Friday, November 02, 2007

Fallacy # 3: The Usefulness of a Work of Art Consists of its Abstract Ideas

With the increased criticism of that art is merely entertaining and therefore, for some reason, less important to society, art apologists have sought to make a lasting place for art in the world. Their approach, however, robs art of its power and uniqueness. The art apologist attempts to put art on the same level as philosophy and psychology and theology, making it purely ideational. Again this approach robs art of its power.

Art is not useful simply because of its abstract ideas. The very power of art is in its overall presentation, not simply the ides behind it. Leland Ryken is right when he states, "If the ideas are the important thing in a work of art, we obviously do not need the work itself once we have deduced the ideas." The idea of inherent sin isn't nearly as compelling as is reading Lord of the Flies. As Ryken says, "Who would be willing to substitute the thrill of actually experiencing one's favorite novel or movie for a one-page-summary of the ideas embodied in it?" Art's power comes from its overall presentation, and anything less is reductionistic at best, and may almost make art more useless then useful.

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Blogger noneuclidean said...

Well said.

One of the things that makes art art is that it can present ideas in a context. A work of art can situate, can ground an idea unlike any other medium.

Some authors even seem to test ideas by putting them in a world. For example, I think, to some extent, The Stranger is a testing of existentialism. Here's what it would look and feel like to live consistently within an existentialist worldview--and it turns out to be inhuman and ugly.

I think Dostoevsky, Melville, and Cormac McCarthy do similar things. They take an idea or philosophy and let it play out in the world of a novel through various characters.

There's also a way that the novel has of cutting through the erudite language of philosophy and theology to see through to the other side: what's behind the door of terminology and jargon? Often, nothing. Again, The Stranger seems to fit here.

Anyway, good post.

8:26 PM  

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