Morality and Art
Man is the noblest being in God's terrestrial creation. Endowed with the tremendous powers of intelligence and volition, he alone of God's earthly creation knows why he acts. To him has been given the faculty of choosing means to an end; it is his happy privilege to select the precise and proper end toward which he will act. Composed of body and soul, he unites in himself two worlds, the world of spirit and the world of matter. This prompted St. Bonaventure to say of man that he has being with the stars, that he lives with the plants, feels with the animals, and has intelligence with the angels.1 For him all earthly things were created and so it is proper that man should bear a relation to the things upon which he depends and which he of his own ingenuity is able to produce. This divine gift of rationality raises man to such a lofty peak that the psalmist could well say of man: "Thou hast made him a little less than the angels; thou hast crowned him with glory and honor, and hast set him over the works of thy hands" (Ps. 8, vs. 6-7). If he be then of such a noble origin, he must also bear a relation to the one who endowed him with intelligence and volition; his every act, his every thought must be directed to the Creator, else man fails in the very purpose of his creation. Hence it is in speaking of art and the relation which art bears to morality we must say and definitely maintain that art and any creation that man by his own talents is able to produce must be subject to the eternal, immutable law and ultimately directed to God, if man is not to play false to his very nature.
It is well at this point if we define the terms and state just what we mean by "art" and just what is intended by "morality." St. Thomas devotes to "art" two articles in the Summa Theologica, where he distinguishes between art and prudence.2 In speaking of art, St. Thomas is inspired by the medieval theory, in regular practice by the guilds of his day. He notes that every exterior production and creation of man is capable of manifesting beauty. Ars est recta ratio factibilium. It is the right conception which directs the making of things. Art is a virtue that takes its place under the guidance and the direction of the practical reason. He who attains this virtue obtains a facility for making and molding material things; it is a permanent disposition which tends to man's own perfection. The virtue of prudence demands rectitude of the will; the virtue of art is independent of the will. Aliquis habitus habet rationem virtutis ex hoc solum quod facit facultatem boni operis ars autem facit solum facultatem boni operis.3
Our entire scholastic theory of habits may be applied to the virtue of art and herein is to be found the seed, the germ for any program of artistic education, for art can be and ought to be cultivated like any other virtue. "Its formation can involve the intervention of a master, the role of a trade union, and the influence of the traditions of a school."4 Well did the eminent poet Dante say that art is the grandson of God and well could this artist speak of art with enthusiasm. On one occasion, writing to the Duke of Verona and speaking of his own artistic Divine Comedy, the Italian Poet stated: "My poem is addressed to all humanity. I wish to draw all the living from the state of misery to the state of felicity."5 Very few have stated so clearly and so precisely the civilizing and humanizing mission of art.
Morality may be defined as the conformity or the difformity of a human act with a rational nature and with the divine goodness as manifested through conscience.6 A moral act is thus one that is done freely and with advertence to the norm of morality. The maxim is formed bonum ex integra causa; malum ex quocumque defectu, which means, that if an act is to be good it must be all good; if it be in any part bad, it is totally bad. Three elements enter into the make-up of every human act: the motive, the means, and the end. All three must be good or the act is bad. If the motive is good but the means are bad, the act is bad. If the motive and the means are good but the end that is, the end one has in mind is bad the act is bad. The end never justifies the means. As is evident, there can be many means, many motives, many ends intended by the agent but all of these must be good or the act cannot be performed. We do not maintain that an indifferent motive or means or end, one that is neither good nor bad, may not enter into the act without making it evil. Neither do we say that certain accidental evil results may follow along with a good act without making it essentially bad. But we do maintain that an evil motive, or an evil means, or an evil end vitiates the morality of the entire act. Such an act we call a sin and it may not be performed to save the whole human race or to save religion itself.7 This is our Christian, our Catholic teaching in regard to the morality of a human act. It is now our endeavor to see how art fits into the field of morality and to discover its precise relation in regard to human activity.
Purpose of Art
We may say, and it is true, that art as art serves beauty, not morality. As such it has its own end; the object for which it exists; a proper object which is distinct from that of other human activities. The purpose of art is to express beauty and in this realm it may function freely. Here we are opposed to the extreme views of Sully Proudhon who denied the formula, "art for art's sake" in its entireness. For him art was the mere purveyor of sensuous pleasure. Again, we do not agree with the doctrine of Tolstoy for whom "there is no such thing as art for art's sake, any more than science for science's sake, since every human function should be directed to increase morality and to suppress violence."8 The teachings of these writers suffer from the failure to make the clear-cut distinction essential to a correct understanding of the problem at issue. The formula, "art for art's sake" is legitimate as regards the proximate end of art, the finis operis, as the scholastics phrased it. When this is attained, the artist may immediately ordain his work to a higher end, whether this be social, legal, or moral, but he is not obliged to do so. This point will be clarified as we proceed; for then it will become more evident and clearly established that there can be no complete divorce between art and morality, because "directly and immediately art is ordained to the production of beautiful works, yet its character demands that while it may at times express in-different beauty, it must not contravene morals."9
Art as art may be said to be autonomous; as such it is independent of morals. If the beautiful is accepted as being separated from the good, and it is at least thus mentally distinguished, then it can be maintained that the orbit of art cannot be confused with that of morality. From an esthetic point of view, art is a means of realizing and expressing beauty; it has for its activity the manifestation of ideal beauty. The proximate, the immediate end of art, as we have stated the finis operis, is to make, to produce, to create a work of beauty. When the artist produces this effect, namely, when he makes his work what it should be, beautiful, he fulfills his function as an artist. If this work is able to please, to provoke admiration, excite delicious complacence, he has succeeded in his work. Thus it may be said that the end of art is identical with the end of beauty.
The statement was made that beauty and goodness may be at least mentally separated. As such they are not to be confounded. Under this consideration it can be understood that the range of art is not restricted to the sphere of morality. The difference between moral goodness and moral beauty lies in the fact that moral goodness refers to the satisfaction of an inclination, while moral beauty results from an act of perception and from the complacence, the pleasure, experienced in the discernment of the due perfection of a being. Hence a work of art will be beautiful when it elicits in a subject, one capable of understanding it, the joy and the happiness of intellectual contemplation. We must remember that art is not restricted to moral or religious subjects. "Just as the sentiment of the beautiful of which it is the expression is disinterested, so art is disinterested. Precisely as such it is at the service of beauty, not of morality, nor of any other utilitarian or professional end, legal or social."10 As Cardinal Mercier so states: "The intrinsic aim of art, the only aim worthy of it, is the beautiful, the conception and the expression of the beautiful."11
Art, it has been stated, belongs to the domain of making, or productive action, rather than to that of doing. The object of doing is the common end of life, whether it be for oneself or for others; the object of making is the good of the work to be produced. A work of art viewed solely as an artistic feat knows but one law the good of the thing to be produced.
The artistic habitus concerns itself only with the work to be made. Doubtless it admits consideration of objective conditions practical use, destination, and so forth which the work should satisfy (a statue made for praying before, is different from a garden statue), but it is because this consideration concerns the beauty itself of the work; a work which were not adapted to these conditions would lack in that respect proportion of beauty. The sole aim of art is the work itself and the beauty thereof.12
When we consider the foregoing remarks, we can easily see that the formula, "art for art's sake" cannot be contested. As such art has a function to perform, it has a mission, a proper object of its own. Omne agens agit propter finem was the maxim of the scholastics. We see this exemplified in every walk of life, in every sphere of nature. Was not the eye made to see, the ear to hear, and the sun to shine? It is the end of the true to reveal itself, the good to impose itself upon the will, the beautiful to be resplendent, and art to represent this beauty. Well then should the artist give heed to his work. As an artist he is the servant of beauty; his immediate aim must be to induce the form of beauty in matter, to diffuse the lustre of the ideal over the parts of his work. He is not tethered within the confines of morality, but may seek inspiration through the vast range of nature.13 This then is the true meaning of the formula, "art for art's sake," and when it is understood in this vein of thought there can be no objection. Again, we have considered here only one end, the immediate, the proximate end of art, but we shall see as we proceed that a work of art can have and should have many aims, many ends, and as such, being the product, the creation of a rational, intelligent being, it must be directed toward his ultimate end, God Himself.
There is, however, another sense in which the formula, "art for art's sake," is generally intended and that is nothing short of folderol. Some would contend that art is absolutely free, unlimited; and it is in this sense that art and morality come into conflict, for if art be unlimited, unbound, held to no laws, then it enjoys a place in God's creation inferior to none; nay, it is even superior to man. It would be an end in itself and this would be a contradiction, for all created things exist for a higher purpose, for a higher end.
It is just this interpretation of the catch-phrase, and the attempt to put it in practice that is responsible for the helter-skelter and the extravagances of the cult of formal perfection. "Art for art's sake, the verse for sake of the verse, form for form's sake, fantasy for fantasy's sake can culminate in corruption of heart and dissipation of mind . . . it represents the refinement of vice and the quintessence of evil."14
Well did the dying Michelangelo exclaim: "Now do I realize how my soul succumbed to error in making art its own idol and sovereign master."15 It must be well remembered that art serves beauty, beauty ministers to delight and both of these, beauty and delight, must ultimately look to the good of man, else art fails in its very purpose.
The defenders of freedom for art would make art similar to science, in so far as science abstracts from morality. As is evident, science is indifferent to morals; the object of science is speculation; it perfects the understanding and its object is knowledge. The scientist has for his purpose truth and to this end he diverts all his attention. Considered in the abstract, it is true that such sciences are indifferent to morality; it is here a question of knowledge, a matter of seeking for truth; this seeking, this speculation is not intended to be a norm, a guide toward action. But the goal of art is essentially practical. True art must appeal not only to the understanding but to the whole man; it affects not only his mental attitudes and sensibilities but in particular his will. Art by its very nature is the expression, the fulfillment of a sentiment of the beautiful, a fulfillment which the artist himself understands and which he now wishes to give to others, for the very ontological basis of beauty demands that a work of art satisfy certain fundamental requirements and respond to the needs of man himself. Just as that which is beautiful incites to action, so too does art become agreeable and attractive. A true work of art impresses itself not only upon the imagination and understanding of man, but such a work is felt in his passions and in his will.
It has been said that art concerns only itself; it is neither moral, nor immoral, but amoral. Error, lack of reflection! the intrinsic end of art is to produce an impression, to move. A work which does not bear within itself a lively source of emotion is not a work of art. But if emotion be neither true nor false, it is good or bad. It influences the profound disposition of the soul to love that which is honest, elevated; it leads to forgetfulness of self, to disinterestedness, to sacrifice then it is good, beneficent, ennobling. If it incite to egoism, to self-worship, or if it flatter voluptousness then it is malicious, deadly. Every forceful work of art incites to good or to evil, and so has its repercussion upon the dispositions of the soul and society.16
This passage shows to us in a forceful way that art and morality cannot be separated.
Moral Function of Art
In saying that art must follow the laws of morality we do not intend that the artist be a preacher or the declaimer of morals. We insist, however, that a complete separation of art and morals is unthinkable, for art implies a direct relation to the will of man and as such is subject to the laws of morality. Whatsoever is produced by man bears the imprint of his personality; an artistic production is marked with the trade-mark, man himself, and for this reason has the right to be called a creation. That which is noble, elevating, ravishing in art man takes from his own self. "And when that man is named Homer or Phidias, Dante or Giotto, Michelangelo or Raphael, Beethoven or Wagner, personality asserts itself so imperiously that the work, teeming with riches of the artist's nature, commands the environment after having obeyed it and blazes a new trail."17 Once a man gives to his art a further end than that of expressing beauty, he has given to it a part of his very life. The artistic production and enjoyment enter then into human conduct in precisely the same way as any other human act. In such a case art has taken on a moral function; it is an achievement of the free will; it has the character of a moral act. If his production is good, then the artist may reap the benefit; if it is productive of evil, then he must bear the responsibility. The artist must not be conceived as a privileged being, one free from the very laws of morality. Pascal wrote of Montaigne: "His book not intended to lead men to piety, was not obliged to do so; but one is always obliged not to turn men away from the good."18 This we may also say of the artist whose productions are agents of demoralization. "Artistic apologies for suicide have cost lives of thousands of men of every age and of every condition; impure art has precipitated into culpable voluptuousness legion of young people. Are not the authors of such sources of evil to be regarded as criminals?"19
It has been maintained that art is ordained to the production of beautiful works. In this expression of this beauty, art is in no way to contravene morals, for art can have no right against God. But art in expressing beauty can also have higher, loftier aims. Art can be the means of inspiring, of bringing men closer to God. To the artist belongs the right of ordaining his work to a higher end than that of mere beauty; this in no way would hinder its perfection. Evidence of this is seen in the lovely masterpieces of Fra Angelico, of a Leonardo Da Vinci. Their primary intention was to further the causes of religion and devotion and in so doing they created masterpieces, works which will last and which will fulfill the very purpose of art. An artist in producing a work of art is not directly and immediately obliged to devote his work to the cause of religion or of devotion; this is true, but we assert that ultimately he is so obliged for making it the act of a free agent, an act of the will, one for which a man is responsible and as such it must conform to the requirements of every human activity. It must conform to the moral law. "A human action exempt from ultimate direction to God is an ethical absurdity."20
"All the arts and sciences," says St. Thomas, "seek a common goal, the perfection of man."21 All art should perfect the physical, intellectual and moral perfection of man. "Art is art, not religion, nor morals, nor science, nor politics . . . But art belongs to life; it cannot ignore life, it must obey life. The adage 'art for art's sake' should be amended to read, 'art for life's sake,' or better still, 'art for the sake of man.'"22 Thus we see that beauty, the fine arts, and the other goods of life cannot be separated from morality and religion. Whether we consider art subjectively as a product of a created mind or objectively as the right measure of things to be made its final end and purpose is not contained within itself. Even Immanuel Kant with all his wild fancies and ideas never lost sight of the higher and true meaning of art: "beauty is the reflection of the infinite upon the finite; it is a glimpse of the Godhead."23
Art has within itself the ability, the mission to raise men's hearts and minds to the contemplation of higher values. As has already been stated the artist is not forced to pursue this higher, this nobler end, but he is encouraged to do so. If the artist fully realized the amount of good that he by his own ability is able to accomplish surely this higher aim would be the goal of his life. To the individual appreciative of such, genuine art is and can be a great blessing. It increases the happiness of man by offering and giving to him beauty; art can take away much of the weariness of this work-a-day world. It has the power to lift the corner of the veil that encloses infinity, for under the fleeting forms of nature and art there is to be found the eternal pattern, the invisible beauty of the Creator shining forth in His glorious works. Well did St. Paul say: "For the invisible things of him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made." (Epist. to the Romans, 1, 20.)
Pleasure is the dominating note of our age and it has found a place in modern day art. The reason is evident, for when men no longer enjoy the pleasures of the spirit, then they seek for the pleasures of the flesh. The Angelic Doctor knew this well when he wrote: "No man can exist without delight and when he cannot enjoy the delights of the spirit he seeks that of the flesh."24 Art can give to man this tremendous need for higher, loftier, nobler things; art can foster the good of the community; it can form a true alliance with morality. All good things come from God and should return to Him who is Divine Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Men esteem and rightly prize art very highly and because it is the expression of the beautiful, it should give service and honor to God; in a word it should be religious. We need but look at the saints of God, in particular our own St. Francis and the Saints of the Franciscan School to see how close art and beauty brought them to the Creator. If St. Francis could see "sermons in stones and books in the running brooks," if St. Bonaventure could compare the universe to a magnificent song and if the Blessed Duns Scotus could say that the universe was comparable to a beautiful tree, surely any artist gazing upon the works of God's hands or seeing God in all things could not but help produce works of art that emanate from Supreme Beauty. The thought of Leibnitz remains true: "Penetrating eyes like those of God read in a blade of grass the whole history of the world, its present, its past, its future."
Someone might ask: "Will such a religious tone of art stifle artistic productions, dry up the springs of inspiration?" To this we answer: "Was a Giotto, a Raffael, a Leonardo Da Vinci, a Mozart, and other immortal geniuses fettered when they began their work for and in the Name of the Lord?" These men were able to praise their Creator in all their works; they terminated their labors with the prayer: "Praise be to God," for they gave to art the true recognition of its worth and sought for inspiration at its very source.
Art can have no loftier mission than to elevate the mind, cleanse the heart, help mankind rise above the things of this life to God by showing in some small way the beauty of God.25 If some would be terrified by such a lofty calling, then at least, in the performance of their work let them cease from what is base and ignoble and endeavor to portray that which appeals to the intellect and to the spirit rather than that which appeals to the flesh. Then they would not be traitors to their calling, enemies of art, using their God-given gifts to pander to the passions of the flesh or to make of them an instrument for the satisfaction of greed. Such tendencies in art, unworthy motives that demoralize, have wounded art almost to its death. It has resulted in the predominance of the ugly and the commonplace. How different indeed was the art of Greece and of the Middle Ages with its genuine, joyous, and progressive note. Such art sought the pursuit of higher aims.26 In conclusion then, it is to be sincerely desired and earnestly requested that there will never be a conflict between morality and art, but that all artists who claim such a noble vocation will help men to attain to their lawful inheritance, the contemplation of Infinite Beauty. The true artist will then be one who like our holy Father St. Francis will bless the "Lord in all his works and praise and exalt him above all forever."
Callahan, Leonard, O.P., A Theory of Esthetic according to the Principles of St. Thomas Aquinas, C. U. A., Washington, 1947.
Cory, Herbert Ellsworth, The Significance of Beauty in Nature and Art, Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing Co., 1947.
De Wulf, Maurice, Art and Beauty, tr. by Sister Mary Gonzaga Udell, O.P., St. Louis: B. Herder Co.
Graf, Arthur, Nuova Antologia, Genoa, 1903.
Gillis, James M., The Catholic World, February, 1940.
Maritain, Jacques, Art et Scolastique, Paris, 1920; tr. in Eng., The Philosophy of Art, O'Connor, Ditchling, Eng., 1923.
Mercier, Card., Du Beau dans la nature et dans l'art, Rev. Neo-Scol., vol. 1.
Mercier, Card., Le genie poetique de Dante, a paper read at the 7th centenary of Dante, Royal Academy, Belgium, 1921.
Proudhon, Du Principe de l'art, et de sa destination sociale, Paris, 1875.
In II Sent., Opera Omnia Quaracchi, Col. S. Bonaventurae, 1882-1902.
St. Thomas, Summa Theologica, Taurini, Italy: Marietti, 1917.
1 In II Sent., d. 30, a. 1, q. 1, (Opera Omnia Quaracchi, Col. S. Bonaventurae, 1882-1902), II, p. 715.
2 St. Thomas, Summa Theologica, I-II, q. 57, art. 3-4, (Taurini, Italy: Marietti, 1917), pp. 306-307.
4 De Wulf, Maurice, Art and Beauty, tr. by Sister Mary Gonzaga Udell, O.P., (St. Louis: B. Herder Co., 1950), pp. 183-184.
5 Ibid., p. 123.
6 St. Thomas, op. cit., I-II, q. 19, pp. 119-120.
7 Gillis, James M., The Catholic World, (February, 1940), quoted by Cory, Herbert Ellsworth, The Significance of Beauty in Nature and Art, (Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing Co., 1947), pp. 168-469.
8 Proudhon, Du Principe de l'art, et de sa destination sociale, (Paris: 1875), quoted by Callahan, Leonard, O.P., A Theory of Esthetic according to the Principles of St. Thomas Aquinas, (C.U.A., Washington, 1947), p. 110.
9 Callahan, op. cit., p. 115.
10 Ibid., p. 111.
11 Mercier, Card., "Du Beau clans la nature et dans l'art," Rev. Neo-Scol., vol. 1. p. 346, quoted by Callahan, op. cit., p. 111.
12 Maritain, Jacques, Art et Scolastique, (Paris: 1920), tr. in Eng., The Philosophy of Art. O'Connor, (Ditchling, Eng., 1923), quoted by Callahan, op. cit., p. 112.
13 Callahan, op. cit., p. 112.
14 Proudhon, op. cit., p. 46, quoted by Callahan, op. cit., p. 112.
16 Mercier, Card., Le genie poetique de Dante, a paper read at the 7th centenary of Dante, Royal Academy, Belgium, 1921; quoted by Callahan, op. cit., pp. 113-114.
17 De Wulf, op. cit., pp. 25-26.
18 Pensees (ed. Haven), p. 334, quoted by De Wulf, op. cit., p. 112.
19 De Wulf, op. cit., p. 112.
20 Callahan, op. cit., p. 115.
21 St. Thomas, Proemium in Metaph.; Callahan, op. cit., p. 115.
22 Graf, Arthur, Nuova Antologia, (Genoa: 1903), p. 137, quoted by Callahan, op. cit., p. 116.
23 Callahan, op. cit., p. 125.
24 St. Thomas, Summa Theologica, II-II, q. 35, art. IV, ad 2m, p. 227.
25 De Wulf, op. cit., p. 135.
26 Callahan, op. cit., p. 117.
Ronan Hoffman, O.F.M. Conv.: The opening paragraph of the preceding paper lays well the foundation for the argumentation throughout the paper. The basis of the conclusions derived in the paper rests on the assumption of the truths stated in the first paragraph. The approach is personalistic, with the emphasis being placed on human personality rather than on art and morality. This is commendable, for any consideration of the relationship between art and morality must be carried on in the light of the effect of art upon human persons created in the image and likeness of God, by whose moral laws all men are bound.
The author does well therefore to begin his paper with the statement of the fundamental truths of man's dependence upon God, of his obligation to abide by His laws in all his actions, and the inclusion of art within the scope of these moral laws. It is of course at this point that some part company with us, for some either deny or ignore the claims of morality upon art. Such a liberal view hypostatizes art, as it were, giving to art its own independence and making it a law unto itself. In this view the phrase "art for art's sake" has an ignoble and amoral meaning and divorces art entirely from man's spiritual good. Although that phrase can be interpreted properly from a moral viewpoint, how much better it rings when amended to read "art for man's sake." It is not art that is important, but man. Art is a thing, and things have value ultimately only in their relation to persons, human and divine.
It is not difficult to understand why art has sometimes been given undue estimation by artists and devotees of the arts, even to the point where immunity from moral law was considered justifiable. The scholastics considered art as a virtue residing in the practical intellect. It is not to be confounded with mere skill or dexterity, but is a permanent habit of the soul which perfects the intellect in the conception and making of art products. It is essentially an operative habit which facilitates their production. By perfecting the intellect it also has its effect on the other faculties commanded by the intellect. Since it concerns the production of something according to a definite conception and plan, it is defined very simply as recta ratio faciendi "right reason in making" as distinct from the virtue of prudence which is defined recta ratio agendi "right reason in acting."
All virtues perfect human nature but the virtue of art is peculiarly perfective of human nature, for the artist in his occupation is the intellectual man acting by means of his highest faculty on a new creation imitating to a limited extent the Creator Himself in the act of creation. Just as the Creator was completely free in the creation of the world, so too the artist tends to claim that same freedom in the conception and production of his own creation. The true artist tends to free himself from everything save the good of his own handiwork and to claim immunity from anything which poses as an obstacle to representing his conception, even sometimes the moral law!
This is not to say that the artist is unconcerned with truth and goodness. He does take these into account, but truth and goodness to him as an artist are concerned with his art. The truth and goodness of his work depend upon how faithfully the thing made represents his conception of it. Like the Creator who did not perceive truth and goodness in created things but conferred these attributes upon them, so too the artist confers truth and goodness upon his art products. Truth and goodness are subjective to him in his work; for his mind does not have to conform to the things he creates, but rather they must conform to the conception in his mind if they are to be true and good. The artist's occupation therefore, while noble in itself, can be somewhat dangerous morally, for he establishes his own standards of truth and goodness in regard to his work. Such a perduring frame of mind tends to neglect objective standards of truth and goodness, among which is the moral law. Immorality then can easily creep into art when the mind becomes so engrossed in art and freedom of expression as to allow unbridled liberty. This frame of mind of setting up standards of truth and goodness may not be confined to the field of art but may be carried over into the artist's personal life. Thus activity which so parallels the action of God in conceiving and bringing forth the original creation has unfortunately sometimes led to ruined lives.
The virtue of art does not perfect man absolutely, but only in his artistry. The virtue of art makes a man a good artist, but not necessarily a good man. For this the virtue of prudence is required. This other virtue of the practical intellect, unlike art, presupposes a good will and concerns right reason in acting. This implies acting according to divine standards of truth and goodness in all actions. Since there is a certain hierarchical order among the virtues, one must rule the other, for they both exist in one and the same subject for the good of that subject and so cannot be at war with one another. Prudence is the morally superior virtue which makes a man good absolutely and not simply in one category, and so should rule the artist in his work. Right reason in acting demands that the artist in his work take into consideration the moral law.
The author points out that art need not serve morality, but only must not contravene it. This is a sane intermediate position. Nevertheless the conclusion might be considered as academic, for he goes on to show that art cannot be separated from morality, that it influences persons either to love that which is good, noble and uplifting or incites them to their opposites. In the practical realm then art does either serve morality or war against it. Still it is justifiable to point out that art does have its own end, which is to please, and as such is not directly a servant of morality. Needless to say, however, the more art does serve morality, the nobler it is.
Gerard M. Greenewald, O.F.M.Cap.: Goodness, like unity and truth, cannot be disassociated in a work of art. If a painting is merely a scramble of incoherent objects, it is readily conceded that it fails in unity. The April Fool pictures obviously violate truth. But since evil may be depicted by way of contrast, emphasis, or for some other legitimate purpose, the problem of relationship between the evil and the good, especially when reduced to some particular instance, is often the source of difficulty and controversy. As with the problems of life and with the other problems of art, this problem must be solved according to objective standards.
The artist aims to please, but in a manner that the very contemplation of his work will produce intellectual joy in the percipient. For this reason the particular conception that he tries to express is uplifting and inspiring; he expresses an ideal rather than a lesson. To this end he organizes his material; he selects his medium; he chooses the best form; he regulates his technique. Thus, the novelist or dramatist may actually use immoral incidents: such as, injustice, revenge, murder, falsehood, and error, in order to heighten the expression of the ideal. These are merely the shadows that emphasize the beauty of his conception. The essential feature in every artistic creation is that it contains nothing that will ordinarily distract or hamper the percipient from the contemplation of the ideal expressed assuming, of course, that the percipient himself is sufficiently cultured so that he will readily experience this intellectual joy at beholding the beauty inherent in the work.
Since moral evil tends to debase man, the artist must take into account certain psychological tendencies common to human nature. Incidents of injustice, revenge, murder and falsehood are sometimes used in the interest of propaganda, and then they usually destroy the artistic value of the work. Of course, these evils may never be depicted as justified. But ordinarily, for artistic effect, these evils are comparatively easy to handle artistically, because people do not readily imagine themselves as committing these particular sins in question. However, in presenting the lascivious, the lewd, the indecent, the artist is confronted with a serious danger of jeopardizing the artistic value of his work because of the strong sexual urge that normally prevails in man.
One must here take into account the nature of a sinful impure thought. To think of sexual matters objectively is no sin. When one, however, imagines himself in some sinful sexual situation and deliberately entertains such a thought, he is actually committing a mortal sin. Now, when an obscene incident is luridly portrayed or enticingly suggested, one may easily imagine himself in that particular situation. Aside from the proximate danger of serious sin, such an incident would certainly be a disturbing influence, if not a serious distraction, from the contemplation of the beautiful and from the concomitant intellectual joy that any creative work, to be true art, must afford. Needless to say, any presentation that would excite depraved emotions in the ordinary normal percipient would frustrate the contemplation of the beautiful.
It is evident then that any form of moral evil may never be sanctioned or justified in any true work of art, and that moral evil may never be depicted for its own sake, for in either case the creative work would be definitely debasing. It is certainly, therefore, within the sphere of the art critic to evaluate the manner in which moral evil is portrayed. In treating of moral evils, particularly the sexual, the critic as well as the artist must exercise fine judgment of such incidents and references in determining the probable reactions on the normal percipient.
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