Friday, 3 July 2009

Art and the artiness of being

was the subject of a little email conversation I had recently with a distinguished evangelical pastor ;-) in South Leicestershire, no less... ;-)

After our NTI seminar on aesthetics back in April, he asked...

I also wanted to (if you have time) continue a little conversation about art that you began on Friday when you asked the question "on what grounds should we judge art?"

I think you asked it when I was madly defending Shrek 2 for its cinematic purpose, and you rightly asked "well, if you're defending Shrek 2, how can\ we judge something as bad art?"

Here's what Rookmaaker says:

"Some people feel we ought to define the principle of art solely by the aesthetic. Is this not the core of art? Is not this its true meaning? ...Personally I have many doubts about this...The strange thing is that artists, almost without exception, do strive to express something in their art, and only rarely are happy with the aesthetic element alone. To me, this is one of the proofs that any theory that goes too much in this direction is out of touch with real artistic practice... Another question often raised is this. Should art be criticized on two levels, one aesthetic, the other moral? I think not. First, the term 'moral' is too narrow. It is better to speak of content, or expression, or portrayal of reality..."

Of course his argument goes deeper than this, but I was wondering what you thought were the right grounds on which to judge art.

And I replied in a not-terribly-theorized fashion, along the lines of...

On the question of art, I like Rookmaaker's point there, and think that
we should have (at least?) two ways of judging art simultaneously, the
aesthetic and the moral. On aesthetic grounds there's lots of argument
to be had over what the right standards are to use, of course! And on
moral grounds, I like what HR says about not merely attending to
'content' or 'morality', but on a broader spectrum of things. I wonder [and only the Lord knows what I intended to write here - I unaccountably broke off this sentence!]

Another question worth thinking about is how the art is used, and how it
can be used. It seems to me that we need to look at this because from
the viewer/listener's point of view that is he prime consideration. We
can discuss the morality of art in the abstrct all we like, and talk
about, e.g., camera angles, cinematography, etc, but is it possible to
watch 'Hostel' (to pick a random example) in any other way than either
relish or prurience towards its goriness? If not, then in neither case
is the attitude worth having, and I'm not sure that any amount of 'good'
film-making can justify it being used as art.

So, I think I'm advocating a full-orbed hermeneutic of art - descriptive
(moral check on content), structuralist (the aesthetic, what the work
is), and reader-response (how it is used). Maybe with a combination of
all three measures we can arrive at a total score for each work of art!?
However, it must score above/below a certain threshold on each one to be
worth it.

What do you think? Perhaps we need some more examples...

And then I tried out this approach on Serenity.