For Gardner, art, and in particular literature, was more than a career: It was, in almost the religious sense, a vocation, a calling of a chosen individual. He believed that art has a profound and lasting impact on those who receive it, whether they are watchers of plays, listeners to music, viewers of paintings, or readers of novels. For these reasons, reinforced by his personal experience, Gardner felt that art was essentially serious—although it could be playful—and that true art, art that is valid and lasting, must therefore be moral art.
By moral art he meant art that affirms and reinforces all that is best in human nature. Literature in particular has a special place, because among all the arts it has the possibility of being the most vivid and closely felt, and so has the greatest impact. In his own novels and short stories, Gardner sought to embody this artistic philosophy, and his book of criticism, On Moral Fiction, is an outspoken and uncompromising defense of the kind of writing he considered worthwhile and an unsparing assault on that which he considered merely facile, trivial, or downright harmful.
Gardner’s touchstone of good writing was a standard easy to articulate but difficult to execute: It must create a “vivid and continuous dream” for the reader. Mere verbal dexterity, adherence to fashionable but pointless literary trends, or any technique or device that obscured the artist’s ability to perceive and...
(The entire section is 5545 words.)
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