Thursday, December 15, 2011

Use and Enjoyment in Art and Propaganda

A critical distinction has become clear to me in the past few posts that I've written, dealing with the relationship of art and propaganda, that propaganda is an aspect of art which is accidental to the work of art.   I am using the term accidental in the philosophical sense, that is the propaganda is not a part of the essential nature of the art, but is something added on, rather than using the modern sense of something that happens unintentionally.

Over the past few posts (and few months) I've been trying to think about what exactly makes a work of art propaganda, and at first I was interested to inquire of whether art and propaganda are something of opposites: that a true work of art could not be propaganda, nor could a work of propaganda be a true work of art.  But on reflecting on my original example and exploring others, I found real works of art which either had been meant from their inception to be propaganda, or more critically, later on been used as propaganda.   When it became clear that the truth of the art was one thing in itself, and the use of the art for propaganda was another, it seems then that propaganda is accidental to art.

St. Augustine, being a Platonic philosopher, explained a distinction in how human beings view outside things, that we either enjoy something, or we derive some use from a thing.   Here that distinction finds a correlation, art is to enjoyment as propaganda is to use.  Art is then to be enjoyed purely for its own sake, we contemplate its beauty and simply marvel.   We value the Mona Lisa but it doesn't in any sense do anything, we simply enjoy it.

Propaganda however is properly related to use, and we evaluate its merits as propaganda not in how we enjoy it but in how effective it is in moving people to action.    Propaganda as an accident of art then seems to be a completely separate thing from the art in which it resides.   Now this is not to say however that the effectiveness of the propaganda is not affected by the beauty of the art in which it resides, on the contrary, the more beautiful and stirring the art is, the more effective the propaganda will be in stirring people to action.  The converse however is not true, that the strength of the propaganda increases the enjoyment or value of a work of art.  In fact depending on the message of the propaganda, the art is diminished and criticized not because of anything intrinsic to the work, but because of what has become attached to it.

The work of Leni Riefenstahl is probably the clearest example of this.   Triumph des Willens is clearly a work of propaganda of the highest sort, and clearly the effectiveness of it as a work of propaganda is directly related to its beauty and its technical brilliance.   But while filmmakers widely acknowledge its place among the great works of their craft, it is still the subject of strident criticism because of the absolute depravity of the regime which it promoted. This criticism,  however correct and justified for the film qua propaganda(the film insofar as it is propaganda), is incorrectly attributed to the film qua art (the film insofar as it is art).

The separation of the enjoyment of the form of art from the use of art as propaganda will be critical in my next few posts, as I intend to continue exploring how propaganda relates to and is married to art, and how the forms of art can effect the propaganda and philosophy.

(EDITS: deleted text struck out, added text in blue)


Monday, November 28, 2011

The Radiance of Form

...The architect, by the disposition he knows,
Buildeth the structure of stone like a filter in the waters of the Radiance of God,
And giveth the whole building its sheen as to a pearl.

I welcome you to my new blog.   I have written (erratically) for the past few years at a blog Beatus Est, where I've written on architecture, art, and related topics.   A large percentage of the work that I did there was in terms of criticism, both for good architecture and against.   But over the past few months I've been trying to make my writing more focused on the philosophical aspects of art and architecture. 

Being trained at Thomas Aquinas College in philosophy in the "Great Books" tradition of liberal arts, I think writing on where philosophy intersects the world of art, is where I think I can contribute best.  By no means do I think I am the best at philosophy of art, but rather other subjects which I am interested in, such as architectural craft, history, urbanism and technology, are written about much better by others.  So I intend this blog to be primarily a place of discussion of the deeper matters of art and architecture, how they are influenced by philosophy and indeed how they influence philosophy back. 

To that end I spent a long time trying to find a more appropriate name for this blog.   Not only was I just a touch embarrassed by my poor Latin in the former title, but I wanted to find something that spoke poetically about art itself and architecture.   Listening to a lecture a while ago on literature I was struck by a quotation from the philosopher Jaques Maritain, who called beauty "the radiance of form." 

I sprung upon this phrase immediately as encapsulating both the aspect of beauty existing in the forms of architecture, but also a deeper philosophical meaning of the phrase.   He explains in "An Essay on Art" that the meaning of this term, the "radiance or the splendor, the mystery of a form" is in the "metaphysical sense of this word," that is he means form as the "whatness" of a particular thing.   That in beauty the true nature of something shines forth more clearly than a long series of syllogisms and argument could possibly explain.    This idea of true nature becoming revealed to us through beauty is one that I have been particularly interested in, and one that I intend this blog to explore further. 

I will be attempting to come up with a more regular schedule of posts, though from time to time, like this last month, I've been distracted by other writings that I hope I'll be able to share with you as well.