Deep Thoughts: What does art give you?
I was amazed reading the following passage, because it pretty much sums up what art does for me. George Steiner ruminates on Schiller, the 18th century German lit warhorse not read much outside Germany. They make TV movies out of his plays in Germany, like they make TV movies out of Jane Austen novels in England, but we never see them.
"For Schiller, art is religion. Art offers transcendence. Only through art can humankind come closer to the divine. In art, human mortals discover and experience the only true freedom. Schiller states his credo: If humanity has lost its dignity, then it has been saved by art. In ontological terms, art may be deception and illusion, a 'realm of dream,' but the truth lives on precisely in this deception, and out of mimesis, the aesthetic after-image, the original image is restored: 'Before truth causes her triumphant light to penetrate into the depths of the heart, poetry intercepts her rays, and the summits of humanity shine in a bright light, while a dark and humid night still hangs over the valleys.'"
BUT the next point I'm not sure of. Art connnects us with transcendence, but that doesn't mean it also necessarily teaches morals. "Art is instructive in absolute terms. The aesthetic is the ideal praxis of pedagogy. Through art, the human individual becomes an ethical being. Schiller’s bold, almost anti-Kantian paradox reads: In its freedom, art is a game, but the human individual is 'only wholly human when he plays' (Homo ludens). For us today, however, the proud innocence of these views is no longer convincing. We know how far-sighted Walter Benjamin was when he said that the works of high culture stand proud on a foundation of barbarity and injustice. We know that they can even serve as ornaments to inhumanity."
That's George Steiner going off again on one of his hobbyhorses: what use is art if Nazi death camp commandants could deal death during the day and enjoy Beethoven in the evening? It's a good question, but a false one. Art can ennoble, sure, but that doesn't mean it automatically creates good behavior. Murderers can enjoy art, because they're human, too. You don't have to be nice to be an art lover. Himmler collected great art; that didn't make him a great human being. In fact, shitty people can produce great art. Was Picasso nice? There's a sense in which all great artists are profoundly selfish.