Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Denis Dutton

The Gallery is much saddened to learn of the passing of Professor Denis Dutton on 28 December 2010 at Christchurch.

Born in 1941, Denis has been a distinguished professor of Philosophy at the University of Canterbury since 1984. His 1999 book The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution was an innovative introduction to the relationships between aesthetics and our current understanding of art.
Dennis abhorred cant and was famous for his Bad Writing Contest that argued against rhetoric as a useful mode of art interpretation.

One of his most important innovations was the establishment of his website Arts & Letters Daily in 1998. As an aggregator of the best essays and book reviews in English about the arts, politics, humanities and the sciences, this website was internationally renowned for its content and the punctilious nature of its teasers. Some comic commentator once noted that Denis’s teasers could be more interesting to read than some articles.

Arts & Letters Daily remains an influential aggregator of information. Its format deliberately alludes to the design of 18th century tabloids. I recommend it.
The site’s motto was Veritas odit moras, line 850 of Seneca’s version of Oedipus. This text means Truth hates delay.

A few years ago, I spent a day with Denis viewing his outstanding private collection of Melanesian art. He was as knowledgeable on the subject as a museum curator who specializes in the subject. He was a generous teacher and a brilliant scholar.
Denis's reputation remains an emblem for both philosophy and art scholarship to all of New Zealand’s universities. His eulogy published in the New York Times registers how much his significance as an innovative academic was known internationally.

Caption: Portrait of Denis Dutton

Photograph by Martin Woodhall for the Christchurch Star at Christchurch in 2002.

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