For Valentine’s Day, my bosses took the entire office (all six of us) out to lunch. One of my co-workers asked me what my plans were for Valentine’s Day, and I said I was going to eat a heart-shaped pizza, drink mimosas, and watch Shaun of the Dead. And then, for the rest of our lunch, the conversation did not veer away from the topic of movies for even one second. It was kind of bizarre.
Someone brought up A Clockwork Orange, and I was saying that all of the really graphic rape that happens in the film was so disturbing to me that I almost couldn’t finish watching it, and one of my co-workers asked what the point of watching those kinds of movies were. He asked why anyone would want to watch something disturbing or horrifying when they could watch something uplifting that could positively contribute to their lives. He said that that kind of evil stuff could “find a place inside you,” and that he didn’t even want to expose himself to it at all. And then we started talking about horror movies.
I started feeling really sad for my co-worker, that his narrow view of art was keeping him from experiencing some really incredible artistic work.
Good art, to me, is not meant to be good in a moral sense. When art espouses a particular and unbending brand of morality or Truth, that’s when it becomes propaganda. I think good art is meant to be a reflection of reality and of the human condition, which are both infinitely complex and can’t be boiled down to just ‘good’ or ‘evil.’ There are ugly aspects of both that shouldn’t go unacknowledged simply because they aren’t pleasing to look at. As Akira Kurosawa said, “The artist is the one who does not look away.” In order to understand the world we live in, and our place as humans in it, we have to see everything: the beautiful, the hideous, the pleasing, the disturbing; and we have to figure out and embrace how these disparate elements work together. That’s what makes reality whole and dynamic, instead of just one-dimensional. Artists do that better than anyone else.
One way that I judge art is by how much thought it provokes. For example, I mentioned that I was really disturbed by A Clockwork Orange, but I can’t dismiss it just because it was disturbing. I can’t simply say “The fact that there is graphic rape in this movie means that it can’t have any artistic merit.” It’s horrifying and disturbing, but it serves an artistic purpose. The film’s themes of nature versus nurture make me think about the male brain and if there’s a correlation between the prevalence of rape and the license of the male population. It makes me wonder how the male brain can find pleasure in the combination of sex and violence. It makes me think about what facets of a nation’s humanity would have to be neglected for humanity to end up in a world like that of A Clockwork Orange. It makes me think that my being disturbed by the sight, and the idea, of rape says something about me as a human. Thinking and processing is so much a part of what makes us human, and I think any art that encourages intelligent thought is a good thing.
I love that art can make me think, but I also love that it can simultaneously make me feel. I’m an emotional person to begin with, but the extreme outpouring of emotion that I’m able to experience through art is so cathartic. It’s something incredible to experience art that examines the human condition, and through your personal emotional response be able to both be a participant in that piece of art and to recognize the profundity of your humanity through it. It feels like a soul-cleansing, and it’s a beautiful feeling.
Basically, I think art is of the greatest value to the human race. I’ve cultivated these thoughts on art over the course of years of college lectures on art and literature and morality and taboo and the meaning of life, but I would love to hear other opinions or thoughts on the nature and purpose of art. What do you love about art? What do you see as the ultimate purpose of artistic works? Why do you think art is important, or unimportant?