A recent article by Christopher Hart in the Mail has criticised Danish director Lars von Trier’s latest film Antichrist as ‘stomach-turning’, ‘revolting’, and ‘sick pretentious filth’. This is the latest in a series of outraged reactions to the film, following alleged fainting at the premiere in Cannes and a lawsuit by Christian organisations in France. Von Trier response did little to calm matters, announcing that he was commanded by God to make the film and is the best director in the world. Whilst all this controversy makes for an entertaining spectacle, and has been nothing but publicity for the film, it also serves to highlight a specifically philosophical issue: the close tie between art and morality.
Iris Murdoch saw art as the only terrain where morality is possible, because it is the only place where the imperfection of humanity can be transcended. For Sartre, art and morality are linked because morality is fundamentally creative: it is based on the free choice of the individual (‘You are free, therefore choose’). Further, art discloses the world in a particular way, offering different possibilities for human beings to use their freedom, perhaps possibilities outside of normal societal bounds.
It is therefore hardly surprising that films such as Antichrist, ostensibly aesthetic works, prompt such feverish reactions at an ethical level. This fact is exploited particularly in ‘avant-garde’ art, which revels in shocking ‘decent’ society and often takes this as one of its specific tasks. Exploiting the art-morality nexus enables the artist (ethicist?) to push ethical boundaries as well as artistic ones. The two are closely connected; one might even question the distinction between the two.
An article on the release of Antichrist can be found here
A response to Hart’s article can be found here
Art, Morality and Ethics: On the (Im)Moral Character of Art Works and Inter-Relations to Artistic Value
By Matthew Kieran, University of Leeds
(Vol. 1, March 2006)
Art and Negative Affect
By Aaron Smuts , Temple University
(Vol. 4, February 2009)