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July 30, 2007

Art for art’s sake

Seventh_seal Legendary filmmaker Ingmar Bergman died today at age 89. I won't pretend I was a devotee, because I never saw more than a few snippets of his films. I am a film buff, but my tastes run more to Cary Grant being dashing or Gene Kelly splashing in puddles than Death showing up for a game of chess.

Nevertheless, my attention was caught by this quote reprinted in the New York Times (via Cinematical), from this minister's son who rejected faith and yet was fascinated by it:

"I want to be one of the artists of the cathedral that rises on the plain. . . . I want to occupy myself by carving out of stone the head of a dragon, an angel or a demon, or perhaps a saint; it doesn't matter; I will find the same joy in any case. Whether I am a believer or an unbeliever, Christian or pagan, I work with all the world to build a cathedral because I am artist and artisan, and because I have learned to draw faces, limbs, and bodies out of stone. I will never worry about the judgment of posterity or of my contemporaries; my name is carved nowhere and will disappear with me. But a little part of myself will survive in the anonymous and triumphant totality. A dragon or a demon, or perhaps a saint, it doesn't matter!"

Philistine that I am, I still wouldn't deny that Bergman was a gifted man. But it strikes me as tragic to have had so great a gift and yet so misunderstand its purpose -- to think that the purpose of creating was the act of creation itself, rather than the result.

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I think the Bergman quote is beautiful, and I couldn't agree with him more. The only part he got a teensy bit wrong was the not being remembered bit. As long as people watch movies, they will know his name. Bravo, Ingmar!

Kim Moreland

I am a Bergman fan. He was a craftsman of the highest sort. It's too bad that he renouced Christianity as a young man. However, if you're familiar with his movies, you'll see themes running through his work

Jason Taylor

Actually I think it is a nice counter to the common misconception that art is not really art unless it is also propaganda. To often I think artists think they have to have a "message" and the "message" drowns out the art.
A classic case was the overrated Exodus. It was a subject with an extremely high cinematic potential. But it was over propagandized. For instance even the most dedicated Zionist agents could find something to do when they were alone in a meadow with a naive young blond besides talk politics. Of course Agent BenCanaan did get the girl so maybe he was on to something!
Propaganda art is legitimate and some of the best art was propaganda. Like Casablanca. But the message can't drown out the art.
Evangelicals also have a weakness for this. They tend to think if something they write is not utterly and obviously "churchy" they have been impious. Thus Evangelical art is quite often abyssmal.
Which is wrongheaded. Writeing things to win the heathen is of no value if the heathen are bored by it.
Art has several purposes. Sending a "message" is one. There is also entertaining people. Much of the best art was made for no other purpose then to entertain pampered courtiers. But it was none the worse for that, from Homer to Shakespeare and from Brahms to Beethoven. Making people happy is a perfectly acceptable goal and one that should not be scorned.
Then there is giving glory to God. That is certainly a good purpose.
And yes "Art for art's sake" is legitimate-in a sense. Of course no earthly thing can really be completly for it's own sake if you take it literally. But making art for the delight in making art and the knowledge that what you have made is good, is acceptable.

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