Friday, October 26, 2012

Interview Part II: The Analysis, and My Opinion

Brenda! And me, squinting at my camera phone
in my backyard.

     Hey Scribblers!
     If you read last week's post, an interview of my artsy neighbors, you got a treat. Marc and Brenda Hooper kindly answered some questions concerning the aesthetics of art and literature. I analyzed their interview according to my Philosophy textbook, and they gave me permission to post the results on the blog!

     Marc and Brenda answered most of my questions in terms of societal ideals (how America should handle art) rather than by their personal preferences; both also favored a conservative form of "aesthetic subjectivism" by agreeing that “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Aesthetic subjectivism says that beauty is not a real quality that something can have. Art is pleasing to some people, and not others. Marc’s answers consistently aligned themselves with this subjective assessment, while Brenda’s were slightly more conservative. For example, the artist of the urinal display was trying to show that beauty is subjective. (As a refresher: an artist displayed an ordinary urinal, turned it slightly in one direction, and called it art. Controversial much?). Marc agreed with him, saying, “Some people might see it as art,” while Brenda flatly refused that interpretation. Both of their definitions of “art” were also very open, though. Marc said any life work can be artistic, using farms as an example.  Interestingly, they both felt that the media influences our perceptions of beauty, but that perception of beauty is still truly up to the individual. Marc especially seemed to agree with an opinion proposed by Madeleine L'Engle in her book Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith & Art: that “…to look at a work of art and then to make a judgment as to whether or not it is art…is presumptuous” (L’Engle 23). Brenda disagreed slightly, thinking beauty is not entirely a matter of opinion, which leads us to our next point.
When I asked Marc and Brenda about whether there are, or should be, standards  or censorship of art, they disagreed with each other. Brenda felt that there should be some objective standards, such as with the urinal art; too many objective standards, though, could be counterproductive to the artist. Marc’s answers took an interesting turn. He said that other countries control art more than America, and that art censorship scared him somewhat. He felt very strongly that we should not draw objective standards. His words brought North Korea to my mind as a scary example of over-the-top censorship: “Information is completely controlled…art, music and literature all feed the people in a constant stream of propaganda” (Nettleton 92&95). This terrifying situation in North Korea shows a good reason for his caution. After the interview, Brenda echoed this sentiment by giving me an essay called “Freedom” by E. B. White, which she said explained her views “better than she could.” The essay held fast to freedom of expression in America. “In this land the citizens are still invited to write their plays and books, to paint their pictures…to enjoy education in all subjects without censorship…[and] to compose music.”
            In regard to the moral assessment of art, both Marc and Brenda seemed to support ethicism, a middle ground view. Ethicism says, “moral attributes are relevant to, but not wholly determinative of, its aesthetic value” (Cowan 437). Brenda said the church should assess everything, but not ban it. In other words, we need to consider (and, probably respond to) it rather than burn it. Both Marc and Brenda agreed that for the sake of children, schools should be allowed to censor art, but that adults are able filter out whatever they need to. Mostly, they challenged parents to be the moral protectors of their children, not society. Their conclusion about adults suggested a slight lean towards aestheticism, which says “art and the artist are insusceptible to moral judgment” (Cowan 437). However, their attitude was probably based more on the idea that adults can judge for themselves, rather than needing to be controlled by society.
            I think that schools and private institutions should be allowed to ban art...However, people need free expression. Art shouldn't be banned from a society or country. You may have heard about the "Banned Books" controversy. My jury is still out on this particular topic, as it relates to children. It seems to make children more curious to read the books than anything. Adults being curious, though, is a fine thing. If people are curious, and they read a book, than they'll form an opinion of it. Some (stupid) people will revel in any evils they find; others, though, will discuss and dissect it. There's no use in hiding thoughts from adults. There should be limits on explicit things--like gratuitous violence, sex, etc--to public exposure. Most people will agree with that (although not all). Free expression is important. Free exhibition is not. I asked a wise friend, once, what he thought should be done about questionable content in books. He said we should all think and discuss it. It took a few years for the wisdom of this simple answer to sink in. Now I understand it. It's a very correct way of going about it. With children, more descretion is needed, I believe. Like Marc and Brenda, I think parents should be taknig care of this, though. Parents understand the development of their children better than anyone else. It's scary to think, though, that some of the best books out there have been banned from school bookshelves--To Kill a Mockingbird, The Lord of the Rings, and A Wrinkle in Time, for a few examples.
One of the only aesthetic guidelines scripture gives us is Philippians 4:8—to dwell on whatever is true, noble, right, pure, etc. Because the Hoopers answered the questions in terms of society rather than personal consumption, their views were difficult to analyze according to biblical and  and my Philosophy book's standards. My textbook did, however, state that some subjectivism in this area is normal, so despite my neighbors’ denial of aesthetic absolutes, their ethicism seats them somewhere in the wide realm of a Christian aesthetics.

Works Cited & Resources
Chesterton, G. K. “The Ethics of Elfland.” A Chesterton Anthology. San Francisco: Ignatious Press. 1985. Print.
            -I liked the thoughts in this essay.

Cowan, Steven B., and James S. Spiegel. The Love of Wisdom: A Christian Introduction to Philosophy / Steven B. Cowan, James S. Spiegel. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2009. Print.
            -This is my textbook. It has a wonderful section on Aesthetics, with  a great critique of
              general viewpoints.
L'Engle, Madeleine. Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith & Art. Commemorative ed.
Wheaton, IL: H. Shaw, 1980. Print.
-This book is wonderful. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Nettleton, P. Todd., and The Voice of the Martyrs. North Korea: Good News Reaches the Hermit
            Kingdom. Vol. North Korea. Bartlesville, OK: Living Sacrifice Book, 2008. Print. Restricted             Nations.

“Philippians 4.” The Bible. NIV ed. Web. 22 Sept. 2012.
Sayers, Dorothy L. "Towards A Christian Esthetic." The Whimsical Christian. New York: Macmillan, 1979. Print.
           -This was a wonderful essay. I highly recommend it to Christians.

White, E. B. “Freedom.” One Man’s Heart. HarperCollins, 1982. Print.
            -This essay was very thought provoking.

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