Dawson on Art

Nothing is more difficult for the natural man than to understand a culture or social tradition different from his own, for it involves an almost superhuman detachment from inherited ways of thought and education and the unconscious influence of his social environment…Indeed, the more highly educated he is in his own tradition the less will he be able to appreciate all that diverges from it…We cannot bridge the gulf by a purely scientific study of social facts, by the statistical and documentary methods that have been so much used by modern sociologists, for these can never grasp the essential difference of quality that makes a culture what it is. No amount of detailed and accurate external knowledge will compensate for the lack of that immediate vision which springs from the comprehension of a social tradition as a living unity, a vision which is the natural birth-right of those who share in the common experience of the society, but which members of other cultures can only obtain by an immense effort of sympathetic imagination.

Art, in the widest sense of the word, is the great bridge which crosses the gulf of mutual incomprehension that separates cultures. To understand the art of a society is to understand the vital activity of that society in its more intimate an creative moments. We learn more about mediaeval culture from a cathedral than from the most exhaustive study of constitutional law. [ Dynamics of World History, 71]

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