by moment.

Ideas of Interest from The Renaissance

  1. Why does Pater believe it is a mistake to try to define an abstract concept of beauty? What does he see as the goal of æsthetics?

  2. According to Pater, what is the goal of artistic criticism? What are the primary data of the æsthetic critic?

  3. Why does Pater think analysis limits æsthetic understanding? Does Pater tacitly distinguish scientific and æsthetic experience?

  4. According to Pater what are the inherent dangers of experiencing life in according with philosophical and æsthetic theories? Why is this so?

  5. How does Pater recommend we spend our lives? Explain how living in the sense of the immediacy of life would not lead to a dissipated life. On Pater's veiw, what gives meaning and coherence to experience?



S.N. Behrman. Portrait of Max. New York: Random House. 1960.


Walter Pater, The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry. London: Macmillan. 1873. vii-x; 233-239.