Can Our Art Deal With Our World?

There's more of it than ever before, and part of the problem is ours.
Can Our Art Deal With Our World?
'Battlestar Galactica'

A couple weeks ago, A.O. Scott asked an important question in The New York Times: “Is Our Art Equal to the Challenges of Our Times?

(December is the busy season for film critics and for college professors, and I'm both, so you'll forgive me for being a few weeks late to the table on this.)

“We are in the midst of hard times now,” Scott says, “and it feels as if art is failing us.” He is unsatisfied (as am I) with the ability of our art—even the best of it—to provide moral clarity for the problems we face, problems that keep him up at night. This is in stark contrast to, say, The Grapes of Wrath, or Death of a Salesman, or (I'd add) even Uncle Tom's Cabin—art that was able to radically alter its audience's view of social issues in ways that resulted in social action, while preserving their status as art, not propaganda. If true, this is troubling. In a statement I heartily endorse, Scott says, “Much as I respect the efforts of economists and social scientists to explain the world and the intermittent efforts of politicians to change it, I trust artists and writers more. Not necessarily to be righteous or infallible, or even consistent or coherent; not to instruct or advocate, but rather, through the integrity and discipline they bring to making something new, to tell the truth.” Scott's argument is essentially that art—which tries to explore the problems of existence—is failing us today, when our challenges are just as big as they ever have been. Statistics show that the gap between the wealthy and everyone else is only growing wider. American politics are widely considered more polarized than they've been ...

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Watch This Way
How we watch matters at least as much as what we watch. TV and movies are more than entertainment: they teach us how to live and how to love one another, for better or worse. And they both mirror and shape our culture.
Alissa Wilkinson
Alissa Wilkinson is Christianity Today's chief film critic and assistant professor of English and humanities at The King's College in New York City. She lives in Brooklyn.
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