Ambrose Bierce – The Devils Dictionary, 1911

Cynics_Word_Book

ART, n. This word has no definition. Its origin is related as follows by the ingenious Father Gassalasca Jape, S.J.

  One day a wag—what would the wretch be at?—
  Shifted a letter of the cipher RAT,
  And said it was a god’s name!  Straight arose
  Fantastic priests and postulants (with shows,
  And mysteries, and mummeries, and hymns,
  And disputations dire that lamed their limbs)
  To serve his temple and maintain the fires,
  Expound the law, manipulate the wires.
  Amazed, the populace that rites attend,
  Believe whate’er they cannot comprehend,
  And, inly edified to learn that two
  Half-hairs joined so and so (as Art can do)
  Have sweeter values and a grace more fit
  Than Nature’s hairs that never have been split,
  Bring cates and wines for sacrificial feasts,
  And sell their garments to support the priests.

CRITIC, n. A person who boasts himself hard to please because nobody tries to please him.

  There is a land of pure delight,
      Beyond the Jordan’s flood,
  Where saints, apparelled all in white,
      Fling back the critic’s mud.
 
  And as he legs it through the skies,
      His pelt a sable hue,
  He sorrows sore to recognize
      The missiles that he threw.

Orrin Goof

LAOCOON, n. A famous piece of antique scripture representing a priest of that name and his two sons in the folds of two enormous serpents. The skill and diligence with which the old man and lads support the serpents and keep them up to their work have been justly regarded as one of the noblest artistic illustrations of the mastery of human intelligence over brute inertia.

PAINTING, n. The art of protecting flat surfaces from the weather and exposing them to the critic.

Formerly, painting and sculpture were combined in the same work: the ancients painted their statues. The only present alliance between the two arts is that the modern painter chisels his patrons.

PHOTOGRAPH, n. A picture painted by the sun without instruction in art. It is a little better than the work of an Apache, but not quite so good as that of a Cheyenne.

REALISM, n. The art of depicting nature as it is seen by toads. The charm suffusing a landscape painted by a mole, or a story written by a measuring-worm.

REPLICA, n. A reproduction of a work of art, by the artist that made the original. It is so called to distinguish it from a “copy,” which is made by another artist. When the two are made with equal skill the replica is the more valuable, for it is supposed to be more beautiful than it looks.

Ambrose Bierce, 1842-1913
The Devils Dictionary, 1911. (The Cynic’s Word  Book, 1906)

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Author: jeh

Jeremy Hunt is Director of the AAJ Press (Art & Architecture Journal / Press) – a writer and consultant on art and public space

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