Only the Lover Sings: Art and Contemplation by Josef Pieper
This slim volume of essays considers art from the perspective of the artist and the consumer of art. Pieper covers some of the same ground from his Leisure the Basis of Culture, where he distinguishes between work, which is always for some other purpose (e.g. to feed your family or to help your community), and leisure, which is an end in itself. Art is a quintessential leisure activity, or at least it should be. The artist contemplates the world and reflects that back in the works he or she produces. Thus the art is not just a copy of the real world but an interpretive understanding. The artist needs to see the world in an affirmative way in order to have great art. Perceiving the world negatively results in, at best, parody.
For consumers of art, the same is true. To appreciate the value and meaning of a work of art, the consumer needs to see the world in more than just a passing glance. Pieper talks about a trans-Atlantic voyage where he told other passengers about sea creatures only visible in the wake of the boat at night. The passengers reported the next day that they saw nothing the night before. They had only looked for a few minutes, not enough time for their eyes to adapt to let them see. Leisure, in a seeming paradox, requires some effort. The effort is well rewarded.
The book is very short (76 pages) but very full of wisdom and is well worth reading and re-reading slowly.