Post from October, 2016

A Question of Ethics

Monday, 31. October 2016 0:48

The question of ethics is not one that comes up very often in arts education except as regards plagiarism. However, there is the occasional consideration. A friend of mine who teaches visual and plastic arts sent me this problem recently. Although the case he presents here is hypothetical, I think he may have encountered a similar real-life situation:

A student in some one of the arts comes to his/her instructor with a project idea that is not only contrary to the instructor’s beliefs but would probably be offensive to a majority of society (hate speech, fringe group propaganda, pornography, advocating violence for some reason, advocating cultural or racial paranoia,). Which is the appropriate path for the instructor?

  1. A. Help the student incorporate the message into his/her art because art is about communication and the teacher’s job is to guide the student in achieving the student’s goal.
  2. Let the student know that what he/she is doing is inappropriate and a probable detriment to society, and counsel the student that art should be for the betterment of society.
  3. Considering the greater good for the community, discourage the student from completing the project, at least with its present direction.
  4. Some combination of A, B, and C
  5. Some other answer

Anyone thinking about the problem for more than a moment will realize that the choices are not all that simple. For example, if one were to choose 1, would the instructor then be an accessory to the production of questionable art, to the production of hate speech, porn, advocating violence or paranoia? Without instruction, the piece would probably be less effective and thus damage society less. Or is the instructor completely without responsibility in this situation?

In considering answer 2, one must ask oneself whether art really should be for the betterment of society. While that is the goal of a lot of art, I don’t know that it should be the goal of all art. Actually, I would be very hesitant to assign any one single goal to art. People make art for all sorts of reasons; some of them are political, and some, decidedly, are not.

The problem with 3 is that to advocate for the greater good, one would must know what the greater good is. And who is to say that the instructor’s view of the greater good is accurate? To the best of my knowledge, teaching in the arts does not entail any special insight into the needs of society, whether those needs be sociological, cultural, or political.

While not mutually exclusive, 1-3 are designed to be not easy to combine so 4 is difficult at best and adds unneeded complexity at worst.

My answer (5) combines 1 with a part of 2. The instructor’s job is, I believe, not to censor the student, but rather is to guide the student in developing the skills with to achieve his/her goal. However, that guidance must be more comprehensive than just advice on technique and methodology. Part of that guidance must be advising the student when he/she is doing something that is in bad taste and that might be a detriment to society. The student should understand what the impact of his/her work is likely to be and understand what reactions the work might receive.

What was your answer?

Category:Education | Comment (0) | Author:

The Thing About Fantasy

Monday, 17. October 2016 0:43

Not long ago a tape was released wherein US Presidential candidate Donald Trump detailed the behavior toward women a man can exhibit if he is a celebrity. The backlash was quick and furious. The protest was not, as one popular meme suggests about “naughty words;” it was about the idea that a man does not need to seek consent from women for sexual engagement. One of the defenses of Trump’s words compared those words to the series of erotic romance novels that began with Fifty Shades of Grey.

Critics were quick to point out the false equivalency between Trump’s words and ideas and Fifty Shades of Grey. Trump’s words indicate a willingness to assault real women, with absolutely no concern for consent, whereas Fifty Shades of Grey is a work of fiction. It matters not a whit that an erotic fiction displays no concerns for consent; it’s fiction. And likely, it’s fantasy since all that is required to fall into the category of fantasy is to be “an illusion or a visionary idea.” There don’t have to be dragons, or giants, or magic rings; there just have to be fanciful ideas.

Fantasy is necessary, not only to those works what do have dragons and giants and magic rings, but to all art. The ideas and concepts that do not derive directly from reality, must come from the imagination. Even those stories taken from real life must be given imaginative treatment if they are to become art and not mere reportage.  Those who create are well aware that they are incorporating fantasy into their work. Their work would be lacking without it. So too, the consumers of that art understand that it is, at least in part, fantasy.

In fact, most humans above the age of 4 are really quite adept at discerning the difference between fantasy and reality, even though they may spend hours engaging in fantasy. It’s when that ability to differentiate breaks down that trouble ensues. People try to pattern their sex lives on internet porn. Television fans send messages to series characters warning them about other characters. Readers allow ideas and events in novels to infect their belief systems as though they were true.

Fortunately, such instances are rare. While a number of people play first-person shooter video games, most of those people own no real weapons and would not even consider stepping onto a real battlefield, no matter how heavily armed. Likewise some people enjoy erotic fiction, fully understanding that if the actions described in the fiction were to happen to them in real life, they would be afraid, appalled, and probably disgusted. People rabidly follow the Star Wars stories, knowing all the while that the Rebel Alliance is not a real organization they could join to fight the Empire. They may dress up and go to Comic Con, but they are aware that they are fans, not soldiers.

The thing about fantasy is that it’s fantasy; it is fictional. It is intended to entertain, to engage the imagination of the consumer, to transport that consumer into a world where pain and consequences are just as fictional as the situations, and the consumer suffers not at all. This stands decidedly in opposition to the real world where there are very real consequences to every action and where people are constantly hurt.

But time spent in a fantasy universe, whether it be a book or a film or a painting or a photograph or a play can be fun. It can be entertaining. It can be educational. It can enhance and enrich our daily lives. But, unless we experience a mental slippage, we always know and appreciate the differences between fantasy and reality.

 

Category:Uncategorized | Comment (0) | Author:

When You Think It’s a Failure But It Isn’t

Monday, 3. October 2016 2:40

Recently I have written a couple of posts about artistic failure, and here’s another one—but from a completely point of view. What occasioned those posts was a photo shoot that had virtually no yield in terms of useable pictures, at least immediately. So I thought the grown-up thing to do was write it off and move on.

Normally, this is no too difficult for me. Not every projects succeeds. I try to learn and go on to the next project. At least this is what I usually do. Something about this shoot, however, would not let go. So I decided to listen to the project or my inner voice or whatever was telling me not to leave it alone just yet and reconsider.

So I made a list of what I considered to be salvageable images. (Some say my standards are unreasonably high and that was the problem in the first place. I disagree.) I found about 20 that I thought might have potential, all very different from each other.  For a while, all I did was study them, trying to see how acceptable images could be made from them. Then I set out to repair. A Photoshop™ tweak here, an adjustment there, a re-crop to modify composition and acceptable images began to emerge.  At the same time, I edited the list.

Of the images that I originally identified, a dozen proved, with work, to be acceptable. A little more than half of those are actually worth showing.

The experience made me want to reexamine images from other shoots that failed for one reason or another. So I took a look at some of them. Some were just as bad as I remembered; others, however, caused a little tingle of “maybe…” Perhaps the time that I have spent away from those projects has allowed me to have a different perspective.

And all of that has caused me to reevaluate my thoughts on the nature of artistic failure—what it means and when to make the call. Maybe a project is never a failure—we always learn something. Maybe we shouldn’t label it a failure until we completely abandon it. Maybe the difference between a successful project and one that is not successful is simply a matter of perspective and viewpoint.

Because of all those maybes, I have learned that it is probably a mistake to declare a project a failure until every little piece has been examined, every possibility explored. The project may represent an unexpected kind of success and not be a failure at all.

Category:Creativity, Photography | Comment (0) | Author:

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