Friday, 7 March 2008

ART IN THE SERVICE OF EVIL

An artist designed pretty flourishes into this little piece of metalwork ...



... on an instrument of torture which was inserted into a victim and expanded by means of a screw device to tear through the victim's internal organs, causing an excruciating death.


Not only did artists design this object with an aesthetically pleasing look, they updated its design over the years to keep up with the latest fashions.




An aesthetic object such as this poses interesting questions at each stage of the production process:


  • The client who commissioned it could have settled for a plain, functional tool. He was sensitive enough to desire a pretty design, yet totally insensitive to the piteous howls of his victim;

  • The artist who designed it summoned all his taste and talent to put the most beautiful design on a tool for mutilating human beings;

  • The victim of the torture was faced with a most inhuman death which his tormentors took special care to package in a stylish, civilized form.

But this week, we don't care about any of those questions because after all, this is a blog about illustration art. Instead, we care about the question: Does the sponsor affect the quality of the art?

We often hear that illustration is an inferior art form because it is commissioned by corporations to serve commercial interests. Here are some pictures from the 1960s by the great Bob Peak. They were bold, innovative, well designed drawings but they helped to sell cigarettes.





Does the morality of the sponsor's goal affect the aesthetic quality of these images?

If you are fortunate enough to visit the Spanish town of Santillana del Mar, you should spend time in their Museum of the Inquisition. Seen from one perspective, it provides a blood-curdling record of fiends who tortured in the name of religious piety. But it can also be viewed as a conventional sculpture museum, displaying the beautiful work of very talented silver smiths, iron workers and artisans in wood. You can be horrified by the content and still be impressed by the form.

I've never found a rule that governs all art, but a good starting point for some serious thinking might be:
There should be no argument in regard to morality in art; there is no morality in nature.
Rodin said that. And here's an additional perspective:
Many mediocre pictures of lofty subjects hang in art museums. Many brilliant pictures of dishwashing detergent can be found in magazine ads. Nobody has yet established a clear connection between purity of motive and quality of art.
I said that.