Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Alternative theses on art

Thanks for all the very interesting comments on my theses on art – the discussion gave me lots to think about, and certainly caused me to rethink some of the theses. (I don’t think anyone agreed with my remarks about “didactic” art, which may be a pretty good indication that I’m wrong…)

Anyway, a couple of people have also posted alternative sets of theses, with some fundamental criticisms of my post: Ten Alternative Theses on Art, and Parsing Ten Theological Thesis on Art.

Update: In addition, see Theses on Art and Ten (Theological) Theses on Art.

13 Comments:

philq said...

I like your comment on didactic art, but it requires a careful understanding of what 'didactic' means. If it simply means any art from which we may learn, then it is clearly false (Brothers Karamazov anyone?) But I took your meaning to be what Rowan Williams, in his book on Dostoevsky, calls 'demonic': making a final statement and closing off the possibility of someone else responding to it. As Williams writes all over the place, in order to be true, art (and language in general) must invite response, and thus be uttered under repentence and judgement.

This same error happens all the time in the opposite direction: many people jump all over you if you refer to 'truth' in reference to art. But again they are thinking of truth in a demonic sense.

Casey Klahn said...

Sorry to be such a hound around here, especially as a newbie. As philq says, I wish to "utter under repentance and judgment".

My responsive ten theses will be up soon - I think I am at @ number 7 in draft form. I am recovering from the most painful man-operation you can imagine, so everything is slow around here.

I also don't understand what you mean by didacticism in reference to art. Also, sometimes bad art is simply bad art.

I do argue with the area of truth in art. Contemporaries see intrinsic truth in art as merit, so that begins the debate against the words "good" and "beauty".

discard said...

I liked the criticism of didactic art -- my point was simply that, embedded in a critique of didactic art is a critique of Christian theology, at least as classically produced. The idea here is that Christian theology, with its transcendence, amounts to a kind of didacticism about the form(s) of being.

joel hunter said...

Oh, I don't know that I'd give up on your didacticism thesis. Works that set out to instruct, lecture or moralize underplay art's cognitive capacities. I tend to agree that didacticism is the enemy of art when the work's aesthetic value is taken to be identical to whatever fact and value assertions the artist wants you to "get" from the work. There's another word for that: propaganda.

Some other scattered thoughts:
We tend to underestimate the didactic power of mass media and the products of entertainment industries.

It seems to me your thesis concerns artistic truth. If so, then the question we have to ask is what enables art to both entertain and instruct?

Some would emphasize the critical function of art (Adorno) to the exclusion of the hermeneutical, and others emphasize the hermeneutical (Heidegger) to the exclusion of the critical. One demands that art serve the wretched urgency of utopian aims, while the other ignores the entangling complications of material verities, this flesh and blood, her pain and joy.

But I take your point that didacticism is the enemy of art because artistic truth is neither identical nor reducible to linguistic claims or logical propositions. Art produced to be used in such a fashion as well as the interpreters who wring such forms of expression from works pedantically trivialize the possibilities of art's unique capacity to disclose the truth. The aestheta are only so much indifferent garb for the "real" meaning.

Didacticism also presumes on its audience. The work can take itself (and can be taken) too seriously. This takes many forms, from holding the Key to Mystery of the Universe to urging upon one the Product that one Cannot Live Without. But art comes from La Mancha, too.

Christian art may (and should) instruct, but it can't only instruct. It should also proclaim. A good hymn, a psalm, an icon, will each illustrate this.

Micheal said...

As one who has written much bad poetry and will surely write more, I'd recommend slowing down in the rush to declare which art is bad and which art is good in such abstract terms. If I told you that I was writing a poem that would justify the ways of God to man, you'd probably call that didacticism. If you came back to me a few years later and found that I'd written Paradise Lost, well, that's a different story, isn't it? Artistic manifestos may justify the creation of a particular kind of art, but they aren't much good at determining which works of art succeed and which ones fail.

M. Leary said...

The beauty of the crucified Christ is one that had already taken its shape in the incarnation, and was critically validated as an ethical and theological form through the resurrection. We can’t single out an aspect of the Christ-Event and pin critical priority on occasions of narrative and thematic analogues. The reason Advent works so well as an aesthetic is its intense thematic complexity. This allows us to perceive the ambiguity of art as a parable of redemption and destruction, of form and expression, of the grotesque and the coherent, and to distinguish between didacticism and propaganda.

M. Leary said...

Regardless, thanks for initiating this conversation. I have responded in more detail elsewhere and have enjoyed the interaction with your theses.

roger flyer said...

I really like what Michael is saying!

And so, unless we can wheedle another defn out of 'didactic', it has to go. Rowan Williams observations are so generous and wonderful and protect us against the dark side of the didactic.

(Michael, I look forward to reading your Paradise Lost...and some will find it didactic. I've written lots of didactic and pedantic and even moronic lyrics. But that shouldn't keep me from writing.)

Here's a shout out to Faith and Theology's blogospherians for all the substance and life this past year. You have been a comfort (and a challenge) to this pilgrim.

I will still choose to listen to Bing Crosby this advent over Kurt Cobain, but I must admit I listen a little differently now.

and to you Ben, thanks for your generosity of spirit and insight and for continuing to put your best self out here/there on the web.

Casey Klahn said...

Please see my humble efforts at
Ten Theses

Ben Myers said...

Many thanks, Casey -- I'd added a link to your post. It has been wonderful to have some real artists (both visual and musical artists) engaging in this discussion.

And speaking of music: thanks, Roger, for your kind words — and thanks especially for the playful way you've helped to shape our discussions here.

For those of you who don't of know Roger's music, you can hear some here, or you can check out his latest CD. If Jesus was from Minnesota, I reckon he'd be singing folk songs too...

Casey Klahn said...

Thanks for the link, Ben. I'm sure I'll feel a wheez today.

Although mine are art-centric, it's been more valuable for me to see the theocentric and "lay" versions.

Ben Myers said...

Oh, and by the way, perhaps I could mention here my favourite novel about art: the lovely My Name Is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok. I've read it several times, and it always makes me wish I was an artist instead of a boring academic...

Erin said...

Thanks for the link, Ben. I clicked on it expecting more F&T chewy-goodness and was shocked to find my theses at the other end. We have a bevy of artists in church and tried to present a simple theology of art a couple of weeks ago, so I felt compelled to at least try and participate.

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