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Can wrong ideas in a work of art make it have less artistic merit?

Discussion in 'Arts & Entertainment' started by Lone Wolf, Mar 17, 2010.

  1. Lone Wolf

    Lone Wolf Chieftain

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    Inspired by luiz' post in the Off-Topic thread about "Gone with the Wind"'s racism:

    So, do you think that espousing "wrong" ideas distracts from a work's literary merit, and if yes, to what extent? Of course, there's a question of what ideas are "wrong" in the first place.
     
  2. Mise

    Mise isle of lucy

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    It's hard to find literary merit in a work that lacks intellectual integrity.

    P.S. I'm not talking specifically about GwtW because I've never read it.....
     
  3. Lone Wolf

    Lone Wolf Chieftain

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    Good. I don't want the topic to revolve around GWTW, I just used it as an example.
     
  4. Fifty

    Fifty !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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    Can it? Of course (see anything by Ayn Rand). Does it always? Of course not (see the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel).
     
  5. luiz

    luiz Trendy Revolutionary

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    But would you say that what makes Rand's books bad literature are the values they spouse, and not their actual artistic merits?

    I can't say I agree with that postion (not talking about Rand in particular because I never read her). If one manages to make quality literature while also promoting morally questionable ideas, fact remains it is a quality work of literature.

    For instance, Pablo Neruda was a Stalinist, he wrote several poems in praise of the dictator, and in fact much of his work is morally repugnant, at least to me. But he is still a great poet, perhaps the greatest of his generation, and I recognise that entirely.
     
  6. Dida

    Dida YHWH

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    What would the world think of a romantic novel about dashing German SS officers and a beautiful blonde "maidchen" cavorting charmingly before concentration camp slaves? All the while glorifying Hitler and his 3rd Reich? Critics would be up in arms. Such a novel would fall into disrepute and no one would claim it to be a great work of literature, even if it was well-written. For an artistic expression is devoid of spirit and merit if it lacks moral integrity, no matter how well done the expression is.
     
  7. luiz

    luiz Trendy Revolutionary

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    Critics like "Triumph of the Will".
     
  8. scherbchen

    scherbchen well that can´t be good

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    huh. that is actually a great point.
     
  9. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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  10. Camikaze

    Camikaze Administrator Administrator

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    What's the different between artistic merit and entertainment/educational value? Because if your definition of artistic merit is based upon how well a text can achieve its purpose (which for the most part in art is entertainment or some form of education (I'd put something that makes you think in this category)), then wrong ideas can very well damage that artistic merit, given that it will possibly diminish from the achievement of the book's purpose. For instance, if I'm reading a book full of racist ideas, I'm probably not going to be all that entertained. So artistic merit is lost in the fact that the author would have been unsuccessful in that attempt to entertain me.
     
  11. scherbchen

    scherbchen well that can´t be good

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    well as perfection has pointed out, what we perceive as beauftiful does not necessarily coincide with what we think of as "right". a lot easier to do that with visual arts, most notably paintings and sculptures, and even easier with works of art that are very distant from our time or hot topics. hardly anybody believes in a parthenon anymore but greek or roman statues of said plethora of gods are surely beautiful to many even though they come from a, by now, "heretic" world and pov.

    it is a lot harder to see what is basically the same thing once you are confronted with a narrative and are expected to root/feel for the hero/heroine/main character or are supposed to vilify the antagonist but it is still the same thing, I believe. once you get to the point where you detach yourself from "the message" or from the pov of the author you should be able to see the skill with which it has been put forth. if you can't do that for some reason, and sometimes it is hard to do so if it strikes a topic very close to your personal interests, you might very well comment on the content but not on the artistic merit of it.

    Nazis have already been brought up in this thread so I'll mention an exhibition called Entartete Kunst which was quite popular in the 30s around here. it was supposed to show you how vile and corrupt and unnatural certain artists, their people, and their heritage were. vile stuff like Picasso. huge success. because people wanted to see the art. not the message.
     
  12. Traitorfish

    Traitorfish The Tighnahulish Kid

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    A work may be comprised entirely of "wrong" ideas, and still be art; "art" lies in the communication of content, not in the content itself. I would hold an impassioned, inspired, yet morally despicable work to be of far greater artistic value than something turgid, derivative, but socially acceptable.
     
  13. Fifty

    Fifty !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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    Good point. I guess the situation in which the author's views negatively affect the artistic merit is when the author is hitting you over the head with their views so much that it makes it a bad work of art. Of course, an author with morally or factually correct views can make a bad work of art by hitting you over the head with them too, so I guess its not the bad views as such that are decreasing the artistic merit of the work. It is, though, a bit more annoying to see wrong views espoused badly than correct views espoused badly.

    So maybe the only situation where wrong views qua their wrongness can make a work of art have less artistic merit is that wrong views are a big more obnoxious when espoused with badly. So wrong views can't make a good work of art bad, but they can make a bad work of art a bit worse.
     
  14. Lord Baal

    Lord Baal Chieftain

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    I tend to agree with luiz on this. He mentioned Triumph of the Will, which I was going to do myself, an absolutely brilliant piece of art, which is also morally repugnant. Having wrong or immoral views in a work of art, especially in a narrative medium such as a novel or film, can certainly makes it much harder to react in the manner in which the author wants you to, but it doesn't necessarily make it bad art. More bad business-sense from the author. ;)

    Yes, pretty much what I was saying above.

    I was just reading about this the day before yesterday. "The Exhibition of Degenerate Art." I must point out though that many people did go to the exhibition, and others like it, for the ideological reason of seeing terrible art so they could recognise it in the future. Still, the vast majority were interested viewers, as you described.

    Also this.
     
  15. luiz

    luiz Trendy Revolutionary

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    The purpose of art is generally not to educate. Engagé art is usually boring (with the exceptions that prove the rule).

    I don't want to be rude, but if you can't be entertained by a book or movie just because it contains ideas you find wrong, that's probably a sign of intellectual mediocrity.
     
  16. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Surely it depends entirely upon whether you think that the value of a work of art involves, or is otherwise connected to, its moral values. If you think it is, then expressing poor moral values will devalue it as art. If you think it isn't, then having poor moral values will be irrelevant.

    I think that it probably varies depending on the form we're talking about. Take two examples expressing opposite extremes. First, sermons. A sermon is supposed to teach some worthy moral lesson. A sermon that expresses immoral views is simply a bad sermon. A sermon that expresses moral ones may not be a very good sermon, but other things being equal, it is better as a sermon than one that expresses immoral ones. So in the case of sermons, the morality of the views expressed will affect their value as art. Second, jokes. A joke is supposed to be funny. This has nothing to do with morality. It's possible to have a joke which expresses repugnant moral views, but which is nevertheless funny - just as it is possible to have one with repugnant moral views that is not funny. And conversely, jokes that express no moral views, or positive ones, may or may not be funny. Humour has got nothing to do with morality. In this case, then, it seems that the moral views expressed by the joke are irrelevant to how good it is as a joke (although of course we may think that a joke expressing repugnant moral views is bad as a thing to say rather than as a joke).

    I'd say that most art probably comes somewhere between these two extremes; we value it, to some extent, for the ideas it expresses, not simply for how it expresses them - but not exclusively for the ideas it expresses. So if it's expressing ones we consider immoral, we would probably think less of it as art for that reason, but not entirely.

    Of course things start getting tricky when the immoral views are expressed by the author of the art but not found in the art itself. Should we revise our attitude to Hume's Treatise of human nature in light of the author's startling racism, for example, even though it is not found in that book? Should we refuse to read Lovecraft for the same reason, even his inoffensive writings? That's a whole other question.
     
  17. holy king

    holy king Chieftain

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    good art doesnt show wrong ideas, because it doesnt show any ideas at all.
    good art lets you draw your own conlcusions and ideas.
     
  18. Camikaze

    Camikaze Administrator Administrator

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    So would you not say that entertainment can be diminished due to the prevalence of ideas that are morally repugnant? I mean, sure, it's certainly not the sole defining criteria, but I would think it at least impacts on the entertainment value.
     
  19. Mise

    Mise isle of lucy

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    What? I don't see the connection between intellectual mediocrity and the entertainment value of morally objectionable art...
     
  20. Mise

    Mise isle of lucy

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    Yes, exactly. And it need not be "morally repugnant" - it could simply be something that distracts your attention from the actual art. For example, I found Tolstoy's Anna Karenina an absolutely beautiful piece of art -- but the last 100 pages or so, after Anna dies, which describes Levin's spiritual/religious reawakening, I found terribly tedious. I suspect, however, that someone who underwent a similar experience themselves would more be able to relate to and appreciate the final parts of the story. But for me, I didn't like it because I'm not religious - it didn't mesh with my own views, and I found it difficult to immerse myself in that world as a result.

    It's even more difficult to relate to a book or character who holds views and opinions that you find explicitly immoral. Imagine a devout Christian trying to enjoy a book about a young man's first homosexual experience. That's not to say that those kinds of views always diminish its entertainment value, just that they can...
     

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