The Art of Fiction

by Henry James

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Who does Henry James consider a true artist in "The Art of Fiction"?

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According to Henry James in “The Art of Fiction,” a true artist engages in discussion, experiment, curiosity, and exchange. The artist is creative and willing to explore new ideas. Further, the true artist challenges presumptions and embraces their perspectives about the world while maintaining a “rich and noble” mind that produces works of truth, beauty, and goodness.

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In his essayThe Art of Fiction,” Henry James comments decisively upon the nature of true art and the role of a true artist. Let's follow his pattern of thought through the text.

In the essay's second paragraph, James explains that

art lives upon discussion, upon experiment, upon curiosity, upon variety of attempt, upon the exchange of views and the comparison of standpoints.

Therefore, an artist, a real, true artist, must also be open to discussion, relish experiment, stand upon curiosity, attempt a variety of techniques and forms, and be willing to embrace open exchange and comparison. This is a creative person who is not stuck in any rut but is, rather, willing to strike out in new directions, explore new areas, and try new things.

As James continues to explore the nature of fiction in more depth, he makes the point that the task of the writer, in this case the literary artist, is to discover and present truth even in the realm of story. The artist, however, must be free to express a “personal impression of life” without the constraint of strict expectations from others, and the true artist will wholly embrace that freedom and write according to their perspectives about humanity and reality. Further, a true artist has the “power to guess the unseen from the seen, to trace the implication of things, to judge the whole piece by the pattern” and to feel life completely. An artist must not even be afraid to fly directly “in the face of presumptions” and challenge their audience to look at the world in new ways.

James concludes his essay with a consideration of goodness, truth, and beauty and their relationship to the artist. He asserts that “the deepest quality of a work of art will always be the quality of the mind of the producer.” A true artist has a “rich and noble” mind that will create a work of art that partakes in “the substance of beauty and truth” and will express a moral purpose naturally without artificiality or force.

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