Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Three questions on art


Kari:

Since I'm not an art historian, I'll broaden the discussion.

First, can the value of the art be separated from the values of the artist?

Would you agree we do it all the time with dead artists? Most casual listeners of classical music have no idea of the moral failings of many notable composers. I hesitate to link to this article from Dennis Prager because I know there are artistic types in our readership and friends of artists and Prager can at times in his zeal to make his point be a little over the top. However, there is one paragraph I'll cite here:
Those of us who love classical music have long had to confront the lack of connection between genius and goodness or wisdom. Richard Wagner, for example, was one of the world's greatest composers and a racist anti-Semite. Neither Beethoven nor Mozart was known to be a particularly decent human being. Herbert von Karajan, one of the most celebrated conductors of the 20th century, served as Kapellmeister under Adolf Hitler and never apologized for his support of the Nazis.
Nazi propagandist filmmaker Riefenstahl would be in this category. There is no denying the visual flair of her work. Peter Jackson was making visual homage to her in those massive troop scenes in The Two Towers.

It is easy to do this separation for artists who are long since dead. But what if the artist is alive? What if there is a movie director whose views (moral/political/religious/whatever) you completely disagree with yet he/she makes great movies? Should you go pay money to go see those movies?

Second, what is the responsibility of the artist for the social consequences of their work?

Some areas of science face this reality. As you know, another person of some controversy died this week: Edward Teller, the so-called "father of the H-bomb." Two news items here and here describe his life and times. How do people view his passionate advocacy of bigger and better nuclear weapons? Should artists have their work scrutinized in the same way?

A third question an artist may face is how much can truth be bent to serve a higher purpose?

When I lived in Washington DC, I remember a powerful exhibit on the Poster Art of WWII at the National Archives. Germans and Japanese were portrayed in highly distorted fashion to engender anger at them. No doubt WW2 was a just war but were those kinds of posters immoral?

Rene

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