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Unpopular Opinions - 21 Essays - by Dorothy L. Sayers

Towards a Christian Æsthetic

p.41  The manufacturer of this type of entertainment (amusement-art-ed) is not by any means interpreting and revealing his own experience to himself and us — he is either indulging his own day-dreams, or still more falsely and venially he is saying: “What is it the audience think they would like to have experienced? Let us show them that, so that they can wallow in emotion by pretending to have experienced it.” This kind of pseudo-art is “wish-fulfilment” or “escape” literature in the worst sense — it is an escape, not from the “impact of external events” into the citadel of experienced reality, but an escape from reality and experience into a world of merely external events — the progressive externalisation of consciousness. For occasional relaxation this is all right; but it can be carried to the point where, not merely art, but the whole universe of phenomena becomes a screen on which we see the magnified projection of our unreal selves, as the object of equally unreal emotions.

This brings about the complete corruption of the consciousness, which can no longer recognise reality in experience.

When things come to this pass, we have a civilisation which “lives for amusement” — a civilisation without guts, without experience, and out of touch with reality. Or take the spell-binding kind of art. This at first sight seems better because it spurs us to action; and it also has its uses. But it too is dangerous in excess, because once again it does not reveal reality in experience, but only projects a lying picture of the self.

As the amusement-art seeks to produce the emotions without the experience, so this pseudo-art seeks to produce the behaviour without the experience. In the end it is directed to putting the behaviour of the audience beneath the will of the spell-binder, and its true name is not “art,” but “art-magic.” In its vulgarest form it becomes pure propaganda.

It can (as we have reason to know) actually succeed in making its audience into the thing it desires to have them — it can really in the end corrupt the consciousness and destroy experience until the inner selves of its victims are wholly externalised and made the puppets and instruments of their own spurious passions.

This is why it is dangerous for anybody — even for the Church - to urge artists to produce works of art for the express purpose of “doing good to people.”

Let her by all means encourage artists to express their own Christian experience and communicate it to others. That is the true artist saying: “Look! recognise your experience in my own.”
But “edifying art” may only too often be the pseudo-artist corruptly saying:
“This is what you are supposed to believe and feel and do — and I propose to work you into a state of mind in which you will believe and feel and do as you are told.”

This pseudo-art does not really communicate power to us; it merely exerts power over us.

 

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Tuesday, 14 July 2020
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