The fact that works of art are not only something “aesthetic”, but also communicate morally with us on many levels is an idea that provokes resistance among some art lovers. This is not because of the art, but because of the moral or better the bad image of the term moral in the wake of Nietzsche, not a few tend to understand morally a somewhat narrow and conventional way of dealing with other people. It is bringing art in conjunction with morality, in this view, means assigning it a quasi-function of establishing and maintaining conventional norms of behavior, depriving it of its autonomy. For the flower painting this is the best option, understanding the art.
The Understanding of Art
Anyone who thinks this way, however, confuses art’s autonomy with its moral irrelevance and also underestimates moral reflection, which is made possible in the first place by art that is not committed to conventional morality. An anti-conventional art did not exist until the late eighteenth century, when the idea of autonomy of art came up. By this Kant meant that the artistic “genius” is neither committed to a true-to-life reproduction nor is it bound by political guidelines or moral norms.
It gives itself the law. The same applies to the aesthetic “taste judgment” of the viewer, reader or spectator. According to Kant, this “taste judgment” is a free game of imagination and reason, which is determined neither by considerations of value nor by moral considerations. Kant never wanted to claim that art has nothing to tell us morally. He himself pointed out that many artistic products such as representations of gods were inspired by moral ideas that they also wanted to express.
Above all, what still characterizes our understanding of art is his thought that moral considerations are irrelevant to the aesthetic judgment of taste as such. The intellectual association of the autonomy and the amorality of art, founded here, culminated in the nineteenth century in L’art pour l’artAnd served in many contexts as a basis for argumentation to protect critical or unconventional art from conventional and political attacks, even if that could do little to counter the capture of art as political propaganda in National Socialism and the Soviet Union. To this day, with the idea of the autonomy of art, we associate the idea that art opens up other dimensions of reality than morality and therefore cannot be judged according to art-alien standards.
At any rate, that’s the theory real life looks, as usual, different. It is difficult to deny that even today we are allergic to art, which is in violation of the world’s usual delineations and descriptions. The widespread enthusiasm for the autonomy of art keeps very few from submitting it to censorship through conventional morality or political correctness. So long-revered children’s books are rewritten because you suddenly come across the word “Negro”, or Huckleberry Finndeleted from the list of recommended school reading, since the figure Jim could convey an antiquated image of the childish black.
What works of art here are deprived of the moral censorship which they are subject to depends only on the degree of their exclusiveness or popularity. Thus, the Ring of the Nibelung , a delight for the relatively small group of Wagner lovers, ever since performed, without taking the least consideration that correspond to the figures of Alberic and Mime in Wagner anti-Semitic clichés.