Art As Ennobling?

Art As Ennobling?

One theory about the value of art is that it ennobles us, makes us better people.

One of the issues I raise in my Psychology of Art class is the relationship of aesthetics to ethics. (Both are branches of the philosophical discipline called axiology, which deals with value judgements.)

The value many of us give to art is often justified by the claim that it enlightens and ennobles us. Like the idea that artists are better people, this idea is wishful thinking.

Hitler was a music lover, especially of the high art of opera. (And perhaps not coincidentally, he particularly liked Wagner, who was a notorious anti-Semite.)

Great art treasures are stolen from public museums and galleries to be hoarded in private by rich art connoisseurs.

A film that I’ve shown to my students that brilliantly explores this theme (as well as many other important ethical ones) is Stanley Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange. The young rapist and murderer who is the protagonist worships at the altar of Beethoven’s music, and in the end it is used to… (ah, but that would be a ‘spoiler’.)

Viewer discretion advised, ahem! This film may not ennoble, but it might enlighten.

Trailer here: © Ken Stange 2012-2015