Monday, August 11, 2014

Artists: What Are They Good For?

I recently had the opportunity to contemplate some of the pop-culture of a century ago: I went with some friends to the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia. It was an interesting and thought provoking trip. After we’d seen the sculptures and were on our way home, talking about Rodin’s departure from classical standards of sculpture, a question was posed: what authority do artists have?

When an artist makes something, and then makes it available to us, what right do they have to say what should or should not be depicted; what is beautiful or worthy and what is not? A very interesting question and one that is very important when talking about pop-culture.
A maker of popular films, books, games, music, etc. is rewarded and lauded for making something that is appealing to enough people, without the source or nature of that appeal needing to be understood. And, the more rewarded and lauded such a person becomes, the more respected their opinion and taste becomes. If you’re used to thinking about “consumers” and the “free market,” then this state of affairs makes sense; we like them because they give us things we like. And, the more often they do, the more we expect them to continue, and we think they know what they’re doing.

But, if you begin with the question of authority, the situation looks backwards -- as though the answer to the question “What authority do artists have?” was “Well, let them be artists, make whatever they want, distribute it, and we’ll see how much authority they have;” as though they begin with no authority but, by disregarding that fact, they continually accrue it.

So what should we think about these people that are making all this stuff? How much respect do they deserve, and should we listen to them?

Above: various causers of hub-bub.
Well, as human beings, they deserve as much respect as other human beings. But that is clearly not the question. When I say “listen,” I clearly don’t mean listen to them personally. I mean give attention to the things they've made. Therefore how we answer the above questions turns on what we think of art and what it is, and that can certainly take up more than one article.

So, buckle-up and don’t stop to question my authority to speak on such matters. It’s time for a series of articles on the philosophy of art.

© 2014 John Hiner III

1 comment:

  1. I hope your next series will help us to think through the importance and responsibility of an artist, and who a legitimate artist is.