Misc. Monday: Does Art Owe Us Anything?

Living under the cinematic rock that I do, I just recently heard that apparently the Oscars caused quite a stir this year for their lack of diversity in the nominees. While I don’t want to spark a debate on diversity in Hollywood in particular, I do want to open up a dialogue about art in general, and whether it owes us anything.

Does music owe us clean lyrics? Does an epic fantasy novel owe us characters who are racially diverse? Does high fashion owe us models with realistic bodies? Does cinema owe us diverse casts?

 I want to make clear at the outset that my intention in this post is not to focus on the Academy Awards controversy. I virtually never watch films, so I honestly don’t think I am well versed enough in the motion picture industry, even as a consumer, to form an opinion. To be honest, off the top of my head I can only come up with one film I know debuted in 2015 — Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Beyond that, I don’t even know what came out, let alone who was cast. I’m seriously that person who catches a glimpse of E! on a television in a shop and goes “Who is that?!”

All of that is to say, I am more than happy if folks want to contribute their opinions on Hollywood diversity in the comment section, but I personally don’t feel educated enough on the topic to say more than the following: Yeah, most celebrities I ever see are either super tan young white people with model looks, or occasionally paler black young people also with model looks. Again, though, I’m admittedly very ignorant about Hollywood — by choice — so that ignorance probably introduces a bias.

Anyway, on to the actual topic of the post: Does art owe us anything?

I’m not asking if anyone wishes certain arts were done differently. I mean, I think I would like Game of Thrones better if it contained far less sexual violence. As another example, I certainly wish major ballet companies would employ dancers with greater racial, age, and body type diversity.

But, that doesn’t mean that I think George R. R. Martin and the American Ballet Academy owe society anything.

In fact, my instinct on the topic is to argue that, at its core, art owes us nothing. If it is provocative, or sexist, or whitewashed, or unrealistic, or offensive, then my instinct is to say that we don’t have to support it by partaking in it.

The only real caveat I can come up with to that argument is in the case when an artist is funded by tax dollars. If I as a taxpayer am forced to pay income and sales taxes (which, regrettably, I am), and if some of those dollars go to the National Endowment for the Arts, then in that case I can better appreciate an argument for dictating what that money funds.

Tell me, what are your thoughts on this topic? Does art owe society anything? If so, when?

I greatly look forward to hearing everyone’s perspectives on this fascinating question.

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10 comments

  1. I am with you on GoT. I really wish he would portray far less violence. (I gave up reading/watching the series). The way women are portrayed is very regressive. But then you could argue that it was so in the era George Martin has envisioned.
    That said, I agree that art doesn’t owe us anything. Artists should be free to create whatever forms of art, and we, the society should be discerning enough to choose the good from the bad. After all art is a reflection on our society. It’s the classic demand/supply thingy. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    • I 100% agree. I used to watch the GoT show, but I had to stop due to the excessive sexual violence (and just violence in general). I have heard that the books are even more violent, so sadly I have not taken the plunge to try to read them.

      As you rightly point out, Martin says he is merely writing life as it truly was back then — brutal for most people. I think I’ve heard him refer to his writing as historically realistic fantasy.

      And I definitely agree with the supply/demand thing. Whenever I see a popular book or TV show or movie or whatever that I deem to be complete garbage, I have to remind myself that it exists and is popular for a reason.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. As a disabled person, I just wish more disabled people were cast in disabled roles there are plenty of disabled actors/actresses………….I cannot speak for race, sex, orientation etc etc as disability appears to be the one minority that doesn’t discriminate we accept all

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is a fantastic point. I think you are absolutely right. From my limited exposure to cinema, there firstly seem to be few roles which portray a disabled character. On top of that, those that are seem to often be able-bodied actors portraying someone disabled.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t know anyone who gained celebrity after 1995. That’s when I stopped paying attention… to everything. But I do watch the Academy Awards every year, because my kids like to, and they want me to participate. So *does* art owe us anything? Probably. Individual artists? Nope. I don’t think you can point at any one movie, book, band and say “not enough diversity”. But you can look at the whole industry and say “something’s wrong”. If all Young Adult protagonists are white females, then publishers aren’t working hard enough to find non-white protagonists. If the publishers say “it won’t sell, they aren’t trying hard enough to sell the books. I was recently in a Dollar store in a predominately black and Latino neighborhood. There was a rack of romance novels for sale that were 100% covered with white people locked in kisses. I cannot believe there isn’t a market for romance in all populations within the U.S. Either the Dollar store or the publishers were/are missing an opportunity. (I go on too long, sorry).

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  4. I don’t live under a rock, but I live slightly behind a rock….occasionally I’ll catch of glimpse of something current and “be in the know”. That said, I was aware of the whiteout for the Oscars, but couldn’t give much input on that as I don’t care who wins an Oscar and who doesn’t…I just care if people give good performances. I don’t need a group or Academy to tell me who gave great performances, I can judge that just fine on my own.

    Where I care is if people aren’t being given the opportunity to display their talents and abilities. Art is art and everyone should have the ability to create art and have it on display for others. That goes for movies, plays, books, magazines, music, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

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