By Study and Also By Faith

An LDS (Mormon) blog representing a search for knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Art and Entertainment

I read an interesting editorial over at and thought I would link to it. We LDS sometimes discuss where we are going or where we might go with art of various kinds, and this essay had some observations about mistakes conservatives make with art. I thought it brought up some interesting ideas. Whether you agree or not, it gives you some points to consider. The editorial is called "Ten Mistakes Conservatives Make in Art and Entertainment" by Erik Lokkesmoe.

One question I have (and I would welcome comments on it) is why it seems difficult to write something serious and meaningful without using 4-letter words, having wrongheaded characters, portraying sinful situations, or being gross/disgusting (as in serial killers--not the Porky movies). Maybe it is because the problem of sin or the problem of evil enters into serious situations. Or maybe it is that our choices are (or can be) serious or meaningful, but that requires some form of good vs. evil to choose between.

Another question along with that one: Why on earth is "weird" considered high art? I mean, some books, for example, are strange mental rambles that make no sense and yet reviewers and critics rave about how great they are. Is "weird" an acquired taste? Or is grim and depressing supposed to be "real" art? In trying to think of some examples, I come up with Thomas Hardy's books for that last question. And how about James Joyce and Virginia Wolffe for that first one?

I know that different people have different tastes, and it is not my intent to be rude and insulting. I would really like to know what people get out of things that are so far off the beaten path. Paintings, music, plays, and poetry are similar--there is a wide range available, but "weird," "grim," "depressing," or at least "off the beaten path" are revered--and, frankly, I don't understand why. Is it just because it is (at some point, anyway) new and different? Do people really get anything out of it?

On the other hand, things that are tame, conventional, traditional, etc. can seem awfully dull and superficial. I suppose that is because it is too common or there isn't any tension or element of surprise.

Well, be that as it may, I hope you all understand that I am really curious and would love to get some comments on different types of art and why you think it is meaningful or not.

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Anonymous HPLC said...

I like that Townhall essay. I think your questions are partially answered by it, especially the long quotation in mistake #10.

Art has traditionally had its grim and weird moments. The Bible is full of grim or weird occurrences. The Book of Mormon ends with a plea for the future after an entire civilization becomes corrupt and is then destroyed by another. How weird and grim is the crucifixion narrative? And it’s not just religious stuff—take Grimm’s fairy tales, Homer, Shakespeare, all are peppered with strange or violent passages. The thing is, we are so used to hearing these stories that we don’t notice when they are weird or grim.

Film has certainly taken a turn to using heavy material. There are a number of reasons for that—some directors do it because they can; others think the material needs to be there; some, with different standards, don’t realize they are being so harsh; some, like Robert Altman, go for an “R” rating to prevent non-serious movie goers (primarily teens) from watching their films. There are folks like David Lynch, whose work is strange because it intentionally evades a single, strict interpretation (as far as they can adopt multiple meanings, they are more rich and full of meaning).

I have a strong background in literature; through formal training, I’ve come to appreciate literature more thoroughly, more deeply. I’m more affected by the beauty of a work more than whether it is grim or strange—(I could say a lot more about strangeness—some narrative theory says that strangeness is actually a way to point the reader to the deeper meaning of the text). When reading a great work, I’m left thinging, “wow, that was so beautiful” and not, “man, that was so weird and grim.” Beauty is really what “high art” reaches for. As Roger Ebert says, it’s not what the movie is about, but how it is about it.

I’ll stop rambling. I’m curious, what off-the-beaten-path poetry do you think is revered above the rest? With poetry and all of it, the more experimental stuff does get more press, for a time, but I don’t think it is held in higher regard unless it really is better. Some stuff gets more play just because it’s more noticeable.

8:55 PM  
Blogger Mary A said...

Thanks so much for your interesting comments, HPLC. I wouldn't be surprised if part of my problem with grim and weird is that I don't go deeply enough into the piece of literature to "get" it. You have a point about scriptures, fairy tales, Shakespeare, et al. I am more familiar with them and not put off by things that I would be put off by in unfamiliar stories.

I was also thinking today that conflict is at the heart of any interesting story (you've studied literature, so you are familiar with the Man vs. Man, Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Himself thing). And conflict is going to bring in, shall we say, unpleasantness in one form or another. But it wouldn't have any interest without it.

Poetry I don't "get"--well, Jack Keriouc (I'm sure I spelled his name wrong), Swinbourne, ones like that. And sometimes I'll see a poem by an unknown that just doesn't speak to me at all--just seems like the poet was going after weirdness and nothing else. But if something about the poem--it's rhythm or choice of words, for example--catches my interest, I am more likely to spend time with it and develop a feel for it. So maybe it is just me being impatient! Although, of course, there are writings that aren't worth spending the time with!

Thanks again for your insights--I enjoyed your comments.

2:29 PM  
Anonymous HPLC said...

Another comment and a response--

I think what I was trying to get at is that grim or strange, when done right, it usually isn't so obvious. In a truly great work, they are so woven in as to seem organic, part of the truth of the art.

Now Jack Kerouac, his poetry sucks. I can't comment on Swinbourne, but Kerouac's poetry is revered by people who don't know poetry--revered by the wrong people for the wrong reasons. (I haven't done a thorough reading of the beat poets, but certainly Robert Creeley and Frank O'Hara are far superior examples of the genre.)

Nonetheless, some good poetry is odd or grim or otherwise off-putting; I haven't read everyone, but my experience is that on the whole, of the good poetry we have, most of it isn't overly odd or grim.

9:19 AM  
Anonymous Barb said...

This reminds me of a lecture in my art of elementary teachers class. It is really subjective as to what classifies art. There are those who try to shock others and challenge people to decide what is art. I saw a talk show once where a person was getting tatoos all over his body and I think he had his tongue spliced somewhat. I forget exactly, but I think he was trying to be a lizard. He said that his goal was to make people examine what it means to be human. How sad that someone would disfigure their body for this purpose. Couldn't he just rent a costume for a day like they do in those fat suit segments. And of course, everything he did was superficial and had nothing to do with his chromosomes so it really did not test what it meant to be human. It was just real weird. I think that one should use the benchmark as to whether something offends the sensibilities of the norm of a populaton in deciding whether something is suitable art. Art should move a person. At times, this may be of a depressing nature if one is trying to educate about mans inhumanity to man in history such as slavery. In art, I prefer realism. I am interested in the geometrics of some abstract art, but more in the fact that it looks neat. As a whole, I would not say that I have had any major moments internally when looking at abstract art. Art does need to have elements that make it original. If something is taught to be replicated by others to come out with the same product, then that is a craft rather than an art per my teacher's defination. I think that creativity is a great gift that humanity has been blessed with. It reminds us that life is more than our daily toils.

6:22 PM  
Blogger Mary A said...

HPLC, I appreciate your additional comments. I especially liked "I think what I was trying to get at is that grim or strange, when done right, it usually isn't so obvious. In a truly great work, they are so woven in as to seem organic, part of the truth of the art." That makes sense.

Barb, your comments were very good, as well. This was good: "Art does need to have elements that make it original. If something is taught to be replicated by others to come out with the same product, then that is a craft rather than an art per my teacher's defination. I think that creativity is a great gift that humanity has been blessed with. It reminds us that life is more than our daily toils."

Creativity and art play important roles for us, I think.

10:24 AM  
Blogger Jettboy said...

I think the author you linked to has some good points, but has missed a few cultural reasons. First of all, it is interesting to note that there are many good artists and writers of the past who were "Conservative" in their works. Michealangelo, Dante, and Milton are perhaps exceptional examples. From them the writer has a point as they still stretched the boundaries of "clean" art.

However, I think the author has ignored who currently has the power of finance and distribution. Very few, if any, major humanities companies have conservative decision makers. One of the reasons I think conservatives haven't done well is because there isn't enough conservative power in the right places. Hollywood has shut out almost all non-liberal voices. Publishers are mostly left-leaning on the Eastern and Western coasts. Art has become so pervasive that only the most shocking or self-agrandizing is ever recognized.

This has left most conservative artists with very few avenues of public release. Hence, the difficulty has created enormous problems that effect creativity. When there is no space to put your work than the idea of doing work becomes self-defeating. At best it becomes a personal hobby. This, in turn, has left the conservatives with far less practice and far fewer involved individuals in the creative process. Accomplishment is by luck and will-power more than talent.

2:15 PM  
Blogger Mary A said...

You make some good points, Jettboy. I wonder if things will change--if the pendulum will swing the other way eventually.

1:26 AM  

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