In Art Or Language: We Should Reach for the Stars
Controversial 'Work of Art'
Brooklyn Museum of Art
My outdated dog-eared dictionary lists one meaning of the adjective "human" this way: "Susceptible to or representative of the sympathies and frailties of man's nature."
The dictionary doesn't embellish its definition with details, but the frailties it refers to could fill a book.
I'm aware that what knowledge I possess, if any, wouldn't fill a thimble. I often fall short of my own expectations. There's no need for anyone to enumerate my shortcomings. I know them all too well.
'I'm Only Human'
Despite this, I survive because I am able to justify my behavior. "I'm only human."
When I attended parochial school as a child the nuns at St. Peter's in Yonkers, N.Y., taught us that we are more than just animals because as human beings we have what animals do not: an eternal soul.
I believe that we are different from animals, also, because we strive for something more than what nature bestowed upon us -- both physically and spiritually.
Civilization Seems To Be Working
We've improved our lives over the centuries by developing many "creature comforts" -- clothing and shelter prime among them. And we've progressed spiritually and socially through our religious beliefs and the development of civilization, including the rule of law. Despite a Great Depression, two world wars, a Cold War and too many examples of man's inhumanity, civilization seems, more or less, to be working.
To keep the hard-earned advancements we've achieved, we need to be ever vigilant.
Old-timers like me -- I'm not the only one -- lament the decline of moral and ethical values we've all witnessed over the last several decades. We were, and are, far from perfect. We've said and done things we're not proud of, some that were coarse, obscene, crude, even indecent -- but, then, we're human aren't we?
There's a difference, however. We never attempted to justify our despicable behavior or, worse, tried to extol its virtues.
The recent fracas over "Sensation," the exhibit that drew hordes to the Brooklyn Museum of Art, is a case in point.
'Art' Defined by Webster's
I did not, and will not, see it, but it's clear to me the museum's aim was to boost its income. One can call anything one likes "art," but Webster says art involves the "conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects (italics are mine.) I think the exhibit fell far short of that (and don't tell me I need to see it before commenting on it!)
The victory that producers of "Chicago Hope" won over the censors at CBS-TV -- allowing the use of gutter language on the show -- makes my point even better.
Although CBS called the approval to use a barnyard epithet an "isolated incident," the approval of its use on the show demonstrates just how far we've fallen from what we not-long-ago called "polite society."
The crude word in point could not possibly be "important for artistic truthfulness," as CBS says, and, contrary to its statement, does signal a loosening of standards at the station.
I know that CBS is run by fallible humans, but couldn't they try to reach a little higher?