Fisher, Ch 4 Art and Morality
- Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will
- Most important films in history of cinema
- Visually beautiful p. 90
- Propaganda for immoral cause
- Associates Hitler and Nazis with power, virility and purity
- Susan Sontag's claim "there is a Nazi Aesthetic in movies (even in
Riefenstahl's nonpolitical photo's of Nuba tribe
- Fascist art: Fascism glorifies surrender, exalts mindlessness and
- Walt Disney's fantasia
- Kubrick's 2001 a Apace Odyssey
- Exemplifies formal structures and themes of fascist art
- Some of Fisher's questions
- Can and should moral standards be applied to art?
- Can a work of art be immoral?
- Can an immoral work of art be of high aesthetic quality?
- Is the moral quality of a work of art relevant to its aesthetic
quality (always? sometimes?)
- Does goodness have anything to do with beauty?
- If moral standards are appropriately applied to art, should art be
governed by same moral standards that apply to everyday life or do
separate moral standards apply to art?
- SOME POSSIBLE ANSWERS TO RELATION ART AND
- One: Art is amoral (neither morally good nor bad): It is a mistake to apply
moral norms to art in any fashion (Evil is irrelevant to beauty)
- Oscar Wilde
- May we morally evaluate the artist? Qua artist?
- Art/artists are above morality (and the law)
- Things clearly wrong when done in real world, not wrong when
done as art?
- Shoot dog film (p. 116) Sculptor Tom Otterneff
- "It was an execution and "it presents itself"
- Donald's "Nigger Drawings" exhibit
- Chris Burden: Shot at airplane, endangered himself and colleagues with
high voltage electricity, taken TV show hostage a knife point as a work
- Two: Art may be morally evaluated, but such evaluation is not relevant
to its aesthetic quality (Evil, but Beautiful)
- Three: Art's moral content affects its aesthetic quality (Evil, therefore
- Art has a special moral obligation
- Art ought to make positive contributions to culture and society
- Special freedom for art because of its traditional role in leading
society to new values and attitudes
- On the cutting edge of progress?
- Used to be unquestioned that point of art to improve the audience,
- Not with factual knowledge, but moral edification
- For 19/20th century art many most sophisticated artists reject
- They reject this goal, but much hostility is toward idea of conventional
morality as goal of all art
- Still many artists are politically and morally engaged
- Believe artists should speak to injustices in real world
- But can art deal with morality without being simply propaganda and
thus inferior as art?
- Must reject nihilism for the relation of art and morality to be a serious issue
- Nihilism: morality an illusion; nothing right or wrong, anything goes
- On this view it is trivially easy to conclude art need not worry
- Most thinkers accept ethical values as real and fundamentally
important; If so, how do they relate to artistic values?
- Distinction rejection of conventional moral values (something art has often
done-and suggested alternative values in their place) and rejecting all moral
MORALITY IS NOT RELEVANT TO ART
- Wilde's claim that art is morally neutral (amoral)
- It is not positively or negatively morally charged, it is amoral, like
- No such thing as moral or immoral book; they are well or badly written
that is all
- This would be a justification for freedom of art (as has no moral
- Fisher's reply
- True some art has no moral content: Piano sonata, string quartet
- But Wilde claiming that even art with representative and narrative
content is morally neutral.
- Wilde also grants that subject matter of art is often involves morality,
but that even this art is morally neutral
- "Morality part of subject of art"; Vice and virtue material for art
- Morality of what art is about is not the morality of the art
- Painter about rape doesn't have the morality of the rape; it is not a rape
- To write or take pictures about an immoral act is not to commit same
- Photo of an event not to be confused with those events
- Still art can have a moral or immoral point of view about the morally
- It can be evaluated on that basis
- Art often takes a point of view and this is often morally assessable
- E.g., Photography can influence people and this depends on how
photographer frames and emphasizes subjects
- How women are depicted in commercials
- To take a highly morally charged content and treat it neutrally is itself
to take a moral stance?
- Pedophile: stories or pictures
- E.g., Art that if it glorifies rape
- Art/Technology analogy as argument for art's neutrality
- Tech is neutral only how people uses it that is moral or immoral
- To build a weapon an act of no moral consequence
- Builders of A-bomb not responsible for its use
- No work or art moral/immoral no matter what it says or promotes
- Art doesn't tell spectator how to respond
- It merely expresses a point a view: everyone is free to accept or
reject in own way
- But what if the point of view it expresses is immoral and it also
endorses that point of view?
MORALITY, THOUGH RELEVANT TO ART, IS NOT RELEVANT TO
ITS ARTISTIC QUALITY OR AESTHETIC VALUE
- Art and Quality: Is morality relevant to aesthetic quality?
- Does Goodness have anything to do with Beauty? (Gass' formulation)
- Is art any better or worse as art because of its moral/political
- If answer is no, asserting conceptual independence of aesthetic value
from moral value (Gass)
- Artworks are beautiful and powerful independent of the moral
values they express
- If answer yes, asserting that moral values can be part of aesthetic
- Fisher suggests that if we can think of great works of art that express
repugnant moral ideals, that might be evidence that morality would not
seem to be relevant to the quality of art as art
- How is this different from general question of the moral criticism of art?
- One might believe that moral criticism of art is appropriate and still
think that such criticism of art does not negatively impact of the quality
- E.g., Yes one should not listen to or perform or enjoy Wagner (because
he's morally reprehensible as are his anti-Semitic operas), but
Wagner's operas still might be beautiful nonetheless.
- Feminists critique of Shakespeare:
- Unattractive sexist ideology underlying his work
- If true, would this weaken the greatness of his work?
- Immoral jokes
- Is a joke less funny, because it is immoral?
- Racist, sexist, anti-Semitic jokes less good (funny?) jokes because
- Gass' dinner example as argument for separation of morality and
aesthetic quality(p. 112)
- Rabbi sits next to a Nazi for dinner
- They eat a quail shot by the Nazi
- Wine's taste not soured by fact sitting next to Nazi?
- Is this true? Certainly one's enjoyment of wine could be
- Quail tastes no different simply because Nazi shot it?
- One could complain of one who enjoyed the meal and laughed at the
- But whether the meal was well prepared or not is independent of the
- Nazi's presence might make me not enjoy the meal and perhaps it
should do this
- Just because values judged in close proximity, doesn't mean one need
not judge them in their own terms.
- One criticism of the analogy
- But the meal or quail has nothing to do with the Nazi's views
- Whereas a work of art may have much to do with immoral views
- May embody and express and recommend them
- Noel Carroll's example:
- A piece of literature's success requires audience to take it up with
- To succeed as literature (to be high quality literature) it must do this
- But the emotion it is recommending that the audience take up is
- E.g., a story about Hitler winning Nobel Peace Prize and the author is
trying to get the reader to feel sympathetic toward and proud of Hitler.
- This can't be done because the emotion it recommends is immoral and
so the literature fails as art because of its immoral content
- Fisher's argument that a work of art's morality can be relevant to its
- Great and powerful works of art should have broad/universal appeal
- Works that express repugnant values (Brutality, sadism, racism,
sexism) must be downgraded
- As many viewers find it rightly impossible to embrace artists vision and
the power of the work will be undermined.