“There is first of all the excellence of the products, both the excellence in performance by the painters and that of the portrait itself. This excellence – the very verb ‘excel’ suggests it – has to be understood historically. The sequences of development find their point and purpose in a progress towards and beyond a variety of types and modes of excellence. There are of course sequences of decline as well as of progress, and progress is rarely understood to be straightforwardly linear. But it is in participation in the attempts to sustain progress and to respond creatively to problems that the second kind of good internal to the practices of portrait painting is to be found. For what the artist discovers within the pursuit of excellence in portrait painting – and what is true of portrait painting is true of the practice of the fine arts in general – is the good of a certain kind of life. That life may not constitute the whole of life for someone who is a painter by a very long way or it may at least for a period, Gauguin-like, absorb him or her at the expense of almost everything else. But it is the painter’s living out of a greater or lesser part of his or her life as a painter that is the second kind of good internal to painting. And judgement upon these goods requires at the very least the kind of competence that is only to be acquired either as a painter or as someone willing to learn systematically what the portrait painter has to teach.”

Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue.

Have I mentioned how amazing this book is?

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Aside

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