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A number of years ago the BBC aired a series of television programs entitled Civilization, produced and narrated by the distinguished historian Kenneth Clark. Clark opened that series with a quote from John Ruskin:
Great nations write their autobiographies in three manuscripts: the book of their deeds, the book of their words, and the book of their art. Not one of these books can be understood unless we read the two others; but of the three, the only trustworthy one is the last.
The reason our society may find it difficult to understand fully what Ruskin meant may well have something to do with the heading that appears over news about the arts every Sunday in The New York Times: Arts & Entertainment. Even in so eminent a newspaper, the arts are to a large extent considered synonymous with entertainment. And while entertainment is a worthy and appropriate aspect of human living, the word surely doesn't suggest the profound significance that Ruskin (and I, as well) ascribe to the arts.