Farewell to Denis Dutton, Arts & Letters Daily Founder, Editor

author and Arts & Letters Daily founder and editor Denis DuttonI just learned today that the founder of Arts & Letters Daily, Denis Dutton, died December 28. I confess I didn’t know who he was until after I spied “Denis Dutton, founder of ‘Arts & Letters Daily,’ has died” on Boing Boing. But I have been a long-time reader of Arts & Letters Daily.

Until I moved abroad at the beginning of this year, I usually consumed A&L Daily just that, daily, along with my cubanos at my local coffee shop, after I had checked my email and the news headlines. I can’t remember how I discovered A&L at first, but was pleasantly surprised to find it: a website resembling a newspaper broadsheet from a couple centuries ago, with links to interesting, thought-provoking articles covering all aspects of art, culture and politics.

Something other than porn, Matt Drudge, Gawker, and Lolcats. No way!

I never really gave much thought to operated it. By the time I discovered it – apparently Dutton started it in 1998 – it was owned by the Chronicle of Higher Education; I always just assumed it was some eggheads there that operated A&L Daily. Dutton continued to run A&L Daily after the Chronicle purchased it in 2002, hand-picking all the linked content, and writing the headline links and blurbs that appeared on the site – apparently right on up to the moment he died of cancer a few days ago.

I was surprised to learn that A&L Daily – such an astute observer and aggregator of … well, arts and letters, of all things on the Internet, that I was surprised to learn that it was founded and run by a professor of philosophy at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand who is, or rather was, 24 years my senior. How cool is that? As I naturally ponder age and death at this time of year, it is comforting to learn that age doesn’t have to equal irrelevancy.

But then, as I’m learning from the New Yorker and other sources, Denis Dutton was a pretty hip old guy. As I ponder the future and what I want to do in it, I’ll take his life as an inspiration.

Just last year he published a book that attempts to elucidate a Darwinian theory of art – an apt subject for a professor of philosophy and the curator of Arts & Letters Daily. I think The Art Instinct will be the next book to be added to my Kindle.

Wherever you now dwell, Mr. Dutton, you have my thanks, for entertaining me with A&L Daily, and now for the inspiration. Godspeed.

As for Arts and Letters Daily, his Dutton’s colleagues at the Chronicle of Higher Education have pledged to carry on. While I have faith, of course it won’t be quite the same, I’m sure, without Dutton behind the keyboard.