The Laws of Nature

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Moral Function of Art, continued

We had a great discussion yesterday and I think it deserves further consideration. It all began with a statement by John Dewey: the moral function of art itself is to remove prejudice, do away with the scales that keep the eye from seeing, tear away the veils due to wont and custom, and perfect the power to perceive.

This opened to door to some wonderful insights and observations posted in comments by my readers. Please take a look if you haven’t already. Dewey’s philosophy made us question our role as artists, and the historical role of our predecessors. Fascinating.

I’d like to use today’s post to continue that discussion because it’s too early to abandon it. So, please keep it going.

Now that you’ve had time to reflect, what’s your opinion?

13 comments:

Carolina Moon Arts Studio said...

All i know is this is better than any art history class i could attend! You artists are phenomenal in your knowledge of past artists and in your perspective!

Mark Sheeky said...

I'm still stuck on yesterday! Fascinating discussion.

Casey Klahn said...

I have to admit I am trying to find my thoughts on the moral function of art. A great topic, but I don't see the word prejudice helping me. In the broader sense, maybe, if you consider your pre-conceived notions about what an artwork should be or say, then these should be reformed and re-stated in each generation. I can get behind that idea.

On the subject of truth in art, see this guy's work . It is a great representation of the artist's ability to portray truth, in my opinion.

BTW, I also don't assess Picasso's whole body of work by his personal morality. I do wonder about his meanings and his intentions, but I also recognize how much he wanted change art via cubism and modernism. I appreciate that very much. I get p.o.-ed at Guernica, but otherwise I see his value in art. Hey, Peggy, I would've gone to the SAM with you if I'd known you were going to be there!

Now, to figure out what I think @ the MFOA...most here are doing much better than me on this.

Dan Kent said...

I think that Don has hit the mark, but it raises a question in my mind. I think he is positing that the finding of truth is to find that artist's unique way of expressing what he perceives. Picasso removed prejudice by his manner of portrayal, not by what he portrayed - it was completely unique and fresh and personal. To focus on Guernica is to miss the point - the political statement is the wrong sort of prejudice, it is the manner of conveying his vision.

So focusing on Manet and his unique vision, and the great movements in art, leads me to this question: Can an artist achieve Dewey's "moral function of art" that is not a trailblazer? Can a realist or abstract expressionist in 2010, well-used movements by now, achieve this truth in art?

Robin said...

this conversation has me thinking on a more personal level (as I sit and wonder what I am doing with my art and if it really matters) rather than on a bigger than me level and I can't help but wonder if it's because these famous artists, Picasso, Manet, Don Michael Jr., and also Katharine Cartwright to just name a few, are all in the category that DOES address the moral function of art and that is what makes the difference...

-Don said...

Casey, Thank you. I had all kinds of stuff ready to gab about and then I clicked on your 'this guy's work' and got all distracted by your generosity.

Dan, you ask a valid question. Personally, I feel that no matter what the movement, style, medium or content, if through your art you find ways to "remove prejudice, do away with the scales that keep the eye from seeing, tear away the veils of wont and custom, and perfect the power to perceive" then you are performing your moral function.

I think this whole statement can be simplified to: 'find ways to help make others see and (hopefully) appreciate that which could be outside of their comfort zone'. This means one has to stay true to oneself and to one's vision - which is, IMHO, our true moral function as artists - and as humans. (Oops, now I'm sounding preachy. Sorry.)

-Don

Kathy said...

I'm looking for my socks because all of you knocked them off yesterday and I still can't find them today! This conversation is beyond great - it's profound. Thank you all for investing so much energy, time and thought into comments that I'll save and read time and again. What a learning experience! Don, your interpretation and distillation of Dewey's comment is spot on. Thank you!

Dan Kent said...

Sorry, Don, Kathy, I am still not satisfied. :) "Tear away the veils of wont and custom" ("wont" meaning "customary behavior") sounds like you must be a trailblazer to me, by Dewey's definition. This is easier said than done. I'm rather new at this admittedly, but often I wonder how I could ever breach that barrier, even with time. It seems his definition requires, if not rejection, then penetration beyond custom (whatever that means) - a unique status that only few artists achieve. Perhaps it is aspirational. Perhaps Dewey was careless with his words, though I doubt it. Maybe he only considers one or two people per generation to be true artists.

Dan Kent said...

I re-read Don's comment and mulled it over. I think I get that part of the quote now. It must mean don't do something a certain way just because people expect it. "Wont and custom" must mean essentially "other people's expectations". Sorry to be commenting so much. Thanks.

meera said...

I just did a post in my blog on a article I read today in New York Times 'arts' section : Homecoming For Stark Record of Apartheid.
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/18/arts/design/18cole.html
It is about Ernest Cole's powerful moving black and white photographic record of the atrocities suffered by blacks in South Africa. Be sure to check the accompanying slide show. I think his work exemplifies the moral function of art as stated by Dewey.

(I also have a link for your blog and discussions on the Moral function of Art.)

Casey Klahn said...

I have been moved enough that I am following up at my blog (not finished writing, yet) as part of my artist's ideas series. I am exploring the artist's ethos, which has a subset about the moral purpose of art.

In my research, I did notice that Dewey is THE MAN as far as authority on this subject - you choose good books, Kathy. I saved the book on google reader/books.

I also found another painting that portrays morality, in the vein of Linda's (excellent) choice of The Scream. I find Woman 1, by deKooning, to be an example of both the artist's truth, his ethos, and the MFOA.

Woman 1 is at the MoMA

http://www.moma.org/collection/object.php?object_id=79810

Casey Klahn said...

BTW, my other choice was Groundhog Day, by A. Wyeth.

http://www.andrew-wyeth-prints.com/gallery_andrew-wyeth-groundhog-day.html

L.W.Roth, said...

All this has been very interesting, but it's immoral to be talking art when we should be making it. I'm going to exercise what little talent I have in my studio today. I'll check in later.