Saturday, July 07, 2018

Making One Uncomfortable

Ann Althouse claims that art should make us uncomfortable. To buttress her case, she notes that comedy should make us uncomfortable, that Jesus made us uncomfortable, and politics makes us uncomfortable.

The short answer is that art might make us uncomfortable, comedy might make us uncomfortable, Jesus might make us uncomfortable, and politics might make us uncomfortable, but not always. Those are largely American ideas, which we inherited from Western Europe and expanded. When one reads about other places and times in the world, one does not read this exaltation of uncomfortableness. Finding that art is for joy, comedy is for joy, Jesus is for joy is more common.  Politics is 50-50. Or also, art is for instruction, comedy is to relieve tension, Jesus is for inspiration. Art is to create magic, comedy is to create unity, Jesus is for rescue.

I am reminded of CS Lewis's First and Second Things. If we aim at the highest, we also get excellent byproducts thrown in for free.  Yet if we aim for the byproducts, considering them the main point, we get neither. In this instance, aiming at making people uncomfortable in order to teach or inspire or virtue-signal, we will pretty quickly be teaching nothing, inspiring no one, and none will think us virtuous, because no one will be listening. Yet if we aim for beauty, or truth, or humor, we will get teaching and inspiration thrown in, whether the audience is comfortable or uncomfortable.

Uncomfortableness is a false goal, but one which is common among the Arts & Humanities tribe. Comfortableness is also a false goal, and art, comedy, and Christian teaching can founder on those rocks as well.


james said...

Long long ago the word "art" had something to do with skill.

Going for "uncomfortable" seems like cheating. Is your movie dull? Throw in a car crash, or have the woman take her clothes off.

Sam L. said...

Ugly art makes me uncomfortable. And so much of what it called "art" is ugly, some of it intentionally.

RichardJohnson said...

When it comes to "intellectual statements" for art, I roll my eyes. If I want an intellectual statement, I will read a book or a magazine article instead of looking at a painting, a movie, or a sculpture. To me, good art looks good. Instead of "intellectual statements," I prefer emotional impact.

The husband of my favorite cousin has made a living as a sculptor for decades. While he informs us there is often supposed to be some "intellectual statements" behind his sculptures, I view his sculptures from the "Do I like how it looks" viewpoint.

Film has been used from the beginning for "intellectual statements," a.k.a. propaganda. Consider Triumph of the Will.

Years ago, I saw a "documentary" on Che Guevara put whose Argentine-born creator was a New Jersey community college instructor. From a visual standpoint, it was stunning. Beautiful. For "intellectual statements," not so good. Someone interviewed in the film claimed that by executing Che soon after his capture, the Bolivian Army had violated Che's human rights. That may be, but the film ignored Che's bloody hands as a guerrilla leader in executing recalcitrant guerrillas and also Che's role as Lord High Executioner when he was a prison comandante shortly after the 1959 takeover.

On more than one occasion, a prog/lefty has recommended to ma film- in lieu of a book or magazine article- to support the prog/lefty point of view. Which tells me something about the seriousness of lefty "intellectual statements."

bs king said...

I suspect the prevalence of the idea "this great thing should make you uncomfortable" is inversely correlated with how uncomfortable your baseline is. I've known a lot of 3rd world missionaries (as have many of us here I'm sure), and I'm pretty sure none of them lead with "this should make you uncomfortable" when they're in the 3rd world.

Christopher B said...

Ann is usually a more astute observer, and I'm surprised she doesn't realize 'making people uncomfortable' is a pretty low bar to clear.