Monday, February 06, 2006

Art in these times of conflict

Let me think aloud for a little bit...

What do understand by literary criticism? Is it a posh way of slamming someone down or does it have a higher motive? Most of us pass comments, suggestions and critiques on poems and prose passages posted here and on other boards but what really goes through our mind when we write down those words? Are we moved by a sense of the aesthetic? Are we startled by the theme and concepts presented? Are we satisfied with the marriage of form and content? Or are we just responding to words that simply delight us?

Delight is a nasty little word that has bothered philosophers down the ages. Some regard 'delight' to be the most necessary component in 'appreciating' a work of art. And there are some who insist that this 'delight' must arise from appreciating 'art for arts sake'. But some of us will agree that understanding 'aesthetics' cannot be simplified in an easy-to-understand box like that. There are other extraneous elements that must be considered as well. Sometimes it is these elements that provide colour, texture and meaning to a work of art that would easily escape those who rely on seeing things only in terms of 'art for arts' sake'.

The Danish cartoon controversy is a classic example where those who follow 'art for arts' sake' failed to see the bigger picture, that is, the social and cultural milieu where their art was placed. While there has been an obvious collision of two different perceptions and worldviews, nevertheless, the root cause of the problem is the obstinate orthodoxy of two entrenched positions that refuse to give way to the middle ground.While there may be good reason to argue against reaching for the middle ground because it would be seen as a compromise, and no one likes to be accused of having compromised on some core values and rightly so. Some values are worth dying for and must be defended till the last man down.

But... are we aware of the bigger picture? Do we see a work of art, poetry or prose passage in the wider social and cultural context? Do we insist on seeing these artistic and literary works individually and ignore - rather naively - the impact a work may have in the society in which it will be received?

Of course, the way we appreciate poetry and prose passages here on some of the literary forums differs greatly from what we see taking place in the world around us. In such places we meet, hopefully, to support and encourage one another to be better writers but how we go about doing it will finally determine how we grow as writers and critics.

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