Thomas Robertson

(1765—1799) Church of Scotland minister and author

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Little is known of Thomas Robertson other than that he was minister of Dalmeny, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh from 1784. He set out to provide a critical examination of all the fine arts, producing his first volume (on music) in 1784. In the prologue to this volume, Robertson provides an interesting discussion on the nature of the fine arts. He first dismisses the notion of distinction between the so-called ‘necessary arts’ (those activities necessary for livelihood) and the ‘arts of pleasure’, remarking that both are present in savage societies; both, he says, seem equally essential to human nature. He does, however, believe that nature and art are distinct and different. Art is not just the imitation of nature. In a shrewd understanding of the creative processes of the artist, Robertson points out that when a painter mixes colours or an architect designs a building, they are creating something that is entirely new. He also contrasts nature and art in terms of beauty and utility. Nature, he says, produces much that is useful without being beautiful, while the artist (he is thinking here particularly of architects) produces much that is beautiful but is by no means useful. Unfortunately, after this first volume Robertson seems to have abandoned the project and no further volumes were published.

From The Continuum Encyclopedia of British Philosophy in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Philosophy.

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