A friend of mine offered up a maxim the other day that I found kind of interesting. It stated that, “Art should disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed.”
At first blush it seemed a reasonable enough proposition. Art often makes people think about things differently and feel things they don’t ordinarily feel. That’s the essential effect.
But having given it some thought I realized that the term art is the wrong word in that aphorism. It’s not Art but Advertising that is the thing that actually fulfils this role in our media landscape. It is advertising that disturbs us out of our comfort and seeks to salve our burden. It could be argued that, for this reason, advertising is a form of psychological terrorism. Should art be equally as mercinary?
Advertising disturbs the comfortable in that it’s sole job is to make you feel bad about yourself so that the product the ad is hawking will be seen by your subconcious as the white knight of your imagined crisis. The disturbance it creates is for the sole purpose of selling you the blessed relief. For those that qualify as disturbed, ads offer the hope of healing via time saving gadgets, money saving scams and, of course, pharmaceutical fixes both real and imagined.
Art, however, should be none of these things and should not be used as a club with which to bash the viewer. If art’s goal is to disturb the comfortable then it can only do so by having “disturbing-the-viewer” as it’s agenda. Surely art should stir emotions in the viewer but one could argue that art with an “agenda-to-disturb” is just propaganda, purposefully seeking to make the viewer feel bad about themselves and is therefore ideologically self-serving.
If you were to anthropomorphize the art then it would be an empathyless villain who seeks to change your mind by force, the force of psychic pain upon the viewer who is left feeling worse than when they arrived. Is in not better that art should reveal the true beauty of the artist and let the viewers partake in that luxury?
Most decent people cannot tolerate the company of people like this, so why would anyone want to make “art” that fulfils this same intolerable function? Wanting to harsh peoples’ mellow seems, at best, shallow attention grabbing, at worst it stikes me more like a passive-aggressive proxy for bashing ones fellow man than it does artistic socio-edification. Such things in no way make the world a better place, which is what real art attempts to do. Right? Don’t the thing that you love, artistically, make you feel better in some way, to feel joy, possibility or catharsis? “I love that band because they make me feel bad.”, said no one ever.
As for the previously disturbed, ask your doctor if Art is right for you.
On the other hand, I firmly believe that art should be, and is, merely an extension of the artist. One lives the artistic life and art flows from that. It should have no more of a social or political agenda than a set of guitar strings does.
Art, true art, should reflect the beauty of the artist, their inner aspirations, their hopefulness, their sense of wonder and reflection. Beautiful minds make beautiful art. People are made better by either creating it or experiencing it.
So, one might ask, what does that say about the artist who create only things that reflect the comfortable gloom of a disturbed mind?